[A Record from the Royal Library about the Royal Scientific Society]
The Royal Scientific Society, also known as the RSS, was established during the reign of Emperor Heinz I. The organization is currently known to have developed many of the empire’s best weapons and ships. During the reign of Empress Monika, the RSS continued to gain influence until they earned a seat in the imperial council.
Alfred fumbled with the keys, nervous energy thrilling in his veins. He flinched at the sudden sound of Ivan’s voice, and he looked up to check on the other, only to freeze at the glare he received in return.
“What?” Alfred asked with a frown as he finally managed to unlock the gate, the gate swung open with a gentle push from his hand.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Ivan still looked at Alfred in disbelief, violet eyes wide in shock and fear. Ivan looked over Alfred’s shoulder as if he was still checking for any guards, as if Alfred would be so stupid. “Why are you--”
Alfred huffed. “I told you,” he said as he reached for Ivan’s shackles. He frowned as Ivan jerked from his touch, the shackles moving from Alfred’s grasp. “I’m trying to save you. Why are you trying to stop me?”
“They’re going to kill you,” Ivan said in a cold voice as he tried to block Alfred from unlocking the chains.
“If they find me,” Alfred said, glaring at Ivan. “And if you don’t stop fighting me, then they will.”
Ivan still did not move, but Alfred could feel the other man’s magic, like a ghost, no, like a dragon waking from its slumber. The air around them cooled until Alfred’s breath was visible in the air. He thought of ice beneath his feet and the heavy snow that kept him from running in the mountains. He thought of Ivan’s magic, so different from his own and yet so familiar.
“You don’t have to do this,” Ivan said, staring Alfred down like he expected him to leave at that moment and never look back. Perhaps, he should have. He knew that he would have done it if it was him before all of this had happened.
He would not have chosen to leave his family and his homeland.
But things were not the same anymore. Alfred realized that more than anyone, realized that there were things that even he did not know about the world anymore. A soldier. A genius. A noble. He was all of that and none of that. Things have become different because of the man in front of him, and that man dared to tell him that he didn’t have to do this.
Alfred scoffed and shook his head. He placed his palm on Ivan’s chest and pushed. “I’m a dragon,” he said, baring his teeth in something that was not quite a grin but something more primal, more threatening. “I only do what I want.”
Alfred reached for the chains again, and Ivan did not stop him this time. Alfred unlocked the shackles on Ivan’s wrists and the collar around his neck. The chains rattled as they clattered on the ground, the sound echoing around the empty cells of the dungeon.
Ivan grimaced in pain as he rubbed at his wrists. They looked bruised and raw and Alfred found himself clenching his fists in anger again. Ivan noticed as he glanced at him and shook his head. “Alfred,” he said as he reached out, ignoring the static that hung around Alfred like an aura. “Your magic shows your temper as always.”
Alfred took a deep breath to calm himself. When he opened his eyes again, they were back to the deep blue of the skies instead of old. “Are you going to come with me?”
Ivan’s lips quirked into a small smile. “Always,” he said and Alfred blinked at the echo of a similar conversation from when they first met. “What am I to do otherwise?”
Alfred laughed, the worries and anger falling from his face for a moment. “Can I kiss you?” He asked.
Ivan gave him a look of disbelief. “Right now?”
“Right,” Alfred said as he stepped back from the other. He tilted his head and smirked at Ivan. “Later?”
“If we survive the night,” Ivan agreed.
Alfred gathered lightning around his feet. It was amazing to feel his magic answer his call, and it made him wonder just how much he’s missed not learning to use it for most of his life. He kicked at the prison gate, the iron bars blowing to clatter on the opposite wall.
“Was that necessary?” Ivan asked, looking at the keys in Alfred’s hand.
“Nope,” Alfred rolled his shoulders back. “But it did feel good.”
Ivan shook his head, his wings fluttering for a bit on his back. He reached for one of the iron bars of the prison, freezing it with his magic before forcefully tearing it from its place. He tested the iron bar on his palm before swinging it once. “This should do.”
Alfred nodded and grinned. “Let’s go,” he said.
Gilbert adjusted his cuffs as he waited for Elizabeta to return. Alfred’s knife was tucked under one of his sleeves, and he wanted to ensure it would stay there. The hallway was currently empty, the dim lights of the red Drachfeurite lamps cast the Emperor’s face in shadows. Gilbert closed his eyes and leaned back on the wall and tried to listen to the soft sounds of music from the ballroom that somehow managed to reach him.
He heaved a soft sigh. He wondered if Alfred had gotten to the Sirin without any problems, if he had found his Sentinel mostly unharmed.
“Are you sleeping?”
Gilbert huffed and opened his eyes. Elizabeta had changed from her dress earlier into men’s formal clothing--dark trousers tucked into leather boots and a crisp white shirt underneath the black military coat of the empire. Her long hair had been tied by a ribbon and left over one shoulder. She was pulling on some leather gloves as she came to stand by him.
He smirked at her, hiding any anxiousness about the night in a careless smile. He turned his gaze back at the window. The gardens were quiet, but the stars were dim. If there would still be fireworks later that night, everyone would be sure to see it in the dark sky. “Why shouldn’t I?”
She shook her head and sighed. “I talked with the Duke. He said Lady Marianne left the city a few hours ago. They should be in Drachen before anything else can reach them.”
Gilbert only hummed in response. He felt the same thrill in him that he felt in battle, the same kind of battle fury that made him think of dying and killing in turn. Oddly enough, his magic currently felt too still and calm as if it wasn’t aware of anything that was going to happen tonight.
“Are you worried about Alfred?” Elizabeta asked as he remained unusually quiet.
“No,” Gilbert lied. “That boy is a dragon. He’s always been stubborn and unusually resilient.”
“Liar,” Elizabeta said, punching him softly in the shoulder. “Shouldn’t you be in the ballroom by now? Your brother should be waiting for you.”
“I was waiting for you,” Gilbert whispered. He once again looked at her, his red eyes meeting her green ones. “It might be awhile before we see each other again after tonight.”
“You’re being too dramatic,” she said, her voice stern and resolute. “I’ll come for you.”
Gilbert snickered. “I’ve heard that one before,” he said as he straightened from his stance. “Keep Arthur and Marianne safe. Wait for Antonio. Watch over Ludwig. Protect them for me, Eli.”
“I know,” she said. Her hand gripped the sword strapped on her waist, and Gilbert looked at it with a fond smile, thinking of the cold iron pan from their childhood. He stepped towards her and reached to cup her face, but he changed his mind at the last moment, choosing to tuck a stray strand of hair behind her ear instead.
“Stay alive, Eli,” Gilbert ordered and remembered how he gave her the same order when they were in the battlefield all those years ago.
“I should be telling you that,” she said, finally giving him a soft smile.
Gilbert had already turned away from his best friend. He wasn’t about to look back at her, didn’t want to falter. Not when he already had so many things that made him hesitate. As he headed to the ballroom, the music got louder. He smiled as he thought about how Alfred could easily take advantage of how distracted everyone would be by the party tonight. Ludwig would be upset that Alfred had chosen to leave the empire, but then again, Gilbert wasn’t ever sure where he stood with his brother anymore.
The guards by the entrance of the ballroom suddenly stood at attention when they saw the emperor approaching. It was probably a strange sight. Usually, Gilbert would have attended these parties escorted by guards and other courtiers.
It was a night for something new, a night for new beginnings and great upheavals.
“Give the announcement,” Gilbert ordered one of the guards. The startled guard announced his arrival as he opened the double doors into the ballroom. Gilbert walked onto the landing of the great staircase into the ballroom. His eyes scanned the room, noting his brother’s position, the dragons’ absences, and the numerous guards from the RSS.
He felt everyone’s stares on him just as he stared back at them, cold red eyes unshaken by their attention. He saw Elizabeta slip in once all the attention was focused on the emperor’s arrival and he smiled. It was a comfort to know that she would be there, just as reliable as his hidden blade.
His brother and one of the high-ranking officers of the RSS met him at the bottom of the staircase. It wasn’t Reich, not that bastard who was constantly around his brother, who led the many researches of the RSS, and the one who cornered Alfred and his Sentinel during the trail. Gilbert wondered if he should be relieved that the Director was missing. The two were surrounded by soldiers that wore the uniform of the RSS instead of the imperial soldiers’ uniform. Gilbert greeted them all with a wide grin. “Brother!” He said, laughing loudly as he clapped both hands on Ludwig’s shoulders. “Such a serious look on your face on such a joyous occasion! Did I miss something?”
“Brother,” Ludwig greeted as he took Gilbert’s hands away from his shoulders and stepped away. “You’re late.”
Gilbert grinned, something manic and dangerous all at once. “The King is never late.”
“A King should never show weakness,” Ludwig countered.
If they didn’t have everyone’s attention before, they did now. The different nobles and officials of the empire carefully watched the two brothers who faced off against each other. Gilbert scanned the expressions on their faces and noted which ones had bloodthirst and greed in their eyes.
“What exactly are you trying to say, Ludwig?” Gilbert said, eyes turning back to his brother.
His brother looked angry and sad at the same time. It was the same way Gilbert felt, but he knew better than to show anyone. The two of them really were more similar than he thought at times. Gilbert wasn’t sure if it was a good thing or not.
Probably not, he thought, with the way things were going right now.
“This is necessary for the good of the empire, brother,” Ludwig said. He nodded at the soldiers around him, who started to surround Gilbert. “Let us do this peacefully. Please stand down.”
Gilbert laughed. “And let you kill me peacefully?”
Ludwig shook his head. “No one needs to get killed, Gilbert.”
“For the good of the empire, huh,” Gilbert muttered. He knew what was going to happen tonight. He even planned for it, but it still did not feel good to have it happen. He raised his younger brother, after all. It left a bitter taste in his mouth. It was one thing to speculate and plan for this situation and another thing entirely to have your brother actually go through a coup against you. “You’re betraying me for the crown,” he sighed.
“It’s for the best,” Ludwig answered. “Gilbert Beilschmidt, you will be relieved of your power as emperor and imprisoned for your own safety.” He looked like he actually believed it. Gilbert wondered if he should be relieved that his brother wasn’t actually being threatened to do something he didn’t want to do by the RSS. He wondered if that was better than the alternative.
“That’s right,” Gilbert grinned, already reaching for the blade he’s hidden. The music has long stopped, and it was clear that no one was on his side in the room, no one but Elizabeta. And even that circumstance, that was something Gilbert had planned with his most trusted allies. Gilbert dropped the blade as several soldiers took his arms to bind them behind his back, and the metal clattered on the marble floor. The sound drew everyone’s gaze, and Gilbert cackled, loud, proud, and defiant.
Ludwig frowned as he crouched to take the knife. He didn’t look like he was happy that his brother had fumbled his own weapon. “You really have been making too many mistakes.”
“That’s right,” Gilbert agreed with his brother with a resigned smile. This time, he borrowed Arthur’s tempest instead of Marianne’s illusions. He felt the air around the knife in Ludwig’s hand and took hold of it. He gave his brother a proud smile just like he did when they were children and Ludwig had given him the right answer in one of their lessons. “I’ve always made mistakes.” He flicked his finger behind his back, his wrists chafing at the bonds they’d put them in as he pulled at them. He felt the rush of magic as he borrowed Arthur’s attribute, and the knife flew from Ludwig’s hands to stab at the RSS officer’s throat.
Several people shrieked as the officer grabbed at his throat, blood spilling from his mouth as life slowly left his eyes. Gilbert stared at the body as it collapsed without remorse even as everyone in the ballroom seemed to freeze in fear. They all looked at the blade buried in the man’s throat as if it is a bomb about to go off. Even the guards that were supposed to escort Gilbert away seemed stunned, releasing their tight hold on his arms. He didn’t run, he wasn’t supposed to, after all. Later, Gilbert plans to tell Arthur about this scene, to tell him just exactly how forgotten magic has become, to tell him how people have lost sight of the possibilities.
Still, it wasn’t the knife that they should expect to explode, Gilbert thought. Elizabeta has long disappeared from the crowd, always his unseen shadow. Ludwig was the only one not staring at the corpse but was looking intently at its brother. Gilbert hated that Ludwig looked at him as if he did not know him, as if Gilbert was the one who had betrayed him.
Gilbert wanted to laugh. How different this meeting was to his previous meeting with Alfred. He smiled at his little brother. “You should brace yourself,” he mouthed at Ludwig.
Ludwig frowned at him, but he was unable to answer before the world outside flashed so brightly that it was if morning had already come, and the room around them shook with explosions from afar. Gilbert squeezed his eyes shut as soon as he saw the flash from outside and knew that the others must have already succeeded with their plan tonight. How poetic that the ones who had been called the pillars of the empire would be the ones to bring it down.
Gilbert hated it all so much, and he had to keep telling himself how necessary it all was. As Ludwig recovered from the shock, he grabbed at Gilbert’s collar and shook him. “What did you do!?” The crown prince, no, the new emperor demanded from the former emperor.
Gilbert didn’t laugh or smile this time. He only looked resolutely at his brother. “I’m so sorry, brother, but this empire needs to fall.”
Alfred stumbled to his knees while running as he felt the tremors that seemed to rock the entire empire. He thought of the bombs exploding in the battlefield as his ears rang with the sound of explosions from afar. His breath hitched as he stumbled back to his feet. He should be moving, he thought. He should get to a shelter and find his commanding officer. He should be--
“Alfred!” Alfred jerked from the hands on his shoulder. He blinked, and he was no longer back in the battlefield and was instead staring at the worried purple eyes of his Sirin.
“Ivan,” he breathed out in relief, almost collapsing at the feeling of it into Ivan’s arms. Ivan had pulled them both into an alcove at the edge of the courtyard. Alfred was leaning on the walls, with Ivan and his wings shielding him from the rest of the world. “What’s happening?”
Ivan shook his head, and he looked over his shoulder with a frown. Alfred followed his gaze. The courtyard they were crossing was still empty, but from where they were, Alfred could see the smoke rising from different buildings in the Imperial Palace complex. The alarms that he had been so careful about were now blaring around them, the loud ringing making everything feel so much more real and so much worse.
“It must have been an attack,” Ivan told him, his wings twitching on his back, as if he was trying to keep himself from covering both of them further. Or, perhaps, Alfred thought with a grim smile, he was keeping himself from taking Alfred and just flying out of there. It was definitely one of his suggestions once they’ve left the dungeons. Alfred had thought it was too dangerous even though a part of him had really longed to try it.
“At the heart of the empire!?” Alfred exclaimed in disbelief.
“The empire isn’t infallible,” Ivan said, hand steady on Alfred’s arm even as Alfred still felt like collapsing.
Alfred swallowed nervously. He knew that, of course. He’d seen the worst parts of the empire. There was a reason he wanted to leave as soon as he finished his military service for his family. There was a reason Arthur had discouraged him from trying to become duke when he had been younger. But there was a part of him that still loved this empire, a part of him that still called it home and still felt anger at the sight of it burning. There was still a part of him that believed in the empire’s might and the impossibility of someone challenging that might.
“Who would do such a thing?” Alfred said, feeling a little breathless at the thought. He was aware that he and Ivan should be using the distraction these explosions were causing to their advantage. It was the best time to leave. No one would be worried about the airships at the docks when the palace was burning. But, he still couldn’t get himself to leave, and Ivan only looked like he was worried about Alfred instead of himself. He shook his head to try and clear it. “We need to move, we need to go, Ivan, we--”
“You need to breathe, Alfred,” Ivan said, gently touching his cheek. “I’ll protect you while you recover.”
“I don’t need to,” Alfred insisted, pushing at Ivan’s chest. “I’m fine.”
“Your eyes are more honest than you are,” Ivan said. He raised his hand and pressed at Alfred’s shoulder so he would lean back on the wall again. As he did, his hand seemed to meet some resistance, sparks flickering in the air between them. Ivan grimaced at him. “Your magic as well.”
Alfred cursed under his breath. “I’m sorry, Ivan,” he said and took a deep breath. He closed his eyes and tried to take back control of his magic. Alfred felt Ivan’s hands, steady and gentle, on his cheek and shoulder, and he used it to ground himself, to calm himself.
“Better?” Ivan asked once Alfred stopped panicking so much.
Alfred opened his eyes. They were still quite gold, but his magic was now contained and under his control. Like this, it was easy to understand why dragons were once considered companions to the gods. “Yes,” Alfred said. “Let’s go.”
“I believe that won’t be possible for you,” a familiar voice said. Ivan whirled around, his wings spreading wide to protect Alfred and to hide him from view. Alfred felt a sense of unease as he pushed past Ivan despite the other’s attempts to protect him to see Director Reich staring at them with a sneer.
Alfred fought the urge to reach for his gun right away. “Did the Emperor send you?”
There was a flash of confusion then anger in the other’s eyes. Alfred felt strangely comforted by the fact that Gilbert didn’t betray him after all. The director seemed intrigued at the idea though, and Alfred wondered if he had said something he shouldn’t. “The Emperor?” Reich muttered. “I see. That’s why you were able to go farther than I expected.” The director stepped forward only to stop when he saw the frost that was slowly spreading on the ground between them. He chuckled as he stepped on the frost, the ice cracking underneath his boots. “Sirin’s magic. One of the last remnants of the age of magic.”
Alfred stilled. As far as he knew, magic was treated as a myth by the empire. He certainly wouldn’t expect such belief from the so-called scientific society. Arthur had even told him that such things were considered secret. Then again, the Emperor himself had some magic, didn’t he?
Still, the denial came automatically for Alfred. “Magic doesn’t exist.”
Reich laughed, and Alfred flinched at the sound. He remembered Ivan’s trial, remembered how he had let the director get under his skin then as well. Ivan’s wings curled around him, protectively and possessively, and Alfred relaxed.
“Doesn’t it?” The director took a silver whistle from his coat. Its sound, when he used it, was loud and piercing even with all the alarms blaring all around them. Alfred winced at it, creeping closer to Ivan’s side.
“What do you want?” Alfred asked.
“Only to put the prisoner back where he belongs,” he answered. “Trust me, Captain, there doesn’t have to be a fight between the two of us. Your talents would be much better used elsewhere.”
Ivan looked like he was about to say something, but Alfred stopped him with a soft touch on his arm. “What are you talking about, director?” Alfred said with an easy smile. “I was only doing as the Emperor commanded. I’m transporting the prisoner. I’m sure he’ll give you the message if you ask of him.”
“Do you mean Gilbert Beilschmidt, Captain?” Reich laughed again. “You’re quite mistaken about something. The emperor has no authority over me. By the end of this night, I doubt he’d have much authority over the empire.”
Alfred stilled. He thought of Gilbert who had acted so mysterious even as he helped Alfred to save Ivan. He thought of his brother, who let Jack refuse attendance to tonight’s party and who hurried his family out of the city earlier. He didn’t like the picture that was starting to form in his mind, especially not when he could still see the smoke from the explosions that occurred earlier.
Alfred felt his own magic respond to his anger. “What did you do?”
“Nothing you would understand,” Reich replied.
Before Alfred could do anything with the magic that’s gathered around him, he heard the familiar sound of beating wings. For a moment, he thought that Ivan had left to the skies, but his partner’s wings still hovered protectively around him. Alfred looked up and froze at the sight of the descending Sirin. “Ivan,” he said. “Ivan, this--”
But, Ivan was also staring at the young woman who had landed behind the director. She was in the dark military uniform of the RSS. Her long pale blonde hair was tied back in a severe ponytail. However, her eyes were covered with a dark metal band that wrapped around her head. The same metal band was lined with glowing white lines that reminded Alfred of Drachfeurite and the creatures, no, the monsters that he and Ivan had encountered in the Boreal mountains.
Ivan had called those creatures the failed experiments of the empire. With horror, Alfred looked at the thin white veins of glowing Drachfeurite through the metal band over the girl’s eyes and her wings, and he thought that Ivan might have been right after all.
“Ivan,” Alfred repeated, glancing towards the other to ask him about the creatures of the mountain, but he stopped at the look on the older man’s face.
Ivan seemed to have frozen on the spot. His eyes were wide with surprise and horror. Alfred suddenly understood what other people meant when they pointed out how his magic got out of control. The air around them grew colder, the frost continuing to spread over the grass beneath them and even over their clothes. “Ivan!” Alfred called out, trying to shake the other out from whatever trance he seemed to be in.
Ivan blinked and stumbled a few steps back. He seemed to reach for his scarf that was no longer there, something he and Alfred couldn’t afford to search for, no matter its importance. “Natalia,” he said in a soft, shaking voice.
“Now, isn’t this a good reunion?” Reich said, grinning like he was watching some fun play.
Alfred glared as he realized the situation. He didn’t realize just how much you could hate someone until that moment.
Ivan was frozen in place.
He stared at his sister and thought of all the creatures that he’s had to kill in the mountains. Alfred was still shouting something, looking quite angry and indignant, which reminded Ivan of how they were in the beginning. It only made him remember the wolves they had to fight then and the glowing lines of dragon fire on their bodies, the same kind of fire that he could now see running through Natalia’s wings.
Alfred’s magic was causing sparks to fly around him although it was now more control. Ivan could see how it gathered around Alfred’s fist as Alfred tried to attack the director only to be blocked by Natalia.
Alfred stumbled backward with a hiss, and he weaved away from Natalia’s continuous attack. “Ivan!” Alfred was still calling out to him. “Ivan, you have to get away now! I’ll take care of this, I promise!”
Ivan jerked at the sound of Alfred’s voice. He gritted his teeth at the sight of his sister and Alfred fighting. He was warned about it, he now thought. The oracle did say that his sister would be changed when they met again. He just did not expect this kind of change.
But it was no reason to leave Alfred to fend for himself.
Ivan summoned a staff of ice and blocked one of Natalia’s wings before its bladed edge sliced Alfred’s throat open. Alfred looked stunned, and he stared at the wing that almost killed him. “Ivan?”
“I’ll take care of Natalia,” Ivan said, summoning his magic to try and freeze his sister’s legs, but Natalia simply flew back away from his reach. She wasn’t speaking, and really, that was one of the worst things about it. He almost missed her obsession over him in the past over this silence. Their older sister would be more upset. She would cry again, and Ivan was tired of seeing his sisters cry. He turned his icy glare towards the director who continued to stand a few feet away from the fight. “Take care of him instead.”
“I’ll be fine,” Ivan cut him off. “Natalia and I are stronger than you think.” When Natalia moved to attack again, Ivan pushed Alfred out of the way. He tried to stop Natalia with several ice spikes rising from the ground. “I know her better,” he said as he stopped her wings with his staff. “Now, do your part.”
Alfred only hesitated for a beat before he nodded and whirled to face the director. Ivan ignored them for a moment and focused on trying to restrain his sister. He didn’t wish for her death, only wished to return her to normal, but that might not be possible in their current situation. Instead, they should probably find a way to knock her out.
Ivan blocked another blow from Natalia. He grimaced. As always, his sister’s bladed wings were terrifying. She had always been one of the best warriors among the Sirin. “Natalia,” Ivan tried to speak to her while still dodging her blows and trying to trip her up as well. “You must listen. I will bring you back home. I will find the others who have disappeared as well. If you can hear me, please trust in me. Come back to us.”
Ivan spread his wings wide and took to the skies. He can see Alfred, surrounded by golden sparks, as he fought with the director. Even now, Alfred still seemed hesitant to use any lethal force. Ivan certainly didn’t plan to force him, not in this. Alfred’s loyalty to the empire was just as important as Ivan’s loyalty to his family.
It was something that the young soldier needed to resolve on his own. It was something that only he could figure out.
Natalia finally reached him, blocking Ivan’s view of Alfred’s fight below. “I--van,” Natalia rasped as her blade met his staff. Ivan froze in surprise before quickly summoning a shield of ice, thicker than any he’s made before as he remembered Alfred’s own stunt during their spar in the floating city.
“Natalia,” he said as the ice held under the onslaught of Natalia’s fist. “Can you hear me?”
Her lips twisted into a snarl, and she lunged at him, blades held tight in her hands. Ivan frowned and dodged from another of her attacks.
He could still see the sparks of magic from Alfred's fight below. Natalia’s own magic sparked, glinting at the edge of her blade as she continued her onslaught. She didn’t speak anymore but her grunts and snarls of annoyance only made Ivan angrier at the empire, at the people who have decided to see the people and creatures of the mountains as nothing more than experiments.
When the oracle had told him that Natalia would be changed when he found her, he had not expected this. He never would have expected this.
He swore as one of Natalia’s feather blades sliced at his arm. He winced and tried to get away only to feel the sharp pain in his wing. He really hasn’t had the time to let his injury heal properly. He needed to finish this quick even if he had to hurt Natalia for now. He would make it up to her, but right now, the alarms were still blaring and Ivan wasn’t completely sure Alfred could stand against his former allies. Not easily. Not alone.
“Forgive me, sister,” Ivan said, wishing that some part of Natalia that wasn’t being held in thrall with the power from the Drachfeurite would hear him.
He lunged at her, reaching past her shoulder to her wings, his ice spreading from where he had grabbed her to the rest of her wings. She tried to stab at his neck as he did and he stopped her with one hand. He was aware that they were crashing, the wind whistling around them as they fell. He was reminded of falling with Alfred into that temple, reminded of the same experimental birds that they faced then.
Before they crashed, he spread his wings to slow down their fall. As they landed, they stumbled on shaky footing.
“Ivan!” Alfred called out in surprise. Ivan glanced at him to see that he was keeping his distance from Reich, who now held a sword. He was surrounded by the golden sparks of his magic, and Ivan guessed that he was using it to defend himself. He had used the same tactics when he had sparred with Ivan in the past.
Ivan grabbed his sister’s wrist as she attacked him again. She seemed unstable because of her frozen wings, and even Ivan could feel the strange pressure of Alfred’s energy around him, like the buildup to a storm, which would have affected her as well. He twisted her arm and kicked at her feet until he could pin her to the ground and knock her out.
He looked up for a moment to check on Alfred and saw him waver at Ivan’s sudden appearance. The sparks of magic around him were flickering because of his momentary distraction. Ivan saw the director pull a gun from his coat, and Alfred was not looking, just as he hadn’t been on the floating city.
Ivan felt his blood run cold at the idea of Alfred being hit, of Alfred lying dead and cold. He shouted and called for his ice, knowing that it would not be fast enough, not this time.
Something flickered in Alfred’s eyes, some sort of grim determination that was lost in a moment. The gunshot was deafening, but Alfred still stood there though he had turned away from Ivan to look at Reich. Ivan stared in disbelief at the bullet that was stopped in the air in front of Alfred. Right, he thought, Alfred was the genius captain of the empire. To him, combat always seemed like some kind of ancient draconian instinct, a legacy of Drachen and its ancient guardians.
“I’m not an idiot, director,” Alfred said as he stood straighter, staring straight at the man across him. Like this, Ivan didn’t feel like he'd made such a mistake when he had thought Alfred was a prince in the past.
“Of course not, Captain Kirkland,” Reich taunted with a sneer. “You must stand down.”
Alfred tilted his head, and he reached for his own gun, which he turned towards the director. “It’s Jones,” he said, calmly. “I’m no longer a child. I’ve chosen my own name, and I’ve chosen my allies.”
“And you’ve chosen poorly!” The director snarled, his usually cold and calm demeanour breaking under the threat of death. the bright sparks of Alfred’s magic gathered around his gun. “You will be a traitor to the Cautanian Empire! Your family—“
Alfred shot, his bullet guided surrounded by a beam of magic and electricity. The director stopped, staring unseeing as he fell. Alfred’s hand shook as he let it fall to his side. “You do not have the right to speak about family.” He muttered, the last sparks of his magic disappearing from around him. When he turned back to Ivan, he had a determined look on his face. “We need to go. There will be more people here soon,” Alfred said, and his eyes flicked towards Natalia’s prone form. “Can you fly and carry her to the port?”
“And what will you do?” Ivan asked. He was worried about the dark look on Alfred’s face, and the director’s last words reminded him that there were many ties keeping Alfred here.
Alfred grinned at him, but Ivan couldn’t help but notice the strain behind that grin or even the way that Alfred still glanced in worry at the burning buildings of the palace complex. Alfred called on his magic again, this time focusing on his feet. “I’ll run,” he said.
“Will you?” Ivan said, doubtfully.
Alfred grimaced. “Don’t you believe me?” Alfred stepped closer until he was close enough to touch, close enough to feel the slight sting of his magic. It didn’t really hurt, and it was never unwelcome. Alfred took his hand and placed the golden drachfeurite on it. When they had just been from the temple, the drachfeurite had felt like ancient magic, something too powerful and too distant to think about. Now, the stone felt like an extension of Alfred’s magic, an extension of himself, and Alfred was giving it to him. “I’ve made my choice, Ivan. I’ll follow where you go.”
Ivan chuckled, closing his hand over the dragon fire stone, holding it just as he would have with his sister’s scarf. “Alright,” he said, meeting Alfred’s bright blue eyes that were staring to shift into gold. “I believe you.”
“Your Majesty, it’s over here,” the soldier said.
Ludwig followed the soldier into the courtyard, noting the ice that cracked underneath their feet when they moved. There were already several soldiers and officers in attendance. At the center of the courtyard, frozen in ice, Director Reich laid in death, cleanly pierced by a bullet in the head.
“Our other soldiers reported that Captain Jones took the Sirin out of the dungeons. This was probably their doing.” One of his aides reported. “Should we send someone in pursuit?”
Ludwig shook his head. He thought of his brother, grinning and defiant even as he was betrayed. He thought of Alfred in the ship and how he talked of freedom. Everything felt so far away now. He knew it was his own fault, but he still believed that it was necessary. “No,” he said. “We still need to deal with the destruction caused by my brother. Just send a warning throughout the empire about our two fugitives.”
He grimaced as he looked at the corpse of the director again. Reich had been one of his primary connections to the RSS. He turned away from the sight and started walking away. “Contact the RSS, and tell them about this,” he ordered.
“What will you do now, Your Majesty?”
“I should talk to my brother,” Ludwig said. “It’s about time he tells me what exactly he’s done.”
“We shall arrange it immediately,” the aide said, bowing as Ludwig passed by. Ludwig looked once again at the chaos around him. He wondered if Alfred had successfully gotten the freedom he wished for.
Alfred found Ivan watching the sun rise from the deck of the ship after he had successfully launched the airship. The ship Gilbert had told him about wasn’t too large, and they should be able to work with it even with just the two of them. Still, it would be good to find something better soon. He was already wondering where they should go, what course he should chart, what other things they would need.
“You’re thinking too much,” Ivan said.
Alfred blinked to see that the other had turned towards him. He chuckled and shook his head. “Someone has to between the two of us,” he teased.
Ivan chuckled. “Indeed,” he said. “It is very different to fly on a ship like this instead of flying with my wings.”
Alfred frowned. “You were on the floating city,” he pointed out.
“The floating city was a city that still felt alive with magic,” he said. “Your ships feel cold, devoid of magic.”
“I used magic and drachfeurite to get this ship started!” Alfred argued. He shook his head as he thought of his own research into drachfeurite. He thought of the creatures in the forest and of Ivan’s sister. He thought of how much the director had praised his research and how they must have used it as a foundation for their own experiments. “I’m sorry, Ivan.”
“Natalia,” Alfred said. “The creatures in Boreal. It was my research into Drachfeurite that probably gave them their idea. It was my fault.”
Ivan sighed and cupped Alfred’s face in his hand. “You did not ask them to do anything,” he said.
“Alfred,” he said. “The blame does not fall on you.”
“But we still need to do something,” Alfred said. “It wasn’t just your sister. There must be others. I know where some of the research facilities in the empire are. We can do something. We can help them. We can find a solution for your sister’s situation as well.”
Ivan nodded. “We can,” he agreed. “Together.”
Alfred grinned, feeling better with a goal in mind. There were still a lot of things they needed to do. He needed to check on his family as well. He needed to check what he remembered of all the research facilities in the empire, but at that moment, it was just good to know that he now had his own path to follow. “Hey,” he said, nudging Ivan. “Can I get that kiss now?”
Ivan laughed at the reminder. “Of course,” he said, and he pressed their lips together. Alfred smiled into the kiss as it deepened, curling his arms around Ivan’s in a hug. Ivan’s hands on his cheeks moved his shoulder, a steady comforting presence.
Alfred was a little breathless when they parted, grinning wide at the other. He looked out at the window, at the still rising sun, before looking back at Ivan. “You know, when I left for Boreal, the sun was setting,” he said.
“Was it?” Ivan asked, and they both turned to look out the windows of the deck.
Alfred nodded and reached for Ivan’s hand, lacing their fingers together. “The skies will always be beautiful,” he said and pulled Ivan into another kiss. “But I’m glad the sun isn’t setting now.”
[An Excerpt from the Public Announcements]
A REWARD OF 250000
Will be offered for the capture and detention of Captain Alfred F. Jones and Ivan Braginsky. Both are considered armed and dangerous. Both fugitives were involved in the bombing of the Imperial palace, the theft of an Imperial airship, and the murder of a respected officer...