A hundred or more soldiers stood there on the deck, primed and in formation, surrounded by a veritable throng of important people, republican senators, sycophants of the dead regime, reporters and decorated soldiers all gathered in waiting. Some of them had never been so honored as to be allowed access to the Grand Alexander before. They stood in a circle around an enormous, twenty foot tall pure and pearl colored frame; a massive guillotine stood there like a solemn soldier’s grave in the center of the airship’s white deck. Many shifted nervously, aware of the massive list of rules, regulations and structures they had to follow unless they wished to visit that white tall knife themselves.
Slowly, a drummer began to play a loud, deep beat. It was a death march. The doors to the access deck opened up, and the crowd prepared to watch.
In the long, featureless access tunnels, full now of the sound of the drummer, to the deck stood the procession; weary and defeated women chained together by heavy white manacles. A tall and postured woman wearing a pair of slim frame glasses with her black hair done up in a bun stood in front, followed by a shorter girl with long, deep brown hair, her bangs crossing her eyes and obscuring her face. The final woman in the line was much older, pale skinned with short and curled blond hair. They all wore white jumpsuits with the flag of the republic on an armband on their left arm, loose and ill fitting. It was a tradition for the executioner to pull the armband from them before their death.
A young man no older than twenty-five, adorned in an officer’s parade uniform, stepped forward out of the darkness, gesturing to the two elite soldiers there. Short and slim, he seemed unimposing compared to the two massive soldiers with their advanced body armor, but they both shrank from him, fearing his rank. “Keep at the ready, men. It’s not too long until we have to start moving.” Elias turned and began to walk through the tunnel towards the morning light.
The women were quiet. Mineesa kept her composure, her eyes firmly locked forwards. Anne seemed despondent, her gaze locked on her own hands. Veronica wasn’t. She stared at Elias, letting her feelings manifest into words, her anger take form and come from her mouth. It took her a moment to decide what to say. Finally, Veronica spoke, quiet and from a hoarse voice long kept silent. “He’s comin’ for you.”
Elias stopped in his tracks, slowly turning on one jackbooted heel to face Veronica. He paced back to her slowly, the sound of his footsteps clicking down the tunnels in echoes. “What did you say?”
“He’s comin’ for you.” She spoke again, louder, bolder. Veronica stared at Elias, her anger smoldering in her deep brown eyes. “They’re all comin’ for you.”
Elias couldn’t help but smile. Veronica had remained deathly silent throughout their interrogations, and he’d wanted to deconstruct her the most. “Your optimistic nature has been a constant flaw of yours ever since we met. Allow me to inform you of the harsh truth of reality: The luck’s run out. They’re not coming. Not a single person alive could make it here in one piece, much less fight the entire army of the Republic. Face it. They’ve given you up. You’re one girl,” he stated, an arm outstretched, pointing. He began to count with it, making sure the women knew he was speaking to them, not just Veronica. “Three girls. One of which they hardly know and the other is the enemy. I’d take my losses and run.”
Veronica shook her head. “That’s ‘cause you’re not like them. They’d give it all up, even if it meant killin’ themselves. Even the ones we don’t know or the ones we’re afraid of, they’ll help them. They’d help Hikari even though we only known her barely a spell, and Darius too. And they’re not gonna stop until I’m safe and you’re worse for wear. And you are going to be so worse for wear.” A smile spread across her face as she talked about Elias and his coming fate, like she was laying a powerful hex on him. “You won’t even believe it. You’ve seen what they can do and you’re not even scared? Talkin’ about someone foolin’ themselves into believing something. You must be dumber than anyone I ever met if you think you’re not gonna face the reckoning soon.”
Elias struck Veronica across the face with his hand, the resounding pop of flesh against flesh echoing throughout the metallic depths of the tunnel. She rebounded off of his open hand, her tiny form battering against the wall before finding her feet again. Both of the soldiers stood, uneasy. Neither of them made a move. When Veronica rose her head, her cheek was lit up red and a thin crimson line of blood drew from her lip to her chin, but her eyes hadn’t lost the fire in them that made Elias so uneasy. He’d never seen Veronica like this before. Where were the tears he was expecting? Why was she so defiantly resisting?
“I believe in them.” Mineesa said it under her breath. She didn’t look away. Elias glowered at her from behind his glasses.
The fire was spreading and Elias had no way to put it out. The moment he turned away, his sneer manifested, an ugly snarl on a previously stoic face. “We’ll see how you feel in a few moments. I hear that your consciousness spends a few precious seconds still inhabiting your head after it’s been decapitated. Let’s see how you feel about this when we’re on the stage.” He turned to the guards. “Get moving.”
The halls of the Grand Alexander were like a massive and confusing labyrinth to Kried, who had never been there before. Dark and uninviting, full of soldiers and armed guards, dead ends and twist turns and empty, useless rooms. His vanish magicite proved to be more useful than he’d thought it would be, but it was running low on power. Only through pure luck did he find the suite in which Landau was staying in.
Stepping over the charred bodies of the republic soldiers— patriotic young individuals sure to be remembered fondly as heroes who died for their country— Kried tried the door. Locked. He didn’t have a key. He jammed the spent fire magicite into the keyhole of the door, took a step back, aimed carefully and shot it with his pistol, blowing a round chunk out of the door and door frame. He leaned against it, shoving it open with his shoulder.
It was a large and spacious room, very elegant looking. Completely empty inside, save for two large glass windows barred with iron and a single, well-furnished couch. Upon the couch was Landau, sitting, waiting almost expectantly. He rose up, tall and imposing. His stoic mask hardly changed, and he seemed skeptical when he spoke.. “It wasn’t you that I was expecting. Is this some kind of jail break attempt?”
Kried nodded quickly, his hair bouncing in and out of place. He turned to watch the door, eying the corridors beyond suspiciously, making sure no one was coming to check the commotion. He spoke over his shoulder. “Yeah. I’ve come to get you out of this dump. The game’s changed. The eternal president is dead.”
“Dead?” Landau asked.
“Dead,” Kried confirmed, and when he turned around he was struck with a dark and massive sense of foreboding, like his bones had frozen solid and his veins had iced over. Landau was standing there the same as before, maybe a few steps further, but as he pushed up his glasses and drew away his hand, Kried could see that he was smiling. It was large and strange on his face, lopsided to the left, like someone hadn’t finished the stitching on the other side. It took him aback, and he didn’t recover for a moment. “Dead.”
“I see then. Unfortunate. The game has changed, yes. I’ll have to make arrangements.” His smile had disappeared in a flash. He stood in the same spot in front of the couch, watching Kried check the door, just staring with his monotone expression. “Well, thank you for informing me then. I suppose I’ll have to make my escape.”
“Oh, don’t worry. I’ve got us covered,” Kried, almost giddy with joy and pride drew out a large, fist-sized amethyst from his coat pocket. It glowed with an inner radiance, the light almost displacing the imagery around it like heat mirages off of the desert sand. “Warp magicite. We could go anywhere in the world.”
“Then give that to me,” Landau said, reaching out with a large, pale hand.
“No, no. You need to promise me something first. I’ve been wondering, and I just have to know.”
“See, more like it. I need to see. Take me with you. Back to where you came from. I want to see the world you live in with all of its technological marvels and thinkers whose minds are beyond my wildest dreams. I want to know the truest secrets of magicite. I need to.”
Landau shook his head. “I can’t. Not now, when we haven’t yet even gotten into the real parts of the plan.”
“Then I’m not giving this to you.” Kried withdrew his hand, pulling it back close to him, keeping it safe. “We’ve only got a few minutes until we have to go. Alarms will go off soon. You don’t want to get caught again, do you?”
Landau regarded Kried very coldly for a moment, working his thumb into his chin. “I can do that, then. When this is all over. But we have to stay here. I have to put the plan into motion— I’d hoped to do this much more subtly, but things have gone out of my control. Corrections to the flow of events must be made.”
Kried arched a scorched, makeup-caked eyebrow at his words. “What?”
“There hasn’t been enough. There are still things that need to be done. Give me the magicite.”
Kried held it out obediently.
“Good.” Landau took it from him without emotion. Kried expected in the least to have to bear a scolding or a verbal remark about what he’d done, but Landau took it with stride, accepting it and working with it. Kried felt his wry smile wrest across his face as he thought of Landau filling Mineesa’s position once he had complete control of whatever hidden organization Landau belonged to. Landau placed his hand on Kried’s shoulder and clutched the gem tightly.
Kried’s eyes widened, his mood swinging wildly from megalomaniacal thought into panic. “No, no! You don’t!”
The world around them seemed to explode into a hundred thousand million different pixels of color and globs of ink and structure, recoloring and dyeing and painting itself and building a new world. They were suddenly standing in the middle of the Vector Tower board room, flanked on all sides by tall seating and massive red banners bearing the People’s Republic’s national eagle. Senators and secretaries stood up in surprise. Renk Vanderkaum, in mid sentence, seemed to lose his voice for once in his lifetime. Landau and Kried stood in a small, circular burn mark in the carpet that rose wisps of smoke from the floor.
No one spoke for a few seconds as Landau patted Kried on the shoulder and shoved the purple amethyst magicite back into his hands. When someone did, it was the one with the loudest voice in the room. “What, I say what in the world are you two doing here?” Renk Vanderkaum screamed. Koltz Lattan and Madgus Gogmorre, for the second they had to react, warped their expressions into ones of extreme concern. Madgus reached into his coat, his hand grasping something.
“I think you know what I’m doing here.” Landau spoke, clearly and concisely. No one moved. No one breathed. The room had a sudden and terrible helplessness descend on it, every single person in the room screaming out at once in their mind, ‘Someone! Do something!’
Before Madgus Gogmorre could level his pistol with Landau’s chest and squeeze off a bullet into him, it happened. Landau pressed his hands together, drawing them apart slowly as if freeing a trapped insect or opening the pages of a book. Beautiful rainbow colored light flowed from within his palms, bleaching the room with a phantasm of color for one brief second. The light faded, and everyone seemed to just stand there, blinking to get the burned feeling out of their eyes. Kried stood, agape, just feet behind Landau his jaw slack.He couldn’t speak. He felt his magicite illness burning in his lungs, paralyzing him, hemmorhages of blood filling his mouth with the grainy taste of copper. Whatever Landau had just used was the most powerful magic Kried had ever experienced in his life, and it terrified him more than anything he’d ever seen before.
“M… m… m… you can… you can cast magic…” Kried slowly whispered, stammering at Landau’s back, his teeth quickly becoming crimson stained with blood as his gums suddenly bled. All along, it hadn’t been technology at all.
Landau didn’t even dignify Kried’s gasped sentence with a response, and strode further in to the room. “My people.”
It wasn’t but a split second until one seated senator rose and proclaimed, “All hail the Eternal King Landau! Long live the king!”
Another rose, and another, until the entire room stood watching, their hands across their chests, adoration in their eyes. Even Renk Vanderkaum, precariously balancing his massive mechanus leg and iron cane, saluted their new monarch. Kried watched, in horror, as Landau outstretched his arms and turned around to Kried. He could see it again in Landau’s expression, that terrible feeling, and as he stood there witnessing something transpire that he knew would change the course of history for the entire world, all Kried could think of was the undeniable and triumphant smugness in Landau’s smile.