Chapter 15:

Faulty Brakes

This Year Again, We Meet at the Round Table

-Alistair Vermilion, 16 years old-Bookmark here

The sea breeze wafted through the hangar as I placed the finishing touches on the Vassar’s armor, dipping my paint roller into the can for one last stroke. After months spent on performing test flights, finding errors and inefficiencies, and making adjustments, the Vassar had finally reached a point where I was satisfied with my work. With the hybrid system that Lowell had proposed, the fuel efficiency was now sufficient to fly a circle around the island several times. Then, after installing solar panels on the shoulder armor and converting the roof of the hangar into a sunroof, I had ensured a way to conduct short test flights even when gasoline was scarce.Bookmark here

Stepping back to the far corner of the hangar to view the paint job, I was pleased with how it turned out. I had painted the Vassar light blue so that it would blend into the sky, allowing me to take future joyrides with less worry that I would be spotted mid-flight. To keep it interesting, I had added dark blue accents in less noticeable places, like in the seams of the wing panels or around the exhaust vents.Bookmark here

I reached for the can of topcoat as well as a fresh paint roller. As I applied the protective coating on top of the quick-drying paint, I immersed myself in the strangely familiar light blue. It wasn’t the color of the sky; although it was intended for camouflage, I had deliberately picked a more faded tone for aesthetic reasons - sky blue was too garish, in my opinion. It wasn’t the color of aquamarine, either, since the gemstones that we imported had a more greenish tint than this. So what made it feel so familiar…?Bookmark here

Then it hit me: subconsciously or coincidentally, the shade of blue I had picked matched the color of Fior’s hair.Bookmark here

Forget about him, I thought, gripping the paint roller tightly. Someone who bloodies their hands with the affairs of war isn’t someone I should be friends with. Becoming a merchant of death is the last thing I’d want to happen.Bookmark here

… But I wonder why he didn’t ask for firearms, and went for a siege weapon instead…Bookmark here

No! No hesitating. I’ve only talked to him for eight days total over eight years, that’s like… barely an acquaintance, right? Besides, I have a friend in Lowell now. Without him, I would’ve never finished the Vassar. Since the guards and Chief Engineer recognize me, I can visit the Clockwork Palace and Lowell anytime I want with the excuse of being on royal business. I don’t need to be lonely anymore. I don’t need Fior anymore.Bookmark here

Silently, I continued to paint the Vassar with the topcoat, solitary as always.Bookmark here

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Hisss… went the steam that escaped as I pushed aside the sliding door, towel slung over my shoulder. Bookmark here

Exiting to the changing room after wiping the dried paint off my skin and letting my exhaustion dissolve away in the warm water, I realized that I hadn’t brought a change of clothes in with me. I couldn’t call the maids and wait in the bathing room, either; many of the maids had resigned from service in the past month, thanks to the mounting popularity of rumours of an anti-monarchist faction amongst the commoners. Now, the castle was short-staffed, and I didn’t want to agitate the maids, who now constantly had their hands full.Bookmark here

Ugh… I guess these will have to do for now.Bookmark here

I picked up a silk bathrobe that was in one of the baskets - probably one of the maids’, I would have to return it later - and peeked into the hallway. Seeing that the coast was clear, I rolled the paint-stained clothes into a ball and ran down the hall in bath slippers.Bookmark here

Things would be so much easier if I had a private bathroom in my room… I wonder why the castle was designed like this? Why is there just one large bathing room that everyone uses in turns?Bookmark here

As I turned into the open-air hall that overlooked the island, I noticed loud voices coming from Father’s office. Before I could tune in to eavesdrop, a gust of wind blew through the hall, tickling me through the thin robe, and I sneezed loudly. Eavesdropping would have to wait; first, a change of clothes was in order.Bookmark here

Arriving at my room, I disrobed and went to my closet, rummaging for something proper in case I happened to be discovered while listening in. Unfortunately, all that was on the clothes hangers were casual clothing, so I settled on a polo shirt I had brought back from Japan and a black coat on top of that. At the foot of my bed were my non-work boots, which I promptly slipped on.Bookmark here

So that I could catch the last snippets of conversation at Father’s office before they fizzled away, I briskly walked back to the baths to return the silk robe I had borrowed. This time around, however, I noticed a group of people at the castle gates. Holding picket signs and raising their fists, they yelled at the guards. While I couldn’t tell what the signs read from this distance, I had a good - and frightening - guess.Bookmark here

It can’t be… is it the anti-monarchist faction? I thought the rumours were baseless; what could Father have done to incite such a group to exist?Bookmark here

From where I stood, their yells were just murmurs, but it spurred me to action anyways. After hastily grabbing a random basket in the bathing room and depositing the robe, I sprinted down the stairs to the lower level of the castle to confirm my suspicions. True to expectations, the people at the gate were spewing vitriol at the monarchy.Bookmark here

“Down with the King!” yelled one.Bookmark here

“He shall not control us any longer!” shrieked another.Bookmark here

I turned to the captain of the guards, who had arrived just before me. “... Have they given any specific reason as to why they want to overthrow the monarchy?” I asked.Bookmark here

“According to the guards, no. They’ve been shouting the same phrases over and over again, apparently, and my men down there are just as confused as we are.” He scratched at his beard, before shouting down to one of the guards below. “Hey, Elliott! How long have they been there?”Bookmark here

“Twenty minutes, sir!” came a voice, almost drowned out by the raucous screeching of the mob.Bookmark here

That’s strange… They’ve been protesting for a third of an hour and have yet to specify why they hate the King?Bookmark here

Leaning over the balustrade and cupping my hands, I shouted down to the mob. “Excuse me, but why do you want to overthrow the king?”Bookmark here

It took them a couple of seconds to realize that the voice speaking to them was above the gate rather than behind it, and soon, their attention turned away from the guards to me. “What’chu say, son?”Bookmark here

“I said, why do you want to overthrow the king?”Bookmark here

The people below went silent and turned to each other, muttering and gesturing with their hands. After a moment, one of them looked back up to me. “Because he exerts too much control on us commoners!”Bookmark here

Too much control? Father was rarely on the island itself… What could they possibly mean?Bookmark here

“In what way?” I shouted back. “How does he control you?”Bookmark here

Again, the mob buzzed in discussion as they came up with a response. “Because… uh, the taxes are too high!”Bookmark here

The taxes are too high? The tax rate in Redjuve is one of the lowest in the larger region… Wait, why are they so indecisive? Do they… not actually know why they think the monarchy should be overthrown?Bookmark here

“Who told you the taxes are too high?” I asked.Bookmark here

This time, the mob below went quiet. Swapping glances with one another, it was clear that they were trying to hold some sort of secret - they had probably been paid to keep their mouths shut by whoever was trying to incite unrest.Bookmark here

“Leave this to me.” The captain of the guards pulled a portable megaphone from his pocket, adjusted its amplification value with the knob, then spoke. “If you do not reveal who gave you such information, we will be arresting you under suspicion of treason,” he boomed.Bookmark here

Now that they had been threatened, the mob entered a state of panic. Each of them looked at each other, shaking their heads vigorously, seeming as if they were saying “I’m not going to be the one to do it.” The captain of the guards sighed, and shook a bell that hung by his waist. In response, the guards below brandished their spears and rope, causing those at the front of the crowd to shriek.Bookmark here

Finally, one of them spilled the secret. “It was Duke Westoff, sir! The Duke paid us to stand here and gave us a list of phrases!” As soon as she finished speaking, the panicked crowd covered her mouth and attempted to make a retreat. The guards below moved to pursue them, but the captain shook the bell on his waist once more, and they halted.Bookmark here

Duke Westoff? But why would he try to cause unrest? The last time I saw him was… three years ago, when he…Bookmark here

Suddenly coming to a realization, I sprinted away from the balcony overlooking the castle gate in the direction of Father’s office. That loud voice that I had heard earlier arguing with Father… it had to be the Duke. In that case, I had to go warn Father immediately of his plans to revolt.Bookmark here

Almost colliding with the marble pillar at the top of the stairs as I raced to alert Father, I heard their voices come within earshot. Crouching behind a planter outside the King’s office, I cupped my right hand around my ear to better hear what they were saying.Bookmark here

“Your Majesty, these accusations are very serious. If they turn out to be true, you realize that many major powers on the continent will be turning their attention and militaries on us, correct?” said Duke Westoff; I could imagine him sneering as he spoke.Bookmark here

Eh? Accusations?Bookmark here

“... I just don’t understand how such a thing could slip under my nose!” Father, clearly exasperated, thumped his desk, causing the stationery holder to tumble.Bookmark here

“Yes, yes, I understand that you’ve been quite careful, making sure to personally scrutinize each and every trade deal anyone on this island makes with the outside. But, the fact remains that they have the appearance of being produced in Redjuve, something that other nations could never hope to emulate on a conceptual level. Even if they were produced in other nations, the design had to have come from us first.” Bookmark here

“But where could such a design have come from?! The lower-level workshops in the city shouldn’t have the manpower and resources to experiment with to create something that has been forbidden in Redjuve since its founding!”Bookmark here

“Oh, but there is a place: the Clockwork Palace. I happened to hear they recently came into a large fortune. While even us high-ranking nobility don’t know what goes on in the top floors, who does know is…”Bookmark here

“Westoff, I’m not a damn weapons dealer! The common man knows this, and I shall be vindicated!” Bookmark here

W-weapons?Bookmark here

Before I could gather my thoughts, the sun that was shining on me was blotted out.Bookmark here

“Kukuku, I’ve caught a spying rat, haven’t I!” Viscount Marbesias, the short man who always accompanied the Duke, shrieked gleefully. He grabbed my collar and lifted me up, dragging me into the view of the Duke and my father.Bookmark here

“Oh, why hello there, young prince! Eavesdropping, were you?” Duke Westoff bowed to me, then motioned for the Viscount to release me.Bookmark here

“A-Alistair, it’s not what you think-” stuttered Father, scrambling to clean up the traces of his frustration.Bookmark here

I had just broken off a friendship I held dear because I thought Redjuve was a nation of peace… and now you’re telling me that the Clockwork Palace could have been making weapons all along? I resisted the urge to vomit; would weapons ruin everything I thought to be respectable? Was my worldview a lie all along? Was I too naive?... Would Vell ask for weapons next?Bookmark here

“... Father, answer me this. Is there any possible shred of doubt that those weapons he made originated from within Redjuve?” I asked, voice trembling.Bookmark here

“... N-no. The weapons are unmistakably designed with the signature Redjuve aesthetic.” His voice faltered, and I was unsure if he was hiding anything more from me.Bookmark here

“Oh, my! I wouldn’t want to intrude in a private moment between father and son. I will be taking my leave now.” The Duke bowed once more and walked out of Father’s office grinning, with the Viscount in tow.Bookmark here

Standing silently in the office, Father stood there paralyzed at his desk. As for me, I could only feel a sense of despair as everything I once thought to be true about Redjuve, this island that I loved, fell apart.Bookmark here

Fuck.Bookmark here

Real Aire
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