Chapter 18:

Trainwreck

This Year Again, We Meet at the Round Table


-Alistair Vermilion, 17 years old-Bookmark here

A year had passed since I had last seen Vell as well as a glimpse of someone who I thought was Fior… but I didn’t expect to see either of them this year. This year’s festival, I would be by my lonesome, something that hadn’t happened since I met the two nine years ago.Bookmark here

Ahhh… what can I even say to them if I happen to run into them? I was the one to cast Fior away, and in turn, was cast away by Vell due to my inability to handle my issues back home… It’s all my fault, isn’t it? I thought, lying face-up on my bed.Bookmark here

Looking at the clock on my wall, I despaired, as there remained two hours until the door to Japan would open. There would be no point in spending time in the hangar; I had long run out of materials to craft with, and there was no replenishing the stash, as even the purveyor assigned to me had fled the castle. What remaining fuel I had, I had put into the tank of the Vassar pre-emptively, in case of…Bookmark here

Knock-knock!Bookmark here

“Yes?” I called out.Bookmark here

“I have what you requested ready, young master!” Bookmark here

I dragged myself off the bed, an act that took more effort than should have been necessary, and opened the door to see Olivia on the other side. In her hands, she held a handmade duffel bag, something I had asked her to sew for me in her already sparse free time.Bookmark here

“Thank you so much. I know you’ve had your hands full recently with all the other maids leaving, and -”Bookmark here

“Don’t worry about it. I am staying here of my own volition, and am aware of the risk.” She began to curtsy, but I stopped her with a hand on her shoulder.Bookmark here

“You don’t need to do that… It’s only a matter of time before the rebellion faction decides they want to storm the castle, anyways. By now… the monarchy is nothing more than an empty shell, so I can’t really say that there’s any difference in our statuses,” I said quietly.Bookmark here

“O-ok.” She hesitated, then completed the curtsy, disregarding my attempt to treat her as an equal.Bookmark here

“... So how’s Elizabeth?” I asked. Elizabeth had been one of the maids to leave the castle earliest, and I didn’t blame her. From snippets of conversation I had overheard, she was working to provide for her siblings that lived downtown, and she couldn’t afford to be caught up in the coup when it happened.Bookmark here

“She’s fine, although her letters have slowly waned.”Bookmark here

“Oh. I see. Well, that’s good.”Bookmark here

Boom!Bookmark here

The castle shook once violently and suddenly, interrupting our conversation. Hurrying to the windows, I could see dark smoke billowing from the castle gates - the insurrectionists had decided today would be the day to pull off the coup. Since many of the guards had quit as well, there was no doubt that they would be roaming the halls of the castle soon.Bookmark here

How the hell did they get explosives, anyway? The commoners shouldn’t have access to things like that, unless...Bookmark here

Taking hold of Olivia’s wrist, I pulled her into my room and closed the door.Bookmark here

“Young master, this is hardly the time to be- why are you moving your nightstand?” she asked, flustered at first.Bookmark here

I ignored her and flipped the switch, unlocking the hatch to the hangar. Turning the wheel to open the hatch, I motioned for her to follow me down the ladder. As soon as I reached the floor of the hangar, I scrambled to get my toolbox, picking out a small pocket knife and a bag full of bolts and nuts, and put them in the back pocket of my pants.Bookmark here

Wide-eyed and slack-jawed, Olivia stared at the Vassar, a machine whose design was completely alien to the people of Redjuve, in amazement. “Y-you had this down here all along? Wait, how did you make this? And how did you keep this secret?”Bookmark here

“You should’ve noticed earlier. Didn’t you and Elizabeth talk about the soot stains on my clothing before?” Checking the fuel gauge, I verified that there would be barely enough gas to get to the mainland in favorable conditions. “Alright. You stay here until I return.”Bookmark here

“What? Are you not going to stay safe down here?” she protested as I began climbing up the ladder back to my room.Bookmark here

“The Vassar has room for one more person… I’ll try to see if I can get my father to safety,” I replied, closing the hatch and sealing her in.Bookmark here

Easing the door slightly open and determining that the hall was void of any rebels, I closed my fist tightly and gritted my teeth. As brave as I had tried to appear to Olivia, throwing myself into the fray was nerve-wracking. While I had brought along tools to escape capture, there was no doubt that all eyes would be on Father in his office, and my escape wouldn’t be guaranteed.Bookmark here

Deep breaths, Alistair. Deep breaths. In, and out. In, and out.Bookmark here

Alright. Let’s do this.Bookmark here

I dashed into the open hallway, where I could see a large mob streaming through the castle gates. With the pillar of smoke continuing to rise, there was no doubt that someone of significant standing would be guiding them. In that case, they would have a direct route through the castle, without having to navigate the castle they had never visited.Bookmark here

With an uncontrollably wide turn, I sped into the hall where Father’s office was… which was surprisingly empty. Had they really not reached it yet? Had they chosen a different target to strike first?Bookmark here

“Father! Are you there?!” I shouted at the closed doors.Bookmark here

There was a moment of silence before I heard a voice shout in reply, “Don’t come in! It’s a-”. Before I could react, something punched a hole through the thick wood and grabbed me by the collar.Bookmark here

“Kukuku, the rat that I thought would walk around our trap instead dived straight in? What fun!” shrieked Viscount Marbesias, who grasped me tightly with a mechanized gauntlet. “Men! Tie him up!”Bookmark here

Tch. It was a trap.Bookmark here

Going through the other, unbroken door panel, two rebels approached me with rope and tied my wrists together. The Viscount, with his other hand, reached around the door, and pulled me into the room, where several other rebels were lying in wait. Tied up in the back of the room was Father, who had been roughed up, evident by the black eye and cuts on his face.Bookmark here

“Alistair! Are you okay?!” he shouted, his eyes full of genuine concern.Bookmark here

“Throw him in that corner of the room,” ordered the Viscount, pointing at the opposite corner of the room from Father. The rebels moved me into place with a kick, knocking the wind out of my lungs.Bookmark here

Kuh- Why are you doing this? What did the monarchy ever do to you?” I pleaded, trying to appeal to any sense of logic the rebels had. Bookmark here

Unfortunately for me, they stayed silent as the Viscount laughed evilly, twirling his moustache. “You’re just in time - the Duke will be arriving soon, and he’ll explain everything to you.”Bookmark here

As he waited for Duke Westoff to arrive, I tried to evaluate the situation, looking around the room. There were five rebels, each equipped with rope but no weapons. Their eyes weren’t hardened and stern - these were civilians, not soldiers of fortune. What reason they had to rebel against the monarchy, I still didn’t know, even after two years of thinking.Bookmark here

Soon, the Duke arrived, dragging along with him a maid bound with rope. As soon as he saw Father and I, tied up and unable to move, he sneered, and motioned with his hands. The rebels in the room tossed her to a corner as well, this time the one closest to the door. Bookmark here

“Ahh… What a wonderful day to be your last, no?” he asked, gazing out of the window in the office. “The skies are blue, the seas are calm, and,” he glanced at Father, “the streets will be stained red.”Bookmark here

“Wha- surely, you don’t mean to execute us today, will you?” Bookmark here

“Oh, but I will! Not here, though - the execution will be public, so that the commoners of Redjuve can see that a new era is beginning!” He cackled a bit, then coughed into his handkerchief. “Apologies, my health has hit a few speed bumps recently, though I’m sorry to say that I’ll still be healthier than you at the end of the day.”Bookmark here

Through gritted teeth, I growled at the Duke, “For what reason are you performing this coup? Surely, you have no discontent with the monarchy? I don’t believe that the royal family has ever wronged yours, or any of the nobility, for that matter!”Bookmark here

“You don’t believe…?” He turned to the Viscount and waved his hand, who led the rebels out of the room. “Well, now that we’re alone, I suppose I can tell you. After all, you two won’t be around to ruin everything after today.”Bookmark here

Pacing around the room and fiddling with his ugly suit, he spoke. “You see, you’re right in that the monarchy has yet to wrong the nobility. So why would we possibly rebel?” He stopped in front of me and rubbed his fingers together.Bookmark here

Money, of course.”Bookmark here

“Money? Why could you possibly want money? As the owner of one of the big factories, your pockets are lined with gold - surely, you should be satisfied?” Father asked in complete disbelief.Bookmark here

“Oh, but it isn’t enough! You see, I have plans. Plans much larger in scale than my measly factory. To achieve these plans, I need more money than I could ever make with the way things are now - and to get that money, I needed the king out of the way.”Bookmark here

“And why would the king being out of the way make you more money?” I inquired.Bookmark here

“Well, the royal administration handles all trade with the outside, right? If I could sell directly to foreign countries, well, I would be able to sell everything at a higher price, would I not? And,” he grinned, “there’s the Clockwork Palace as well. If I could put all those engineers to work making money for me, instead of making random inventions that wouldn’t sell, that would be more efficient, no?”Bookmark here

A lightbulb lit up in his head, and he continued to speak. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to tell you this, but those rumours of weapons? I made those. Trading a large shipment of weapons would be difficult to sneak past the ports, but a couple suitcases of firearms? Easily smuggled on dinghies to the mainland. Even the Coast Patrol has its cracks.”Bookmark here

“You son of a b-” I tried to scream, but the Duke quickly slapped a piece of tape onto my mouth.Bookmark here

“Shut it, pesky rat. I am tired of your drivel.”Bookmark here

Shit! I should have noticed that he was acting suspicious a year ago… but even if I did, would I have acted? Paralyzed and demoralized by the idea that Redjuve could be exporting weapons, would I have been able to find the motivation to confront the Duke?Bookmark here

As the Duke looked away, watching through the window as chaos unfolded around the castle grounds, I fumbled behind my back for the pocket knife. I flipped it open and began cutting at my ropes. Once I was done, however, I realized something.Bookmark here

Tch… Father is too far away. If I try to cut his ropes too, the Duke will have restrained me, or even worse, he’ll call the rebels that might still be outside. Then my fate will be sealed. Olivia can’t operate the Vassar - she’ll be stuck, starved to death in the hangar, unable to survive within the castle.Bookmark here

However, Father looked into my eyes and caught onto what I was planning. Smiling warmly, he began to mouth some words.Bookmark here

Escape. Without. Me. Bookmark here

I felt a pang of guilt as I realized that even though he was rarely around to be with me when I was a child, he was still trying to protect me. If I had felt any of this parental love when I was a kid… would I be as lonely as I was?Bookmark here

Nevertheless, I had to escape. Casting away the sliced ropes onto the floor and making a break for it, I shot one last glance at Father and seared it into my mind. The memories of him in my mind were scarce; all I could hope was that I would never forget that warm smile of his in that moment.Bookmark here

“So the rat flees…” cackled Viscount Marbesias, who was waiting outside the door “Men, get him!”Bookmark here

Reaching into my back pocket, I threw the nuts and bolts at their eyes, causing the rebels to stop for just a moment - but just a moment was enough. I had managed to gain enough of a lead on them that all I had to do was pray that there were no more in wait up ahead.Bookmark here

Fortunately, my prayers rang true as the path was clear. Arriving at my room, I slammed the door closed and fumbled to get to a coil of wire that I had laid by the nightstand. A quick couple of turns around the doorknob with the wire formed a makeshift lock - hopefully it would keep the rebels at bay for long enough before I managed to fire up the Vassar.Bookmark here

A crestfallen Olivia awaited me when I finished my descent of the ladder. “... So I take it that you were unable to save His Royal Highness?”Bookmark here

All I could do was shake my head with a downward gaze, before moving quickly to turn on the Vassar’s engine. The air in the hangar began to warm as the engine roared to life, a comforting sound. However, just having barely enough fuel to reach the mainland, I had to hurry. Motioning to Olivia to climb into the cranny behind the seat, I opened the hangar door, causing the sea breeze to flood in. Usually I would stop to breathe deeply, but now was not the time.Bookmark here

I climbed into the cockpit and gripped the joysticks tightly, knowing that this would be my last flight with the Vassar. As a fugitive with no money on him, there was no way I would be able to refuel on the mainland. I would have to abandon this project that I had worked so hard to complete.Bookmark here

As the Vassar achieved take-off, I immediately had to take it in a sharp turn around, as the hangar was on the side of the island away from the mainland. To get to the mainland, I would have to fly over Redjuve… one last bird's-eye view. However, just moments later, I saw something fly past the cockpit, just narrowly missing the left wing. Bookmark here

A bird? No, birds fly in flocks…Bookmark here

Another one streaked past, this time almost striking the tail fin. Bookmark here

If it isn’t a bird… then it has to be…Bookmark here

A third projectile came flying at the Vassar, this time forcing me to dodge and lose altitude.Bookmark here

Artillery… How did they prepare this in advance? There’s no way they should’ve known that I would be escaping via the air… Nevermind that, I can’t just dodge forever… I have to get going before they - Bookmark here

Before I could finish my train of thought, a fourth, fifth and sixth missile approaching forced me to lurch upwards violently to dodge. The rate of fire had increased - the rebel forces had brought more artillery than I had predicted. If they had known about the Vassar in advance… they would be shooting at me as long as I was over the island… perhaps they even had anti-air boats covering my flight path to the mainland. There was no way I would be able to make fine adjustments to my trajectory to dodge the artillery as I flew over Redjuve… nor could I hover in the air indefinitely.Bookmark here

Shit… How do I escape?Bookmark here

Real Aire
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