This Year Again, We Meet at the Round Table
-Fior Deniev, 19 years old-
The first thing that I smelled as soon as I passed through the door was the acrid scent of gunpowder smoke, something that I was unfortunately familiar with. From where the door spat Vell and I out, a small stairway that appeared to lead into a pantry, the characteristic billowing black clouds weren’t visible, but I could hear the sounds of cannons somewhere above.
“My Lord, is that you? Your return is certainly earlier than expected…” Sudden voices from the top of the stairway, presumably referring to Lowell, put me on high alert.
They posted guards outside this hallway? Not good - I don’t have a weapon…
One of the men, probably concerned as to why there was no response, peered down the stairway. However, thanks to it being dimly lit, we were not seen. “My Lord? Are you there?” he asked.
Not having the talent of mimicry, I couldn’t respond. Sensing that there was something wrong, the guard said something inaudible to his colleague, then started coming down the stairway. I braced myself for the worst - if the man was well trained and well equipped, all Vell and I could do was duck back through the door and keep it blocked.
“... Huh? Who are you two?” Coming within sight, the man was, fortunately, the complete opposite of my worst fears. Unarmored and lean, the guard wielded a metal pipe, which I assumed was to be used as a blunt weapon. “INTRU-”
His shouts were cut short as I covered his mouth with my left hand. After a bout of clumsy pushing and pulling, and him landing several weak strikes to my back, I was able to wrest the pipe from his hand. Raising it over my head, I steeled my resolve to bring it down for a decisive blow. This would be the first time I would use the techniques taught to me in swordsmanship class.
“I’m sorry,” I said softly. With one swing to the head, the man crumpled to the ground, unconscious but not dead. Feeling the weight of the pipe in my hand, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of disgust.
So this is violence.
The second guard, alarmed by the lack of any callouts from his colleague, now walked down the stairway cautiously. Unable to use the element of surprise, all I could do was wait in the shadows of the flat area until he reached the bottom so his high ground advantage disappeared. Another strike to the head and he fell to the floor as well.
Prying the crudely sharpened stick he held out of his hands, I passed it to Vell. Her grip on it was shaky, and in trying to appear brave but looking like a weak fawn, I could tell that she had no experience with combat training.
“... So, what’s the plan?” she asked, voice trembling as we walked up the stairway into an open hall.
“I guess we’ll have to fight our way to wherever Alistair is being kept,” I responded, looking over the balustrade into a scattered group of rebels below in the castle courtyard. Each of them looked as ordinary as the two guards that lay unconscious in the stairway.
A pipe and a sharpened stick… Their clumsy, untrained movements… These aren’t mercenaries or soldiers… A peasant rebellion…? But what could they possibly be rebelling for?
The castle grounds around us looked somewhat dusty and neglected, so it didn’t seem to be that unfair taxes were being levied on them to fulfill the greed of the rich. The peasants below didn’t look impoverished either, with their tidy appearances and lean but not malnourished builds.
Something felt off to me - I couldn’t imagine that commoners who led lives with such a decent standard of living would overthrow the monarchy… unless provoked. Had the monarchy threatened to take their livelihoods away? Had the King spoken poorly of the commoners, and they were rebelling out of disrespect? Or had unsavory rumours spread by a political faction shaken the trust of the populace? Whatever it was, I was confident that Alistair had no part in it.
A sudden tremor knocked Vell and I off our feet as the cannons fired once more. Following the trails of smoke in the air with my eyes, I realized that they were not the result of the burning of the castle, but of artillery being shot into the sky.
What the artillerymen were firing at, I had no idea, but there was no time to figure that out. The rebels below had begun advancing up the stairs to the open hallway where we stood. Though they seemed untrained, there was only so much I could do alone. Gritting my teeth, I leapt into combat.
-Alistair Vermilion, 17 years old-
Damn… This is the end, isn’t it?
My wrists were beginning to cramp from gripping the flight sticks tightly, and my vision was beginning to blur. I eyed the fuel gauge wearily, knowing that there was now no way for me to reach the mainland. Having dodged the missiles for several hours now, the Vassar was incredibly low on fuel as well as electricity. With the sun setting, I would be unable to draw any power from the solar panels. Descending down onto the island was the only choice I had left.
“Pass me another energy drink, will you?” I asked Olivia.
Quickly chugging it down and tossing the small bottle to the floor of the cockpit, I prepared myself for the perilous dive that was about to ensue. The closer I got to the ground, the less time I would have to dodge each missile.
As for where I could land… I eyed the surroundings below, trying to find a place that I could land safely. The places that were suitable for landing without crashing to a horrible, fiery death seemed to be swarming with rebels; if I landed in those locations, I would be captured. On the other hand, the places without rebels were either too far for me to reach without being struck down mid-air, or too dangerous to land in. The hangar was an option, of course, but there were no supplies there - Olivia and I would starve to death in hiding.
Deep breaths, Alistair. In and out. Look carefully. You can do this.
While I had been doing my breathing exercises, the sounds below had dampened to a murmur. The roars of the artillery had ceased - fortunate timing, as if this persisted the dive to the ground would be much safer. As for why, I was about to find out. Opening the glove compartment beneath the seat, I took out a handheld telescope and held it up to my eye.
The artillerymen had left their various posts around the outer castle wall, and were running towards the hallways, where I could see swarms upon swarms of rebels converging. Due to the narrow nature of the hallways, it seemed that they were advancing one at a time down the hall slowly.
Fiddling with the zoom knob to see what they were doing, I felt my heartbeat stand still. In the mess below, I could see a glimpse of light blue and blonde hair at the end of the trail of rebels, slowly being pushed back down the hallway.
… Fior? Vell? What are they doing here? Did they come here from Japan?
AH- that’s right, the door! I could go through that to Japan!
However, the small stairway that led to the door was blocked by the trail of rebels. To get to it, I would have to join the fight alongside Fior and Vell. The Vassar wasn’t equipped with weapons, nor did I have any weapons training. Sure, if I crashed the Vassar into the balustrade, perhaps I could take out a couple of the rebels - however, the two of them had been pushed far past the stairway, and I would be separated from them.
Rummaging around in the glove compartment for something I could use, I struck gold. Why are these here? Better question - when did I make these? Three years ago?
“Hold on tight,” I said softly, reorienting the Vassar.
“Eh?” whimpered Olivia right before I pushed the flight sticks as far forward as they could go.
The engines of the Vassar probably were roaring louder than they had ever been - I couldn’t hear them, of course, over the sound of Olivia’s screaming. We were going at such a high speed that my breathing became strained, and I could feel the blood rushing out of my head. I was so close to blacking out… until I wasn’t.
Now that the fuel tank and battery had been completely depleted, the Vassar began to decelerate rapidly, carried downwards only by gravity. Within seconds, we were falling like a stone, the air resistance killing all horizontal velocity we had. My peripheral vision returned, and I hastily made some adjustments to our trajectory - just in time.
The balustrade exploded into pieces as the Vassar crashed into it, windshield shattering in the process. Coughing from the smoke and debris, I had never been more glad that I had replaced it with safety glass - if I hadn’t, the resulting jagged shards probably would’ve gouged out my eyes.
The rebels, in a panic after the Vassar’s sudden appearance and crash landing, started sprinting away, afraid that the object unknown to them might be dangerous. Those trapped in between where I was and where Fior and Vell became agitated, pushing against each other to try and escape past the two.
Pushing aside a panel of shattered glass to exit the cockpit, I pulled one of the metal cylinders I had found in the glove compartment out of my pocket. Raising it like I would a sword, I pointed it at the rebels trapped in the hallway.
“CLOSE YOUR EYES!”
-Fior Deniev, 19 years old-
For a moment after the bang, the world was painted white.
When it all faded, and the pain in my eyes subsided, the group of rebels that stood between us and Alistair had mostly disappeared, having thrown themselves off the balustrade onto the lower level.
“YOU KNOW WHERE TO MEET!” he shouted over the chaos.
Pushing aside the remaining rebels, who were huddled on the ground in fear of the sound, I ran through the debris-littered hallway with Vell in tow. Alistair stood in front of the stairway with a woman who appeared to be a maid, waving another flash bomb at the men on the other side of the hallway, threatening them with another burst of light. As soon as the two of us made it to him, he triggered it, blinding all of us yet again.
“DAMN IT, ALISTAIR, YOU DIDN’T GIVE US WARNING THAT TIME!” I yelled over the pandemonium.
“WHO CARES, JUST GET GOING!” he responded. Unable to see anything, it was my turn to be led by Vell to the bottom, where we quickly crossed through to the other side. Moments later, Alistair and the maid crossed through as well, and we leaned against the wall of the railway station, desperately trying to catch our breaths.
“T-Thank you… hah… for coming… to try and save… hah… me,” Alistair panted between labored breaths.
Before Vell or I could respond, the doorknob turned on its own, making my blood run cold.
“SHIT! THEY’RE COMING THROUGH!” Vell screamed, drawing the attention of the Japanese passersby. “WE HAVE TO LEAVE!”
The four of us ran through the exit toward the scramble crossing, with a handful of brave rebels in pursuit. As we ran through the rain, Alistair searched in his pockets, only to come up empty.
My mind raced to come up with a solution. While the crowds at the crossing had thinned somewhat, they would still be able to see us. I was the only one of us four who had any regular athletic training in the past, probably, and with all the fighting I had done back in Redjuve, the war-fever was beginning to wear off, leaving me exhausted. There was no way we would be able to fight them off or outrun them.
“We have to split up,” I told the other three. “I’ll go to the left, you three go to the right.”
“What?! Why?!” exclaimed Vell between pained breaths.
“I’m the tallest one of us - and I have the most uniquely colored hair. If you three blend in with the crowd on the right, I can lead them away from you guys.” I responded, barely able to draw any oxygen from the thick, soupy air.
“And what about you -”
“Just do it!” I cut off Alistair.
Reaching the crossing and wading through the first stream of pedestrians, I split off from the group, trying to keep my back straight to make myself more conspicuous. Miraculously, it worked - now all the pursuers were on my tail. They didn’t notice Alistair, Vell, and the maid joining the flow of passersby.
I did it. They’ll be safe.
I didn’t have time to celebrate - there were still the rebels behind me, and my footsteps were beginning to slow. With every step I took, a jolt of pain ran through my legs, and my peripheral vision was beginning to fade. Why they were still pursuing me when I wasn’t their target for execution, I had no clue, but I was desperate.
Using up every last bit of power I had, I threw open the wooden sliding door of a nearby ramen shop and ducked in. Scrambling to get behind the kitchen counter, the last thing I saw before I blacked out was the face of a man who had purple hair.
When I came to, a bald man wearing an apron was crouching over me.
“You okay, son?” he asked, pressing something cold to my forehead.
“Y-yeah… did they leave?”
“The three crazy men that came in wearing strange clothing and waving metal pipes? Yeah, they left, once I pointed at the sword,” he pointed at a scabbard which was mounted on the wall of his restaurant.
I tried to stand up, but I was still weak, only managing to sit up against the kitchen drawers.
“You gave Ristall, my employee, quite a fright, you know? A kid with blue hair slamming the door open, running behind the counter, and promptly fainting? When he called me down, he sounded just as scared as the day I met him,” the shop owner chuckled. Grabbing a steaming bowl of soup from the counter above, he handed it to me. “Drink this.”
It was the most delicious bowl of soup I had ever had. I couldn’t help but cry as the tension left my body, melted by the salty broth. Perhaps I needed it after all the tears I had shed running in the rain.
“Whoa! Drink slowly, or you’ll choke!”
Wiping my mouth with my sleeve, having finished the soup, I asked, “What time is it?”
“It’s half an hour past midnight, kid. You’re lucky we were open.”
Standing in front of the bookstore where I had dropped my things haphazardly, I sighed a sigh that was both dejected and relieved. The backpack hadn’t been stolen, nor any of the money inside it.
On the other hand, the door back to the Empire was closed. I would be stuck in Japan for a year, and with the money I had left, it wouldn’t be long before I couldn’t pay for lodging or food. No longer was I Fior of the Deniev Imperial Family. I was simply Fior. With a lack of credentials in this world, it would be a grueling restart.
“Hey, aren’t you that guy who visited our pawn shop once?” came a voice from behind me.