Chapter 30:


Chained Regalia

Murmurs quietly echoed around us as we strolled down the road, pretending like we didn’t notice the obvious glances of passersby. At first, I’d just thought I was being paranoid; by now, I was certain that my gut feeling was correct.

No one actually approached or said anything to us; they just walked on by, whispering to their traveling companions as if they’d just seen something exciting or unexpected.

A couple of days ago, it had just been a few strangers acting odd like this. The next day, there were more. Then more. I could ignore it up to a point, but by today, it’d become unbearable.

It felt like every single individual in this town had suddenly decided to be on the lookout for Lucia and me, eagerly awaiting an opportunity to finally spot us and gossip about it. That surely was exaggeration, but if anything, the more time that passed, the more likely it seemed.

The worst part was, I had absolutely no idea why. Nothing like this had happened before our trip to Mahle, but once we returned, something changed. If this were a smaller town, it might make sense if our mission caused a minor buzz, but Nerush was full of people exactly like us, many of whom had probably experienced battles far worse than we had, so there was no reason for them to care about us suddenly.

No matter what it was that had caused this, I hated it; though, a lot of it was just me feeling self-conscious. Lucia was trying to hide it, but I could tell it was getting on her nerves, too. Her pace was noticeably quicker than usual, and she was oddly silent as we walked.

I hurried behind her, trying to ignore the gazes of onlookers, and, eventually, we made it back to our inn. Naturally, those seated within didn’t behave much differently, but we tried to pay them no heed as we took the shortest path upstairs to our room. Our range had long since grown enough that sharing a room was no longer necessary, but we’d gotten so used to this arrangement by now that neither of us had brought up the topic in some time.

Lucia sighed heavily as she dropped the bags she’d been holding onto her bed, and I did the same with mine. She was still recovering from her injuries, so she was limited in what she could do and was getting bored lying around all day. As a result, she had set her sights on some new dishes she wanted to try making, and we’d just gone for a brief trip to buy some ingredients at the nearby market.

I knew I would need to address the obvious topic at some point. Lucia had seemed annoyed by it, but not exactly surprised. In other words, she knew something I didn’t. I sighed and finally asked, “So, why are all these strangers suddenly acting so weird? What the hell happened?”

Her response was succinct, perhaps overly so. “I suppose the two of us are famous now.”

“But… why? I mean, I get why you might be, but why only now?”

“Rumors spread quickly, even from a small town like Mahle.” She fiddled with something in one of the bags as she spoke. “A week ago, I was merely a Chainbearer like any other. No one would have any reason to ever suspect I was Allion’s last princess; that is unless, of course, they already knew me personally. It was not as though I went around advertising my identity, for precisely this reason.”

“Ah,” I mumbled. “Wait, so does that mean someone we worked with leaked it, then? Why’d they do that?”

Lucia sighed again as she looked up from whatever she was messing with. “Most likely, it was Ollania or her Chain—Allie, was it? One of them likely revealed it, though I sincerely doubt they did so with malicious intent. It was my first time meeting them, and I never directly requested they keep it a secret.”

“Hmmm… so you’re just that famous, huh?” I was still unfamiliar with the political matters of this world, so I had no idea how much fame and influence a member of the Allion royal family would carry in this region or era.

“Moderately, but I only account for half of the attention.” She extended a finger towards me. “You are just as much a subject of their gazes as I.”

I thought she was joking, but she looked pretty serious in her claim. “Wh-why? What did I do?”

I’m just the subpar Chain of a far more important Chainbearer. There’s no reason for anyone to be interested in me…

Lucia looked hesitant at my question for a moment before speaking. “I believe you can handle it now, so I shall tell you.” As she concluded her statement, she placed a hand on the hilt of the sword always strapped to her side and unsheathed the blade.

“Layn, Chain of Estellous’ Blade—the foremost of the regalia vessels of Allion. There are few, if any, Chain lineages that carry as much prestige as yours.” She held the blade at a peculiar angle which allowed me to see my own reflection in its shimmer.

“Um, regalia? Like, a royal heirloom?” I supposed it would make sense if Estellous’ Blade was some kind of royal treasure given its fancy look and title, but, frankly, I had no idea what she was talking about.

She nodded at my question, then continued. “The Allion royal family once held seven regalia vessels. Six of these regalia, including Alwey’s Dosslusk, were commonly lent to allies of the crown as rewards for their loyalty, but Estellous’ Blade was different. It was a long-standing tradition that only the reigning monarch or heir apparent could use this vessel. This exclusivity is part of why it is held in such high regard. Throughout history, the Chains fostered within this blade—the Layns that came before you—were regarded with much the same respect as the royal family itself.”

“So, you’re telling me I’m just… famous by default? Without even doing anything? It’s free publicity?”

Lucia giggled a little at my reaction. “Precisely. It is not an exaggeration to presume that your name is more well-known than mine.”

It honestly felt too unreal to believe, even if I knew she wasn’t lying to me.

“Ah…” I realized something. “That means people probably have pretty high expectations of me, doesn’t it? People I haven’t even met and never will.”

Lucia averted her gaze to the floor. “That was why I didn’t tell you sooner. I… apologize. I was worried it would weigh on you.” She snapped her eyes upwards once again and began staring straight into my eyes. “But I believe you can handle it. I believe in your strength, Layn.”

I couldn’t match her gaze, and my eyes darted off to the side.

My attention was drawn back to her, however, when she said something wholly unexpected soon after.

“Ten years ago, it was my brother who held this sword.”

“H-huh?” I had heard a little bit about him from Selina, but this was the first time Lucia herself had ever spoken of him.

“His name was Enlind. He was the first to summon a new Chain with it in three generations. He… died when the kingdom fell. For ten years, I sought Estellous’ Blade, the regalia lost with him. I could have used any vessel, but I felt it important to reclaim this regalia—to inherit his will, and the will of all the Allion monarchs that came before. Once it was finally recovered many years later, I summoned you. I believe part of the reason we are being showered with so much attention is a result of that. In a way, my use of this regalia is a declaration.”

“Of… what?”

“Only the reigning monarch or next heir can wield it. One could easily interpret my actions as accepting the throne and declaring myself queen.”

“… Are you?”

“No.” Her response was terse and clear. “There can be no queen without her kingdom. For as long as Allion’s lands are infested, and its citizens remain refugees in foreign nations, there can be no ‘queen’. Not yet. But I strive to create that future.”

Lucia sheathed the blade once more, then suddenly extended an open hand in my direction. A sweet smile appeared on her face.

“I know this is a lot to ask, after everything that has happened, but…”

Something felt oddly familiar about this situation. In a very bad way.

“… will you still head towards that future with me, Layn?”

“Let’s head towards our future together, Lewis.”

Her words caused a distant voice to echo in my head, rebounding endlessly inside my skull, refusing to cease.

Stop. Please stop.

The voice grew louder, enveloping me. Consuming me.

I don’t want to remember.

And yet, I began to remember.

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