Salva’s Taboo Exchanges IX

This chapter contains bigoted words used in a fit of self-loathing by a character, against herself; it also contains violence, and familial abuse and manipulation. 


37th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E

Kingdom of Lubon, Royal Territory of Pallas — Palazzo Di Vittoria

After an agonizingly tense dinner with the queen and her maiden, Salvatrice retreated to a room set aside far in advance. It was a room that she had perhaps been meant to stay in several times, but those visits never came to pass. Decorated pastel pink, it was larger than her apartment at the academy, containing a bedroom, a living room, and a small study.

In place of the kitchen there was a massive wardrobe.

Salvatrice ran her fingers across the hundreds of outfits in her size that hung from the long racks across the musty wooden room. There were plaques with her name emblazoned on them everywhere. Their presence disturbed her. ‘Salvatrice’s shoes;’ Salvatrice’s hats.’ It was eerie, like staring at a not-quite-right reflection in the mirror; or another world.

Was there a Salvatrice somewhere who had been enjoying these goods?

There were dresses, beautiful, ornate, gilded and silver in the same fashion as her mother’s clothing. They made her fine silks look humble. There were all manner of sporting outfits befitting an active young woman. A rider’s uniform with a crop; a duelist’s coat and pants, paired with a crystalline blue sabre; a modern tennis uniform with a skirt. There were fur coats, so many that it almost seemed like a zoo had been depopulated to furnish them.

Hats, seemingly hundreds, in every conceivable style and every acceptable color.

Enough shoes to equip every fashionable girl at the Academy, lined the walls.

Salvatrice picked up one of the uniforms and pressed it against her chest. It seemed surprisingly well tailored to her slender and petite shape, as well as her height and the length of her limbs. She reasoned that she could put on any of these and it would fit.

She also reasoned that the spying she suffered was more intrusive than she thought.

Behind her, Byanca Geta panned across the room in silent awe, staring at all the coats and the various hats, the numerous shawls and fox-tail scarves and other accessories.

She picked up the sword and examined it briefly. “Do you know how to use this?”

“I took lessons as a teenager. But that was some time ago.” Salvatrice replied.

“Ms. Mariel told me the Queen practices every night. I guess she wanted to share her hobby with you; maybe you can spar with her some time.” Byanca amicably said.

This remark Salvatrice ignored. She examined the furs along the rack instead.

“Salva, how many paychecks do I have to save to get a place like this?” Byanca asked.

Salvatrice shook her head. She was too absorbed in the room to take offense at her bodyguard’s familiarity. “Infinite paychecks. You can’t buy something like this. It’s something that can only be granted or stolen. It’s a privilege of power.” She said bitterly.

She spread her fingers and allowed a beautiful mink shawl to fall to the floor. It was despicable, to think that through all her sufferings the Queen was collecting all of these expensive things in this room. What was the purpose of it? Did stocking Salvatrice’s future room provide enough stimulation to replace Salvatrice’s actual presence in it? Did she consider herself a great providing mother for stuffing an unused closet full of silk?

Salvatrice stormed out of the wardrobe in disgust, slamming the door behind her.

Byanca then opened the door again, letting herself out, and slammed it behind her.

Every room was lavishly furnished. It felt like a crime to sit in the plush living room seats, gathered around a television set the size of a bed and with just as much wood around its screen, along with a radio set and jukebox loaded with a massive stack of shellac records. There was a pearl coffee table upon which a jade tea set had been left. Salvatrice absent-mindedly touched the pot, and recoiled; it was still hot, and there was warm tea inside.

“For all the trouble they went through, they didn’t leave any biscuits.” Byanca said.

Salvatrice shot her a dirty look, and Byanca sank into her couch in response.

“What are we going to do now?” asked the Centurion.

“I do not know.” Salvatrice said. “I was not planning to stay more than a few days.”

“But it feels like we’re trapped, doesn’t it? There’s an oppressive atmosphere.”

The princess deeply shared her Centurion’s feelings. She thought she felt them much more acutely. These walls felt as if built to keep her trapped. This was not a cage for Byanca.

From the first brick these walls had been made to contain Princess Salvatrice Vittoria, the future Queen Vittoria II. However much Byanca must have felt her freedom curtailed by the etiquette, the stuffy atmosphere, the imbalance of power between the royals and herself, a lowly soldier in the Palazzo; Salvatrice felt those bonds strangling her with tenfold strength. Byanca was beneath their notice; but all their covetous eyes were on Salvatrice.

In this palace her wings were destined to be clipped.

But she was also keenly aware of her mother’s designs.

For the moment, they guaranteed some measure of freedom.

“She will release us. She needs me outside the walls to complete her plot.”

“Plot?” Byanca asked.

Salvatrice felt her breathing momentarily quicken.

Just thinking about the near future gave her terrible anxiety.

“I’ve become bait, to lure out the leader of the so-called anarchists.” She said.

Byanca opened her eyes wide and sat up straighter.

“THAT’S what you two talked about?”

Salvatrice bowed her head, her shaking fingers tightly gripping her skirt. “My sister was exiled to a nunnery for participating in a plot to kill my mother and usurp her. That is the reason why I’m the First Princess now. Her co-conspirator can no longer get to my mother, now that my sister’s intentions are in the open. But he can get to me.”

She could see her bodyguard’s heart sinking. Her torment was plain on her face.

“I thought I was prepared to hear something unpleasant, but this is too much.”

Salvatrice almost felt comforted by Byanca’s sympathy. Were it not for the string of torments she suffered the past day she would have felt tender enough for an embrace.

“Salva, this is too dangerous. You must protest this! Not only does it put you in peril, it could turn the academy itself into a battleground! These people have bombed buildings before, they’ve driven trucks through gates, they’ve shot up police stations midday. They will not bat an eyelash at gunning down the academy to get to you. Your mother has gone mad!”

In her despair, this was an angle that Salvatrice had not considered. She had been focused inward; on the danger to herself, now that her mother relaxed her security and revealed her intentions. Everyone suspected she would be a target, and she believed it now; but her surroundings would be just as much a target on any attack targeted at her.

She envisioned a car bomb going off at the Academy gate, the same as on that night at the Previte estate, pursuing its vengeance regardless of who might become involved.

How many innocent young women would die alongside her then? Women like the late Lady Mina, gunned down mere meters away fom her? She felt a wave of helplessness, like a cascade rushing down her shoulders and weighing her down on the couch.

She licked her lips absentmindedly, having no words to offer.

“Princess, let’s go after the Queen right now! We can’t just give up!”0

Byanca stood up to punctuate her insistence.

Salvatrice, however, felt only weariness.

“Please stop being so loud.” Salvatrice moaned. “Turn on the radio.”

The Centurion stared as the princess gave a dismissive wave of the hand.

Defeated, Byanca bowed her head and ambled stiffly to the radio, turning the knob. From the speakers blared crackling noise and a chaotic mixture of voices, changing with every millimeter turn of the frequency switch. Once Byanca let go of the knob the wailing settled into the calm, baritone voice of a popular opera singer.

She returned to her chair and took a sip of tea. Under the heart-wrenching melodies of betrayal and bitter destiny that characterized this opera, Byanca drank in silence, alone. Salvatrice did not touch her tea. Cozzi was such a horrible thing to have to listen to; Salvatrice almost wanted to throw her cup of tea at the radio in the hopes of a short-circuit. But she felt so weak and beaten that she did not manage to do anything.

In his handsome voice, the male lead sang of the two sisters, both beautiful and wealthy. Though his courtship should have been directed at the eldest, his eyes wandered to the youngest, and there was all manner of acrimony as lust destroyed them.

A despicable tale of women swooning and dying, and rapacious, pathetic men.

Not the type of man nor the type of woman Salvatrice would ever want to be.

“Could you change the frequency? Put it on Cybelle.” She said.

Nodding her head, Byanca put down her cup, stood, and twisted the knob again.

For a second the voices mixed again before settling on the awkward speech of an older woman, slowly enunciating the winning numbers for a small lottery. After this, she began to discuss the local weather for the week. Though far less dramatic, Cybelle was a reliable news station with round-the-clock programming. It was a sweet background nothingness. But the sting of Cozzi’s warring sisters lingered in her mind. It made her think.

Salvatrice wondered whether, trapped in that nunnery, her sister hated her.

She wondered whether things could have been different had Clarissa succeeded.

Had her sister taken power, what would have become of Salvatrice Vittoria? They were only half-related by blood, each created by vastly different fathers. They had little contact over the intervening years. Certainly no familiarity bound them to each other. Would she have gotten rid of Salvatrice? Would she have hid her like an embarassment, in the way her mother did? Would she have set her free after taking her mother’s head?

Shaking her head, Salvatrice brought herself out of her thoughts in time for the news.

“At the top of the hour, we’ve got an update on a breaking story from earlier in the day. Agents of the Queen’s Coorte 17th Legion have reportedly carried out a wave of highly successful arrests aimed at suspected terrorists around the Palladi region.”

Byanca raised her head from the tea. Salvatrice felt her body tense.

“This operation became possible after a Coorte agent captured an insurgent after a shooting at the Pallas Academy where one student was killed and several injured. The 17th Legion took the man into custody and extracted information which then led to several more arrests in and around the Palladi region. The 17th Legion has also confirmed that they have captured the ringleader responsible for planning the attack on the Previte estate, the grenade attacks in Ikrea and the shooting at the Academy, along with numerous cohorts.”

Though a more credulous person would have felt relief, Salvatrice immediately thought that something had to be wrong here. She turned to Byanca, silently demanding an explanation.

“It’s impossible; a minion like him wouldn’t have known any important anarchists.” Byanca said. “I interrogated him myself. He was in hysterics. Nothing from him is credible.”

Salvatrice turned again to the radio as the news-woman continued to speak.

“The 17th Legion has published a list of names of those arrested. Should you have any further information on these men, you are advised to visit the legionary office immediately.”

Calmly the woman began to read the names on the air.

Byanca’s eyes drew wide and her jaw hung, her lips spread. Her fingers shook.

Each name seemed to knock her words further down the throat.

Only once the full list had been read did Byanca find the strength to speak again.

“Those are all people connected to my investigation.” She said, her voice quivering.

“Why would they be arrested?” Salvatrice demanded.

“I don’t know! They’re all pub crawlers and poets and beatniks. Some of them might write bawdy lyrics about the Queen but none of them have the spine to throw a bomb!”

“So then you’re telling me that everyone who testified that they were friends with the shooter has been falsely rounded up as an anarchist?” Salvatrice shouted back.

Byanca clenched her fists. She bowed her head in disgust.

“Not just those who testified. There are names on there that I just got from people, but never managed to interview. It’s practically everyone who had any tenuous link.”

Salvatrice covered her mouth with her hand, not knowing what to think or feel.

Over their silence the broadcast continued in a cheery tone.

“17th Legion Legatus Marcel has gone on record as saying that owing to the swift capture of the perpetrators, enhanced security around the Palladi region will be relaxed. To quote him: ‘citizens of Lubon should sleep soundly and walk proudly, knowing their land is now safe.'”

That was it; the final piece slid into place. She was bait and this was the lure shaking in the water. Now that the anarchists had been “caught” everyone could rest easily.

Especially the real anarchists, who would soon catch on to the fabricated blunder.

Innocents sacrificed to enable the princess’ own sacrifice. God save the Queen.

Her heart burning with rage, Salvatrice thrust to a stand and stormed away from the couch and into the hated wardrobe, so fast Byanca nearly tripped with surprise trying to follow her. Inside the wardrobe she ripped the duelist’s uniform from the racks and drew the saber from its sheathe. She swung it once, testing its weight and her own strength.

Laying eyes on the weapon, Byanca held out a shaking hand in defense.

“Princesss, please calm down.” She pleaded.

Over her shoulder, Salvatrice laid a fiery gaze on the Centurion.

“Help me out of this dress.” She ordered.


Perhaps it was a ballroom on certain nights, with a chandelier like a blossom of glass hanging over the dancers. Certainly the piano was still in the corner, and could have been played. On the wooden floor the tapping steps struck with quick sounds that then echoed across the high ceiling and broad walls. Tonight, however, Queen Vittoria was not dancing.

Instead her steps took her closer and father from an invisible opponent, a shadow, that she fought with an ornate saber. Quick lunges and careless sweeps sliced the air. A subtle rush of noise accompanied each swing. In her dueling uniform the Queen had an entirely different air from the tantalizing, extravagant clothing she often wore.

She was covered up to her neck in a purple jacket, and dark pants. Her hair was collected in a simple ponytail. As she swung and stepped, practicing her stances, the Queen looked almost rugged. Alone in this grand stage, the Queen seemed to be in her own far-off world. There were no guards, no servants, just the fairy queen, and the swirling air around her.

Salvatrice spied her from afar as she traversed the long connecting hallway.

She was almost a mirror to her mother then, dressed in a duelist’s jacket and pants herself. Her own hair, shorter than her mother’s, was instead clipped behind her head.

Nevertheless, she thought they must have looked keenly alike. Perhaps everything in that wardrobe was meant to make her more a picture of her mother, in all her forms.

Even when dressed in a more masculine fashion.

Bloodthirst as ancient as the uniform and blade directed the Princess then.

Saber in hand, Salvatrice made to walk into the room, when a hand seized her shoulder.

Behind her, Lillith Mariel appeared suddenly and seemingly without a door.

At her side there were only paintings and stone.

Salvatrice did not see her coming.

She had perhaps been waiting in ambush in a niche, like a counter-assassin.

“Your mother does not wish to be disturbed.” She said sternly. “I will not ask why you take a weapon to her presence if you surrender it to me and turn back around now.”

Salvatrice glanced side-long at the maid with a snarl on her face.

She did not stop walking, and she had no intention to surrender anything.

“Byanca, get her out of my way.” She commanded.

From farther down the hall, the dutiful servant dashed into action.

In a moment, the Centurion approached and quickly seized the older maid by the arms, ripping her from Salvatrice’s presence and pulling her kicking and cursing back into the long hall behind them. The Princess strode confidently into the ballroom, her saber swaying casually in the air as she walked, her steps light, imperious, entering the Queen’s stage.

Behind her the maid and Centurion struggled in each other’s arms.

“I’m sorry, Ms. Mariel, but please stay out of this!” Byanca gently said, trying to hold down the Queen’s maid. Though the woman periodically thrashed, the Centurion seemed to have her well in hand, maneuvering behind and then taking her by the shoulders.

“You’re the one who will be sorry.” Lillith replied.

Though Byanca was well younger, Lillith was a woman not yet old in spirit.

Byanca seemed to take note of the woman’s zeal far too late.

She threw herself back suddenly, butting Byanca’s nose with the back of her head. In shock, the Centurion released the maid, who followed the assault with a sweep of her feet that knocked Byanca to the floor. Spinning around, the maid started down the hall, but Byanca had presence enough to leap after her shoes, seizing her and bringing her to the floor too.

Salvatrice ignored the scuffle and approached the center of the room.

Ringed by the gilded lines on the floor and by the chandelier above, the Princess stopped, and unsheathed her sword. The sliding of metal finally caught the Queen’s attention.

As if awakening to reality, the Queen half-turned to meet the new arrival.

She stared incredulously at her daughter.

There was one instant of panic on her face before her composure returned.

“Surprised?” Salvatrice said, a savage grin on her face.

“I arranged for the lessons, so I’m not completely surprised.” Vittoria said.

Perhaps for a moment she had thought this an assassination, but she no longer seemed to fear. Salvatrice was perplexed; did she not consider her a threat? What was going through her head now? Salvatrice had a weapon in hand, and they were all alone in here.

“Before I departed, I thought I’d show you the fruit of that labor.” She said.

Vittoria shook her head. “I am not in the habit of sparring at my age.”

“Do you fear twisting something tender, mother?” Salvatrice cockily replied.

“Yes. But something of yours rather, not mine.” The Queen calmly said.

Her demeanor was infuriating. Salvatrice wanted the panic in her eyes back.

“So you’ll deign to strike this misbehaving child then?” Salvatrice shouted.

“I will not strike you, Salvatrice.” Vittoria said, ignoring the outburst.

Salvatrice held up her blade and sized up her opponent. Her mother had her children young. Salvatrice was only a few years older than Clarissa, and only just pushed into her twenties. Vittoria was hardly of age when she first bore a child. Even though she saw both her children come of age, the Queen had not yet reached her fifties. She was sprightly and healthy and youthful not just for a woman her age but for a woman in general.

Still, that was only the skin. There was more to the body than that.

Salvatrice was less than half her age, and though her own constitution was poor, she was decently rested, and she felt the adrenaline and anger course through her veins. It might have been the fire of youth, but she thought she had an advantage on her mother.

She might not best the Queen but she could hurt her; and she so terribly desired to inflict pain on her mother at that moment. All she wanted was to lay sword on the Queen, whatever she hit, whatever it took. Whether it cut a cheek or sliced an eye, whether it grazed or killed. Salvatrice was seeing so red that any outcome would feel just.

Soon as Vittoria began to raise her sword, Salvatrice lunged forward.

Hoping to disarm her mother while her blade was still low and off-balance, she struck down upon the body of the opposing weapon with all of her strength. She felt her blow deflect off the flat of the Queen’s saber, hastily turned and held firm against the attack.

After the contact the blades suddenly separated, and the Queen stepped back and fully formed her guard. Salvatrice brought up her own blade to defend as well.

For the Queen to have avoided dropping that sword, she must have had a monstrous wrist. Salvatrice already felt an aching across her arms and back after only one swing.

“I take up the saber to relieve stress. There is no point in this for me.” Vittoria said.

“It is a relief for me!” shouted the Princess. “Hitting you is a great relief!”

Salvatrice stepped forward and swung her arms in a fury, striking her mother’s raised blade over and over. She felt as if striking glass, as if battering down an effigy. She pounded her saber against her mother’s guard, driving the Queen back step by step.

Mindlessly Salvatrice beat at the blade until her arms were raw from the savage outburst. Looking up she found her mother’s calm visage behind the blade and grit her teeth.

“I hate you!” Salvatrice shouted at her. She swung her sword again, smashing the blade like a metal bar against the iron wall before her. “I hate you!” She shouted, dividing the words among blows, repeated again and again, while her arms shook and her face glistened. She tasted fluid salt seeping down her lips from her brow, from her eyes.

With a mad grimace, the raging Princess switched from a battering downward swing to a sudden sideways sweep. Blood drew from the Queen’s hand as she was surprised by the new attack. Her blade fell to the ground, and she staggered back, holding her injured hand. Now there was not only red in Salvatrice’s eyes, but in the air and on the floor.

Gasping for breath, trapped in the throes of sadness and hate, Salvatrice threw her own blade to the floor and charged her mother with her arms out and brought her to the ground. They grappled beside the fallen swords, Vittoria pushing her away but never shoving, nor kicking, or putting up much fight. Salvatrice quickly gained an advantage.

With a closed fist she struck her mother in the eye and pinned her face-up on the floor.

Laying over the Queen, Salvatrice dug her fingers into her mother’s neck and squeezed.

“What do you think of me now?” She shouted. “What do you think of your half-elf androgyne freak child? Are you happy now to be getting rid of me once and for all?”

The Queen’s stony expression resisted admirably the physical pain she must have felt.

Tears drew from the Princess’ eyes as she savaged her mother.

“What do you hide behind that mask of yours? Tell me you hate me already!”

Salvatrice lifted her mother’s head and thrust her down against the hard floor.

Vittoria briefly winced. Her own eyes reddened, and voicelessly, she wept.

But her expression did not change. Beyond the merest and most basically necessary expressions of pain, the Queen had no emotion for Salvatrice, no dramatic reaction to her attack. She merely lay, weeping, coughing and choking, as though prepared to die.

Staring deep into those moist, bleak green eyes Salvatrice felt her grip slacken.

Failing to draw any reciprocal reaction, the fire in her breast burnt out.

Her curled fingers shook and shrank back from the marks left on the Queen’s flesh.

Salvatrice stood from the floor, stunned, shaking. Without the rage driving her, she was bereft of mind and memory. For a moment she almost wondered where she was, but it all hit her again in the next instant. She felt a fear that shuddered in her chest like a crawling worm, sinking deeper in. She doubled over suddenly, sick to her stomach.

She had failed again; she had done nothing that mattered.

In front of her, Queen Vittoria stood. Her eyes were still stained red, bloodshot and tearful, but the empty expression on her lips remained. Fluid dribbled from her nose, and she coughed periodically, struggling to regain her breath after Salvatrice’s attack.

“I do not hate you.” Vittoria slowly said, as her voice returned.

Her voice was so imperious that Salvatrice was again left speechless in her presence.

“You are the child I chose, Salvatrice.” She continued. Her words sounded almost heartfelt. “I could never hate you. Even if you hate me; even if you kill me.”

Salvatrice’s lip quivered. She reached for words, and found, hearing her mother’s voice, another brief burst of violence inside her. “Shut up! How could I ever believe that? I was treating as nothing but an embarrassment to you! You kept Clarissa and discarded me!”

Vittoria shook her head. “Clarissa was but an imposition of this place! I am your Mother, more than I am anyone else’s Mother! Your birth sex does not and has never mattered to me. Your blood does not and has never mattered to me. From the moment you were born, you were my treasure. In unfavorable circumstances I did everything for your better–”

“Shut up! Shut up!” Salvatrice shouted. Her own voice was losing its power. “You say all these things to get into my head! I know you mean none of them! You’re just using me!”

“We are both being used to further this Crown.” Vittoria said. “Because without it, I cannot survive, and neither can you. I am doing all of this so we can survive. You might not understand my methods, but you must believe my motive.” She took a step.

Extending her bloody hand, Vittoria caressed Salvatrice’s cheek.

Upon it she left a spatter of red upon the light brown flesh.

“You are my beautiful daughter, the most beautiful, wonderful, special child that any mother in this land could have. Everything I have done, I have done for you.”

Salvatrice drew back, her expression blank save for a nervous twitch along her cheek. She was shaking, though her back was ramrod straight. Where the blood had spattered her jaw shuddered and ached. Her mind was in chaos, and she knew not what to do.

In front of her, Vittoria knelt down and picked up Salvatrice’s saber.

“I respect you, Salvatrice, more than you know. It is because I respect you, because I believe in you, that I am pushing you to take charge of our current predicaments. However, if your ambitions have grown this much, I am willing to step aside. Here, my daughter.”

She pointed the blade between her breasts and pushed the handle toward Salvatrice.

“Under this crown, everything you hold dear will be in jeopardy. If you believe you can resist it better than I, and that you can shoulder this cursed Kingdom, slay me and take it. Nobody will retaliate against you. I will make your designs reality if you desire them. But be forewarned: the moment I draw my last breath, so will you. Salvatrice Vittoria will die and this crown will take her place. No matter how much I struggled against it, I am nothing but this crown in the end. It will always win. Over you and over me. I pray that the legends about your third sex are true: that you possess the will of a woman with the endurance of a man.”

Again she pushed forward, blade against breast, the handle out to the Princess.

“You will not be punished for ambition as Clarissa was. If you hate me, then kill me.”

Vittoria took another step, and once more Salvatrice drew back from her, horrified.

“Whether today or within decades, you are going to carry this weight.” She said. “Because I love you, because I respect you; I will honor whatever you decide, my daughter.”

Weight; the word echoed within all of Salvatrice’s being, tearing her apart from inside.

Salvatrice reached for the handle, seized it– and threw the sword down on the ground.

There was a sudden and agonizing lapse in her murderous desires, and just as sudden an all-encompassing fear of the gravity surrounding her mother’s presence. As if witnessing a walking ghost, Salvatrice turned from the Queen and fled blindly back down the hall, past the brawling Centurion and maid, past a pair of confused guards, past torches and doorways and stone and banners, not knowing where she was headed, running without end.

Into the labyrinth of the palace, and her own mind, she fled screaming.


38th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E

Kingdom of Lubon, Royal Territory of Pallas — Palazzo Di Vittoria

“How is the tea?”

“It is fair, dear mother.”

“Only fair? It appears Lillith will never enter your heart as she did mine.”

“Oh ho ho! I have no designs to that extent. I’ve a royal already.”

“Of course. I would not tolerate my dear maid stolen from me.”

“I would never steal from my own mother. It would mean falling quite low.”

Byanca stared quietly at the trio with a skeptical expression.

Salvatrice drank her black tea in delicate sips with a demure expression. Her depature dress was a bit more extravagant than those of the past two days, with pink lace that nearly matched the color of her hair, and an open back. She had been surprised to find it among her things in the morning. Byanca supposed Canelle packed it a bit too well. A pity she could not have worn it to the dinner instead, the better to match her mother’s fashion.

She looked quite flashy. Her face was fully made up, with a brush of light gold pigment on her lips, and red shadow over her eyes. Her light figure was well represented.

Across the table, Vittoria was, in turn, rather modestly dressed. Her long sleeves and shaped skirt showed no skin save for her neck and some collarbone. Scrunchy lace and frills decorated the end of a fluffy shawl. A lacy white choker matched the bandage around her black eye and over her injured hand. It covered the marks Salvatrice had left on her neck.

Like her daughter, she was nicely made-up and appeared in decent spirits. A small smile played over her lips as she and her maid made polite chatter. Byanca could have confused her for a gentle, doting older mother, had she not had so much prior cause for skepticism.

There was quite a spread on the table. Tea, biscuits, grapes, honey cheeses, in beautifully garnished plates. The Centurion tasted the food and was nearly moved to tears. Byanca turned to Lillith with a special regret, in light of how delicious the honey cheese turned out.

There were visible marks on the maid’s exposed neck and shoulders, and a scratch across her cheek, all where Byanca had beaten and banged and otherwise manhandled her. It had been all she could do to keep the woman trapped in melee and a way from the royals. That maid had proven too tough an opponent the night before. Had she decided to fight instead of trying to run, Byanca was sure she would have been beaten to a pulp by her.

Lillith seemed to notice the attention, and shook her head with a smile on her face.

“You look tense, Centurion. Drink your tea and take in the lightness of things.”

Byanca couldn’t understand how after everything that happened the night before, they could gather in the morning for tea as if they were a family. She was sure, though perhaps it had all been a dream, that Salvatrice had tried to kill the Queen last night. She remembered returning to Salvatrice’s room and finding it locked, after she had run away. Only God knew; perhaps the Queen had just tripped and hurt herself. Maybe Salvatrice wasn’t screaming her lungs off all night. Who knew; who knew? Byanca sighed helplessly and sipped her tea.

At around noon, the Princess and her Centurion had gathered their things and were once more ready to depart the grand Palazzo. At the outer gates, back into the city, the Queen herself rode out on a sleek white horse to bid her daughter adieu. From inside the car, Salvatrice waved her goodbyes to her mother, and their driver took them into the city and out into the country once more. Back to the familiar setting of the Messianic Academy.

Salvatrice stared glumly out the windows, holding her head up by one hand. Though the landscape scrolled by them as beautiful as it always was, she seemed as if she were staring through it or past it, into a world for her eyes only. She was not taking in the sights.

Byanca sat back in the car, feeling restless from the silence.

“Got anything in mind, Princess?” She asked.

Salvatrice shook her head. “I’m going to take care of some things first, to clear my head. Then we will take care of all of this. I’m going to need your help more than ever.”

The Centurion nodded her head, satisfied with the response.

In fact, she felt a bit happy that the Princess was going to rely on her.

But she could not keep her mind off the past night’s events. She had to speak.

“Salva, about your mother–”

“That never happened.” Salvatrice replied.

Byanca nodded her head again. At least it was some kind of acknowledgment.

“Do you really hate her?” She asked.

Without turning her head, Salvatrice spoke in a dull tone of voice.

“I hate her. But right now, I need her. I will find a solution.”

For the rest of the journey, the Princess was silent, staring out the window.

However, Byanca felt no tension from her. She was either determined, or resigned.


Last Chapter |~| Next Chapter

THE JUSTICE OF JOHANNES JAGER II

Hey kids, this side-story contains dark and deadly dealin’s, vile villains, dangerous dames and a heapin’ helpin’ of non-stop Justice! This story ain’t got no time…for crime!


Soon as her eyes caught the light of the dawning sun creeping through holes in her tent, Schicksal threw on her field jacket and pulled up her grey uniform pants and hurried downhill. She just barely heard the trumpeter sounding the morning call for the 8th Panzer Division’s headquarters in Dbagbo, and realized she had preciously little time to lose.

She charged out to the field across the way from the base proper, splashing on the puddles left by the incessant winter rains and slipping and sliding on the muddy road. Bleary-eyed and light-headed, she was determined to be the very first at the pickup point.

There was a delivery quite dear to her heart that was about to arrive.

In order to enjoy her spoils in peace, Schicksal had to beat a certain somebody to it.

Haste prevented her from cleaning herself up much. Her mousy hair was messier than normal, framing her face in a tangle of over-long locks that was starting to pool on her shoulders — she would need a cut soon. Her dull, black eyes were ringed red, both from a failure to sleep and the stress of recent events. A collection of markings adorned her battle dress, ranging from pulled strings to stressed seams and plain open holes.

Looking back over her shoulder made it all worth it; the coast was clear. She would be the first one, and that irascible teenager was probably still in her tent, sucking her thumb.

However, as she reached the bright red signpost that had been hammered down at the road juncture downhill from the base, there was a radiant presence already waiting for the mail cart. Bouncy, wavy shoulder-length gold hair and crystalline eyes adorned a soft-skinned, exceedingly fair face that greeted the disheveled Schicksal with a delicate, maidenly smile.

Guten Morgen!” chirped Noel Skonieczny, clapping his hands softly together.

His delicate frame was expertly clad in his black panzer ace uniform. His face and hair were very clean and shiny, and seemed unaffected by the humidity at all. And he was energetic and aware as ever, almost bouncing in place as Schicksal arrived on the scene.

Schicksal stared at him, her temples throbbing fiercely. In lieu of a guten morgen, she stiffly raised one of her hands and curled the tips of the fingers ever so slightly.

Noel rubbed his palms against one another and smiled sympathetically at her.

“Feeling a little under the weather, lovely lass? Having a rough morning?”

“How do you,” Schicksal tripped over her own words for a moment, “how do you not?”

“Sleep early, wake before the sun. That’s my tonic for good mornings.” Noel proudly said.

Schicksal stared at him incredulously. Perhaps he really was a fairy in the mythological sense.

“What are you expecting in the mail?” Noel asked, leaning forward with his hands behind his back. He flashed a shark-teethed grin for a split-second, as if a demonic aura had overtaken him as he closed in on the radio girl; but the next instant he was his lovely self again, so it must have been Schicksal’s imagination. She pondered how to respond.

“I’m getting some books.” She said. It was not entirely a fib. They were basically books.

“Ah! How lucky~! I have a few magazine subscriptions to collect.” Noel said.

At once, Schicksal dropped her guard. Could Noel also be a reader of popular fictions?

“Oh! Magazines huh? Me too! Those are my books.” Schicksal said. A tired little smile lit up her face. “I didn’t think there were any big subscription-fanatics like myself in the unit.”

“There must be more than just you and I! Magazines are truly a soldier’s literature! Thin, easy to carry, and quick to read. What more could you ask for?” Noel said, smiling.

“You’re right. I guess back home, they’re more of a niche thing.” Schicksal said.

“It depends on what type of magazine; but I’ve always loved them. I used to snatch them off stands — the mail system was too discerning for my hectic youth. It definitely helps to have a stable address to send them to now. Even if that address is just the unit number.”

Schicksal could not discern what he could mean by that last comment. It was too early.

“In any case, I hope you get what you want, Captain Skonieczny.” Schicksal said.

“Please, just call me Noel, while we bask in the glow of cheap paper.” Noel said.

Schicksal nodded weakly. She turned back to the fork in the road past the signpost, feeling more relaxed than before. Perhaps there was a boon to Noel’s flighty presence.

Meter by meter the light of the sun started to rise and filter through the nearby trees.

Soon Schicksal heard the distant sounds of hoof-falls on the dirt. Her body tensed.

She realized that the sound was not coming from further up the road, but behind them.

Almost immediately the stamping on the dirt turned tinny and weak as it grew close.

Schicksal turned her head over her shoulder and grit her teeth and closed her fists.

Approaching the road juncture was a red-headed young girl, lanky, with a sharp nose, high cheekbones and pale-pink skin that gave her a striking appearance. A long white coat draped over her grey fatigues billowed behind her as her feet crashed one after the other on the dirt. Schicksal watched with clear disdain as the girl closed toward them in a big hurry, and bent over, hands on the signpost, gasping for breath once she reached them.

Evangeline Heinrich made a big production of her exhaustion, breathing heavy, clutching her hand between her breasts, knocking her knees together, coughing periodically. Schicksal bought none of the goods she was selling; the teen was being over-dramatic.

After a few moments of retching, Evangeline raised a thumb up into the air.

“I nearly died, but I made it in time for the mail, Chief Signals Officer.” She moaned.

“Ugh! Go away!” Schicksal suddenly shouted. Noel nearly jumped back with surprise.

In an instant, Evangeline went from a picture of illness to a snake coiled for a lunge.

“Why should I? I have just as much a right as any to check the mail.” Evangeline said.

Schicksal sighed. “Really? Then do you have mail coming in at all?” She asked.

Evangeline crossed her arms. “Well; I admit, not that I know of right now, but–”

“Go away then!” Schicksal reiterated. “I know why you’re here! Nosy little brat!”

Noel raised his index finger in confusion amid the cacophony. “Umm–”

“You’re so selfish!” Evangeline shouted back. “The General told you to be nice to me!”

“No he didn’t! In fact he explicitly told you to stop being such a child!” Schicksal said.

“No you need to stop being such a child! Inability to share your things with others is a developmental faculty left behind in kindergarten, Schicksal!” Evangeline shouted back.

That little bit of medical trivia was not appreciated; Schicksal grit her teeth and growled.

Noel crossed his arms and tapped his feet. “Hey, would you two please–”

“What are you even insinuating? If anything it’s a sign of being sick of you and nothing else, you demon spawn!” Schicksal raised her voice even louder to fight back.

“Demon? You hit me once! You hit an underage girl! You’re a demon!” Evangeline said.

Schicksal was taken aback. “I didn’t hit you! I grabbed and shook you!” She shouted.

“There is no nuance to your crime! You are a horrible person, Karla Schicksal! I will tell everyone in the world how horrible and terrible you are unless you share your books!”

Noel suddenly darted in between the two girls with an exasperated look in his eyes.

“All of this acrimony is quite unbecoming of maidens such as yourselves!” Noel said.

Schicksal and Evangeline paused their bickering to give the Captain an incisive stare.

“And what would you know about that, hmm?” Evangeline shouted at him.

Noel gave her such an intense glare in response that the teen was startled to silence.

“Stay out of this, it’s between me and this stretched-out brat!” Schicksal shouted.

At once Noel’s glare turned to her and she shrank back from the vehemence in his eyes.

“As the ranking officer here; Schicksal, just accommodate her for goodness’ sakes’, she’s a child. And Heinrich, stop accosting Schicksal. Respect your superiors!” He shouted.

Evangeline and Schicksal both deployed their own dull-eyed, weary glares upon Noel.

“You sound just like General Dreschner.” Evangeline said in a low voice.

“He does. It’s almost like the General is here in spirit.” Schicksal mumbled.

Noel frowned pointedly at the two of them.

Before any additional verbal salvo could be launched, the genuine hoof-falls of the mail horse and the cranking of the mail-cart’s wooden wheels sounded from the road ahead. Everyone’s heads turned. Morale returned to the group once the horses became visible, pulling the cart up the road, off the dirt and settling beside the trees. Windows opened on all sides of the cart, and a young man stood up and began to hand out packages.

Excited, the trio put their differences aside and lined up at the cart.

Few people joined Schicksal, Evangeline and Noel; they were ahead of the line and almost alone in it, and quickly made off with their mail. In a little hill just off the road, under the intermittent shade of a teak tree, Noel and Schicksal reconvened to inspect the week’s spoils. Evangeline followed closely, trying to peek around their shoulders.

“You go first! I’m curious what the mysterious Siren likes to read.” Noel said with a grin.

Schicksal gulped. “Um, no, you go first! Gentlemen should go first, you know. Right?”

“Huh? Don’t ladies usually go first? Hmm; actually, you are correct either way. I’ll go first.”

Smiling, Noel popped open the box he had been given at the cart, and cast into the air several bundles of old newspaper cushioning. Wrapped in foil, which he gracefully ripped open, was a stack of about a dozen thin paper magazines with colorful covers.

Schicksal flipped through them desperately, growing more speechless with each.

Several of the magazines depicted reserved, elegant women in beautiful gowns and dresses, ranging from filmy evening wear that hinted at the round shadow of a pair of breasts through sheer black fabric, to dazzling red cocktail dresses that blinded the eye with golden lace trim and scrunchy, complicated skirts. One magazine boasted that the flapper look was “fated to return” and led with flapper tips; another flashy book, Succubus magazine, purported to teach within its pages, “one weird trick to keep your man coming back.”

Schicksal’s blood drained from her face. All of Noel’s books were hip girl’s magazines.

“Please don’t tell anyone about that last one, it might be too scandalous for the puritans among our ranks. It talks very frankly about sex.” Noel said, winking at Schicksal.

That was the least of Schicksal’s concerns. Holding the magazines, she felt like the absolute squarest woman on the planet; she was so square she could practically be bolted onto the Befehlspanzer as an extra armor kit. She had thought there were still flappers around, but suddenly they had vanished long enough to now be poised to return? And all of the women on the covers looked supernaturally stylish in the same way Noel did and Schicksal didn’t.

How was Noel such a fashionable person? How was she so unfashionable?

Worse still, Noel was probably too happening to care about pulp magazines!

She would look like an utter baby if she showed him the funny books!

“I see you are transfixed with them! They’re always on top of new trends.” Noel said.

Schicksal nodded dumbly, pretending to flip through Succubus magazine and blushing fiercely beet-red whenever she caught sight of the erotic illustrations within its pages.

For her part, Evangeline seemed completely unperturbed by Noel’s subscriptions.

“My mom was a flapper back when it was new.” She said, looking idly at a magazine.

“Flapping will never die.” Noel said matter-of-factly, crossing his arms over his chest.

Schicksal returned the magazines and then stood shaking in place, holding her own package in a vice-like grip. She felt she had truly ran herself into a corner this time.

Her mind started digging in concrete for excuses, however weak, to avoid having to–

“Schicksal, I want to see the new Tales issue! Open it up!” Evangeline said.

“Shut up!” Schicksal snapped back, raising the box suddenly over her head.

Noel’s eyes narrowed. He delivered that deadly glare from before against Schicksal.

“Ahem,” Noel cleared his throat, “please be gentle with our medic, Schicksal.”

Schicksal set the box back down. She sighed deeply; like pulling a bandage from a painful scab, she ripped the box open in one quick motion and without looking at it. Evangeline then practically lunged at her, and pulled out the offending material without regard for the atmosphere. She tore the foil away and then stuck her tongue out in disgust at the cover.

“Ugh. Ugh!” Evangeline turned her cheek on the latest issue of Astonishing Tales!

Noel looked over her shoulder, while Schicksal stood frozen with the box still in hand.

“Oh, huh, that’s a pulp book, isn’t it? Who’s the handsome man on the cover?” He asked.

“It’s just Johannes Jager.” Evangeline said in a dismissive tone of voice. “Again.”

She thrust the magazine toward Noel like it was a filthy thing, and sulked openly.

Noel flipped through a few pages. Schicksal got to see the cover between his fingers.

It was Johannes Jager alright, dressed in his flashy white uniform, cape, hat and mask, aiming a firearm through a broken window and toward a danger invisible to the reader. Much like in the past few issues the front cover promised twenty action-packed pages, in addition to six new half-page illustrations, along with a new contest (details inside) and the announcement of a paperback release. It was a very Jager-centric issue.

Schicksal wearily stared from the cover to the Captain’s face, anticipating disdain and mockery. She was surprised to find Noel lighting up with a gentle smile as he inspected the book. “It’s so nostalgic! It reminds me of the funny books I used to steal as a kid.”

“Well, actually, Noel, funny books are different from magazines like Tales, which are considered adventure books.” Schicksal said meekly, unable to resist correcting him.

Noel nodded his head idly and turned the book around, pointing to the cover illustration.

“Hey, would you mind reading this guy’s story to me? He looks cute.” Noel said.

It was an odd request and phrased in an odd way. It didn’t sit right with her at all.

“Cute? Johannes Jager is a rugged exemplar of justice, is what he is!” Schicksal replied.

Noel grinned that shark-like grin of his once more. “Do go on.” He said in a sultry voice.

Schicksal felt oddly flustered. “I’ll read it if you stop talking like that about him.”

“Deal.”

“Hey! Wait!”

Evangeline jumped in from the sidelines, her hands balled up into fists, her feet stomping.

“Read Secret Man too! Read Secret Man to me Schicksal! Or just let me borrow it after and read it myself! Then I promise I’ll forgive you for that time you hit me.” She said.

“I don’t care if you forgive me or not.” Schicksal said. “But fine, whatever, I’ll read it too.”

Evangeline clapped her hands. Her protests and demands vanished in childish glee.

Accommodating her certainly worked wonders sometimes.

Schicksal sat down with her back to the teak tree, and raised the magazine to her face.

She flipped through the first few pages and got to Johannes Jager. Noel and Evangeline sat at her sides, looking over at the pictures and perking their ears up to hear her narration. With everyone ready, Schicksal took in a breath and began to read the story.


In the pitch-black of Rhinea’s haunting nights, Johannes Jager hunted for his prey. All around him the dark screamed of Dangers, and lent its vicious bosoms to succor his Foes. But it was a different beast that he hunted today: not an opium pusher or a murderer or a robber or a communist, but a thief. But not any thief: a thief on a Grand and Deadly scale!

Though the night would spring every trap in its bag to protect its own, our white-clad crusader was not beguiled by the black-clad shadows. With his signature cap and cape, with his many tools in his snow-white jacket, Johannes Jager plunged ahead. Nothing would turn him from his Righteous course! Justice burnt in his chest and vengeance sang in the wake of his footfalls as he trudged through the snow-covered main streets of the city.

These should have been the paths most shining with the Light of the freest nation on Aer; but the world of 2042 was not so right and not so simple anymore. Deadly dealings and dirty money were hidden here in plain sight. Under the ignorant eyes of Nocht’s day-walking innocents, festered a Rapacious criminal world that had already thieved too much!

“I remember too clearly the day when the Syndicate took my Mother, and then my Sister, and then my soon-to-be-bride. Never again!” thought Johannes Jager, as he charged forth to inflict Morality on this debauched night. He had to do what he must; what was Right!

On this night Johannes Jager would not trawl the alleys, but the heart of the city, where hard-working working class men made their marks through their hard work; but as Johannes learned on his last outing, their hard work was being Compromised, as were their Marks! Johannes Jager flitted through the dark toward an imposing warehouse, tall and brutal, with broken windows and a barren yard, fenced off, perhaps condemned. But not unoccupied.

From the snowbank straddling the warehouse grounds, Jager saw light flickering behind a window! He stole from the snowbank, through a hole slashed at the bottom of the fence, and took cover behind a stack of empty barrels. He peered through the ground floor windows and found nothing inside but the midnight dark. He had to go higher.

So he steeled himself, and clambered up the wobbling barrels, his footing insured by his indomitable will, and leaped through the window once he made it atop. He withdrew his trusty zwitscherer pistol, entrusted to him by his dead captain in the Force, and drew the weapon — on thin air! There was a candle, and a complicated machine, all left alone in a barren room on the warehouse’s vast and empty second floor. Not a soul breathed inside.

Until a door slammed open behind our hero unexpectedly!

Jager spun like a bullet and turned his gun on the door.

There he found not the foes he sought, but a surprising ally!

It was the fresh-faced young cadet from the police academy, Jonas Edelweiss! He raised his hands when Jager held him up, and relaxed once our hero stowed his weapon. The boy was breathing heavily, having clearly ran a marathon to meet him  — but how? Jager had received information of a printing operation in this place. How did Edelweiss know?

“There’s no time Johannes! You’ve been set up! The Syndicate has planted a bomb here! They are taking their stock to the docks and pushing it out of reach!” Jonas shouted.

Instantly Johannes Jager knew where that bomb was — inside the machine, a printing press, stripped of its precious, stolen printing irons and innocently left behind as if by carelessness rather than Contrivance! He could almost feel the black beating heart of the Bomb ticking and ticking in the bowels of the machine! Without a moment to spare, Jager threw himself forward, taking Edelweiss in his arms and rolling down the stairs in one acrobatic leap!

Behind him blossomed a hungry flower of flames that swept across the warehouse! Johannes Jager rolled down the steps, the heat of the flames and the shock of the explosion propelling him through a fire escape window set against the staircase landing! With Edelweiss in his arms, Jager hit the snow-covered ground, safe as the fires hungrily devoured the warehouse and any remaining evidence of wrongdoing with it!

“Thanks for the warning, kid. Kept me from cookin’.” Johannes Jager said.

Edelweiss nodded his head and pointed out to the street. “There’s no time to lose Jager! I have a car we can take to the docks. Don’t ask how I got this info, but we gotta hurry!”

Johannes smelled Trouble all over this — trouble Edelweiss had gotten himself into. But the boy had a good heart, and he had risked his Life to save Jager’s. Trusting his guts, Jager extended the same trust to Edelweiss and followed the young lad out to his car.

They rushed up the street, and around a corner, where Edelweiss had hidden his vehicle in an alley. As he grabbed his keys and fumbled with the door, Johannes heard the sound of an engine in the distance, and knew then that they would not yet have a respite from Evil!

“Get in!” Edelweiss called out, and they hurried into the car. Edelweiss turned his key, hit the accelerator and darted out of the alleyway and down the warehouses. From behind, thin and long and bright beams of light from a pair of headlights almost blinded them!

Suddenly a truck revealed itself, sleek and black, with windows tinted so that its driver could not be seen, and a raised canopy blocking any view of its cargo. Putting all of its horsepower into the pursuit, the truck chased Edelweiss and Johannes down the broad warehouse streets. Edelweiss pounded the gas pedal to the very bottom of the car floor, and it was all he could do to keep ahead of his menacing Foe, persisting in its deadly chase!

“Keep ahead of him, kid; I’ll give the driver a big red light for you.” Jager said.

Rolling down the window, Johannes Jager drew his pistol, leaned out of the passenger seat, and popped three shots at the pursuing truck. He hit a headlight and put it out, but the body and windows resisted his furious blows — bulletproof glass and an armored body!

Our hero’s detective intuition immediately discerned the true Nature of the foe!

“Edelweiss, evasive maneuvers, that car is Not A Car!” Johannes Jager alerted his driver.

As if aware that its deadly ruse had been discerned, the so-called “truck” behind our hero suddenly shed its canopy and revealed a hidden tank gun of a deadly fifty millimeters of shooting caliber affixed to the bed, peering over the cab to spit its deadly fire!

This was no truck, but an armored car! Bristling with armor and weapons, it surged forth!

Edelweiss gasped as he spotted the implement, and veered the car toward the street, smashing through a newspaper box to avoid a blazing shot from the vile enemy that crashed past them and smashed apart a fire hydrant! Desperately swinging the steering wheel, Edelweiss forced the car off the street and across the road once more, steering around a light post to avoid another deadly attack. Behind them the tank-car continued its pursuit, smoke billowing the red-hot barrel of its gun as it prepared for another swing.

“Johannes, I can’t shake them like this! You have to do Something!” Edelweiss shouted.

Johannes Jager leaned out of the car again, watching the gun barrel for the next shot. It flashed, and the gigantic bullet flew past the car, close enough to slice off one of Edelweiss’ side mirrors and briefly disorient him! But Jager had his Plan clear in mind now!

“Keep it steady kid, I’m gonna give our chances of survival…a shot in the arm.”

Edelweiss gulped down his fear and hit the brakes.

Johannes Jager aimed his gun just as he anticipated the next flash of the cannon.

He fired one perfectly aimed shot into the deadly gun barrel!

Therein the small but fast and true bullet of his Zwitcherer pistol fouled the internal workings of the cannon, and interfered with the next shot just as the evil gunners were taking it! Everything happened in the blink of an eye: in a bright pillar of flames the truck exploded and rocketed toward the sky, coming back down in pieces of scorched debris!

“Even with all that armor you still had a…glass jaw.” Johannes said, grinning proudly.

Edelweiss laughed and picked up speed once again.

Within minutes they made it to the sea, travelling down the container parks built around the docks and their own storage warehouses. They left the car behind, and though he had reservations about endangering the boy, Johannes Jager nonetheless followed Edelweiss through the dark and devilish docks. Though not nearly as adept at stealth or combat as Jager, the boy knew where the Foul meeting of the Syndicate would take place.

Johannes Jager thought to himself that he still did not know where the young lad had acquired this Dangerous information, that surely only members of the Syndicate could have known, for the Syndicate was as secretive and guarded as it was greedy and powerful.

But he trusted Edelweiss, who as a Cadet and therefore a burgeoning Force For Good.

Crawling through the seaside paths they found a sinister building near the fisherman’s pier at the far edge of the docks, where the concrete ceded space to rocky beaches and slushy waters. Johannes commanded Edelweiss to stay behind and play lookout, while he stalked ahead, using the crates to cover his brilliant white-clad form as he approached a meeting of several Armed Thugs, hurriedly stashing evidence of their misdeeds into crates and bags.

Johannes Jager peered over a barrel, and saw It, the evidence he knew he would find this night: mounds and mounds of counterfeit Republiksmark bills ready to ship out to Bhakor!

And that was not all! He found in the hands of one of the villains, the silver printing plates used to create these Official marks for Unofficial purpose! And that villain holding them was none other than his vile nemesis, The Blacksmith! Known as such for his “forging” ways, the burly, black apron clad man in his signature welding mask, was adept at counterfeiting, bootlegging, and other disruptive schemes that tarnished the innocent Free Market!

His heart burning with the fierce anger of Vengeance, Johannes Jager steeled himself for battle. Knowing that he had to take the Blacksmith alive in order to find information about the dreaded Syndicate, Jager planned his attack, scanning the surroundings for every possible advantage. His eyes darted to a red canister on the far wall — a fire extinguisher!

“Men, gather the marks, and be quick, we do not want to be late,” shouted the Blacksmith in a grainy, low, machine-like voice through his welding mask, “the sooner we embark for the islands, the sooner we will reap massive profits from nothing but cheap paper and–”

Suddenly Johannes Jager leaped atop the barrel, interrupting the Blacksmith’s speech, and took a well-aimed shot at the fire extinguisher! Under this vicious assault, the extinguisher exploded! Metal and fire sprayed over the Armed Thugs and threw them bloodily over the mounds of paper marks. But the Blacksmith was unharmed! Charging into the fray, the villain drew his vicious hammer and swept toward Johannes Jager with an eye to kill!

“JAGEEEEEEEEEEEER!” He shouted, swinging his arms like a blunt knife blender!

“Sorry Blacksmith, but I ain’t got no time…for crime!”

Johannes Jager was not intimidated. Coolly he dashed toward the Blacksmith, and leaped over him, stepping on the man’s shoulders and away from his swing, and dropping behind him. With a deft sweep of his leg, Johannes Jager knocked the Blacksmith to the ground, and pinned him aground, applying the Long Arm of the Law to the man’s neck!

“Give it up Blacksmith!” Jager shouted, “Your iron’s hammered! You’d best start talkin’ about the Syndicate, or I’ll toss you into the sea to freeze! I’ve got no mercy for filth like you!”

As if unharmed and unapprehended, the Blacksmith burst into vicious laughter!

“Jager, it’s your white caped goose that’s cooked now! You think I’m stupid? You think we’re stupid? The Syndicate does not do anything without a Plan B. Boy, come out!”

Johannes Jager felt the cold sting of Betrayal as Edelweiss emerged from the shadows, pointing a revolver at Johannes Jager! He had a look of anguish on his face as he cocked the hammer, but Jager knew that the boy was Determined to carry out this vile fiend’s orders if necessary, and that he would shoot, for some reason that the caped knight of Nochtish justice could not understand! Where had this promising young cadet gone wrong? Why would he take orders from a monstrous pig like the Blacksmith, who did Evil?

These questions and many more questions jumped around inside Johannes’ Jager’s head, but he did as the situation demanded, and he begrudingly raised his arms from the blacksmith, and raised his arms into the air and stood. He threw a glare at Edelweiss, burning intensely with the justice that could not now be done due to the boy’s foolishness!

“I’m sorry Jager; they have my fiance! I can’t let anything happen to her. I love her!”

Of course, a dame; it was always a dame in this world of Sins. But Johannes Jager found that he could not fault the kid for his choices. If there was anything a red-blooded man had to fight for in the world it was his own deadly dame. If it would have brought back his gal, Johannes would’ve done anything, even the vilest and lowest of things, such as working for the very Syndicate that killed her! More than anyone here Johannes understood this cruel fate. As the Blacksmith gloated behind them, Jager contemplated the tragedy here.

He gave the boy a look of the utmost sympathy. “I understand kid. Do you what you gotta do for your dame. But know this…for the dames I’ve lost, I’ve gotta do what is Right.”

“You can do nothing, Jager!” shouted the Blacksmith, his metallic voice straining, “My masters knew you were snooping around, so they turned once again to the best tactic for defeating you! They took an innocent, and turned them against you, making you helpless! Now not only will I profit from my scheme, I will deliver you to the Syndicate, and become part of the Inner Circle! I will be the bootleg that’s become better than the real thing!”

Edelweiss turned his head in disgust at himself and what he Had To Do; while Jager scowled with hatred for this villain, and thought about What Is Right; and the Blacksmith with his dark iron heart, cackled maniacally over what he Had Done! How will Johannes Jager possibly escape from this predicament? Find out in the next issue of Astonishing Tales!


“Wow! What an issue!” Schicksal said, her mouth left agape, her eyes spread wide. Her heart beat quickly, full of emotion for the hero Johannes Jager and the sense of loss and justice that was intrinsically tied up in him. Her head was red-hot with anticipation and excitement.

At her side, Noel glanced at the pages with a mixture of bewilderment and disgust.

Evangeline stared at her own knees and rocked in place until the conclusion.

Shortly after the very last words were said, she threw her arms around Schicksal.

“Ok now read Secret-Man! Read Secret-Man Schicksal!” Evangeline demanded.

Schicksal shoved her away and grunted.

She started to flip the pages begrudgingly to Secret-Man.

Noel raised his hands in response. “I’m going to pass on that one, thank you.”

“You didn’t like Johannes Jager?” Schicksal said, her eyes drawing wide.

“It was certainly, um, unique.” Noel replied. “But not my cup of lager.”

“Oh c’mon!” Schicksal said, exasperated at last with the poor taste of her companions. “Tell me one thing Johannes Jager does wrong as a story, name one, Noel!”

“Crappy one-liners.” Evangeline interjected.

Noel shrugged apathetically.

He stood up from their side, took his box, and walked away with his head held high.

Schicksal grunted once more. “Hmph! What a fuddy-duddy. Can’t appreciate the greats. Right Evangeline? Show me one man not up for the testosterone-fueled adventures of–”

“I don’t blame him for hating Johannes Jager. You should’ve shown him Secret-Man.”

It took all of Schicksal’s willpower not to stuff the magazine down Evangeline’s throat.

“Be quiet if you want to listen to your childish, plebeian filth!” Schicksal shouted.

Grumbling, she began to read again. Evangeline shrugged and rested her head on Schicksal’s shoulder while the latter narrated the heady adventures of the Secret-Man.

All the while Schicksal felt extremely disgruntled with her so-called fellow soldiers.

Nobody in this entire Division had any taste for a manly, dame-mourning adventure.

Salva’s Taboo Exchanges VII

This chapter contains themes of abandonment, emotional and social distress, and manipulation.


36th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E

Kingdom of Lubon, Province of Palladi — Pallas Academy

A timer rang in the kitchen. Sweet smells drifted into the apartment’s main space. Cinnamon and mint tingled Salvatrice’s nose but did not draw her attention away from the paper in her hands. Canelle returned; when she set down the sweet rolls and mint tea on the table in front of Salvatrice’s couch, the princess began to read the short letter for the umpteenth time as if there was some hidden meaning she could divine from it.

Her servant sat in the couch across from her and took a delighted sip of tea.

“Yum! Certainly the best cup I’ve ever made. You should give it a taste, Princess.”

She extended the cup as if to bewitch the princess with the smell of it.

Salvatrice lifted her own cup, blew on it and then set it slowly back down.

A perfunctory, distracted action from a woman with more on her mind.

She had the letter in her hands still. Turning over the words, the green ink.

Rubbing her chin, scratching her hair; nothing, she could not make sense of it. Why her; why now? Salvatrice threw down the letter in frustration. She covered her face with her hands, rubbing her fingers against her forehead, burying her thumbs into her temples. Canelle reached out a hand and laid it down on her shoulder, squeezing gently.

“Were this a truly dire circumstance I’m sure Her Highness would have spared more than eight words for you, Princess. Please calm down and eat. Take your medicine. Relax yourself. I’m sure you’ll go to Palladi and back without consequence.”

“My mother never spares words. She just gives commands.” Salvatrice replied. She gave Canelle a sharp glance that forced the latter to cower and withdraw her gaze. “My mother considers me such a lowly creature she needn’t explain what she requires of me, she calls me to her like a dog or a horse and knows I must blindly obey the whistle!”

Staring at the couch cushions at her side, Canelle replied in a conciliatory, almost frightened tone of voice, “I’m sure Her Highness has her reasons. A mother would not–”

Furiously, Salvatrice interrupted. “She has already jailed one of her daughters! My mother is mother last, Canelle, and above that she is a tyrant, a gaoler, a murderer!”

“No, Princess, stop, that is wrong, please.” Canelle pleaded in distressed whispers, her voice choppy. “Do not say these wrong things, Princess. You do not under–”

Salvatrice crossed her arms and breathed harshly. “I’m sorry. You’re not to blame nor to suffer for any of this. But please see it from my perspective, Canelle. For years I’ve had such limited contact with mother. She extends her arms to me to tell me she has jailed my sister and given me her position. Then she abandons me again; now this! Tell me, were you in my position could you see this as anything but another incoming betrayal?”

“Your circumstances are of an extraordinary nature Princess.” Canelle said gently.

“So you cannot speak of it? You cannot relate to it at all?” Salvatrice said.

“I am an un-extraordinary person.” Canelle replied, casting glances at the floor.

Salvatrice turned her cheek at this answer. It was frustrating, but wherever the Queen was concerned Canelle would become uselessly demure in an instant. Whether she feared or respected her or a twisted combination of the two, Salvatrice did not know.

Canelle kept all of her secrets, and took care of her, and Salvatrice wanted to think her loyalty resulted from warm feelings, from friendship and empathy and a relationship.

But whenever discussion shifted to the Queen, it brought to Salvatrice’s mind the ugly thought that perhaps Canelle just did it out of an antiquated sense of a peasant’s obligation to royalty. She kept her secrets because a peasant girl did not betray a noble-born woman; she helped Salvatrice because a peasant girl did not refuse aid to a noble-born woman. And she treated the Queen’s name as if that of a God because peasants did not take the liege’s name in vain. Perhaps it was not love at all, just awe of her.

It made Salvatrice feel lonely and isolated. She turned her head and wiped Canelle from her sight. In so doing all she had was walls; just a room bereft of anyone’s sentiment.

As she scanned around the room Salvatrice saw the door open abruptly as if by itself.

Centurion Byanca Geta casually let herself into the room, dangling a keyring in her index finger and whistling a little song as she went. She closed and locked the door behind herself, and ambled toward the couches, coming to a stop near the princess.

“Where did you get that?” Salvatrice said. Her voice rose to an aggressive tone.

“Good morning to you too, Your Majesty.” Byanca had on an apathetic expression.

“I categorically refuse to allow you to let yourself in here. Give me those keys.”

Salvatrice extended her hand at almost the same time as Byanca withdrew her own.

“They’re the old custodian set. I was allowed to have them for security reasons.”

She was being cheeky lately; much more than Salvatrice was comfortable with. The Princess tried not to lose herself in front of the Centurion, but she could not help it. When she next spoke her demeanor had devolved from imperious to rancorous.

“Give me your copy of my key then! Keep the rest if you need them so badly!”

Salvatrice thrust her hands out again and swiped at Byanca in passing.

The Centurion stepped away from her reach, walking around the table.

“They are a security asset now and I cannot release them to a civilian. Apologies.”

Byanca gave a little mocking bow. Salvatrice gripped the skirt of her dress in anger.

Canelle raised her tea cup. “Joining us for tea and cinnamon rolls, Centurion?”

Salvatrice cried out in a suddenly petulant voice. “Canelle! Don’t offer her tea!”

Almost at the same time Byanca bowed her head. “I would love to be your guest.”

“Geta! Don’t accept her tea!” Salvatrice whined. Nobody listened to a word of it.

Canelle smiled and sidled toward the couch armrest to make room at her side.

Byanca dropped brusquely on the couch beside Canelle and snatched a roll from the table. She took a bite out of it, and took a sip of the tea shortly after. Cup in one hand, roll in the other; not much in the way of tea table manners at all. Something about that sloppy display resonated with Salvatrice. She felt an odd sense of nostalgia from it.

In the face of her current frustration she found no comfort in those pangs of feeling.

Grunting a little, Salvatrice thrust the letter over the table to hand it to her Centurion.

“I take it since you’re here, you know what this is about. So explain yourself.”

Byanca cast a few deliberate glances between the letter and Salvatrice’s eyes.

She paused and pushed the remainder of the roll into her mouth.

“I have no idea.” She said through a mouthful of half-chewed food.

She swallowed, and sucked the slick sugary glaze left on each of her fingers. Once cleaned she extended her hand and plucked the letterhead from Salvatrice’s fingers. After a quick glance she slid the letter down the table toward the princess, and pushed her teacup up against her face, tipping down the rest of the tea in one big gulp.

Canelle and Salvatrice watched her as one would a misbehaving child. Salvatrice almost expected ructus and flatulence to follow after the rest of this slovenly show.

Thankfully Byanca merely set down her cup outside her saucer and sat back.

“I came to inform you that all Rossa surveillance measures have been revoked. Phone wiretapping, mail interception, transaction controls; it’s all done henceforth. From now on your security, and any accountability for your movements, begins and ends with me.”

Salvatrice was taken aback. At the mention of all of this spying she felt anger rising in her chest. She had suspected that she was being watched, in the discrete ways that the Legion could watch her. Hearing the extent of it spoken so casually stoked the embers already lit by her present circumstances. There was no relief in knowing that these violations had been curtailed. She was sure now that the future held much worse.

Meanwhile Canelle beamed, ecstatic, and clapped her hands together several times.

“You hear that, Princess? I told you that your mother had your interests in mind!”

“This is all part of a scheme.” Salvatrice said. She sighed. “She’s plotting something.”

“I agree. Her Royal Highness would not tear down the collar she’s got around your neck just to be a good mother. She has something planned for you.” Byanca replied.

Canelle glared at Byanca with sudden disdain. Her mouth hung slightly open.

“Do not fill the Princess’ head with evil ideas, Centurion!” She shouted.

Salvatrice crossed her arms and grinned cheekily. “Finally someone in this land of the blind sees things my way; and ironically of all people it is the Blackshirt Centurion.”

“I told you before, but I am on your side, Princess. No one else’s.” Byanca said.

“Yes, so you say. I don’t know why a Blackshirt would say it, but you do.”

“In any case,” the centurion began, at a lower, deflated tone of voice, “you should prepare to leave for the palace soon. I’ll be accompanying you on the journey.”

Salvatrice leaned forward toward Byanca, holding her head on her hands.

There were so many faces over the years. Salvatrice had stayed in a Messianic monastery, she certainly remembered that. It was dedicated to trying to revive divine magic. But she had stayed in the duke’s vineyard until the duke mysteriously passed, and she had stayed in a girl’s school for a time, and she had stayed with a General of the army Regolare until his own passing; and in each of those places there had been children, whom she played with and grew up around for certain short periods of her life. Save for one, for whom she reserved all of her feeling, she had forgotten all of these acquaintances. In her mind they were so transitory they were not worth recalling.

In front of her this Centurion insisted that she and Salvatrice had a connection.

And her presence was starting to insist remembrance from Salvatrice’s mind.

Was she worth remembering? Was that memory valuable enough to become trust?

“Why did you become a Blackshirt?” Salvatrice asked. “Did you really do such a thing to try to be ‘on my side’? You must understand how implausible that sounds to me.”

Byanca breathed out a sigh. She rubbed her hands down her face, and clapped them together as they slid off her chin. She stared at the ceiling, flicking her wrists.

This was a question that hurt to answer. This was a hurt person in front of her; that was the impression Salvatrice got. It made her uncomfortable to think she was causing her such hardship, but several little voices continued to assure her that she was justified.

Canelle looked between the two of them, discomforted by the sudden silence.

“I wanted to become a Knight.” Byanca finally said. She continued to speak, pausing from time to time, staring at her hands to avoid eye contact. “Knights who ascend to the rank of Maggiore can present themselves before a Lady of noble blood to ask for a wish from her, anything desired. This was a rule that passed down from the time of Magic, where miracles were real. He needed only swear his loyalty in the eyes of God, and she would indulge him in order to strengthen her family’s position. Ever since the rule of Passionale Vittoria began, women have been able to become Knights too. So a woman Knight can still ask a wish from a Lady. I wanted to make use of this ancient law.”

Her face sank again into her hands after she was done speaking. She didn’t look up for a time. Salvatrice did not know what to make of the shame with which she admitted this. This was something she desired so much; why would she speak of it with such trepidation? She looked almost disgusted with herself. Salva didn’t understand it at all. She didn’t understand why Byanca would seek after wishes in a time where Magic was now dead; and she did not understand why this dream tore her up so much now.

“What was your wish?” Salvatrice asked. “And whom would you present it to?”

Byanca raised her head. She had on a bitter, cynical grin, quite different in tone from the cheeky expression she bore when flipping the keyring in her fingers minutes ago. A little laughter escaped her as she spoke; to whom it was directed, Salvatrice didn’t know.

“I staked everything on it, Princess, but I failed to become a Knight. I became a Blackshirt to avoid the depths of my failure. That is the undramatic truth of the matter, whether you believe it or not. I was sent to Borelia, where I trudged through miserable wilderness to kill men who threw grenades from bushes and laid mines along the roads. What was my wish? I don’t know anymore. It doesn’t matter. I’m not that girl anymore.”

Now it was Salvatrice’s turn to avert her eyes. She did not want to lock with that sudden, mournful gaze cast toward her by the Centurion. She was afraid and felt guilty.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have pried into this. I’m just being nosy, and it’s unbecoming.”

“You deserve to know. I wanted to sit down and explain all of this sooner anyway.”

Salvatrice plotted something eloquent to say, but her lips moved before her mind.

“Byanca, I have no power to grant any wish to anyone.” Salvatrice said to her.

“Blackshirts do not get wishes. We’re unworthy of them.” Byanca replied quickly.

“Then what do you want? Why did you accept this mission? Why are you on my side?”

The Princess and the Centurion locked gazes again. Byanca smiled softly.

“You deserve to have someone on your side. That answers all those questions.”

Salvatrice stood up from the couch and turned her back. She walked out toward the bookshelves surrounding the door to her room, pacing them with her hands behind her back. She looked wistfully around, seeking anything to grab her attention and break the tension that she felt around the room. But her mind was so scrambled that she saw the letters on the books shifting and warping before her eyes. Everything was twisted now. She ran an idle hand through her hair and sucked her lips in, tasting the red pigment.

Without turning back to the couches, stifling a groan, Salvatrice gave her answer.

“Centurion Geta, the one thing the 1st Princess of Lubon can grant you is trust, so she will grant you trust. Treasure it, for nothing will replace that gift should you squander it.”

Salvatrice pulled a book from the shelf, taking an object she had hidden behind it.

Her head held high, she returned to the couch and held out Byanca’s Picea pistol.

Their hands briefly brushed as the Centurion took back her weapon.

“God save our gracious Queen. Long live our noble Queen.” Byanca sang softly.

She returned the weapon to its holster with a demure little smile on her face.

Salvatrice shook her head, exasperated. “To hell with the Queen.”


37th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E

Before, when the Queen summoned Salvatrice, a private car appeared out of the blue in front of the Aquinas building. Canelle urged her to dress nicely and slide into the back seat without question. A driver behind bulletproof tinted glass, likely sworn to have no interaction with her, drove her wordlessly to wherever the Queen wished to meet her. That was the expected procedure, the control that the Queen had over her life before.

But there was no private car, even two days after Salvatrice received the letter. In fact it was the first time that a royal summons had been delivered to her like this. She knew that she could not tempt fate for much longer. One or two days could be chalked up to the whims of the postal system. Any more might draw the Queen’s ire. So on the morning of the 37th, Salvatrice made preparations to leave for the royal capital.

Canelle was practically jumping off the walls with enthusiasm. She picked out a regal green dress, that had been designed to match one the Queen had worn several months prior at an important function. It was form-fitting, though Salvatrice felt she had precious little form for the dress to fit, as she was a fairly slight lady; the tight, long skirt evoked petals curling around with her body as the flower’s core, and the high neck and long sleeves gave it a sleek modesty. There was a green gemstone shining on her chest.

“You are the image of your mother; I wish others would see that!” Canelle said.

Salvatrice posed in front of the mirror as Canelle fussed with her hair. Aside from a green and red ribbon, her straight, shoulder-length, evenly-distributed red-yellow hair remained the same. A touch of red lipstick accentuated her thin lips, and a dab of purple shadow lent a bit of complexity to her face and complimented her green eyes. Powders and blush gave her slightly brown skin a somewhat lighter look than it normally had.

Two pieces of wing-like jewelry extended the size of her ears by a few millimeters.

Canelle turned her around before the mirror, admiring her handiwork. “You look beautiful, Salvatrice! Of course, you always do, but you look your best when your clothes shine as bright as the rest of you, I think! Artifice accentuates nature.”

“In my case I think the medicine is more to thank than nature.” Salvatrice said.

“Oh come now, don’t say that, your beauty is inherent,” Canelle said awkwardly.

Salvatrice felt a little thrill running through her body as she looked in the mirror. She was dressed up now, in costume. There was a strange, elated, perhaps even somewhat arousing sensation to it. In the same way that she felt she became a man, Sylvano D’Amore, with the proper preparations, now she had become a woman to the world. It was comforting, like a mask, it covered up the bare, naked Salvatrice within it.

Whatever that was; at times Salvatrice felt there was nothing underneath one costume or the other. She didn’t even know which one was the more natural form for her. She loved both; she loved being both. But she felt there was something apart from them too.

With her “costume” done up, and a little luggage prepared, Salvatrice took a light, careful breakfast, pumped a little estrogen into her system, and made ready to depart.

Outside the apartment door she found Byanca waiting in her dress uniform.

She looked at Salvatrice and appeared momentarily shocked. Salvatrice was a little taken aback in turn, but she had much more practice with holding her composure.

“What, Centurion; do I not ordinarily look like this to your eyes?” Salvatrice said.

“N-No, Princess, just, you look,” Byanca tripped over her words, “gorgeous.”

Salvatrice grinned. “And then I ask again, am I not gorgeous all of the time?”

“Well this is a different kind of gorgeous! There are gradients!” Byanca replied.

Byanca was looking rather more polished than normal. She had no makeup, for the service allowed her none, but her pure black uniform was rather dashing, her jacket decorated with all of her medals and patches, including the centurion’s armband, and a thin blue sash across her chest and waist. She wore her hair collected in a bun, very professional, and donned her feathered bersaglieri cap, black with a silver emblem. Her uniform accentuated the trained, toned slimness of her. She looked martial and strong. Knightly, one could even say. Though the Princess restrained her compliments.

“You look exceptionally fit to guard me, Geta.” Salvatrice said in a haughty tone.

The Centurion took those words as Salvatrice meant them and blushed immediately.

“Don’t stand there looking bashful, Geta! Lead the way for your charge. Escort me.”

“Y-Yes, Princess.” Byanca nodded her head, took the Princess’ luggage in her hands, and then started down the stairs. Salvatrice delicately followed the Blackshirt down. Canelle trailed behind them with an ecstatic look, bouncing as she went along.

Outside the Aquinas building, Byanca hailed a fancy black town car with a long sloping nose and a leather-covered interior with two sets of windows on either side. She opened the door for Salvatrice, who gave her a quizzical look before accepting the invitation. Tinted glass separated the cab from the passenger’s roomy black leather seating. Everything smelled strangely fresh inside as if the car was new from the factory.

The Centurion loaded her luggage in the back, tapped on the front glass and alerted the driver, and got inside, seated beside the Salvatrice — with a healthy bit of room between them. Together they bid Canelle farewell while she stood off the side of the road in amazement. Once the car was started and pulling away, Salvatrice turned to Byanca.

“What is this supposed to be? Where is my ordinary driver?” She asked.

“He’s fine; we’re just using this today. It is Legatus Tarkus’ staff car.” Byanca said.

“Staff car? He drives this? For work purposes?” Salvatrice whispered in surprise.

“No, it has practically never left the garage. But it’s bulletproof and safe. There’s a machine gun under the seat and everything. He vigorously approved of its use.”

Salvatrice grunted. “Who is the driver? Someone you know? Can you truly trust him?”

Byanca cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted. “He can’t hear you!”

“Alright, fine, he can’t, answer the question.” Salvatrice said aloud. She looked at the tinted glass and could make out an outline of a fairly tall man in a newsboy hat.

“You can trust him about as far as you can throw him. I can throw him a meter I think.” Byanca grinned. She laid back. “There is no way that he will interfere with anything.”

Salvatrice crossed her arms. She looked out the window at the scrolling landscape.

“Fine then. I trust you. How long will it take until we reach the Royal Territory?”

Byanca looked suddenly peppy. “A few hours; hey, let us sing a road song!”

“Don’t push your luck.” Salvatrice replied imperiously, keeping her gaze from Geta.

Once the car got going in earnest, the driver first circled around the Aquinas building and took a circuitous route out of the Academy, moving through neighboring vineyards and greenhouses. Clear of the campus, he rounded the rural roads, where there was nary another motor vehicle in their way. He skipped the nearby town of Juth; Salvatrice watched it pass them by, a kilometer out at their side as they advanced into the country. Over and around several green hills the car traveled with ease, the ride smooth and relatively noiseless. Palladi, a central Province of Lubon, was ringed by mountainous terrain. Complex, hilly turf was common to it, woodland thick and sparse dotted the landscape.

North of Palladi the hills opened into an expanse of broad, flat descending terrain sliced through by the vacillating Radice river and its branches. As the car glided down the hills Salvatrice could see the white palace in the distance, its walls extending around a dense, red-roofed town like protecting arms. She could almost see the crown of the Father Tree behind the gleaming towers of the castle. Vittoria’s Palazzo, the ancient town of Pallas, and the surrounding farmland was the nation-within-a-nation known as the Royal Territory of Pallas. Fifteen miles across and ten long, Pallas, farmlands and all, was the size of a city and much less densely populated than Torto or Cartha or other modern elven holdings. But the town itself was only a fraction of the territory’s total size.

Over a series of bridges, the car crossed the many arms of the Radice river that traced through the land at irregular intervals like the roots of the First Tree dug into the soil. Everything between the hills and the palace was farmland and homesteads that served the White Palace. They passed by orchards and vineyards, fields of purple Cyrn that gave bountiful cereals in the spring. Peasant families shepherded the farmlands and plucked nature’s fruits both for themselves and to present to the Queen each season.

“Ten green bottles of wine on the wall, ten green bottles hanging on the wall–”

Byanca sang and sang various drinking songs, mostly to herself, but loud enough to hear. She had already counted bottles several times, and sang Bevilo Tutto. It seemed all the songs she knew or at least the ones she felt like singing were drinking songs.

Salvatrice was quiet as the Queen’s lands scrolled past her eyes. She had frozen into a casual pose, with a hand on her cheek and another on her lap, staring out the closed window.

At first they were content to sit beside each other with a healthy gap between them, but after a few minutes inside the Royal Territory, Byanca started glancing Salvatrice’s way.

“Something wrong, Princess?” She asked. Her enthusiasm was mildly off-putting.

“Do soldiers only sing drinking songs?” Salvatrice said, glancing sidelong at Byanca.

“I used to be in choir, but you’d just get laughed at singing religious songs in a tank.”

“I suppose so.” Salvatrice looked out the window again, counting the electric poles.

“Let’s get this open, Princess! Take a whiff of the country air. It’ll cheer you up.”

From her side, Byanca leaned clumsily over, laying hands on the window lever. Salvatrice raised her hands in surprise. Byanca turned the lever and rolled down the window, then retreated with her own hands raised to mirror Salvatrice’s pose.

A gentle breeze blew into the passenger compartment, blowing Salvatrice’s hair.

She took in a deep breath; there was a sweet smell that she could not place.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it? And it smells great. I feel so at ease here.” Byanca said. Her ponytail swayed gently and she looked so girlishly delighted with everything.

Salvatrice smiled a little. She did not want to be the one to ruin the mood for now.

Byanca was happy because she saw nothing but the surface of the elven holy land.

For the First Princess, who would take up the mantle of Queen Vittoria, Pallas represented a birth-right, its people and lands owned absolutely by the Queen, to the point that the statutes of the Parliament did not matter within its limits. But Salvatrice had not grown in Pallas, groomed to succeed the throne. Clarissa had been the face of the Vittoria lineage up until recently. The streets of Pallas, the walls of the Palazzo, all of it was her childhood home. Clarissa was the one known and loved in the Royal Territory.

Salvatrice was like an invader; a foreign presence made to force her way inside.

This was the position that her mother had thrust her into. Salvatrice would have been content with obscurity. She had never wanted to rule. She had no aspirations to power or influence. Seclusion had nurtured modest goals. Peaceful tea-times, an education, a semblance of a social life, love; as ordinary a life as a royal-born girl could dream of.

She was not welcome here. Her trajectory in life was not meant to intersect with this.

Past several kilometers of farmland the car stopped before the green gates in the middle of the forward wall. Blackshirt guards wordlessly checked Byanca’s credentials. They offered no words for Salvatrice; they barely even glanced her way. It was as if she did not exist. In her situation, Salvatrice couldn’t tell if this was out of duty or disdain.

As quietly as they approached and as silently as they deliberated the guards returned Byanca’s papers and the vehicle’s registration, and ushered them through the gate.

Inside the green gates they found themselves on the perfectly flat, spotless grey roads of Pallas town, flanked on either side by rows of buildings with quaint-looking gabled red roofs. They traveled the main thoroughfare, under curling green street-lights like drooping flowers, their car trailing behind trolleys and work buses. Throngs of people in suits and uniforms crowded both sides of the street, coming and going from their work. Pallas was old but under Vittoria it was never antiquated. Fashionable clothing hung on trendy storefronts; modern restaurants catered to the middle class workers that now inhabited the town. Telephone lines and electric cabling hung high over every street.

At the end of the thoroughfare the middle wall divided the town of Pallas and the Mound of the Father-Tree — a beautiful, gently rising green hill walled in on all sides with polished white rock, and bearing at its peak the palace of Passionale Vittoria. A richly decorated structure, its corners were four equidistant towers surrounding a thick, central spire. Its walls projected backward beyond the living space and enclosed the plot of land that bore the Father-Tree. One could not see it through the height of Vittoria’s central tower. It had been built hundreds of years ago precisely to obscure the Father-Tree from commoners.

There were no paved roads outside of the town, and no telephone or electric poles projecting out from the earth. Their car was stopped beyond the gate by blackshirt guards and they were directed to park in a garage at the foot of the Mound alongside a dozen other liaison cars. Once the car parked, Byanca rushed out of her own door, swung around the back and opened the right-side passenger door for Salvatrice.

She ushered the Princess out onto the gravel with a gentlemanly bow of the head.

“Don’t push your luck.” Salvatrice said again. Byanca chuckled a little to herself.

“Shall I take your luggage?” the Centurion asked.

“No. He can do it.” Salvatrice pointed at the driver, who looked her way in confusion.

Nearly swallowing his cigarette, the man rushed to his work while the women left.

The Mound was gentle enough a climb for most people, and the climb was required for anyone who wanted to visit the Palazzo. No vehicles or horses were allowed to climb the Mound — only the feet of human beings. Salvatrice and Byanca followed a makeshift path up the slope, delineated by perfectly-trimmed bushes with gilded sashes around them. It was a ten minute walk under the noon sun, and Salvatrice felt herself sweat a little.

Before the palace doors they were again stopped, and again it was only Byanca whom the guards seemed concerned with. For the third time she displayed her rank before them; once again she was allowed forward, while Salvatrice received no word from anyone. Through the double doors of reinforced glass they entered a vast lobby with four large fountains, an indoor garden filled with lilies of all manner of colors, like a rainbow grown from the soil, and couches beside tables full of brochures for visitors.

Salvatrice was ready to be insulted that her mother would leave her at the reception.

Then a set of doors opened at the end of the lobby and a woman approached, flanked by a pair of guards. She wore an afternoon uniform, a conservative black dress worn under a white apron, with long black sleeves and hands covered in white gloves. Her half-white, half-blond hair was pulled up into a bun, and she wore an elaborate cap.

Salvatrice took note of her because she had seen her before, though they had not formally met, not that Salvatrice remembered. But this must have been her mother’s maid — Canelle’s counterpart in the castle. Unlike Canelle, this maid had a foxy, canny sort of expression, a slight grin with piercing blue eyes behind a pair of thin spectacles. Hers was not a gentle expression. Salvatrice would’ve even called it a violent one.

“Princess, it is a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance. My name is Lillith Mariel.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Mariel.” Salvatrice said. She forced a softer, girlish sounding tone of voice and a graceful smile. Her cheeks already tingled from the effort.

Lillith bowed her head, and she reached out her hands, palms up. Salvatrice touched her with both of her own, palm against palm, and the servant had room again to speak. And speak she did; in a dulcet tone of voice she indulged in a lengthy introduction.

“You would not remember me, but long have I been keeper of your mother’s skin and silk. I have been with your mother since before you were born — in fact, I helped her through labor with you. I was the first to hold you aloft, and to wipe your mother’s blood from your body. I was, even, the first to breast-feed you; I had to take a drug for it.”

“Well; it appears I came to meet one mother and found a second.” Salvatrice said.

Lillith giggled girlishly; at her side the guards looked visibly uncomfortable with this.

Through her affable facade Salvatrice felt a sudden surge of hatred for Mrs. Mariel.

There was no reason for her to say anything; like the guards, she could have just led her where she needed to go without undue words. She could not have been sentimentally attached to the Princess — this was a reason Salvatrice always threw out immediately where it concerned her mother’s people. She knew that none of them cared. By process of elimination Salvatrice realized that this was Lillith either taunting her or flaunting her freedom of speech. Unlike the other servants she had a measure of status in Pallas.

“History aside; your true mother awaits, Princess. Follow the guards up to the peak of the central spire. I shall take your dashing companion on a tour of the Palace, and your driver will be given instructions on what to do with your lullage. Worry not.” Lillith said.

After one additional bow, Lillith whipped around and marched down the hall, perhaps expecting that Byanca would immediately follow. Likewise, the guards turned around and started away from Salvatrice, and stood in front of an elevator door waiting for it.

“Princess, be careful.” Byanca said. Out of sight of the guards, she took Salva’s hand and squeezed it. It was definitely an overreach on her part — but it didn’t feel awful.

Salvatrice cocked a little grin at her and let her go. “Like I said, don’t push your luck.”


Royal Territory of Pallas — Palazzo Di Vittoria

At the top of the tower the guards opened the door to the spire’s main chamber and ushered Salvatrice in. They then turned around, shut the doors behind her and left the spire without setting foot inside. Salvatrice heard their footsteps, growing distant.

Inside the chamber there was nothing material on display, no obvious purpose. It was empty of furnishings, enclosed by unadorned walls, and there were no treasures on display. On the floor, a spiral green and brown pattern resembled vines or roots crawling along the tile. Overhead, the rising pyramidal shape of the roof, and its visible supports, untouched. At her side there was a wide open balcony with a commanding view of the green-glowing foliage of the Father-Free. A cool breeze blew into the chamber from several arch-shaped windows in the corners — they were standing high above Pallas.

In the center of the room, looking out to the balcony, stood Queen Regnant Passionale Vittoria. Her stoic beauty still struck the Princess; every time she saw her, those imperious green eyes, her fair skin, perfectly flowing locks of blond hair and features untouched by time, her figure, ample but also sleek, wrapped exquisitely in a sleeveless, ornate silk dress with a large green emerald set between her breasts. Salvatrice had scarcely seen her mother in the flesh, and every time she seemed more like a figure crafted, as though given life through the artifice of a legend like a Galathea statue.

She turned her head to her daughter, framed by the door several meters away.

She smiled; very slightly, a mere tipping of the lips, but her mother smiled at her.

“You look ravishing, Salvatrice. You have a beauty hitherto unknown to this land.”

“Thank you, Mother. You are as stunning as the Goddesses of our myths.”

Salvatrice replied graciously, and curtsied before her mother. Her compliments grated on the princess, however. Salvatrice was not “a beauty akin” to her mother, or even simply a “beauty.” She was a foreign, alien beauty; reddish hair, light brown skin, blunt ears. All of her features that were different from the norm seemed drawn into stark relief.

They each stood in their places. Vittoria turned fully to greet her, skirts trailing on the floor. Salvatrice remained at the edge of the room, standing with her hands clapped before her and set against her skirt. Neither made a move to draw near, to link hands or hug or even, in their places, to show any undue affections. Just smiles and distance.

“Did I ever tell you the story of how I became Queen, Salvatrice?” Vittoria said.

“No.”

What a ridiculous question; of course you didn’t, Salvatrice’s mind screamed. You were never there! When on Aer would you have had time to tell me a story? It took all her moderation to continue smiling neutrally when her mind and soul seethed so strongly.

To Vittoria there was no contradiction in this, no acknowledgment of the absurdity of it. In all earnestness, she stretched her arms, gesturing to the breadth of the chamber around them. She looked up, at the roof, and around herself. She turned around.

“This room is quite nostalgic. It is here where my journey as a Queen truly began.”

Salvatrice looked around. This was alarming; there was significance in the air here. If this room meant anything to Vittoria then it was ominous that Salvatrice now stood in it.

“Was it empty at that time, Mother? Were you made to view the Father-Tree?”

Vittoria paced; Salvatrice heard the tapping of her heels under her voluminous skirt.

“I was a mere twenty years of age. This room was very different. It was surrounded by mirrors. You could not escape the sight of yourself in this room. It was known as the Chamber of Selection. All truths were laid bare before the Chamber of Selection.”

At her mother’s words the princess found her gaze wandering, scrolling across the walls, lingering on the floors. She saw the bolt-holes, where the mirrors would have once been screwed into place. A room full of mirrors, where one could not evade oneself — Salvatrice could imagine it. In her mind it was a macabre place. The way her Mother stared at the walls almost seemed to mirror this. Salvatrice could have sworn she saw a hint of disgust or trepidation in her mother’s countenance as she recalled the surroundings.

Again the Queen began to speak, and this time her tale was longer, and Salvatrice listened without interruption, swallowing all emotion but the facade of a smiling face.

“Once upon a time, my daughter, there was a young King, whose father passed, having spent his life unsuccessfully clinging to an Empire in decline. This young King wanted little responsibility, and longed only for domesticity; he was a shy king, fond of quiet.”

“Upon the eve of his coronation, his older, proper female relatives took it upon themselves, as is the ancient custom of this land, to seek a woman who could inspire his passion and improve upon his bloodline, which was much intermixed within the close-knit circles of the high aristocrats. They settled on three candidates, but two were problematic, for one crossed the King’s bloodline several times, and the other was thought too low-born to be appropriate. Nevertheless, all were brought here, to this room, one by one.”

“Surrounded on all sides by mirrors, the women were stripped of their clothes, and thoroughly examined. Width of the hips, size of the skull, physiognomy, length of limbs, body fat, and of course, virginity. The King’s grandmothers and aunts and older sisters, this assortment of the most proper ladies; they found, after their inspection, that there was only one woman who had the character and health to support the kingdom.”

Vittoria turned her head over her shoulder, staring sidelong at Salvatrice.

“I hated what they did to me, how they saw me that day; it disgusts me to this day.”

There was vitriol in her voice. Salvatrice felt a thump in her chest as she listened.

“Our traditions, by and large, disgust and repel me. Years later I would take my bloody revenge on the King’s nonni for that slight. With these two hands, Salvatrice, I closed the circle those crones began on the eve when they selected me as wife to their King.”

She turned fully around, and wore a suddenly darkened expression. Her eyes downturned, her lips curled in a stoic displeasure, her hands held behind her back.

“When you were born, doctors took you from me and deliberated about you as if you were an anomaly or a myth. They said explicitly they did not know whether I had chosen a correct name for you. It disturbed me. It reminded of that time in the elector council. People being treated like lumps of meat.”

Vittoria stretched one of her hands back out from behind herself, and though there was nothing in it, she did it with such quickness that Salvatrice nearly jumped back with fright. She always thought Vittoria would smack her from across the room somehow.

“I purged every doctor who had anything to do with that unneeded panic at your birth, and I sought out doctors on the cutting edge of science, young and with open minds. I did not want doctors with knives who viewed you as a creature. Nobody deserves that.”

Lies, lies, lies. Salvatrice fought back the urge to shout. You killed those doctors because they hurt your ego, not because they wanted to hurt your child; though the result was the same Salvatrice knew that the origin was different. This was not love.

“Whenever we met during your childhood, I saw you growing and growing into a fine princess. And I saw your enthusiasm to be a princess. I sought every resource available to make you the best princess that you could possibly be, the healthiest, best educated, least poisoned by bureaucratic indulgence. I only wish I could have been there more for you during that time.”

Salvatrice closed her hands into fists at her side. This was all embellishment. As a child Salvatrice only called herself what other people called her; what her mother called her. She didn’t know anything back then. She didn’t really know much now. Though she was happy enough with the result of all these years, all these doctors and medicines and treatments, these examinations, all the things taboo to medicine that she was and was made to be; that chaos and confusion was not a calculated, loving decision by her mother. It was the result of neglect and receiving only what Vittoria wanted to give. She could have been Sylvano or Salvatrice. She had accepted both, in a sense. That was not Vittoria’s doing!

“But Salvatrice, I already knew it when I held you as a child. What I saw then was unambiguous. I knew who my daughter was and I knew what she truly wanted and what it was her birthright to become in the end. From the moment you were born, I knew that it was you who needed the utmost protection, who needed to be sheltered from the melee that was unfolding in these walls. Not Clarissa; you. Always you, Salvatrice.”

Her words nearly drew tears from Salvatrice’s eyes. She wished she had a broader skirt so that her knees could quiver openly. Salvatrice felt as though there was a skin under her own and a creature ready to lunge from it for the Queen’s throat. She was furious.

Vittoria was painting her own picture of Salva’s life, and all of the paint came from her own ego, her own untouchable ego. She had never done anything wrong, never abandoned her — in her own mind she was always the winner. And she said those horrible words, those erasing words, those words that spat on Salvatrice’s entire life as she had lived it; Queen Vittoria said them with such stoic ease and perfect delivery that it hammered at Salva’s mind.

She had not abandoned Salvatrice because of her dangerous illegitimacy, fathered by a foreign diplomat, and born ambiguous and unplaceable in a binary world; in Vittoria’s mind she had protected her and groomed her in a unique way! Oh how convenient for the Queen!

“One princess, grown among her people; the other, raised amid the repulsive ideological debauch of this Pallas and its squabbling, incompetent nobles and knights.” Queen Vittoria raised one hand, and then other, one palm-up, one palm-down. Salvatrice didn’t know which hand was supposed to represent her. They went up both at once.

Teeth clenched, hidden behind her lips, Salvatrice stilled her ragged breath as best as she could to deliver a short, crucial line. “Mother, how am I meant to serve on this day?”

She needed to cut her off this subject. She needed to do anything to reassert herself, to reassert that her version of the events was the real one. Salvatrice needed to be anything but this unique, uniquely loved, uniquely trained model daughter; she needed again to be the abandoned and reclaimed tool of a callous, monstrous despot. Otherwise her mother’s words would truly dig into her brain as if the unvarnished truth, erasing her own life.

“Salvatrice, I must confess to you, that I have lied, though I have done it to protect you, and I believe the lie a white one for the most part.” Vittoria said. She turned her back on Salvatrice again and paced to the end of the room, where she picked something up from a window.

“In what sense, Mother?” Salvatrice asked, her voice a little choked.

Vittoria flicked something her way — Salvatrice caught it against her chest.

It was a cardboard envelope, and inside there were photographs of a man, hair gelled back, a fine beard across his soft features, a boyishly handsome sort of person. There were also photographs of this man and a woman, a delicate little blond– Clarissa.

“It was never about Clarissa being indiscreet, for I do not care how many men she claims her own as long as she does so cautiously and uses them properly. Her indiscretion was the man she chose and what she chose to do with that man.”

Vittoria glided across the floor, and stood face to face with Salvatrice.

“That man is the leader of an anarchist cell known as New Humanity. His nom de guerre is Cesare Regal. He is connected to the attacks that have been transpiring across the country, but he is not a foreigner: he is an elf, born of this land, educated here, wealthy, and ambitious. He tapped into the ego that this environment cultivated in your sister. She plotted against me; now he plots against you in revenge for her.”

Salvatrice felt her mother’s fingers tip her chin up. They locked eyes.

Seeing deep into those callous green eyes Salvatrice could hold her tongue no longer.

“You used me as bait! All this time! To draw this man out!” Salvatrice shouted. She shouted each set of words as the revelation reverberated inside of her mind. That was why the surveillance was ended; going farther back, that was why Salvatrice was allowed to return to her studies after the trip to Nocht. Clarissa was removed, to provoke this man.

Salvatrice was promoted, and she was made vulnerable, to provoke him!

Vittoria grinned; she shook her head at her daughter, both amused and disappointed.

“No.” Vittoria said. She savored every word. “You are not bait, Salvatrice. You are the future Queen of Lubon. And you will show me the Power of a Queen by destroying this man and everything of his. You will do it because your past, present and future depend on it.”

She set her hands on Salvatrice’s shoulders and the Princess felt a sudden weight.

It was almost enough to make her collapse, and she did not know whose strength she borrowed to remain standing throughout that exchange, and to keep her eyes open. She felt like the hands of her mother were here to finally sink her into the earth where she belonged.

The Queen’s striking green eyes were no longer stoic and indifferent; they had been set ablaze by a malignant fire that illuminated a purpose reserved only for Salvatrice.


Last Chapter |~| Next Chapter

Salva’s Taboo Exchanges VI


29-AG-30

Princess,

Inspecting your suite I discovered an article of men’s clothing, the origin of which I feel entitled to know as your protector and the person in charge of your security detail.

Your servant refused to go into any detail as to the clothing except telling me that she would kill me by pouring hot frying oil over my head if I told anyone about them.

I must advise that liaisons with men at this point are very dangerous. Any man who is attempting to court you immediately becomes a suspect in my eyes. And should anything more than attempts to court you occur, very terrible things will result indeed.

I am open to other explanations for this. Do you craft these as a hobby perhaps?

I would have liked to ask these questions in person but you continuously avoid me, so to be discrete I forced this note under your door. I do not wish to die so soon.

— Centurion Geta


30-AG-30

Centurion,

DO NOT come and go into my quarters whenever you please!

You are not my guest and you do not live with me!

I forbid you from entering the suite unless I am present!

Your rank means nothing to me!

I have nothing to explain to you! Be a good guard dog and heel!

— Princess Vittoria


29th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E

Precious Salva,

Salva! It was such an in credible relief this morning to discover your name absent from any account of the horrors that befell the Academy. To think a Lady would be so gruesomely murdered in public! What is our society coming to? I have begun to make arrangements to procure a miniature revolver. I know now that I need to be ready!

When you write back, please lead with your current status. I need to know your health!

On to other matters — you might have noticed this envelope a little, fat, perhaps?

Enclosed you’ll find the pieces that I was able to collect. Though many of these books are forbidden to be printed nowadays, existing copies were never sought nor destroyed. Book collectors jealously guard their volumes. In your hands, hopefully you now hold the elvish translation of Lena Ulyanova’s collected writings on Mordechism-Lenanism, or as you better know it, Communism. Unfortunately, I was unable to find books about recent Ayvartan history. It is perhaps too recent and close to be History. But cheer up my darling, for I did find an account by Artanis of the history of the Ayvartan Empire.

I very lightly inspected and read the books, bits and pieces that caught my eye. I can assure you that they are in good condition and that you should find them readable.

You have queer tastes in books my sweet! Much sleuthing had to be done for this.

As for myself? I have kept quite busy with my designs. I’ve been planning our next little meeting. My father has of late been distracted with the oil fields of Borelia and even beyond. He has this ludicrous idea that his men can design and build a platform to draw oil from waters 30 meters deep. I don’t know how viable this is, but it sounds too dangerous for my tastes. Regardless, it keeps him busy. He is currently out at sea in fact. I’ve never felt freer. I believe the time has come for us to meet on my own lands.

We could have an entire indulgent weekend to ourselves. Two passionate nights, three comfortable mornings. You need this, my darling! I want so badly to take you away from your confinement in that place. I know you have never been so long away from your studies, and I know eyes are on you. Know that all of my resources are at your disposal to overcome any obstacle. I want you, Salvatrice. I will do anything to have you.

Next time you sneak out however, wear a dress. I want us to tussle fashionably.

Desperately seeking you; your beloved,

Carmela Sabbadin


33rd of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E.

Beloved Carmela,

Fear not, precious Carmela! Physically I have never felt as well as I do now. Youth and womanhood surge through my veins. It is not physical health that I lack at the moment.

I am thrilled from tongue-tip to toe-tip that you continue to thirst after me, my caramel. It is with great regret however that I must quench the ambitious fire in your soul.

There is nothing in the world I want more than to sink against your breast, but my circumstances are still too difficult for a weekend retreat. I cannot promise, but I can at least attest to the possibility, of a single, very indulgent night, but not one in which I awaken beside you to bask in the afterglow. Anything more is simply too dangerous.

You will not be thrilled to hear this, but I was involved in the incident at the Academy. I saw it first hand and could’ve been in the path of the murderer had it not been for the Centurion involved in stopping the attack. My involvement in it was covered up, by my own hand. But I fear there is a violence surging under the skin of our society, my dear.

Though I received your letter on its intended date, it is only now that I write because I have pored over my words many times. I have decided that as your lover I do not wish to hide anything from you. I have told you more intimate things. So I will confide in you my worries though I know they will bring you pain and worry. I’d rather you know.

It has been made known to me that there are plots hatched against my life. In the process I have gained an asset in my struggles for self-determination, but it is a volatile one. I know not whether these plots are true. They may be attempts by my mother to curtail what little independence from her I possess at the Academy. Talk of plots allows her to hide me from enemies. All she needs is the talk. No plots are necessary.

However, judging by what I have seen and experienced, I feel that these whispers may be true. That there is a power out there seeking the demise of Lubon’s nobility, and that it seeks to strike me down with them, regardless of my innocence in the dealings of this wretched nation and its wretched partners. I am half the Queen’s blood, so I must die.

Two times now I have come too close to death. I can write these off as coincidences. But should I do that, and then a third time come directed at me, I would be unprepared.

Carrying a pistol now is wise, my beloved. I have begun to carry one as well.

I do not say this to alarm you but to comfort you. I have resolved not to lie to you, and I have resolved not to be so helpless that I must do such a thing. I am strong for you.

For now, we cannot talk of lusty meetings. But I do wish to see you more casually.

How does a picnic around the academy sound, in a few days? I’ll have a disguise.

Living and breathing your name, my treasure,

Salvatrice Vittoria


33-AG-30

Princess,

When you find this note please turn around from your door, head back down a floor, and return my side-arm to me. I cannot run around the school brandishing a rifle.

While you’re there, perhaps talk to me about the man’s shirt. Is it your size, perhaps?

— Centurion Geta


33-AG-30

Impudent gnat,

You absentmindedly left your weapon in my room and I have appropriated it.

As all things in the suite it now belongs to me.

This is what happens when you do not heed my commands.

Find a new side-arm and care for it better.

Stay out of my quarters and stay out of my personal life, legionnaire.

— Your superior


34th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E.

Radiant Salva,

Above everything in the world Salva, I treasure you, and I treasure the confidence that you have in me. When we first met, you casually confided in me your rank. I didn’t believe it. I didn’t believe I could be friends with a princess; nor that a princess could be so easy to be friends with. So easy to seek comfort in. So easy to fall in love with.

At first I didn’t believe that the only friend you had in the world was that girl Beatrice.

I didn’t believe how other people treated you. How they disdained and abused you in that way unique to polite society, where honeyed words must always sing over those most deep and lashing gestures of hatred. Back then what I wanted more than anything was to take you protect you from all of this, but I could not. I still cannot. All I can do is try to comfort you, and it hurts. I hope only that if you must hurt that I can hurt with you.

You have confided in me many things. All of them I do more than accept: I treasure. I treasure everything I know about those truly unique depths of your heart and soul.

In turn I have confided in you so much and I know you feel the same. Just as I love your secrets you love my own. It is our secrets that have defined our love so much.

You are right that this news distresses me. Of course it would. But I want to be distressed. It cannot compare with what you must be feeling. Today as I drink my tea, read my stories, chat idly with guests and girls, take walks, and have so many options available to me — I know that you are rigidly caged, and now I know that you are hunted too. I want to do so much for you but I know that I cannot. For all we have are these letters and the secrets, our feelings secret, our true selves secret. It does hurt.

I wish that we could have been born in a world that allowed us to love without secrets.

Absent that, I can only say, that my thoughts are always with you, and that should you think of anything I can do to support you, I will do it. Even if it would kill me, I would.

Please protect yourself Salvatrice. Use everything at your disposal and mine.

I cannot think of losing you. I would be well and truly alone with my secrets then.

Your desperate, eternal soulmate,

Carmela Sabbadin


34-AG-30

Princess,

Please arrange a time where we can meet that does not disturb your affairs.

I am done making initial preparations. We need to discuss where to go from here.

Life cannot simply go back to peace while you are endangered.

It is my hope that we can be proactive in rooting out this threat to you.

Then perhaps we can forget it ever happened and return to our lives.

— Centurion Geta


35-AG-30

Centurion,

I can hear your footsteps stomping up my stairs when you deliver these puerile missives to my door. Are you a child suddenly? You need only knock like a normal person.

Next time you compose one of your stupid notes, and decide to bring it to my door, I advice this: swallow the damnable thing and knock. Then you can speak to me.

Should your words please me enough I might deign to discuss some sensitive issues with you. I am willing to give you a chance here. Waste it and you will suffer.

 Princess Vittoria


POSTAL INTERCEPT RECORD, 17TH BLACKSHIRT LEGION

35-AG-30

[report text is slashed across by several lines from an ink pen]

At the Praetor’s request, Rossa interception is to be put on hold. Centurion Geta will take care of any offending material at the point of contact. This is effective immediately and will last until the royal order is reinstated, if it is. Divert all units. — Legatus Marcel


35-AG-30

Salvatrice,

I require your presence. Make your preparations immediately.

Her Highness The Queen Regnant, Empress Of Elvenkind, Guiding Light Of The First Born, Defender Of The Messianic Faithful, Keeper Of The Father-Tree, The Emerald Lady,

Passionale Vittoria II


Last Chapter |~| Next Chapter

Premier’s Special Address #1, Order #1

From the office of the Premier and Commissar of Defense on 53-AG-30:

Comrades of the Socialist Dominances of Solstice!

As these words are spoken, as they are written, as copies are printed, and distributed, a monumental effort is taking place across our beloved homeland. To the south, our brave warriors resist strongly the brutal, pitiless advance of our monstrous enemy. Here in Solstice, our government has reorganized itself for the effort of war and for the care and relocation of millions of refugees from the southern battles. Farther north, our industry, tucked away from the line of battle, prepares itself for the gargantuan effort that lies ahead.

My name is Daksha Kansal. Henceforth I am your Premier — it is an office held by few before me, and held before only during war time. Again it shall be held during war time, for this war that has come to us is like no war before. I was appointed by the National Council before its self-directed disbandment, and have pledged to vigorously direct the struggle ahead, hand in hand with the remaining senior elected officials, a cabinet of qualified ministers, and the elected leaders of our industrial unions, regional organizations and collective farms.

Today, whether you are listening or whether you are reading, I address you in order to explain to you in the fullest terms our situation, in order to enlist your aid in the endeavor of our lifetime, and to instill in you hope and confidence in these difficult times.

Starting on the 18th of the Gloom, the advance of the Lehnerite Nochtish forces, spurred by the perfidious ideology of the global bourgeoisie, has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, soldier and civilian both. As they advance they have imprisoned millions of our civilian comrades in the cities and villages that they once called home. It is difficult to determine exactly the number of our people lost or enslaved, but any number is too high.

The Nocht Federation is our enemy, and we have from the first day strongly resisted their attacks. Nevertheless they have taken Adjar and Shaila, and though some of their finest divisions and air forces lie dead and smashed across the face of our dear Ayvarta, they continue to hurl men and equipment against us with such bestial fury that we find ourselves unbalanced by their maneuvers. In Ayvarta and across the globe, there is talk of the invincible power of the Nochtish army. Does our situation serve as a demonstration of this?

Of course not! I urge you to read on and correct any such defeatist nonsense!

People are quick to sing to the praises of ravenous power as if lulled to some kind of religion. History has proven that no army exists that cannot be defeated. Did not the Kingdom of Lubon appear invincible as it spread across the world, claiming colonies on every sea and crushing indigenous resistance? And yet, one by one their colonies secured themselves. Everyone believed Svechtha had no hope of rescuing itself from Lubonin imperialism, and yet here we are! That is History, and it has been made before.

At the dawn of the new millennium, Lubon was the Nocht Federation of its time.

Did not the Franks in the northern Unification War appear invincible as they rolled over the Nochtish army and pushed them further and further back across the northern continent? And yet, in the end, Nocht not only defeated the Franks, but conquered and assimilated their lands fully within two years. Back then, the Franks were akin to Nocht now. People were in awe of the magnificence of the Franks, the large number of their guns, the fine make of their bayonets, the wild blue flash in the eyes of their men!

But they failed; this is history now! Nocht made history then!

Fact is that these battles of the past month do not represent the making of war but the springing of an ambush against a peaceful and unsuspecting people. Our troops were near totally demobilized and unprepared for any battle, much less a full scale war. Nocht attacked unsuspectingly with scores of fully mobilized divisions and secured itself every short-term advantage that it could, while we suffered every short term disadvantage possible.

We were hamstrung by the politics of my governmental predecessors, slowed down by the need to evacuate as many people and industries as we could on the shortest possible notice against the most horrible and unceasing violence, all the while fighting the enemy while outnumbered and not fully reequipped. In such circumstances, we have lost many battles.

I must stress that these are not permanent, insurmountable deficiencies.

Even with these disadvantages, we managed to secure a great victory in the battle of Bada Aso in Adjar, killing scores of the enemy, destroying much of their precious equipment and erasing many skilled officers and men. We have deprived Nocht of tanks, aircraft and ships that they could not afford to lose at this stage of their operation. They expected to defeat us with impunity because of their surprise advantage. Our tenacity has so surprised them that their entire front has slowed to a crawl in fear of our growing resistance.

Nocht’s short-term advantage is spent! Our country is awakening. At the political level we are appointing experts in various fields to form a new council of executives and secretaries to insure we are able to sustain the battlefront and home front and to conduct both military and civil policy as smoothly as possible. Ministers like War Secretary Chakma, Economy Observer Mamani, and Civil Executive Yuba, and myself, are committed to building up our armies without sacrificing the services that are the human right of our citizens. Rest assured that we continue to be committed to feeding and housing all citizens. This includes our traumatized comrades fleeing north from the Nochtish violence.

We are working with Union leaders, who have key roles to play in this struggle, to rebuild our industry and to create the necessary weapons and ammunition to defeat the enemy. Our work, that was beforehand casual and peaceful, will have to take on a more serious mentality to cope with these dire times. I must beseech every comrade who can go to work to do so; those comrades, who before chose to live on stipends, as is their right of course, I ask that you seek out the nearest work office or union contact, or the recruitment office, and serve your country, which is in great need of you. Every man, woman and young student or child, who is thinking “what more can I do for my country?” I encourage you to go to the nearest political or union or work office, and seriously consider this question.

I also encourage those spoiling for a fight to put their energies to good use and join the armed forces. We are undergoing a project to revive our military programs after the neglect and mismanagement that was rife in the past administration. Our Sunhera Thalsena is in great need of men and women. Those of you who wish to defend the homeland, regardless of your current ability, consider joining our Gold Army. It is the duty of trainers and instructors to hone your skills and make best use of you. So long as you try your best, previous experience or exceptional strength is unnecessary to join.

However, I must also beseech comrades who are working in important industries, and feel their work is insufficient and that they must run to the nearest recruitment center and sign up for war — your work is important to the nation! Those of you in machining, in mining, in agriculture, in academics, in care work, in medicine, in numerous other professions, can do much good in your position. It is true that we need soldiers, and I will not discourage any man or woman who wishes to fight for our country. However, whole factories, whole farms, cannot pick up and go fight without serious shocks to their regions and to the country as a whole. Please consult with a political or union official and consider your options.

The Gold Army is our great hope, but an army cannot fight without factory workers to produce weapons, without teachers to protect and care for the children they leave behind in their villages and towns and cities, without doctors to care for them if they are hurt or sick, without writers and journalists and artists who keep them informed and entertained and who enrich their minds and give them dreams to dream in the middle of the trenches. Our entire body of work, the nation’s body of work, is important, and meaningful. All of our nation must mobilize for war, for the war will inevitably involve every industry.

That is the message that I wish to send to every citizen comrade of our nation. You are at war, a war that none of us wanted. To end this war will require each and every one of us to commit all of our efforts. Join the army, join a union, seek to do everything possible to you, and let nothing hold you back. Only through this great shouldering can we pick up and heave our hated enemy away! Volunteer today, and make every effort for comrade and country!

For motherland and for socialism, comrades! Rise up and fight back!

— Premier Daksha Kansal


From the Office of the Commissar of Defense, 53-AG-2030

Disseminate to all combat Headquarters and officers down to Battalion level.

You will have heard that the political situation in Solstice has changed and a government more amenable to the great and heavy restructuring necessary to rebuild the armed forces has come into power. As such, you are now part, not of the Territorial Army or the Kivuli Jeshi A Watu but part instead of the new Sunhera Thalsena of the SDS.

Due to the establishment of the Gold Army, the K.V.W. and the Territorial Army will now effectively cease to exist, and will become part of this unified structure.

Your orders no longer come from the Military Council or the Civil Council (any Civil Council) but from the Headquarters of the Supreme High Command, known as the “SIVIRA.”

Battlegroups Tortoise, Dingo, Serpent will be renamed the 5th, 6th, 7th Armies of the North Solstice Front, operating in Chayat and thereabouts. Battlegroup Rhino, Battlegroup Falcon and Battlegroup Ram will become the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Armies; the first belonging to the 2nd Solstice Front, operating in Dbagbo and Southeast Solstice, and the latter two belonging to the 1st Solstice Front, operating in Tambwe and Northwest Solstice.

Where necessary these armies will be reinforced beyond their current standard.

Finally, the Revolutionary Guards will be mobilized and activated as the 1st Army of the 1st Solstice Front of the national capital; while the KVW Divisions, which enjoy a greater standard of armored and motorized vehicles than any other currently active force, will be parceled out among the remaining armies where necessary to act as fast strike forces.

In addition, we are in the process of raising three additional armies that will be activated as the 8th, 9th and 10th Armies by the start of the new year, divided among the 1st and 2nd Solstice Fronts. This will help us achieve our short term goal of 500,000 operational troops active in and around Solstice. Furthermore we are mobilizing civilian labor and reserve or training troops to create defenses, camps and supply areas around Solstice to fend off the incoming Nochtish assault. From this follows this next, most painful order.

Due to the botched offenses in Tambwe and Dbagbo that were ordered by the inexperienced leadership of the defunct National Council, it has become untenable to defend these areas, and as such, the SIVIRA is ordering a withdrawal in partial stages from Dbagbo and Tambwe to Southeast and Southwest Solstice. These orders are effective immediately for the 2nd and 4th Armies. The 8th Mechanized Division and the 10th Mechanized Division, as well as the newly-organized 2nd Air Army and 3rd Air Army are being deployed to these territories to assist in whatever way possible. The 2nd Army will withdraw toward the city of Sahib Qadis and the Gennom pass, while the 4th Army will withdraw toward Sirat and the southwest desert. This is effective immediately.

We are appointing new officers to the new Front commands as well as promoting Generals in charge of the various Armies. All Divisional level officers interested in these commands are encouraged to apply; due to the current situation however, officers of the 2nd and 4th armies will not be considered as they are needed in their posts to maintain combat discipline and order. We will not yet reestablish Corps commands, until more officers are available.

Finally, the SIVIRA wishes to formally applaud and remember forevermore the bravery and spirit of the fighters of Battlegroup Ox who survived the entire length of the battle of Bada Aso as well as their commander, the exemplary Colonel Madiha Nakar. While Battlegroup Ox was technically disbanded due to losses, Colonel Nakar and her handpicked troops will be reorganized as the 1st “Askari” Motor Rifle Regiment, recognizing their bravery and their hard-earned experience in combat with the foe. In addition the Regiment will be awarded the Order of Lena, and a new “Battle of Bada Aso” merit to commemorate their struggle, as well as the Gold Banner. Thus: attached to the 4th Army, they are to be known now as the 1st Order of Lena, Defenders of Bada Aso, Gold Banner Askari Motor Rifle Regiment.

All of our armed forces should look to them as an example in the coming months.

— Marshal Daksha Kansal


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Salva’s Taboo Exchanges V


29th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E

Kingdom of Lubon, Province of Paladi — Pallas Academy, Aquinas Building

Byanca Geta settled down on the bed, took off the feathered cap that symbolized her elite, Bersaglieri status, and started to unpack her things. It was late, and she was tired down to her very soul. She hadn’t slept the day before, and she hadn’t found respite now, neither from the situation nor from her own errant thoughts.  She would probably not sleep tonight.

She had been forbidden from taking up residence with Salvatrice, though this was what the Legatus had in mind when she assigned her to the task. Neither the Princess nor her Handmaiden agreed to Geta’s permanent presence in the apartment, though they allowed her to come and go as necessary during the day. For lodging she was on her own.

Thankfully the school administration was sympathetic and allowed her to make full use of the Headmaster’s private suite on the floor below Salvatrice’s own. It was not much, compared to Salvatrice’s lodgings. One small tea room, a bedroom and a bathroom. Headmasters held the key and sometimes worked out of it on busy days. But it was hardly used by the current Headmaster, and everyone welcomed the additional security that would come from lodging a Blackshirt Centurion in the building. They even promised food.

On the plain beige bed and its plain beige sheets, Byanca dropped her bag and started to pick things out. She unpacked a few black uniforms, white underwear, a jacket, a few white shirts, a few pants, a few ascot ties for casual days. She put a framed picture of Saint Orrea’s Hope on her bedside table. It had been taken from a biplane as it overflew the mountain. Prominent in the picture was the old monastery tower, rising diagonally toward the heavens thanks to the photographer’s perspective, framing the mountain in a corner of the shot.

At the bottom of the bag was a wrapped bundle of documentation. She pulled away the plastic strips binding it and sat down, rifling idly through these scattered scraps of her life, flipping past old joys and old sorrows and skimming them to occupy her mind.

She was putting off writing a report of the past two days. Writing the report would mean solidifying one course in her life over another. It would decide her allegiance.


20th of the Lilac’s Bloom, 2025 D.C.E.

Dear Diary,

I feel like we get more munchkins everyday! Where are all the parents disappearing to?

Because I’m the oldest girl left the sisters make me do everything with the kids.

I liked it better when Aldus was around. This place was better as a pointless research institute for magic horseshit with a few kids around than a full-fledged orphanage.

I guess the Primarch’s trying to look good turning Saint Orrea into a big convent.

So he can say that he came from a really important community center.

And not some no-name magic workshop. It’s just as well. I’ll be out of here soon.

I told the kids to call me Dame Geta, for soon I will be among the elite Knights.

Just one more year until I can walk down those steps without looking back.

I wonder how you are doing, Grazia? Will your sword knight me, perhaps?


41st of the Yarrow’s Sun, 2026 D.C.E.

Dear diary;

We spent the day doing verbal evaluations and finding accommodations. The Sergente says that the first week is known as “The Reaping” and that I will fail. I am confident in my abilities. I’ve always been sprightly and strong. I know that I can make it into the Knights. I do not possess patronage nor privilege of any sort. Primarch Sextus opted not to endorse me — it is just as well. I don’t need him, I need only myself and my saint. That alone will carry me.


43rd of the Yarrow’s Sun, 2026 D.C.E.

Dear diary;

Though enrollment in the Knights is allowed to the peasantry, it feels as if the entire program is designed to exclude. My knowledge in marksmanship and combat is already being tested though I have learned nothing of it. I fear that I will not make it. It lies heavy on my heart, the idea that having come this far, I might fail. I had invested so much.

I am so exhausted. I am tired to my heart. I am tired to the roots of my hair. My ears ring with the screams of the Maggiore telling me to run faster, climb harder. I’ve hardly been in this room and yet I fear I will never see it again now. I feel like I will die tomorrow.

I feel like I have lost the breath that made my limbs move. It’s been beaten from me!


45th of the Yarrow’s Sun, 2026 D.C.E.

what is the point of anything anymore, when I have been left by God on this Earth with nothing, put here with nothing, given nothing, aided with nothing? i feel like death

this is my last entry. i’m done. if you find this, fuck you. you didn’t help at all


[RETURNED UNREAD] 20th of the Dahlia’s Fall, 2026 D.C.E

Esteemed Primarch,

My name is Byanca Geta, you know and remember me. I am a recent departure from an orphan program you once personally administered. My fortunes have turned in a bad way and I require your assistance. I am lodging in the aisles of Her Lady Of Saintly Grace in Palladi, eating from the soup kitchen and working odd jobs. I wish to return to the Convent and become a nun but I require assistance traveling from Palladi to Vicaria.

Please spare a trifling fund for this poor believer whom you used to laugh with every Halloweday around the tree. She longs to give her life to the Lord but has nothing left!


PRELIMINARY EVALUATION — LEGIONNAIRE’S COPY

13-GLOOM-2026

Legionarius: Byanca Geta

Age: 19

Height: 172 cm

Weight: 57 kg

Nutrition: Poor

Illness Record: Clean

Sprint Time: 10 seconds

Marksmanship: C

Lifting: 50 kg

Breath: 7 minutes

Endurance: A

Exam Score: 89%

Status: Approved

Assignment: Palladi, 17th Legion


47th of the Postill’s Dew, 2027 D.C.E.

They’re serving Pizza at the garrison cafeteria! Happy New Year to me!

Today my training 2-Pounder jammed and the Doctore made me throw the shell with my hand, and recorded that as my day’s shot score. It can’t even get me down though, because the mozzarella and the tomatoes and basil were so incredible. I can still taste them.

Water’s out again, but I’m gonna write a letter about it. The other girls are too timid, but I’m not going to live without showering. Our barracks are bad enough without this.

Last night I dreamt about Grazia. She was laughing at me. It was wrong; she wouldn’t have laughed. She always told me I was good and right and just. She wouldn’t laugh.


PRELIMINARY ALTERCATION REPORT, 17TH BLACKSHIRT LEGION

57-SUN-2027

INCIDENT BRIEF:

It is alleged that at 1200 hours a physical altercation broke out between Legionnaries Geta and Minimus while on temporary day-leave on the Palladi piazza. According to Geta, Legionnaire Minimus made a rude piece of sexually-charged comedy directed at the Royal Family. Legionnaire Geta severely beat Legionnaire Minimus, sustaining no significant injury herself. A civilian colleague of Legionnaire Minimus, a certain Eric Brosh, attempted to insinuate himself into the brawl and also sustained injuries. Brosh has since been arrested for assaulting a soldier of Her Majesty’s Coorte, as part of the investigation.

OFFICIAL ADMINISTRATIVE RESPONSE:

On behalf of the Legate’s Office you are to swiflty intervene in this case and clear

Legionnaire Geta of all charges related. Discipline Legionnaire Minimus as desired.

Forward Legionnaire Geta to me for private consultation. ~ Legatus Tarkus Marcel.


13th of the Postill’s Dew, 2028 D.C.E.

Dear Diary,

Happy new years to me! I just touched ground in Borelia! Fuck!

Gonna be part of 52nd Legion here in the colonies for a while. Centurion tells me he’s gonna work me hard because he’s never been assigned a Bersaglieri before. He thinks it means that the Legate is serious now about cleaning up the Queenshome area.

I hate it but these days I hate everything so it’s not like it matters.

Everything here is so hot and dry, I don’t know how anyone can call this part of the North. Dirt everywhere; the floor, blows in from the windows. I sneeze a lot now!

Centurion tells me we’re here to help patrol for roadside grenade attacks. People either go on mech patrols or they support mech patrols, those are the two jobs. He’s gonna try to ramp up the offensives though, because he just got a 25% manpower boost in the form of little ol’ me. I did the math — he counts me as five people for some reason.

People going this way and that, always going after something. I just barely made time to write. I’m thinking I might be too busy to even think — probably the only upside here.


08-SUN-28

Hot as hell. Picture this: dirt. Lots of dirt. We got some bushes too. More dirt.

Queenshome shouldn’t exist. I don’t know how people live here. I get told people herd cattle here. I pity the cattle, all they eat is dry grass. I eat pizza once a month.

Saw the regional governor’s daughter taking a lorry ride, all dressed up fancy.

Made me feel dehydrated just looking at her. Had to tell her not to ride around because we’re still hunting down some petrol bomb tossers in the hills. Didn’t give a shit.


25-GLOOM-28

Out to the sticks again today on an op with the boys. Village of Dewrang in the hills outside Queenshome. There was a roadside grenade attack there. Nobody was hurt. Shit grenading if you ask me. Centurion says it so I have to do it. Rode there in a Gemini. Love that beast. Ours has a Mitra 22. I like it better than the Myrta gun by far. When you hold it by the grips and squeeze that trigger, you really feel the power.

Suddenly nobody knows what happened or who anyone is, typical. Leave again.


10-FROST-28

Found a tame horse wandering the village. Belongs to the raiders. They ride in, throw bombs at lorries and wagons and ride back out. They’ve been trying to get at the Governor or his Daughter for months now. Nobody takes them seriously except us. Villagers don’t care because the raiders don’t kill villagers, only gov/pol/mil people.

Why would they ditch a horse? Falling on hard times? One of their men die?

Until we find where they’re hiding we can’t do nothing but patrol and try to catch them in the act. We can only patrol so much though. Queenshome has a whole lot of nothing to cover. People disappear into the bushes, the rocks, the mountainside, all the time.

Centurion putting in a manpower request. Says he hopes to get an extra Gemini.


15-FROST-28

The Gemini can take a grenade. Six dead. One ours. I chased a straggler down on foot. Caught him. I’m basically the fastest woman alive on Borelia right now so it was pretty easy. The Centurion says we can wring the location of the nest from him now.


16-FROST-28

Raided the nest. Won’t be a lot of trials because none of ’em made it out alive. Found lots of bombs. Lots of bombs. Some food, a radio, docs. They were hiding in a cave.

Lots of bodies. Could recognize a few as villagers. Regrettable. Some were friendly.

Got some shrap in the shoulder, I’m ok though. Least it wasn’t my legs. Need those. Bersaglieri are expected to run everywhere. Would be bad to lose my feathered cap.

It’s the only thing I’ve got anymore that says “hey, you’re worth a damn!”


1-DEW-29

Happy new year! We had Pizza and it counts against our monthly Pizza! Fuck!

Centurion says he wants to promote me for putting him out of a job in Queenshome.


50th of the Dahlia’s Fall, 2030 D.C.E

Benedetta figlia,

Byanca, the lord looks down on you from the heavens, and oh does he smile, and oh do his blessings rain upon you! It has been made known to me, though in my heart and soul I knew it was but a matter of time, that you have been elevated to the office of the noble Centurion! Congratulations on your promotion! Though I am busy in my tireless service, should you give me perhaps a month’s advance notice, I would love to meet with you Byanca. I await your return to the mainland, so that our souls may be in earthly correspondence once more.

I knew from the moment that you were entrusted to Saint Orrea that you would grow to wondrous office in service of Lord, Queen and Country. I knew you were destined for greatness. When you were rebuffed by the Knights, Faith carried you. Faith, my child; it will carry you anywhere and through anything. I knew that Faith would serve you well. Look at you today, my child! Feast richly upon what the Lord has given you! Praise be!

You always had the skill and the strength for the Knights, it is their loss; Her Highness’ great Legion has had the privilege of honing you to your fullest potential. And you will have the privilege of serving an authority that is second only to the law of God!

I cannot express with words how proud I am. You, Byanca Geta, you are the example that I can hold for all the orphan children who weep and idle in the convents. Those who let go of their pasts and embrace their future in the arms of God will always succeed!

Remember to keep the faith alive; that torch in your bosom will light any darkness.

Say your prayers twice a day, and steel yourself against sin. You will fly far, my child.

Praying always for your strength and advancement,

Primarch Sextus


Kingdom of Lubon, Province of Paladi — Pallas Academy, Aquinas Building

Byanca Geta dropped her old effects at her bedside and laid back, sighing.

She rubbed one hand over her stomach. It still hurt — she felt as though the princess’ heel had dug right into her heart. She had prostrated herself before her majesty, and received a punishment for her admiration. Punishments seemed to come easy to her.

But she had not been lying to Salvatrice. After all this time, though Salvatrice did not remember, Byanca did. She held those memories in her heart, right under the bruise.

She felt deeply stupid about the aimless trajectory of her life. But God had denied her so many possibilities and paths. Laying down in bed in her Legion uniform, a lingering pain across her stomach and chest, a headache from lack of sleep — she couldn’t see any other way that things could have gone anymore. This was all just what happened.

She felt that in life she could’ve either been a Knight or a Dragon. She became a Dragon and became loathed by her Princess. This was all just what had happened.

At this point she was resigned. At least now she could do this much for her liege.

Maybe couldn’t carry her out of the tower, but she could breathe her fire for her.

She smiled at herself. She liked that picture. It brought some hope to her life.

Maybe if she was with Salvatrice from now, hated or no, she could smile.


STATUS REPORT 17TH BLACKSHIRT LEGION, GRUPO Rossa

30-GLOOM-2030

AGENT: Centurion Byanca Geta

Legatus,

I have investigated the shooting on the 28th and come to the following conclusion.

Isaac Gillard, the shooter, is a violent individual with an eerie temperament and little of worth to call his own. Even now he sits dead quiet in his cell as though he has died in soul if not in body. I believe that helt entitled to the lady Minna’s attentions and this is the root of his violence. He was not a student, but he was an autodidact poet who traveled in similar social circles as the victim. Ms. Minna is well known as a lady who receives much unwanted attention from men and who has a temper against these advances. Acquaintances of the shooter describe him as a quiet and circumspect young man who put strange passions into his poetry; a few pages are attached. Friends of the deceased argued to me that the man likely lusted after Ms. Minna, and was broken down by his inability to claim her.

Legatus, I request permission to close the case as it stands. I have no recommendation as to a course of action to take. This attack was driven only by the pervasive malice of man towards woman, and is unrelated to the recent “anarchist” actions in Palladi.

On the second item, I made contact with Rossa. She is concerned about her well-being in light of the recent events in the school and gladly acquiesced to my protection. She confided in me some monetary woes — she has been attempting to gain spending money by investing the royal bonds in her name, thus turning them into wholly personal funds when profits are returned. This is the root of her contacts with Carmella Sabbadin and various other figures that we have uncovered. My recommendation is that if her economic activity bothers the 17th or the Crown, then Rossa should be furnished with personal funds.

I can confirm Rossa has made no contacts that the Legion would be unaware of.

I can say with confidence our information on her is still near perfectly accurate.

As far as my own condition is concerned. Legionarius Minimus of the medical corps greatly exaggerated in his insipid report and I believe he is attempting to undermine me due to past grievances. I suffered no injuries in subduing the shooter and of course I suffered no injury making contact with Rossa. His accounts of bruises to my body are farcical, and my fatigue is his mere imagination. I must personally request he be transferred out of the 17th Legion since he appears to be doing nothing but causing inconvenience. I do not want a whole Centuria in the school — I need only two men who know protocol, do not ask questions, and who do not submit specious reports behind my back.

Let it be known I will file a report again when there is material worth filing, Legatus.

FILING APPROVED BY LEGATUS TARKUS MARCEL.


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