So, that rant A/N was posted when I was having a rough patch, and it wasn't really meant to be taken seriously, but I think I'm glad I did it now. The response has been mostly positive and I got some good advice for how to continue! I hope I didn't worry anyone too much, I don't plan to just cut things short like this. I've got time now too, maybe I'll even be able to write more often like I used to! I'm still accepting advice, of course, so if you have any suggestions, feel free to give them. With the end of the Coronation Arc, we're also mostly out of the most complicated part of the story, so hopefully the plot will be smoother from now on. Welcome to the Summer's End mini-arc!
David sat still on the stone floor of his cell, one leg outstretched and the other raised to rest his arm on his knee as he leaned forward, eyes closed. There was nothing to see, not with the cloth wrapped tightly around his head, and neither Derf nor Casper were around to talk to.
Though he wasn't chained to the ground and had a bed within arm's reach, he hadn't slept a wink all night, something he knew from the warmth on his back, the sun beating through a window somewhere in the room. It was bleak, a concrete box intended for temporarily storing criminals to put on trial later. It wasn't designed to be comfortable, and with his hands bound together by thick rope, there wasn't much he could do without Gandalfr's help, not that he intended to escape anyway. He still hadn't recovered, his arm numb from the contact he made with the Traitor's fog, and his eyes itched annoyingly under the cloth, though why he couldn't remember. His memory was hazy from the effects of the sleeping potion, he could barely recall details about the conversation he'd had with her, much less any recognizable features.
Agnes had given him an ultimatum when he woke up after the Traitor's attack. Attempt to evade capture and potentially become a proper fugitive, or play along and let her deal with the backlash of his actions. He knew she was grateful for his stopping Crombie, but it had been his fault the man had gotten the opportunity in the first place.
He sighed, knowing he had screwed up. What even was his motivation? Why had he bothered getting involved in something he had no business in? He didn't care all that much about a coronation he wasn't involved in, and he didn't like the thought of risking his life like he did. He could have easily been killed by the Traitor, if she hadn't decided to spare him for whatever reason.
Had he really done all that just because Agnes asked him to? He was a commoner and a familiar, and he had already been training under Karin's observance. The Chevalier didn't have legal grounds to require his service.
And yet, he had accepted anyway. For whatever reason unknown to him, he'd chosen to take Agnes' request and dig a hole where he stood. He couldn't go back now, and he couldn't call it a lapse in judgement. It was premeditated, knowingly drawing his weapon and throwing the illegal potion in the midst of a crowd like it was nothing. There were no mistakes, only the adrenaline of battle.
He raised his head at the familiar sound of Louise shouting something, along with jangling keys as the cell door was unlocked, pushing inward with a creak.
"David! Are you okay?" Louise asked, her voice trembling as she moved to step forward, before she stopped, blocked by Agnes' arm as the woman looked behind her at Karin, who stood with an expertly stoic face, her arms crossed against her stomach.
"I requested that you not bring any of your daughters, least of all her, Duchess." Agnes said, and Karin gave a small nod, inhaling before responding.
"And I denied that request." the woman stated smoothly, frowning. "She would not have been silent if I didn't bring her."
"The familiar bond is weak, but the familial is growing." Agnes said, moving aside to let the girl pass as Louise rushed to kneel on the ground, setting her hands on his shoulders and shaking him as she shouted.
"David, you idiot dog! What were you thinking? Why did you do that?!" When he didn't respond, she blinked, frowning as she shook him again. "You can't be passed out now! They're letting you go, you should get up and-"
"Calm down, Countess Louise." Agnes stated, sighing as she spoke. "He is likely asleep, he exhausted much of his energy. Even Eternal Will isn't designed to support void magic to the degree that he used."
"An Empty Vessel's potential is nothing to underestimate." Karin stated as Louise turned to them, her lip trembling as she narrowed her eyes.
"He was protecting everyone, why did he get thrown in jail like this?" she asked, her voice shaking. "What if he wasn't there? What if he-"
She was cut off by Karin stepping forward, the Chevalier eyeing her as she pushed Louise aside to look down on the Gandalfr. "He violated multiple laws and broke a centuries old tradition, defacing the Valliere name and distancing himself from Tristain's ways."
"You are not to injure him." Agnes stated, her voice calm as Karin grit her teeth, her hand balling into a Fist as she raised her foot, kicking forward in a path aimed for David's unmoving face.
The steel toe of her boot buried itself in the concrete wall of the cell as he turned away, and though Agnes had drawn her pistol, she didn't raise it, as though she'd expected the dodge.
"Duchess Karin, in matters of military discipline, I outrank you. Do not disobey my order."
"David!" Louise called, though she couldn't get close with her mother in the way, the woman tugging her leg to pull her foot free and kneel down to grasp David's arm, dragging him from his seated position to force him to his feet.
"Louise, be quiet. He was awake to begin with, and I've trained him well. He wouldn't have fallen for such a simple attack."
"But-" The girl was cut off by the unnatural glare her mother gave her, stepping back and visibly deflating under the Square-class mage's gaze.
"Go to the carriage. I will deal with this matter myself, as his mentor and a representative of the family." Not letting Louise counter, she continued. "Don't make excuses. You were able to see him again, that is all you need to do. Go to the carriage."
As the girl meekly ran off, Karin sighed, turning her attention back to David, who had remained quiet through the exchange. "You are aware what a mess you've brought upon me, aren't you? You can see how long it will take to clear my name of this insult."
"I can't see much of anything right now." the boy said, lifting his bound hands to motion to the cloth as Karin stood straight, letting him stand under his own strength.
"You didn't injure your eyes, why are they covered?" she asked, turning to Agnes. "Is this a new method of restraint?"
The younger woman shook her head, setting her gun back in its holster at her side. "Doctor Dlamini already explained this, but he received an unusual form of ocular trauma at some point yesterday. He was instructed to keep his eyes covered until they stopped itching, and when they do, he's to take a drop of this potion," She raised a vial of pale pink liquid, "every hour for three days. I'm expecting further instruction from Queen Henrietta, but for now, that is your task. Of course, you will be punished accordingly for your lack of disciplining him. I've already discussed his castigation in private."
Karin was quiet for a moment, before stepping towards the door, reaching to swipe the vial of potion out of Agnes' outstretched hand as she growled. "So, the new Queen has made her decision. She would rather defend a personal interest than maintain order in a difficult time."
Agnes narrowed her eyes, reaching to set her gauntleted hand on Karin's back as the woman stood in place. "Are you saying that you don't trust Her Highness' word? She is not simply a child, her strategic capabilities are exceptional."
"I said nothing of the sort. I simply have trouble empathizing with the words of a Valois." the Duchess stated, waving her hand to Louise, who was helping David to walk since he wasn't able to see where he was going. "Come, Louise. We will be heading home now."
As the trio shuffled out of the room, the woman spoke again, though she didn't turn to face the knight. "You are Milanese. I'm sure you understand why that dynasty is losing favor with the people, even as the Council dogs lick their boots."
"I am loyal to my post. Continue speaking against the crown, and it will be put on record."
Karin's head twitched to the side as she motioned for Louise to continue forward. "Hmph. You're too young, you don't understand the scope of what happened yesterday. I respect the unyielding Wall that Cardinal Vicar Innocentius created, but it is simply surrounding unrefined ore."
As the woman left her sight, Agnes sighed, setting a hand on her chest and exhaling as she stood alone in the small cell, turning to look at the spot on the ground where the boy had been sitting.
"You're too entrapped in the past to realize it." she whispered under her breath, eyes narrowed and a small frown on her face in a sad expression. "It's just like it was in Gunther's time. Tristan is changing, and it will ripple across Halkeginia. We must ensure that we are on the side who survives."
She lifted her head, sensing a new presence but not turning to face it, knowing exactly who it was without looking. "You weren't at the ceremony. I thought you were still in Westphalia?"
A low laugh as the man slapped his belly, producing a rumbling sound before replying. "I hear my son handled his assignment well, but it seems we both felt the same thing. That David that my Frances is eyeing, he seems to be at the center of the new wave, isn't he? It's too bad, I must have just missed his departure."
The woman hesitated, before turning to face him, raising a hand to point in his direction. "If I may be so impertinent, may I request your presence? I understand that you are still on vacation, but-"
"Agnes, Agnes, enough of the formality. You know I don't care to talk to former commoners in such a way. After all, I wasn't always a Duke. Of course, I'd be glad to help! I'm not as stuffy as that Heavy Wind."
~~~In the carriage~~~
"My eyes don't hurt as much anymore." David stated quietly, rubbing his wrists where the rope had burned red marks in his skin. "Can you take this thing off for me? My fingers are still too numb to undo it."
"Hold still." Louise said, and without the ability to see, he didn't have much choice as she raised her wand to his head, aiming for the covering as she focused on her willpower. "Unlock."
The cloth immediately relaxed, and he chuckled as he raised his good hand to grab it, tugging it loose and setting it on the seat next to him as he ruffled his hair, which was a rat's nest after being left compressed for so long. "I keep forgetting that you're really precise with elementless magic, since you still suck at Explosion."
She frowned, setting her hand on his chin and another to his hairline to ensure he wasn't injured, watching carefully as he blinked a few times, squinting as he struggled to get used to the daylight. "Not everyone is naturally gifted like you are, it's not as easy for me to control. I can't do those variations you've come up with, I barely understood your explanation in the first place. That 'physics' you told me about is too complicated for this century. Really, why do you always forget that our world is behind yours?"
"Heh. Can you stop touching my face? It's kind of..." he responded, before groaning as he allowed his eyes to open, and they widened as he noticed the close proximity he had, Louise's face inches away from his own. "...uncomfortable."
She frowned, tilting her head as she ignored the request. "Lady Agnes was right, your eyes look kind of weird. Aren't they normally blue?"
"Are they different now?" he asked, but the girl couldn't respond before they were distracted by Centurion coughing into his hand, reminding the two that they weren't alone as he and Karin sat across from them. The Duchess had gone to sleep, still sitting straight with her hands firmly in her lap, but the master of the Valliere estate was wide awake, and had been watching their interaction since the journey began.
"Yes, Lady Agnes mentioned it in her official report, but it's quite striking in person. Are you sure you don't recall the battle well?"
The Gandalfr blinked in confusion, shaking his head slowly. "No, I remember bits and pieces, but after I took Cromwell down, it gets hazy. Why?"
He huffed in surprise as Louise leaned over him, fumbling in the cargo space above his head as he froze in place, closing his eyes to avoid staring directly at her chest as she sat back, smiling as she held up a hand mirror. "Here, see for yourself. It's crazy, you look like a completely different person."
He accepted the mirror, turning to face away from her as he lifted it, and his hand reached up to pull his eyelid down, bringing the mirror close to his face so he could get a proper look. "...Agnes told me about an imprint or something, but I didn't think it would be like that."
Was that the sort of thing really possible? He had interacted with Crombie before, it couldn't be that that caused this. He vaguely recalled meeting the Traitor directly, but was her presence alone enough to alter his appearance in this way?
What was she, to turn his eyes pink as if she'd sucked all the color from them?