Chapter Twenty-Four "The Kingdom's Plotting"

Dear King Ranpossa III of the Re-Estize Kingdom,

This letter is to inform you that I have defeated the army that you sent to Carne Village. I am certain that you already know this from the few elements of the defeated army that managed to escape the grasps of my forces. I also have captured your eldest son.

You will likely no doubt have tried to guess what my goals that I might have. My goal is simple. I want independence from the Re-Estize Kingdom and you recognize our independence. If you do not publicly recognize our independence than I shall be left with no choice but to use military force to protect. Any other demands I have shall only be disclosed if either your Majesty's or Stronoff-dono's presence.

Any further attacks on Carne Village by your forces will signal to me that negotiations are not possible and will result in the summary execution of your son. I strongly advise that for your son's survival that you don't try anything stupid.

Shirou Emiya, leader of Chaldea

P.S if there you want to know more about me then I would consult Stronoff-dono. He and I have worked closely for several months regarding many mutual goals.

King Ranpossa III let out a tried sigh as he placed the letter that he had read on the desk before him.

"My king, please relax," said Gazef as stood beside his troubled liege, King Ranpossa III. "Your son is safe and will be treated well. Shirou Emiya is honorable and wise. He will do nothing to harm your son as long as you keep your end of the bargain and not order any rescue attempt of your son."

"If you trust this man then I will too," said Ranpossa as he let out a sigh of relief at assurance of his most trusted subordinate. "There is just one problem… I can trust Shirou, but what about his subordinates? The king looked at Gazef warily. "Can you claim that they will not harm my son after he was the one that led an army to invade Carne Village? The same army that had likely hurt and killed many of the Carne villagers?"

Gazef remained silent as he contemplated his liege's question. He was willingly to swear on his life that Shirou could be trusted to honor the terms that he had set out. The same level of trust that he had in the man didn't exactly extent to Shirou's subordinates. Some of Shirou's subordinates included men and women who had tried to kill him and his soldiers. His doubt soon subsided when he remembered how devoted and loyal the same people that tried to kill him were to Shirou Emiya. They seemed less likely, if not incredible insulted that they would do anything to insult the reputation of their master.

"I believe that Shirou's subordinates will not do anything to your son." Gazef nodded.

"That is indeed the good news that I was waiting for." Ranpossa happily smiled. "Now that we are alone we can talk what others might say or hear." The king looked Gazef dead in the eye. "Gazef, how much of the report compiled from the testimonies of the survivors of my son's army do you believe? What part do you think was exaggerating because of fear and delusions?"

"There is no doubt possible that Re-Estize Kingdom's force of fifty thousand was routed by an army of much smaller size. Although, I must agree with you, your Majesty regarding many of the details…" Gazef replied in strong tone. "But…"

"I sense that there is something that you are not telling me," said Ranpossa. "What is it? There is no need to hold back. I always value your advice."

"I…" Gazef sighed as he considered his words. "I think that the situation might be even more serious than we think." Ranpossa gestured at Gazef to continue. "There are many possible methods that our enemy could have employed to explain how such a significant smaller military force was able to defeat our 50,000 soldiers. Better equipment and training. Tactics and strategies. Intelligence on enemy abilities and best using that information. So many possible factors."

"High Humans on the other hand…" Ranpossa added.

Gazef nodded his head. Everything he had listed was something that the Kingdom had always faced against for decades already in the form of the Baharuth Empire. So, it was not something that the Kingdom was not used to facing. High Humans changed everything as they were something that no one had faced in warfare in centuries as High Humans were said to have gone extinct except for the rarely ever used Godkin that the Slane Theocracy protected with everything that they had. The unknown factor that were high humans changed everything as they were so many things that high humans were "supposed" to be capable of and little was known of what they were truly able to do.

"Your Majesty, I know it would seem treasonous to suggest this, but I believe you should treat Shirou Emiya like an equal or superior." Gazef said in a respectful tone.

Normally, Ranpossa would have been highly offended have the insulter punished, but Gazef before he was no ordinary man. Gazef Stronoff was someone who had faithful served him for years well beyond what was expected to him and saved his life multiple times.

"There must be a reason to why you make what would be normally be considered a treasonous suggestion," said Ranpossa. "What is your reasoning?"

"Shirou Emiya is not just a regular High Human," said Gazef. "It seems that you have forgotten your Majesty, but Shirou Emiya is also a Godkin."

King Ranpossa III froze up. He had completely forgotten about that piece of information regarding Shirou Emiya. The king had just assumed that Gazef had overestimated the strength of Shirou Emiya and believed that he was a powerful individual equal if not slightly more superior to Gazef. If Gazef was not joking and it was true that he was dealing with a Godkin. Ranpossa shivered. Godkins were not something that the Slane Theocracy used as propaganda. They were humanity's trump card against the direst of threats. Each one equal to a legendary hero and a one-man army.

"The Slane Theocracy is backing Chaldea…" Ranpossa remarked in disturbed tone.

"Shirou's followers include formers members of the Sunlight Scripture. They also claimed that Shirou Emiya is or was a former member of the Black Scripture. This leads some credence to your theory, your Majesty." Gazef added.

The king let out an exhausted sigh. The situation had become even more perilous with the possible involvement of the Slane Theocracy. If the Baharuth Empire was a neighbouring nation that could defeat the Re-Estize Kingdom, then the Slane Theocracy had the ability to utterly crush his nation if the Slane Theocracy decided. The only reason why his country was still standing was because the Slane Theocracy had shown no interested in his country. If the Slane Theocracy was interested in his country the chances of his country's survival seemed grim.

"Things are looking darker the longer we think about it…" Ranpossa muttered.

"Aye, your Majesty, we face a very daunting task before us," said Gazef in a gloomy tone. "We should first confront a pressing issue about your son..." He then cleared his throat. "I am concerned about what the nobles could do. With Prince Barbos captured, they might try and use this opportunity to eliminate your son with the excuse of mounting a rescue attempt. They want to try and give Shirou a justification to execute Barbos or kill your son under the guise of a rescue operation."

Ranpossa gritted his teeth. Normally, any notion of assassinating him or his family would have thought as something too risky to try as the chances of failure and swift retaliation was more than enough to keep nobility at bay. That was not the situation power was tied elsewhere with the current war against the enemy and newly emerged Chaldea. The nobility knew this and might have gained the courage to carry out Gazef's suggestion.

"Increase the surveillance on the nobility," said Ranpossa.

"Your Majesty that…"

"I know," said Ranpossa as he interrupted Gazef. "Your intelligence network is already stretched thin. Yet, the loss of my son will deal a significant blow to my family's reputation and perceived strength."

"I believe we should bring your daughter into the fold," said Gazef.

Ranpossa nodded. Gazef left the room to fetch his daughter.

- O -

"Good afternoon father," said Princess Renner in a polite and respectful tone. "Did my eldest brother and his army successful secure Carne Village?"

"Renner," said Ranpossa to his daughter in unusually strict tone that made him seem more like a king than a father. "Drop the act. You already know what has happened to your eldest brother and his army. After all, you now control one of the largest information networks in the Kingdom after you assumed control over the Eight Fingers."

"Father?" Renner gasped as she was stuck before she recomposed herself so quickly that someone might have mistaken her brief shocked expression as figment of their imagination. "What makes you say such outrageous claims? The Eight Fingers have fragmented into smaller and competing organization after Climb and the Blue Roses uncovered actionable intelligence to take down the Eight Fingers."

"As I said before, you can drop the act, Renner. Everyone might think you to be the kind and innocent 'Golden Princess', but I know the true. You are cold and ruthless. Morality doesn't matter to you as long as you achieve your goals," said Ranpossa and the longer that he spoke the more of Renner's grip on her false mask seemed to weaken at what she heard from her father. "I know this because Elizabeth was the very same."

Renner's mask completely shattered after her mother was mentioned. What her father was telling her was something that no one had ever told her about. Everyone else seemed to think that her false persona, the famous "Golden Princess" who was kind and innocent was her true self. Traits associated with her mother. To hear that her ruthlessness and cold nature hadn't been unique to herself but also had been her mother's true nature shocked her to the core. She had mixed emotions; relief at knowing that she wasn't alone in her circumstance and shock that everything she had known about her mother might not be true.

"I will drop the act, father, as there is no point continuing the charade when you know of my true nature," said Renner as she dropped the Golden Princess persona and acted in her true self. "What is the point of this meeting? You had pretended for years to be deceived like everyone else by my fake persona when you knew what my true nature was. There must be reason that pretending to be fooled by my deception."

"You are correct, daughter." Ranpossa nodded. "The Re-Estize Kingdom is facing an existential crisis."

"Existential threat?" Renner repeated. "I find that hard to believe. While the defeat of fifty thousand soldiers against a force of five thousand seemed unbelievable that is only at first glance. Most of our soldiers were conscripts. Conscripts are poorly trained and equipped with a tendency to easily become scared to break rank and not obey commands under battlefield conditions. It is not unfathomable to see a highly trained, equipped and professional army defeating our army. Our defeat is also not unprecedented. History is littered with many similar cases of miracles."

"You would normally be correct with assessment, but there is information, but no one save for myself, Gazef and the select members of the Royal Guards know. What I am about to tell you must remain a secret. This information is why I believe our kingdom is facing an existential crisis." Ranpossa gestured to his daughter to come closer and Renner complied until she was arm's length from her father. "Shirou Emiya is a Godkin."

Renner stared at her father incredulously. She didn't believe what she had heard. By how serious that her father looked and his tone, it seemed that he wasn't joking, but she found it hard to believe. Godkins were something of legends and the claims that the Slane Theocracy made that they had entire bloodlines dating back to their deities, the Six Great Gods, was something that Renner had treated as propaganda. She absolutely refused to believe that Godkins were real. It just sounded… No, the way how serious that her father was treating the matter made it very, very unlikely that her father was joking.

If Shirou Emiya is a Godkin, it might explain so many mysterious surrounding him that I have… Renner noted as her mind began to find answers to many questions she had surrounding Shirou Emiya with the knowledge that he was a Godkin. "Assuming that this is the truth then as you say father, this changes everything." She felt a shiver ran down her spine as she realized that she also possibly knew information that her father didn't know. "Father… I was able to take over the Eight Fingers because of Shirou Emiya…"

"What…?!" Ranpossa coughed. "Can you please repeat that again?"

"Shirou Emiya helped me take over the Eight Fingers," said Renner as she gritted her teeth. "I am the one that he put in charge after purging those criminals that refused to work under my command. It is unknown how much of the Eight Fingers is truly loyal to me and not to Shirou Emiya…"

Ranpossa cringed at the new development. It was even more worse than he had thought. He was dealing with an increasingly more dangerous and unknown threat that was Shirou Emiya. How much more Shirou had hiding made Ranpossa nervous and felt an onset of a severe headache. He had been called upon his daughter and hoping that she might have been able to help him. It seemed that he might have been to hopeful.

"Wonderful… Just great…" Ranpossa groaned. "Is there anything more you wish to tell me about Shirou Emiya?"

"What I have just disclosed is the only thing I believe that you don't know about Shirou Emiya," said Renner. "You probably know more than I. If you wish for my aid, please tell me if there is anything else that you wish to reveal."

"There is nothing more to reveal," Ranpossa replied as he shook his head. "We face two confirmed threats. The Baharuth Empire and Chaldea led by Shirou Emiya. A potential enemy in the form of the Slane Theocracy given Shirou Emiya's status as a Godkin and former member of the Black Scripture…"

"We are indeed facing an existential crisis," said Renner as she finally understood what her father had meant earlier after what he had revealed to her. "If you are bringing me into the fold to deal with this crisis than I want something in return."

"Here when I had hoped that you would me without any expectations of rewards," Ranpossa sighed. "Tell me what your conditions are."

"I want to be crowned as your heir. Crown Princess." Renner replied bluntly.

Ranpossa resisted the urge to refuse outright. While it was normally tradition for the son to become heir then going down by age, history was littered with female rulers that were just as successful and capable as male ones. Now that he carefully considered his daughter, she seemed like a better choice than either of two sons. Renner had accomplished much more than his sons with her proposed reforms that he had implemented and the fact that she had been able to take over (take down by official sources) the Eight Fingers, the shadow society that said to control the Re-Estize Kingdom from the shadows. If he was to abdicate or to die his kingdom was in safer hands as Renner as a ruler than any of his two sons.

"Do you truly love Climb or is that another deception of yours?" Ranpossa asked.

"I truly love Climb, father," said Renner as a very creepy and disturbing smile formed. "He is the only thing that I care for and I will do anything to keep him."

Gazef became very uncomfortable with the sight of Renner that she had hidden from everyone. It disturbed him that the "Golden Princess" was all a facade. The kind and innocent princess that everyone thought who she was for was just a mask to hide the cold and ruthless woman underneath. He was creeped out even more knowing what his intelligent network and the king had told him about the true nature of Renner.

"What led you to falling in love with Climb?" Ranpossa asked in a fatherly tone, abandoning the authoritative persona as king.

Renner scowled in response. "Why are you showing concern for me now father? Not the years ago when I needed it!" She snapped and glared murderously at him. "I was the daughter. The one that was to be married off to secure a better future for the Kingdom. Someone that was not worth much of your attention as you had two sons to care and nurture."

It seems you were right, Elizabeth… I should have taken your words to heart… It seems the exact same thing had happened to our child. She didn't grow up with the friendly and welcoming environment that she needed. As a result, she has become this cold and ruthless child. Ranpossa apologized to his dead wife. "I am sorry for leaving all alone, but…"

The king fell silent when he saw something that he couldn't believe. His daughter was hardly older than fifteen years, but she seemed to swallow her anger and quickly recompose herself with a polite smile. His daughter's ability to control her emotions and recover so quickly shocked him. A reminder how much he had missed of his daughter's childhood and how fast she had grown up.

"Excuse me for the outburst," said Renner in a polite tone as she bowed.

When Renner's head rose up again, Ranpossa shivered as he saw a look that he hadn't seen since his dead wife had died giving birth to Renner. He saw the polite smile and glittering eyes that his wife had when she promised vengeance. Vengeance that often humiliating and terrifying.

"Renner," said Ranpossa in uncomfortable tone, "please don't get your revenge in a public manner that will embarrass or undermine me. The last thing that our kingdom needs is to be distracted by a scandal or question either my authority and that of our family. We are after all facing a war. If you want your revenge, please make sure it is done behind closed doors."

Renner looked in surprise at her father. She was amazed that her father had been able to read her intent. No one so far in her life had been able to read her thoughts and intentions when she smiled politely like that. It was a shock to see that there was someone that could read her and predict what she was planning.

So, the stories about my father's shrewdness and sharp mind during his prime were not just 'stories. Age dulling his mind being the likely explanation that he no longer lives up to the stories of his prime. Renner concluded. "What do you mean, Father?" She asked with friendly smile. "I would never think of doing such a thing."

"I might no longer be sharp as my younger self," said Ranpossa, "but I know that look when I see it. It was the same look your mother had when she promised vengeance on me. Something that would have caused countless scandals if your mother hadn't taken her revenge behind closed doors or covered it up."

The princess blinked. It wasn't because her intentions had been discovered. The news of hearing more about her mother was what surprised her. She hadn't been expecting to her about her mother in the present situation. She snapped her out of her musing when Gazef spoke up.

"Climb would certainly make a good choice as your consort, Princess," said Gazef as he snapped the two royalties out of conversation and attempted to get them refocused because they had gathered. "He is both a great fighter and capable leader as shown by his recent success and growth. The only problem people may have been that he is that commoner and therefore unfit to become the consort of a princess."

Renner glared at Gazef for ruining the first conversation that she was having with her father as family for the first time in a long while. She knew intellectually that it wasn't a type to be having a conversation like daughter and father, but how could anyone blame her. The princess had envied her brothers for having so many similar opportunities while she had been robbed of them as her father was either busy spending time with her brothers or managing the kingdom. She wondered what sort of revenge she might organize against Gazef.

"Renner, I promise you that I will give you all the time in the world after dealing with war," said Ranpossa in a reassuring tone to his daughter. "In fact, I will have to after I make you Crown princess. I must after all, oversee the smooth transition of power and advice you as the former ruler."

For a moment, Renner felt as if she was a young girl again. That she was finally getting the undivided attention of her father. It was something that she had always wanted. She wanted to bask in her father's care just a bit longer when she closed her eyes and sighed. She was not a young girl anymore nor was the present situation a time where she could waste her father's precious time as he tried to organize his forces to fight off not only the Baharuth Empire and Chaldea.

Time to get back to business, Renner turned to Ranpossa. "Father, I several suggestions that will prove controversial but may aid us greatly in this war."

"Let us hear it then," said Ranpossa as he waved his hand. "Any idea from you tends have some merit."

"I believe we should seek the aid of adventurers, but of course we cannot hire them. To do so would be breaking international treaties regarding the neutrality of adventurers from national affairs. We cannot afford to give our enemies excuses to isolate us from potential allies. There is one method that will get around this issue. We can offer the adventurer the status of nobility for their aid. Doing so will get around the issue of adventurer's neutrality in state affairs as they had officially become part of the Kingdom and given up their status as adventurers." Renner explained.

"I see," said Gazef as he caught onto Renner's point. "This will definitely work, your Majesty. The promise of nobility will both attract the aid of adventurers while skirting around the international treaties regarding the neutrality of adventurer but binding them to the Kingdom's service as nobles."

"I can ill-afford to alienate my current supporters, but we also desperately need whatever aid we can get…" Ranpossa mused. "Yes, I think this is the best option." He nodded. "There is no way that I will grant the title of nobility to adventurers if I don't do so to my most loyal vassal."

"Your Majesty… You are not suggesting…?" Gazef stumbled back slightly as he was caught by surprise of the new development.

"Come," said Ranpossa as he gestured to his personal bodyguard. "I have made my mind and I will not change it. It is certainly radical idea, but my kingdom will likely cease to exist if we continue as we are currently. Radical change and reform might be the only way of surviving through this existential crisis."

Gazef was ensure about what to do. He was honored that his liege wanted to reward him for his service. Yet, there was no need for a reward. He was more than content with words of appreciation over any actual reward. With a thankful look, Gazef had been about to speak when he was beaten to the punch.

"Gazef-sama, I implore to accept," said Renner. "Not for yourself, but what this act will symbolize how serious my father is about the offer to provide nobility to the adventurers for service to the kingdom. People work their hardest when they know that they will be rewarded for work. By accepting my father's offer of nobility, it will send a message to every commoner of the Re-Estize Kingdom. You can join the ranks of nobility for your service to the throne. This will likely invigorate the commoners to fight not just because of their ruling nobility, but they have the ability to join the powerful elite that had once been closed to them."

"Can his Majesty even do that? I don't think royalty has such power?" Gazef asked with a frown.

"Gazef-sama, how else do you think our kingdom and any other came about?" Renner asked rhetorically. "My ancestor, King Ranpossa the First founded this very kingdom and rewarded his supporters with titles and land. These rewarded supporters' descendants would become the nobility of today."

"I never thought about that before…" Gazef replied as he shrugged. "If accepting a noble title will truly help his Majesty and the Kingdom as you say than I have no excuse to refuse."

"Then kneel before me," said Ranpossa as he drew his sword. Gazef nodded and complied. He walked over and kneeled with his right leg bent. "I, King Ranpossa III, name you, Lord Royal Protector. Your responsibilities will be the protection of the royal family. To carry out this duty, I invest you with authority to act as my personal agent. Any order that you give in your duties to protect the royal family will be treated as if they were my own orders." The King spoke as he tapped his drawn sword over Gazef's shoulder, first the left shoulder then the right. "Rise Lord Royal Protector. Take this sword of mine as a symbol of the power I have invested in you."

"Thank you, your Majesty," said Gazef gratefully as he took the offered sword. "I shall carry out my new duties at once and I promise to never abuse the new powers that you have invested in me."

"I welcome you, Lord Gazef Stronoff, as the newest addition to the Kingdom's nobility," said Renner as she gave a courtesy bow. "I hope you for the very best and look forward with working with you."

"It would be an honor to work with the Kingdom's most intelligent individual," Gazef replied gratefully.

"Now, let's get on with the reason for this meeting," said Ranpossa. "How shall we deal with this situation besides what we have already discussed?"

"I have many possible solutions," said Renner. Each one more radical than the last and likely to face resistance from the nobility."

"Let's us hear them," Ranpossa replied as he gestured to his daughter to continue.

"We need to reform our military," said Renner. "Do away with conscription to make the bulk of our soldiers. Conscription only weakens us on the long run for we are taking the workers and farmers that create the foundation of our economy away from working."

"I know what you're about to say," said Ranpossa. "That we should implement military reforms the work for our neighbors such as the Slane Theocracy and Baharuth Empire. It has already been suggested multiple times and even implemented, but those attempts have always been stalled and abandoned as a result the nobility's resistance."

"That is why I and the Eight Fingers come in," said Renner with a creepy smile that unnerved Gazef. "My information network and connections surpass even yours father. It will not be a difficult task to blackmail or eliminate any troubling resistance to any reforms that we will need to carry out."

"That plan relies on the assumption that your information network and connections are not compromised with Shirou's followers," Ranpossa warned. "Any implementations of reforms must happen with the thorough purging of any Shirou's follower amongst the Eight Fingers."

"I know father," Renner huffed indignantly. "I have already purged the Eight Fingers multiple times and I will continue to do so at a regular basis."

"Ahem," Gazef as he coughed to break the two royalties' conversation. "Let's us please continue with the original topic at hand…"

"As mentioned before, conscription should be eliminated," said Renner. "Conscripts make poor soldiers as they have poor morale and prone breaking rank or disobeying commands."

"I agree with that assessment," Gazef nodded. "The conscription as practiced by our kingdom is unreliable as our conscripts are not given proper training and equipment. We either need to adopt conscription standards and practices like those of the Roble Holy Kingdom or think of something else to increase our military strength."

Gazef and Renner turned to Ranpossa.

"How good are the Roble's conscripts that you are asking that we adopt their conscription standards and practices?" Ranpossa asked.

"The Roble Holy Kingdom's conscripts each are worth three of our conscripts," said Gazef. "Our training and equipping of conscripts are shamefully inadequate compared to them. Yet, they show that conscripts can be a proper fighting force."

"Then I have decided, we are going to reform our conscription method," said Ranpossa. "All future conscripts will receive better training and equipment. Those currently conscripted will be retrained to a higher standard and equipped with better conscription. We cannot afford to give up conscription as numbers alone as often proven in the past instrumental in the Kingdom's military victories."

"I disagree with the usage of conscripts as I find smaller and volunteer military such as used by the Slane Theocracy and Baharuth Empire," said Renner as she shook her head in disapproval. "Well… father, you have made your decision. Let's move on… Where was it…?" Renner ran her hands through her dress' pockets. "Oh, here it is." She soon produced a small and weathered book. "I have been carrying this book with the hope of reforming our military, and now seems like a good time to show them."

Gazef's mouth went slack and his eyes when his eyes read the cover of the book that Renner produced.

"Where did you get this?!" Gazef pointed at the book in Renner's hands. "That book is supposed to be myth! It should exist."

"Oh, it exists," said Renner as she smiled. "I know it exists because it is within my hands. This book is the reason why I was able to assume control of the Eight Fingers. Within its covers were the knowledge that makes it live up to its mythical reputation."

"Pass it here," said Ranpossa as he had out his hand. "I will validate of this is truly the real thing."

"Here you go, father," said Renner as she walked over and handed the book.

Gazef watched as his liege read through the book. He wanted to walk over and read what his liege was doing, but he didn't. It would be incredibly disrespectful to be peering over the shoulder of Ranpossa. Yet, he also wanted. If the book was truly what Gazef had read the book's cover then it was holy grail of warfare. According to myth, it contained all the knowledge that one needed to wage war against all manners of foes; how to win, prevent defeat and so many other things that anyone that fought for a living would want to know.

"This seems like the genuine thing as what surviving parts of this manuscripts we have within the royal treasury matches," said Ranpossa in an amazed tone as he closed the book. "Renner, I don't know where you got this, but we might survive this thanks to this book. Salvation will come because of The YGGDRASIL Combat Encyclopedia: Party Combat to Guild Wars…"

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