Convincing the adults to let me come along turned out to be a futile effort. As I wheedle, they only get more adamant.
"I can fight!" I plead, "Chartette-"
"Ya almost got killed as it was... twice, back in Lucifenia castle!" Germaine snarls.
Kyle meanwhile had managed to wheedle some help out of Elluka and Gumilia. They would help enchant the weapons of his troops to better penetrate the defenses the dowager would have.
"Expect plenty of undead. She has the power of the glass under her control," Elluka sighs and wipes her glasses, "Radiant magic should best disable them. Since this is enchantment magic engraved, it will fare better than casted magic on that sort of night."
"Thank you. Your help and expertise are appreciated..." Kyle sighs.
If Germaine wouldn't let me, I need to convince Kyle at least. He is king here, as well as the leader of the proposed siege. After dinner one night, I see my mother exit the study, still stroking the red cat.
"Where are you going, dear?"
"Oh, I was … is Kyle in there?" I ask, pointing at the study.
"Oh yes, he passed by me near the history books."
I quickly go in and close the door. After I'm sure she isn't coming after me, I wander to the history books. Peering between shelves, I see him reading something. Or, perhaps, reading isn't the correct word. His gaze is fixated on a single page. From where I am, I can see it appears to be a historical portrait. He seems to be talking to it.
"Father..." He sighs quietly, "You and I... were fools... to the women of our house..."
His father? It must be the late king of Marlon. I pluck up my courage and go to lightly tap his shoulder. He jumps out of his seat with a start at the interruption, though he calms down fast enough as he whirls around to see me.
"Y-Yukina...!" He wipes his face a bit, "Uh, what is it?"
"You were looking at the royal family history?" I peer past him to the book.
"... Yes... I suppose I was having some... silly thoughts," He sighs, "I'm about to go confront my mother... and I come seeking my father's advice... even when he likely never foresaw anything like this with the woman he loved..."
"Oh... that's not silly at all. After all, you were under your mother's thumb, pretty much," I giggle a bit, "Until we had to wake you up."
"Like the others, you don't to let me live beyond that, do you?" Kyle gives a light scoff, "I swear this place is full of such strong women."
That compliment makes me quite happy. Perhaps he will be agreeable after all, if he sees me as a woman rather than a child.
"Kyle, I want to come with you to the Hedgehog battle!"
He blinks at my sudden proposal. But it does not take him long to find his tongue.
"Why?!" I exclaim, puffing a cheek, "You know I can help!"
"Yukina, I can have you stay at Lioness with Arkatoir and the others, away from the front lines. But I will not have you in the fray of battle. I can't put you or Keel through that," he says. His eyes seem strangely kind and sincere, and his tone is firm.
"I've left the house before on my own! What does it have to do with my parents?"
"... Back on the ship, after I pulled you out of the water... I was so... incredibly scared, Yukina," Kyle says quietly, gripping the edge of the desk behind him, "Back when I was fighting in Lucifenia as Kachess... I saw lots of people die. But I … didn't feel nearly as scared than I did trying to revive you."
I feel myself almost getting red knowing he likely had to give me mouth-to-mouth... I look down at the carpet at our feet, not facing his gaze any longer.
"Your father is a close friend... not only of my family, but also a personal friend. You, Yukina, are the same. You are very..." He comes close and lightly hugs me, "...Precious to me."
That sets my face off on a small fire. It felt very strange. This must be the discomfort Michaela felt. I mean, this is... like a confession from a lover.
To my chagrined dismay, there is the sound of a throat being cleared. The two of us turn suddenly to see my father standing there, staring at us. On his face is a plastered smile.
"I hope I'm not interrupting anything."
"Uh... Keel, uh..." Kyle quickly lets go of me, "I was just telling Yukina-"
"Can I see you for a moment, Kyle?" Father looks to me sternly next, with no room for negotiation, "And you, off to bed, young lady."
I know better than to argue with that tone. I slink off to bed. All I know is, the next morning, Kyle had to come from the nearby town inn. And he had some bruises on his face.
My father can be quite the scary man.
On the day of the battle for Hedgehog castle, I was taken, as Kyle promised, to Lioness. It was the closest fortified stronghold in proximity to the battle. Elluka and Gumilia remain behind at my house. I watch as he and Germaine arm themselves and their troops. The weapons have runic glyphs carved into them, courtesy of Elluka and Gumilia.
I was also surprised to see that Chartette sent in a shipment for Germaine. In preparation for the battle, she had repaired her rocket glove. But, as she is unable to attend, she bid Germaine use it in her stead.
As I watch the preparations and drills in the courtyard, I am approached by Kyle's brother, Arkatoir. He had told me in advance that they were only half-brothers. Arkatoir is an illegitimate child...
"Ah, hello..." I wave, "You must be Arkatoir."
He nods, "You are miss Freesis, yes? Welcome to Lioness. Is Kyle dividing the troops to go forth?"
"Mhm. He's prepping a division which will stay behind and guard the castle, in case the enemy skirts the offensive to mount their own... This is a lot of planning against supposed undead creatures."
"Have you seen them before?"
"Yes, back when I was still on the mainland... They are very powerful... but I wouldn't say they have any brains to strategize tactics," I think back to that pale man who was attacking his own mother...
"They will be fine. The will of Levia surely flies their flag in battle," Arkatoir smiles fondly at Kyle and his commandeering speech to rally the soldiers.
"You must admire Kyle," I say offhandedly, "I can't imagine him as a brother, really..."
"Kyle has always vouched for me despite my bastard status. I could ask for no better half-brother. And Marlon could have no better king, frankly."
I don't have a high opinion of Kyle, for sure. But it is interesting to hear these kinds of stories. I suppose he does have a likable side after all.
"They'll be off soon."
"And all we can do is wait..." I huff, "They had better tell me everything when they return... or I will be extremely angry."
The following account was given to me through multiple run-throughs of interviews upon the army's return from battle. I compiled all my notes from Kyle and Germaine's accounts of the battle at Hedgehog and rewrote them in a chronological manner:
Kyle, along with and army of 400, began their march towards the Castle of Hedgehog in the morning. That was the first regiment. There were five in total. Regiments two to four were all flanking units that moved to suppress the presence of undead in areas surrounding Hedgehog. The fifth regiment remained in the area near Lioness as reinforcement, led by Germaine.
With the second and third regiments stretching thin, the first regiment vanguard had to push past large amounts of undead with little hope of merging as recourse. What made things worse was the presence of the Marlon Special Task Force. No doubt they were sent by the dowager. Casualties skyrocketed as a result of their interference.
The forces were still able to breach the castle, which was a den of enemies still. As the army outside fought to hold its ground, Kyle, along with fifty troops, ran in to storm the castle.
It was around this time that, as Germaine tells me, the fifth regiment decided to send some reinforcements to the castle. She and about 100 of her 350 allocated troops ran forth to join the fray at Hedgehog while the rest remained to guard Lioness.
Kyle caught sight of Ney among the fighting and charged for her first. She flees, leading him up the stairs to the tower's so-called "heart." It was one of the reasons the tower was so named. The perpetual pendulum, the "heart" of the tower, has a deep, sonorous tone, like the dull noise of one's own heartbeat.
To his surprise, as he burst into the area behind the clock face, there is a room. Sitting there, in a fully furbished alcove, amid all the noise of war outside and the clock's rhythm, is his mother. She is utterly serene as she greets him. It seems she was wanting to see her son one last time before she would have him repossessed by the demon of Pride, he said she told him.
Before he could react, Ney took advantage of his momentary daze and struck him from behind. Here, he loses track of time a little, as she had incapacitated him temporarily. He awoke to being dragged down a secret hallway built into the tower walls. He had been gagged and bound, with Ney dragging him by the scarf tied on his neck like a leash for a dog.
As they walk, Kyle recounts that his mother told him everything. She revealed all the hatred she had for the queen of Lucifenia, and how all these machinations to ruin the other's legacy were her own doing. Everything... Her admittance washed away any doubts he had, despite his insistence that she had been put under the spell of the sorcerer she met.
He recounted her words, "My dear, sweet, gullible son... Just like your father. Your beliefs and unshakeable faith are too much. But I am in sole control. I would not let anyone manipulate me."
She had said it with such pride, the same which he knew characteristic of her. There was no more denying her central role in these horrible events.
They had dragged him to a small room secreted away within the clock tower, just under where the pendulum swings, suspended high above. The room is dimly lit with torches. At the center is a stone table, much like one for old sacrificial practices.
Kyle was instantly seized by dread as he was hoisted on and tied like an animal onto the table. He saw his mother had a side table nearby. On the table is a doll, which, to his amazement, looked very much like Michaela. It is holding a golden mirror, like the one his mother had given him before. Next to the doll is a glass of red liquid.
Ney stands by, seemingly appearing more agitated as Prim goes on, spinning her long narrative of genius plotting. Kyle had been raised to become a tool, like Ney. Prim saw her children as little more than high pieces to be used in her game to destroy Anne's legacy. Once the demon of pride repossessed him, he would once again be her figurehead on the mainland, where Marlon's war would take over the surround nations.
Having noticed his surprise seeing the doll, Prim says the doll is a vessel of sin modeled after Eve Moonlit, the original sinner. He remembered she specifically mentioned it to be sloth.
Kyle began hearing slight whispers in the mirror. The voice sounds familiar. It is the demon of Lust. It seems the mirror is able to seal sins inside despite also being a vessel of pride.
Ney suddenly started babbling a little, clutching her hair, eyes raving. As Prim spun on her long tale, a raven flew in and landed on Ney's head. The blonde's mouth made a twisted grin and she declared that Kyle's soldiers were dead.
Here, Kyle says Prim coldly silenced Ney. Rather than proud of the victory, she was angry at the disturbance of her soliloquy. What happened next, Kyle shudders to recount.
At her mother's rebuke, Ney gave a mad scream and her eyes seemed to glow red, resonating with the glass on the table. Before Prim could silence her again, she was cut down by Ney's savage dagger in a frenzy. Not another word is uttered by the mastermind as she died to the madwoman.
To say he was not afraid is a lie. Kyle was terrified at that moment. He was still helplessly bound, sword out of hand. Ney then looked to him with a bloody, grotesque smile.
"Who killed mother?"
I can only imagine the chilling tone she used in asking such a question. There is no doubt her mind is utterly warped.
She leapt onto the struggling Kyle, straddling his chest. In a most ritual motion, she stabbed down on his chest to kill him instantly.
Another strange anomaly occurs here. Kyle remembered hearing Michaela's voice here, and seeing a bright light. He thought he had died. There was the loud sound of something shattering, and he felt pain in his chest. But he was able to open his eyes.
Ney's knife had shattered. There is a cut on the breastplate of his armor, but it was much less painful than if the blade had actually thrust through. Ney looked as confused as he did.
But, she remained the one in control of the moment. Her eyes flared red and she began using her bare fists to slug the life out of Kyle. Here, she uttered something along the lines of "Damned … DAUGHTER OF GREEN! WHY WON'T YOU STAY DEAD?!"
Kyle was getting his brains beaten out of him, so I will excuse the possibly incorrect account. But I do trust the inherent meaning, as he also realized: The daughter of green was Michaela, the target of the Hunting... Ney knew... and she was Michaela's killer.
Despite his rage at that moment, he remained only her punching bag. She affixed her hands on his throat next and began to squeeze. He heard the demon of Lust call out to him as her deathly grip tightened. It whispered of power to defeat Ney... but Kyle refused, almost on instinct.
Here, Kyle passed out from lack of air. Germaine fills me in.
She had seen Seton and Walporg's bodies. They were Kyle's men who were supposed to accompany him in his search. Stumbling into Prim's empty room, she found the secret passage through which they had fled. Her discovery allowed her to arrive in the nick of time as Ney was strangling Kyle. With the element of surprise, she shot Ney with the rocket glove, incapacitating the other with grievous injuries.
What she told me next made me laugh. Kyle wasn't breathing after she untied him and doffed his armor. She "gave him a kiss of life."
After Kyle revived, he bid that Germaine leave Ney alive, as she was merely under the spell of the mastermind sorcerer, who had also killed his mother. The undead outside had returned to being mere corpses, and the Special Service Ops had fled, seemingly broken free of some spell.
Here, I must confess. Kyle clearly lied about the death of his mother to Germaine. It took me a bit of wheedling myself to get it out of him as he was recuperating from battle. But I refrain from telling this to Germaine.
With the undead and enemy scattered, the war of Hedgehog ended with a dubious air of questions. I sign off on this story not with finality, as many mysteries remain about the motives and story of Prim and her long plan. There is also still the question of the sorcerer who conspired with Prim.
As a writer, I think Prim was too proud to acknowledge she was being manipulated. It is impossible to fathom that her co-conspirator did not have a deeper hand than she, being able to use magic, and having provided the sins herself. With this, some of the fog has lifted on the story... thankfully, we shall have time to rest.
I sigh and close my journal. Kyle lays in bed, sleeping softly. His exposed chest is bandaged, as well as his throat where he nearly had the life squeezed out of him. Embedded in his chest, as a doctor found, were shards of the shell necklace he wore...
If I remember correctly, Michaela had worn one from him. It is a sign of love and devotion, for wife and husband to wear. Michaela... you saved him.
Germaine is asleep in an inelegant position in a living room on the second level of Lioness. In the room past that one is where Ney is prisoner, bound to a bed, unconscious. I had glimpsed her limp form and … I almost felt sorry.
Elluka and Gumilia had hurried to Lioness before the conclusion of battle to receive wounded and news. They were guarding the vessels of sin obtained through the hard-won battle, as well as maintaining the ward on Ney's room. It is a great comfort to have them here. Elluka seemed puzzled that there were no other traces of the sorcerer at the tower, but she had little time to dwell on it as she helped with treatment of the wounded.
My father himself would be coming by daybreak to help survey damages and plan the next steps.
I yawn a little myself, having written all night after helping tend to wounded all day. So many soldiers lost their lives for these cursed objects … and all because of a single woman's jealousy.
Fatigue now dominating my mind, I allow myself to slip into unconsciousness at last.