There was a hole on the wall next to the alchemist’s quarter’s steel gate. A veil of illusory magic hid the hole from unsuspecting passersby, seeming as though it was a solid granite wall from the view of untrained eyes. But the magic was not permanent; nothing was. The illusion fizzled out when the last rays of moonlight faded from the sky and the dark night descended.
In Ashlora, a quarter of the visible night sky was covered by the moon. The celestial giant was so close, so bright, that its warm crimson light substituted the sun after sunset. The solar night was never dark, except during a brief three hours lunar eclipse that took place once every moon. Half the world of Ashlora was plunged into true dark night while the other half glowed in the sky behind the dark moon, a black pearl on the brass ring of the world as described in literature.
In a torus world like Ashlora, twilight in lunar daylight lasted only a few seconds. Darkness invaded the landscape, swallowed whole the world around the inventor in one giant gulp. The shift from brightness to darkness was so sudden, so short that the mortal eyes could not follow.
After a few blinks, Leo opened his eyes, then adjusted to the night hours of a moon. The princess and the knights rushed him out of the alchemist’s quarter before the automatic braziers filled the hallways with light.
The baron had ordered the red-helm knights to bring Leo in. The group parted ways after they entered the Ruby Garden castle. The princess, Katherine and Joshua—the short knight who wielded the golden gauntlet of a knight captain—took a left turn to the living quarters. The other two knights escorted Leo to the courtroom where the baron awaited.
Ceiling banners bearing Ironheart’s hammer and pickaxe insignia hung overhead. Smack dab in the middle of the spacious granite chamber a crimson throne carved out of solid red oak. The base, along with the back and the arm rests, of the throne came from the same slab of luminescent ruby. It was said that the ruby throne shed light in acceptance of its rightful possessor, but the baron proved the throne would glow to anybody.
Sir Richard appeared in public in his dull plate mail, accompanied by his elite red-helm knights. He ranked below count D’Amore in the family but, in consideration of the count’s indecency, the previous queen appointed the baron as the princess’s regent.
True to her expectations, Sir Richard was a servant of unwavering loyalty, a strong and incorruptible figure. Outside of public contexts, it was not uncommon to see him alone in casual clothing.
When it came to the clothes he donned, the word “casual” carried a literal meaning. For a man who was entrusted with the highest authority in Ironheart, the outfit he greeted Leo in was that of a humble footman. A weathered linen shirt covered his broad torso. Brown leather belt, elbow and knee guard differentiated a warrior from a peasant. Only a dagger strapped to his right waist. His usual round shield and short sword were nowhere in sight. The sleeves of his shirt were torn off; one in combat and the other by the baron himself to aesthetically balance the two shoulders.
There were dark brown splatters of old blood stains across the chest. He said these were of the brothers and sisters he had lost in battle, and he had them ingrained in the fabric with magic in remembrance. It was also the touch of magic that mended the wears and tears of the fabric.
At one point, Leo recalled, the baron revealed how Princess Lilia may resemble her mother in appearance, but her skill with a needle was no smoother than a donkey on a broken leg. Magic was the only thing she was good at, until the baron discovered she possessed the mind of a brilliant scholar and sent her to study in the Academy.
The two red-helm knights withdrew from the premise at a swift motion of his hand. The baron, crossing his legs on the ruby throne, ordered the inventor to come closer. Those in power always expected others to come to them instead of the opposite. In this manner, Sir Richard was no different from Lilia.
There was a simple stool, on which Leo was instructed to sit, a meter and a half away from the throne. Sir Richard liked to keep his attendants at close proximity. Even without a suit of armor, the baron and his warrior build overwhelmed the inventor’s slim and rather whimsical physique. Depending on one’s interpretation, this set up could be seen as respectful or intimidating.
For the inventor, who was not told why he had been summoned, it was the latter case.
Sir Richard began in a loud and clear voice, striking an acute and decisive intonation. He talked about the town hall meeting five moons ago. At first, he complained about the lack of participants and reprimanded Leo for skipping the meeting.
“The last time I checked, Steve didn’t come either.”
“Nobody cares if Steve comes or not, we all know abstain is his opinion. You, on the other hand, are the heart of this secession. It is pointless to discuss anything without your votes to back them up. Not to mention…”
The baron talked about the princess, who crashed into the meeting, uninvited. And then he talked about how Alexander D’Amore burned a magic scroll, how the count turned himself into a frog, how he leaped out of the second story’s window to avoid capture.
And how that idiot broke his own legs in the fall…
The scroll Alex burned contained an illusion spell, not a transformation spell. He got it coming for not reading the fine print.
“And he escaped with a pair of broken legs?”
“That, yes that! That is the amusing part,” the baron mused as he continued.
There was a letter from the count addressed to the baron and this letter arrived at the castle last moon.
In two thirds of the letter, Alex gloated over the leap of faith and the subsequent miraculous escape. In the last one third, he wrote to excuse himself from his duties for a few days. He declared medical leave, but what he described was more like a luxury vacation, alongside a harem of well-endowed caretakers in a picturesque cottage on the bank of river Sane.
All this talk about the great misadventure of the frog prince was amusing and all, but never the baron’s concern.
“Don’t misunderstand me. I want you to tell the princess his whereabouts and lure her way from our business. You will, of course, take part in the next meeting at moon fourteen without fail. Are we clear?” the baron commanded.
“Crystal clear,” Leo replied.
“Speaking of the princess, did she ask you to undress her today?”
Leo frowned at the question.
“Uh, she did…just before I was brought here.”
“She followed through, I see,” the baron muttered to himself, pausing for a moment before he addressed the inventor again, “That’s an interesting reaction you have there. How did it go? Did you undress her?”
“With all due respects, sir, do you think if I did, I would still be sitting here?”
“Who knows? When her mother asked me the same thing, I did, and I’m still sitting here as you can see. Now, listen closely…”
Sir Richard shifted his tone; he spoke in a quiet and deep voice. The secret he was about to reveal was deemed more valuable than the inventor’s insignificant life.
“I am about to tell you how to become the next king of Ironheart.”