“Princess Lucy!” Lord Stebes cried out. “I’m sorry for my earlier rudeness, had I known a distinguished guest such as you…”
My sister, Lucy, was a short girl who only made up for it with long white rabbit ears. If I recalled, she was the third daughter, exactly in the middle for my five sisters. She had a small, pretty face, and a slender body. Her eyes were green and her hair was white with a few strands of pink mixed in. Her breasts were perhaps around a B. She likely had an attractive body, but she hid it behind robes at the moment.
“Stow it,” Lucy sniffed. “We have more important manners to worry about. Now that my reconnaissance mission has been found, I’d like to know why a human city is manufacturing undead and sending them to an allied country.”
Lord Stebes blinked and then sighed, putting on a more serious expression. “Wouldn’t that simply be to start a war?”
“Yes, but who is propagating it.” She reached up and pulled her ears down, stroking them like a girl playing with her pigtails.
“It must be the devils, as you already said.” The caravan leader spoke up.
“Do you believe a retinue of devilkin can infiltrate this far north into the human realm?” I asked.
“No… I supposed not.” Lucy lowered her head, thinking for a moment, “Perhaps the elves?”
“Nonsense!” Princess Saria slapped her hands on the table. “We were sent on a diplomatic mission!”
“It’s curious you thought I was referring to your party specifically, but now that you mention it, you would be the last party to pass by the city of Perang before it went quiet, and you happen to show up here just in time for the fruits of your labor to show themselves.”
“The undead will be attacking this city. If I was a culprit, why would I put myself in danger?”
“The best way to alleviate suspicions is to make it look like you’re also a victim. For all we know, you have a means of controlling this army, and are thus in no real danger.”
“Enough sister…” I spoke up. “She’s not involved. Our time would be better spent elsewhere.”
“Why do you say that?” She shot me a look, just a hint of loathing in her expression.
“Because she is my fiancée, and your future sister-in-law,” I responded simply.
This brought various looks from everyone in the room. Lucy’s look was incredulous, while Saria had a very complicated expression my face.
“I knew my bother was a selfish devil, but I didn’t realize you were also an idiot!’ Lucy shot back.
“Was saving your life selfish, or idiotic?” I asked smoothly, “I tend to get these things confused.”
Lucy flushed. “Do not think that because you rode out where Lord Stebes shut the doors, that I’ve forgiven how you’ve destroyed my country and my family!”
“This conversation has even less to do with the threat we’re facing.” I sighed. “Perhaps we can get on subject?”
“Very well…” She said, her mouth pursing bitterly, “Then what do you suggest?”
Although my words seemed foolish, I was testing my relationship with her. In reality, the current me had never met this woman in my entire life. I had no clue what the relationship with my sisters was. They all likely resented me to some degree, but you could never tell until you made a person angry. Fortunately, Lucy was a volatile woman quick to anger and frustration. She wasn’t thick like Bala, but she wasn’t calculating like Saria either. She was simply someone who spoke with her heart.
I figured out that family was very important to her. That was part of why I had reminded her of Saria’s future relationship to her. If she had dismissed it entirely, it would mean that family didn’t factor into her decisions. Instead, her primary anger towards me was how she felt I had destroyed our family. She had quickly dropped her comments about Saria, clearly not wanting to voice more persecution against someone she may have to call sister one day.
I also mentioned that I saved her life to see what that kind of thing meant to her. It was clear she felt some debt there. It was why she had deferred to me in the end, rather than turning to Lord Stebes. This was her showing her appreciation for my rescue. There was one other reason I had worded things this way. I wanted the group to get their guards down.
“Whether it is devils, elves, or something else, there is nothing we can figure out by talking. We should fortify the city, survive the night. In the morning, we send an expedition to Perang to discover the source of the army.”
“Hmm…” Lord Stebes sat back. “I’m still not convinced an army of undead would try to attack this city. They were sent after this caravan, right? Even found out, they wouldn’t dare try their might on a city with thick walls such as these!”
“The undead are dumb…” Baba spoke up. “They will follow their last orders. If they were asked to pursue and kill the caravan, then they will do so even if it meant charging through an army. I guess, whether they attack or not tonight can prove how close of a command their owner has on them.”
“You got close to them.” I added, looking over at Baba, “Anything else you could read on them? Who has this type of magic?”
“Despite being called undead magic, zombies, skeletons, and spectrals are not really undead. Rather, they’re a type of monster. Controlling them is a type of taming magic. The species best at those are humans… and beastkin.”
“Outrageous! Why would we build armies to attack ourselves?” Lucy attacked the suggestion instantly.
“As you yourselves pointed out so eloquently,” Saria grinned. “Making yourself a victim is the best way to shed doubt.”
“You…” Lucy looked like she had swallowed a lemon. “I’ll have-“
“Enough!” I called out. “We could blame each other all day. You could also say whoever is doing this wants us to blame each other. Until we go to the source, we won’t have the answers.”
I shot Saria a look. For the first time that I had ever seen, she lowered her head and acquiesced. She actually was listening to me. That was both surprising and a bit alarming.
Lucy bit her teeth with a click. “Very well…”
“Although, I find it strange every side seems to find themselves so synonymous,” I spoke up, adding one more thought on the table. “You act like factions within a species don’t exist.”
Everyone blinked, looking at each other before giving me a questioning look.
“What do you mean by that?” Lord Stebes finally asked.
“Who’s to say the source of these attacks weren’t humans, or elves, or beastkin. Not every one of a species necessarily agrees with their King. Other factions might have other goals. It’s not necessarily any race’s fault…”
“You’re saying a human would betray the human race?” Lord Stebe’s said those words as if they were outrageous.
“Not betray… but have a differing philosophy on what is right. Many factions in the human realm want a war. You of all people should understand that.”
“Hmph… only a devil would expect to be betrayed by his own.” Lord Stebe’s mumbled under his breath, but my advanced hearing could just catch the words.
I could only sigh at what I heard. Lord Stebes planned to sell the entire human realm out to the elves, and he wanted to act like another faction of humans couldn’t similarly seek the same goal. It was true that Stebes’ plan wouldn’t have specifically hurt humans. In fact, he thought he could save more people with his way of thinking. I still couldn’t even understand that level of bullheadedness.
With that, the conversation started to move back on track. Specifically, we began to talk about what was important for preparing for the battle. Lord Stebes would be mostly responsible for guarding the walls. As to the gates, the weakest points, there were three plus the embassy entryway. Lord Stebes wanted a will user at each gate. He only had one at his own employ, which would mean that there were three gates left unattended.
“As much as it pains me,” Lord Stebes gritted his teeth, “Prince David, will you stand in defense of the north gate?”
The North gate was the gate most likely to be attacked, so even as he showed humility, he also gave the position that would most likely lead to my death. Furthermore, if I failed to hold the gate, he likely planned to storm in with a group of troops in hiding. I suspected he had a second will user. Perhaps he himself was a will user. Prince David would fall, unable to keep the wall, and Lord Stebes would rise. The plan was good but predictable.
“I’ll take it,” I said flatly. “Just make sure I have soldiers backing me.”
“I wouldn’t dream of depriving you, my Prince.” He nodded his head.
With that, Bala would take the west gate, I would take the north gate, his will person would take the east gate. Baba would protect the embassy. At least that was one decision that would be in my favor. If we had to fall back, Baba’s location gave me a place to fall back to. There was little chance he could trap me in the city that way.
This was going to be a dangerous night. The undead were coming. My enemies were all around me. Even my allies were suspicious.
“If that will be it-“ Lord Stebes began.
“There is just one thing.” Lucy’s voice rang out. “I still do not trust this elf woman. If you say the Prince has sworn to protect you, I will believe it, but she may be working with the undead.”
“I am a princess and fiancée to the Prince of your nation, why would ever do such a thing?” Saria responded, her expression impeccable, but a hard snap in her voice.
“Then, I will keep Saria by my side,” I responded. “She can sleep in my bedroom tonight.”
“That!” Saria explained, her face blushing.
“No!” Aeryn suddenly put an arm out, also looking quite flushed.
“Very well, brother. If I can’t trust family in this time of need, then all is hopeless.” Lucy responded, standing up and extending her hand to me.
I smiled and stood up as well, taking her offered hand and shaking it. Her handshake was firm yet her hands were soft. When we released, it seemed to signal the end of the meeting. I turned away and looked back at the women who had come with me. Baba was sleeping, but Saria and Aeryn were both giving me angrily looks.
“What is it?” I asked.
“You beast!” Saria suddenly said, “You wish to make me sleep with you tonight of all nights?”
“Isn’t that an inevitability?” I asked.
Saria’s face flushed. “It makes it feel like I’m a prisoner who cannot be trusted.”
I reached out and gently touched her shoulder. “Saria, I do not believe that you are involved in this in the slightest. Rather, I want you by my side, because it’s the only place I know I can keep you safe.”
“Hmph!” Saria turned away, “Don’t think we’ll be doing anything tonight. That event in the castle was a one time offer and you threw it in my face.”
I smiled helplessly. “I won’t put a finger on you tonight. Okay?”
Saria didn’t turn back, but that seemed to placate her worries. As for Aeryn, I turned to her and cocked my head. Usually, she didn’t express anger at me openly.
“Is there something wrong with you as well?”
“N-nothing Master!” She turned and stormed out of the room without another word.
I felt like I was forgetting something, but it probably wasn’t very important.
With some time to kill before nightfall, I took Saria and Bala with me to the north gate. I checked over the area I’d be protecting. I casually stepped in a few shops and made some innocuous orders. My hood was completely down at this point, and I got a few nervous stares, but no one dared to do anything against me at this moment. The orders from the Lord that I was in charge of the North wall had already come.
I also went to the guard watch and got a list of all the soldiers in the city. The number Lord Stebes had said were accurate. Only after going through the list twice did I write a new list and then head to the commander at the North gate.
“Commander, I’ve hand-picked these men to stand with me at the North gate.”
The guy looked at the list and blinked, seeming surprised. “Hmm… I see no problem accepting this. I’ll order them over here immediately. By your leave…”
The man suddenly seemed considerably happier. He was not on the list, and in fact, he and most of his men on the North wall would leave. He was nearly skipping away. I also foresaw no issue getting this past Lord Stebes.
“What have you done?” Saria asked, frowning. “I saw your list. A lot of Rookies. One might have expected you to pick the most skilled fighters to protect yourself and the north gate, but you picked a real hodgepodge of soldiers. That commander likely thinks you’re an incompetent man.”
She was clever enough to realize I had done something, but she wasn’t familiar with the plan. She knew enough about me at this point thought to know that I never did anything without a purpose.
“The soldiers I pick all had homes and family who live in the north area of town,” I said simply.
She nodded, but then her eyes widened at that. When one thought about the implications, they were truly terrifying. The men who held this gate were those mostly likely to put their life on it. I had picked family men, almost all of them. It was a cold decision. Every man who died tonight would have a family without them. However, there also would not be a man among them who would dare run. Quite the opposite. Even if Lord Stebes had plans to order the men to abandon me, they wouldn’t do it on their family’s lives. It was a cruel choice, but it was the best I could do to ensure my survival, as well as the towns.
“It’s time to go to bed.” I said, creaking my back. “We can get a few hours of sleep before the undead are sighted, and that will surely do us better in the upcoming battle.”
Saria blushed slightly but nodded. The fields around the city were large, and from the moment they were scene until they were in range could easily be an hour or more. Those bells would be banging, and then I would write to the gate to protect it. I was no general, so barking orders at the men seemed useless. They knew their command structure and their orders. I was just there to give them a backbone.
Back in the embassy, Saria followed me into a fresh bedroom. Mother visited for a bit, a little worried about the future battle. I reassured her the best I could. She shot Saria a few anxious looks, but she eventually left without argument. After all, it was Mother who had pushed us in consummation. For all she knew, Saria and I were together now. She would probably cry herself to sleep tonight, but there was no helping it when it came to my mother. Desperate situations called for desperate solutions, and I planned to do whatever I could so we all made it through this together. After closing the door on her and settling down a bit, I took off my shoes and clothing. I could hear Saria rustling behind me as she began to undress too.
“D-don’t look!” She ordered.
“When you say things like don’t look, isn’t that the time when a man most wants to look?” I asked.
I snickered and finished getting dressed. I got into bed first, making sure not to look at her a single time, even out of the corner of my eye. I didn’t want to give her an excuse to poke it out.
“H-how is it?” She asked.
I lifted my head questioningly and then saw her in her sleepwear. It was a cute nightie. It showed a little bit of skin, but it was also a bit modest. In some ways, modesty made Saria even sexier. She didn’t have as attractive of a body as her sister, so what you didn’t see was definitely appealing when it came to her. I also recognized if I ever said that to her, I would lose my tongue along with my eyes.
“You look like you’re not ready for battle,” I admitted.
“Eh?” As my blanket fell down to my hips, she let out a cry. “You can’t go to bed like that!”
I was wearing the undergarments for my noble garb with padding for my armor. When I was woken up in the middle of the night, we would need to dress quickly. It was a very practical garb.
I cocked my head. “Why not?”
“That is… just because… at least take off the padding!”
I tossed off the most uncomfortable parts of the dress, while Saria looked on in a strangely flustered state. All I could think was that there was a time she walked into my room naked unabashedly. Sure, it had been a ploy to assassinate me, but this new behavior was a bit hard to stomach as well.
She finally settled down next to me, she only made me promise three more times that I would absolutely not touch her. Silence finally filled the room, and I could hear nothing but Saria’s breathing next to mine. Usually, I didn’t sleep in the same bed with a woman. When it came to Aeryn, once I was done with her, I sent her on her way. In that respect, sleeping with a woman next to me felt strangely more intimate, and I felt myself growing a bit uncomfortable.
“About your sister…”
“You do?” Saria’s voice sounded only slightly surprised. “Of course, you would…”
I nodded. I wasn’t planning on sleeping tonight for many reasons. One of those reasons was the upcoming battle, which left me too anxious to sleep. The second reason was Saria. She may be my fiancée, but she was still a snake and I was in bed next to her. She had attempted to kill me many times. Even if our relationship had improved over the last few months, I was still not going to let my guard down. The second reason was my sister. I was waiting for her to make her move. Saria seemed to drop the conversation, perhaps confident that I had things under control or perhaps having her own plans just in case.
The night wore on, and surprisingly, Saria’s breathing steady and it was clear she was sleeping. Lucy would be taking action soon. The door creaked open. A person slipped into the room. I tensed at that. I always had to be on guard for an assassination attempt, so I was read with a dagger behind my pillow. When a familiar scent caught my nose, I failed to act, a form jumped on top of me.
Her face moved closed to mine. Her expression was very haggard. She was breathing hard and sweating profusely. Her body was already grinding against me.
“Are you mad? My fiancée is right next to us!” I whispered.
“You bastard… you did this to me…” She shot back.
“You bit me of your own… Mmmm!”
Aeryn didn’t let me get any other words in as she began tearing off my clothing. So much for being prepared for battle. At the moment, I was facing a far more terrifying battle, finishing things without letting my fiancée hear!