Vol 1 Ch 5: The Forgotten King

THE SUN ROSE FROM THE EAST. Its rays announced the beginning of another day. Three months ago, Viktor would wake up in his chambers, go straight to the Conference Hall after breakfast, and listen to his men’s reports. For some reason, five hundred years in the future, the king woke up in a room of the alchemist’s tower.

“You up?” A certain short redhead peeked at the door’s opening. She kicked it open with a sigh after confirming he was already awake, letting herself in. “I expect you to clean this up before the day ends.”

Books and journals were scattered on the floor beside his bed. It’s been three weeks since Viktor’s stay in Mercurius and he still couldn’t mentally grasp what happened within the past months. His kingdom fell five centuries ago; everyone he knew and cared about was gone. Every day he hoped to wake up on his bed in the Styrkean palace, only to meet the same off-white ceiling of the alchemist’s guest room. To make matters worse, he also frequently dreamed about the dark forest and the beasts living in it.

“How long will you keep on sulking there?”

And there’s this alchemist woman. He got up and walked to the doorway, glaring at Lilla with her back facing him. “I’m not your slave.”

She turned to face him with an irritated smile, her arms crossed under her chest. “My apologies. Would you please clean your fucking room, Your Majesty?”

Viktor could never get used to how vulgar Lilla speaks from time to time. The women of his time usually approached him with great respect. She did not seem to be intimidated by him at all despite knowing that he ended the lives of people who she would treat as fellow humans of equal standing. Perhaps, her attitude towards him was based on the belief that he was a mass murderer. There was a purpose for all of that.

You do not even realize how vile your actions were.

“Tch!” He clicked his tongue, went back to the room, and started compiling the books and journals on the floor. Once done he neatly stacked all of it under his bed. It helped him learn more about Mercurius and catch up on a lot of stuff; for example, the locomotive they rode to Cicero a few weeks ago was a train and the other land transportation were called automobiles.

“Still feeling headaches?” The alchemist’s golden eyes regarded him warily. She still hasn’t fully explained what happened to him over a week ago and why he was suddenly in her care when he woke up that day.

“Not anymore.” He sat across her on the small table and picked up one of the plates with pancakes and berries. Ever since he started living with Lilla in the Mercurian palace, he always looked forward to eating those soft and fluffy pancakes, unable to resist their sweetness and rich taste.

Lilla watched him devour the food with an amused expression. “Who knew the ruthless king of Styrkeis could make that face while eating the most common breakfast of Mercurius?”

Viktor had no idea what face was she talking about. He ignored her comment as he continued eating until nothing was left on the plate. By the time he was done, the door leading to the hallway swung open, admitting a charming brunette woman wearing a blue dress.

“Lilla! Is this your new apprentice everyone was talking about?” She studied Viktor with great curiosity.

The alchemist seemed surprised and started panicking as soon as she saw her enter the room. “Kri—Your Highness! What a surprise! You’re back from your trip so early!” She laughed nervously as she kept her away from Viktor. “Did the engagement with the Ahlean prince go well?”

“Not really. He’s too demanding. Can you believe how much fleurs that man asked the Empress just so he would agree to the engagement? One hundred thousand! That’s one-fifth of the money we have in the Treasury!” She touched her temple while slightly shaking her head as if to express her disbelief. “Such a despicable prince.”

“He must be insane. No country would pay for an engagement of that price unless he’s the most influential and prettiest man in Desmos.”

“Speaking of being the prettiest man.” She glanced at Viktor for a mere second and grinned at Lilla. “He has some potential.”

Once again, Viktor had no idea what they were talking about. It seemed like they were talking about something that should be involving him, but it would be rude to interrupt a conversation between two ladies. He saw Lilla heading towards him and dragged him by the arm back to his room.

She shut the door behind her and spoke in a low voice, “The princess wants us to accompany her to the beautician outside the palace. I require you to be on your best behavior. If you so much raise a hand to anyone—”

“Don’t be a fool. If I wished to kill anyone, you would be the first one to die.” Viktor was telling the truth. He wasn’t that dumb to kill anyone after his life was spared three weeks ago. He still needed the alchemist to escape this country and possibly go back to his former land, to Nadia, to Styrkeis.

He was suddenly pulled down by the collar of his shirt, meeting a pair of furious golden reptilian eyes. The cold steel of her gun’s muzzle kissed his chin. “Do not forget that I’m the reason why your head is still attached to your neck, Viktor. I’ll repeat myself again. If you so much raise a hand to anyone, especially the princess, I’ll put a bullet through that thick skull of yours. Do you understand?”

They glowered at each other for a while before Lilla put the gun back into the holster on her thigh, concealed inside her cloak, and went back to the princess. Viktor, on the other hand, touched his neck, wondering how a small lady could force him to bow down. He certainly underestimated her, though he also noticed something odd when she pointed the gun directly at his chin.

Her hand was trembling.

* * * * *

Unlike Callisto, the city of Cicero was a bustling city with cobblestoned streets filled with merchants and merry citizens. They rode one of the palace cars on the way to the salon while disguised as nobles to hide the princess’ identity. Viktor was impressed by the creation of automobiles and how they ran on their own before he learned it was powered by Aitherite. Surely, there would be other ways to make it run without needing the cursed mineral.

A few minutes later, their escort dropped them off in front of a brown building with flowers decorating the front window. A large rectangular sign engraved with the Mercurian script for Parlor was hanging above the window and the door. He did not know what the word meant, but from the looks of the people inside, he had a vague idea about what services do they offer.

The four of them, including the princess’ personal guard, entered the establishment — a bell chimed as they stepped in. The employees were busy tending to their customers who, in turn, glanced in their direction without moving their heads. A large dark man greeted them, appearing from behind a partition wall. He was the least type of person Viktor would expect to see in a place full of women having their hair trimmed.

Princess Kristen followed the man to the back of the shop where they found a narrow staircase leading to the second floor. The man opened the door to the nearest room and went in. A wall of mirrors, dozens of clothes racks, and bright lights filled the space. “Gabriel, I won’t be your client today.”

Gabriel had already pulled a three-tier trolley near the chair in front of the mirror when he turned to the princess and tilted his head to the right. Is he mute?

Viktor coincidentally saw himself in the mirror. He noticed how long and unruly his hair was despite washing it yesterday. His facial hair had also grown thicker. He ought to take care of his hygiene more since he doesn’t have anything to stress over anymore. Styrkeis is gone and so did his workload.

A pair of soft and delicate hands touched his back, lightly pushing him towards the chair and Gabriel. The princess was beaming behind him while he was forced to sit down. Again, he had no idea what was happening and was about to protest when Lilla suddenly spoke.

“Relax, Gabriel will just give you a haircut.” He could definitely see her hand holding the gun attached to her thigh while she said those words. She definitely wasn’t joking when she threatened about shooting him if he made one false move.

* * * * *

The king breathed out as he and the alchemist sat on one of the park benches. His hair was cut shorter than it had ever been before. Its curls used to reach his neck and now some of it just hung over his forehead, swept above his right eyebrow. Even his facial hair and the bags under his eyes were tended by the beautician. Viktor had never looked so young ever since he became king; it seemed like time rewound and he went back to his teenage years. Did he even experience teenage life, to begin with? How could any of that matter?

Styrkeis is gone, along with the people he swore to protect. What was the sense of all the training he had in exchange for his youth? It did not save his country from falling, and yet it saved him from perishing in the dark forest. What for? Viktor had lost his one and only purpose in life. So how was he still breathing?

“Why did you let me live?” He muttered as he looked at the orange sky as twilight approached. A few hours later and the stars would litter the heavens above them, like little twinkling souls guiding them in the dark.

“Would you prefer it if you were dead?”

Did he ever fear death? Viktor doesn’t know. He had several close encounters with it and he was lucky to survive each time. Perhaps, it would be better if he died in the forest or was executed by the Mercurians. Perhaps, if Lilla did not choose to save him, he wouldn’t be having this conundrum. And yet, he was still not able to answer the question.

Lilla stood in front of him, her short ginger hair moving along with the soft gusts of wind. “Didn’t you know? When you were vomiting in the dungeons, you asked for help. You wished to be saved. It was quite ironic when it came from you, honestly.”

Like any man, Viktor was a coward. Just like any man, he feared death. However, he was different from the rest of them. He stained his hands with Phoebean blood. He never questioned the reason behind those countless deaths. It just seemed the natural thing to do to protect his people — it was what his father taught him as he grew up. The Phobeans are dangerous people; they could wreak havoc any moment and destroy the land. The idea was already hammered into his head since childhood. But who initially decided that?

“You know who I am and you saved me from dying twice. Why?” Lilla prevented both his execution and treated his unknown illness in the span of a single day three weeks ago. Thinking about it, she shouldn’t have any reason to do so and he doubted she would simply save him out of goodwill.

The alchemist simply cast a look at him; her eyes displayed a millisecond of grief before she turned away to face the setting sun. “I’m not quite sure myself. Someone must have told me to do so. Otherwise, I would just be as insane as you are.”

“Do you see me as a monster then?”

“Perhaps.” She raised her palm towards the horizon. “At least, anyone who doesn’t align themselves with the Nadians would see you as one.” He couldn’t see her face but Viktor was sure that Lilla was smiling. “Nonetheless, there would be people who would seek to understand the meaning behind it. I know someone but he was more peculiar than the ordinary person. For now, I wouldn’t have an answer to your question. After all, I’ve only read about you from history books and I doubt that would be enough to judge who you are as a person.”

Viktor could understand why Lilla saved him back then. Though the alchemist may not realize it, she had given Viktor a chance to learn about the other side of the coin. She wanted him to observe what’s it like to be a Phoebean, or as they term it now, an Arcane. Then, he could decide whether he should see them as an enemy or an ally. With his own eyes. Not from the eyes of King Viktor Invictus.


Lilla spun around, facing him with a confused expression. “What for?”

“Lilla! Viktor! Sorry for making you wait!” The princess shouted from the other side of the park. Her figure became blurry when viewed through the gushing water of the large fountain. Her personal guard carried most of the goods she bought from the city’s boutiques. Kristen appeared to be very content with today’s trip around the city. “So? Where are we having lunch?”

“Your highness, shouldn’t we just eat in the palace?”

The princess was about to refuse Lilla’s suggestion when the city guards approached them in a hasty manner. They appeared as if they carry foreboding news. “Your Royal Highness, Lady Henbur, the Empress has summoned the both of you to the throne room.”

“Guard, for what reason?” Kristen’s demeanor suddenly switched to a more serious one.

“I apologize, Your Highness, but the Empress prefers to discuss the matter confidentially. Forgive me for overstepping my boundaries, but it would be best to immediately attend Her Majesty’s summons.” The guard bowed his head as he waited for their response.

“Very well. Lead us to the throne room.”

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