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Rebirth

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The atmosphere of the Courageous was tense and nervous even as the red airship made its way towards the capital city of Erebonia. The ominous skies above them and even the sight of the black palace visible in the distance is making them all nervous.

Rean had launched into the short explanation about the black palace—the Infernal Castle, even as they made their way towards Heimdallr.

All members of the Imperial family knew the truth behind the War of the Lions more than two centuries ago, he had told his shocked classmates. The only ones that don’t should just be Alfin and Cedric as they are still too young, and hence, wouldn’t yet have access to the Black Records—historical books of history that are passed down through the Imperial family. The Church had always been on the lookout for these books, but the few books that they have of the Black Records are mere copies, and not the originals that have always been in the possession of the Imperial family.

The Infernal Castle, as Rean explained, is something that shouldn’t be allowed to exist in their world. Hence why the Hexen Clan had forbidden that particular incantation. Remnants of the castle actually exists beneath the Valflame Palace—a part that was sealed away after the War of the Lions. Lucifen Lied merely completes the Infernal Castle—also known as the Vermillion Apocalypse’s Castle in the Black Records. It was summoned once during the War of the Lions, and was later sealed away by Dreichels the Lionheart and Lianne Sandlot.

And now, it looks like Vita Clotilde had summoned it once more.

It reminds Class VII of what Instructor Thomas had said once—that this civil war resembles the War of the Lions. The fact that the Infernal Castle had been summoned once before back during the War of the Lions, and is now summoned once again cements it.

It made Rean nervous.

It is one thing to have a civil war engulfing the lands of their country. It is quite another to have some supernatural stuff occurring right in the middle of said civil war. And then again, wasn’t that what was happening throughout the civil war anyway?

With the Spirit Shrines and the cryptids that Class VII have been running into throughout eastern Erebonia. And then there was the Old Schoolhouse in Thors. And the Azure Tree popping up in Crossbell. Not to mention that Emma is a bona fide witch, with a talking cat as her familiar.

Suffice to say that Class VII had seen their share of weird stuff throughout their time.

“We’ll be in Heimdallr airpace in three minutes. Let’s head straight for Dreichels Plaza after entering.” Towa’s voice echoed throughout the Courageous via the loudspeakers.

Class VII who were gathered on the deck of the Courageous exchanged looks with each other, clutching onto their weapons. Rean and Crow who were within their individual Divine Knights tensed as well, as there is no telling what is going to happen in Heimdallr now with the Infernal Castle appearing in the capital.

“Orbal and flight engines are both running at optimal levels here. We’re ready for combat anytime.” George’s voice followed after Towa’s announcement.

“I don’t doubt that the enemy mothership will try and attack, but you just leave that to us.” Angelica added confidently.

Crow chuckled from within Ordine. “Then we’ll leave the Courageous and the defences to you three then,” he said, having full confidence in his best friends’ abilities. “You just leave the Infernal Castle to us.”

“Don’t be too reckless, Crow, Rean.” Towa warned. “There are lots of people waiting for all of you to come home safely. So don’t do anything too rash!”

Crow said nothing within Ordine as he eyed Rean’s picture on the screen as the petite omega tried to reassure Towa. He gritted his teeth as he recalled they’re quickly reaching the end of the game. And chances are they might soon come face to face with Duke Cayenne as well as him.

“Crow, you might want to calm down.” Ordine suggested. “It’s not good to get too worked up.”

Crow sighed. “Yeah. I know.”

There was a gasp from Fie just then. “There’s a break in the clouds ahead!” she said, narrowing her eyes.

Fie has the best eyesight amongst all of Class VII, so it took awhile before the rest of them managed to see what the former jaeger did as they entered into Heimdallr’s airspace, with the ominous red skies above them also reflecting the same colour on the buildings within the capital.

And there stood the Infernal Castle in all it’s glory.

Sure, they’ve seen it from a distance from Karel Imperial Villa earlier, but now seeing it from the Courageous as they flew into Heimdallr’s airspace allow them to see it in it’s full glory. And seeing it up close really sinks in that the Infernal Castle is gigantic. It had to be larger than even the Valflame Palace.

Elliot gaped, staring at the ominous black castle, complete with pitch black purgatory tree roots coiling around it. Just how tall is it? It has to be at least eight hundred arge tall in height, if not more. And deep within that castle lies their final trial where their enemies would be waiting for them.

“How can something like that exist?” Alisa wondered; her red eyes wide with wonder at the sight before them.

“The Infernal Castle…” Emma murmured, seeing the castle only chronicled in her clan’s books and tomes about the War of the Lions. Now she is seeing it with her own eyes. “To think that something from the War of the Lions would be appearing here again.”

“Just what are they trying to do with it?” Sara frowned. It reminds her of the stories that her bracer friends from Liberl have told her about the whole crisis that had happened two years ago, and about the floating fortress in the skies.

Gaius gasped. “…Look! There!” he pointed.

No one could miss the sight of the Noble Alliance’s airship making their way towards their direction from the Infernal Castle.

“The Pantagruel!” Jusis scowled. “They’re coming this way!”

“They’re activating their gun turrets!” Fie warned, narrowing her eyes even as she saw the unmistakable sight of the gun turrets visible on the white airship opening the panels. “They’re not even issuing any warnings!”

The loudspeakers throughout the Courageous blared to life once more.

“All engines, full power!” Towa commanded. “Land the ship in Dreichels Plaza! Dodge any attacks coming our way!”

“Aye, aye, Captain!” Angelica said almost cheerfully.

“All crew members, prepare for impact and the effects of G forces!” Klein who is in the seat as the navigation officer warned.

It spoke volumes about Angelica’s skill in navigation as well as the support of the rest of the crew on the bridge even as the Courageous narrowly avoided the shots fired by the Pantagruel, with the Courageous pushing their engines to maximum speed, even as they made their way towards Dreichels Plaza.

And then, as the Courageous got closer to the now abandoned plaza, to Class VII’s shock and surprise, one by one, Magic Knights that they’ve faced during the trials in the Spirit Shrines started appearing in front of the Infernal Castle—all ready to defend the castle from invaders.

It is clear what their purpose is.

“Magic Knights!” Emma said in dismay.

“I figured that they would show up!” Celine scowled.

Crow growled. “Rean, get ready—”

“Leave them to us!” A voice boomed out, cutting Crow off from whatever that he is about to say.

Surprised, Class VII all rushed to the sides of the airship, looking down at the ground only to see the rest of the Thors student body—or at least, those that aren’t currently piloting the airship, already down on the ground with their weapons at the ready.

“The plan was that we would take care of everything here, and we will do so!” Patrick proclaimed proudly. “Class VII have their own roles to play here! Go on ahead!”

“We’ll be counting on you!”

The last that Class VII saw of their fellow schoolmates as the Courageous flew off again towards the Infernal Castle is that of the rest of the Thors student body taking on the Magic Knights that have appeared. Instructors Makarov and Thomas seemed to have alighted the airship along with the student body, and while Makarov looked as bored as always, Class VII could only trust that their instructors would step in if necessary.

With their fellow schoolmates distracting the first line of defence around the castle, there are no further obstacles stopping them from entering the Infernal Castle.

Without wasting any time, Class VII along with Rean and Crow who were in their individual Divine Knights leapt off the airship, with Towa ordering the Courageous to ascend back into the skies.

“Good luck, you guys!” Angelica said. “Come back alive, you hear me? Crow, if you die down here, I’m going to revive you before killing you again!”

Class VII almost sweat dropped with Angelica’s words.

“Courageous, begin rapid descend!” Towa ordered. “We need to draw the enemy mothership’s attention!”

As one, Crow and Rean wasted no time in leaping forward with their Divine Knights and bashing down the front doors with their Zemurian ore weapons, much to their classmates’ amazement with the amount of power packed behind those weapons.

“Wait!” Gaius warned his classmates as they were about to barge through the opened entrance.

A purple barrier of some kind had covered the front entrance, reminding those that were on the field study to Legram of the same barriers that have appeared in the castle.

“It’s like what had happened in Legram.” Laura realised. “Are those spiritual barriers?”

“Yes!” Emma nodded, her eyes wide. “And an incredibly powerful one at that!”

No one need to say anything to know just who is behind this barrier.

“Is there no way to get through this barrier?” Sara demanded with frustration.

“I think there is.” Crow spoke up from within Ordine. As one, his classmates turned their attention towards Crow and Ordine. “Since Valimar has a Zemurian ore sword now, we might be able to make it work. If Rean and I channel the power of our Divine Knights through the weapons, we might be able to destroy that barrier. It would however drain the power of the Divine Knights, and they would be immobile for some time.”

“Well, we might not have a choice.” Rean offered, and Crow chuckled, but nodded. “Let’s do this, Crow!”

“Right beside you!”

Under the might of the two Divine Knights and their Awakeners, the spiritual barrier stood no chance at all.

“Now’s our chance!” Sara said. “Everyone, let’s get inside!”

XXXXXX

Meanwhile in the skies above Heimdallr, it is taking Angelica and the rest of the crew every ounce of their piloting skill to avoid the shots fired by the Pantagruel. The only thing that is keeping them from being struck so far is the fact that the Courageous is smaller than the Pantagruel, and thus, faster.

“Urgh! They’re sure obstinate!” Angelica growled, tightening her grips on the steering wheel until her fingernails turned white. “How are Class VII looking?”

“They’ve entered the castle!” Vivi announced from the observer’s seat. “But the barrier has reappeared over the entrance! No one would be able to follow them in, and we won’t be able to give them further support!”

“What? Seriously?” Alan complained.

“Looks like we just have to leave everything to them now.” Angelica stated firmly. “Like it always had been. Class VII is tough. They’ve been in worse scraps than this. They’re going to be fine.” She reassured the rest of the worried looking crew. “Besides, Sara and Crow are with them. They’ll be just fine.”

Linde exchanged worried looks with her twin. “Y-Yes. Of course, you’re right.” Linde tried to smile. “We do have our own roles here right now. We just have to leave the rest to them.”

“Good luck, everyone.” Towa whispered.

Elise and Alfin who were also present in the bridge area and were standing next to Towa exchanged worried looks. Badeaux whined next to Elise, with Alfin reaching down to give the worried dog some comforting pats on the head.

Elise looked out of the windows of the Courageous at the pitch-black castle visible in Heimdallr in the distance. She brought both her hands together into a prayer.

‘Please Aidios, please watch over them.’ Elise prayed.

XXXXXX

The interior of the Infernal Castle is nothing like what Class VII had ever seen before, and they’ve seen lots of strange stuff throughout their time, especially when exploring the Old Schoolhouse. Even the Old Schoolhouse had never baffled them as much as right now as they stared at the inside of the Infernal Castle.

The walls were dark, with the windows visible in the castle reflecting some kind of strange orange light reminiscent of flames. And the spiral staircases that went upwards seemed almost endless, even as they craned their necks back, wondering how tall the castle really is, and how high up it goes.

Valimar and Ordine have both gone into dormant states the moment they’ve stepped into the Infernal Castle, with the Divine Knights citing their need to rest and to recuperate their lost mana. Hopefully, they would have recovered enough of their mana by the time that Class VII made it to the top level.

“Okay, now this is a final dungeon.” Millium said at last, managing to find her voice even as she stared at their surroundings with wide eyes, with the rest of her classmates being no better.

“Words seem to have little meaning at this point.” Jusis agreed.

“All we can do is to steel ourselves and get moving.” Machias stated, looking at Rean with concern. No one had said it, but everyone knew that chances are high that they would end up facing Eisen Cayenne. Honestly, Machias has no idea if it is even a good idea to have Rean face his tormentor, especially with what the Cayenne heir had put Rean through.

“Duke Cayenne is here without a doubt. And I’m sure that the Cayenne heir is as well.” Elliot remarked, exchanging worried looks with Machias, before looking at Rean who had gone pale with the mention of Eisen Cayenne. No one in Class VII missed how Crow had growled when Elliot had mentioned Eisen Cayenne.

“They might not have Divine Knights, but they won’t be easy opponents either.” Celine remarked. “Remember, even Soldats can be more of a match for a Divine Knight, depending on the pilot’s skill and the Soldat’s specs. You’ve faced such opponents yourselves.” She warned.

Rean and Crow nodded solemnly, knowing that as fact.

“I’m almost certain Vita is here too.” Emma said, chewing on her bottom lip nervously. “And no doubt that Crown Prince Cedric would be here as well.”

“Xeno and Leo are probably waiting in ambush somewhere around here, I guess.” Fie mumbled, not knowing how to feel, knowing that she would end up facing her former family at some point. Next to her, Laura squeezed her arm comfortingly.

“Yes. And I wouldn’t be surprised if we met one or two Ouroboros Enforcers along the way.” Gaius commented. “Especially with the way they’ve been involved with the civil war for the last two months.”

Sara finally gave a long, drawn-out sigh before turning her attention towards Rean and Crow. She isn’t surprised to see Rean looking quite pale, especially with the mention of the Cayenne heir and how he might be here.

“How are you doing, Rean?” Sara asked with concern. “Are you okay?” Rean nodded, trying to smile at Sara. “You’re going to have to face him sooner or later, Rean. Will you be ready for it once the time comes?” She asked seriously.

Rean nodded slowly. “I-I think so.”

“We’ll be here with you.” Crow promised. “I won’t let him get his hands on you again.” He swore.

“Same here.” Machias said with a scowl. “I’ll shoot him before he could even come near you!”

“Join the line.” Alisa said with a frown, fingering her bow.

“How are things looking, Ordine? Valimar?” Crow called out to the two Divine Knights that are currently in a kneeling position, recovering their mana.

“I foresee several hours of rest being required.” Ordine said. “By my calculations, we should return to peak condition in time for the final battle.”

Crow nodded. “All right. It’s good to hear that,” he said. He then looked at his classmates. “Are we all ready?”

Class VII all nodded with determination, all of them fingering their weapons. Sara smiled with seeing the determined looks on her students. Who could have guessed that just a few short months ago, they are constantly at each other’s throats? Now look at them.

“This place carries its weight in history, with ties to both the Divine Knights and the War of the Lions.” Sara remarked. “But that doesn’t matter now.” She gave a quick shake of her head. “Not right now, at least. All that matters is that you’re here, and you have everyone back at the academy behind you.” She looked from face to face. “No matter what you face here, never forget that.”

You’re not alone, were the unsaid words that rang through each of their heads, even as Class VII exchanged looks with each other.

“We won’t forget that.” Rean promised. “Never.”

“All right, with that said, we should probably get a move on.” Crow said at last. “We don’t know what Duke Cayenne and Vita are doing to the Crown Prince, so we should probably move as fast as we can, and also find a way to return things to normal.”

“Right!”


If Class VII had thought that what they’ve experienced in the Old Schoolhouse on the first day of the school festival is tough, then they haven’t seen anything yet even as they ventured through the first stratum of the Infernal Castle, fighting through unbelievably tough monsters just to be able to progress.

Like when they’ve stormed the Reinford building not that long ago, Class VII have wisely decided to alternate their frontline attackers just so that they could conserve their energy, as all of them knew just who might be waiting for them.

And then, as Millium was whining about how she can’t walk anymore, and had already summoned Airgetlam to carry her, Class VII ventured into a strange sort of room that seemed like a dead end, much to their surprise.

“What is this place?” Rean wondered, looking around with confusion. This can’t be the end, surely?

“It feels kinda different from the rest of the castle.” Fie remarked.

Crow frowned as he surveyed the chamber that they are in. Class VII are standing at the end of a gigantic flight of steps that leads upwards to a circular platform surrounded by six stone pillars. And in the middle of the platform is some kind of strange circular device that reminds Crow of the elevator in the Old Schoolhouse.

Clearly, Alisa had the same thought in mind even as she laid eyes on the device in front of them. “Could that be some kind of magical elevator?” Alisa wondered, with all eyes turning towards Emma who only smiled awkwardly and shrugged. “It kind of reminds me of the elevator in the Old Schoolhouse.”

“I bet we can use that to go up to the next stratum then.” Sara remarked.

“Not if I have anything to say about it!” A remarkably familiar voice echoed around the chamber, and Crow resisted the urge to groan and facepalm. A look at his classmates told him that all of them recognised this voice immediately.

And then with a flash of light, Duvalie and Bleublanc appeared in front of them, already with their weapons in hand. Two members of Ouroboros. And if they are already appearing in front of them here, then Rean has a good idea just who might be waiting for them on the upper floors.

“Well, well. Look who finally showed up?” Sara said mockingly.

“Some people never learn.” Jusis sighed, shaking his head.

“Oh hey! It’s the creepy mask dude!” Millium exclaimed, having no tact as was usual for the turquoise haired child.

“Haha, we last met at the Nord Highlands, yes? How time flies.” Bleublanc said cheerfully, with his usual flamboyant hand gesture that reminds Crow eerily of Vincent Florad. The alpha made a mental note to ask his schoolmate should they survive the Infernal Castle if the Florad heir isn’t perhaps related with the Phantom Thief. A distant relation, perhaps? “Truly, our reunion could not come about on a more spectacular stage.”

“The only thing spectacular here is your terrible taste.” Alisa deadpanned. Clearly, Crow isn’t the only one sick of dealing with the Phantom Thief.

Duvalie coughed, clearing her throat. “Well, it is said that she, too, once challenged this legendary castle,” she remarked, and Rean narrowed his eyes. She? “There would be no greater honour for me than to be able to demonstrate my strength here!”

“She?” Crow repeated, with an eyebrow raised. And judging by the confused looks on the faces of his classmates, he wasn’t the only one confused.

“She’s referring to the Steel Maiden, Ouroboros’ Seventh Anguis.” Celine injected helpfully, her tail twitching with agitation. “Although, there are some who speculate her to be Saint Lianne Sandlot herself.” She added.

Rean and Crow weren’t the only ones shocked with this declaration by the black feline, as all of Class VII stared at Celine, gobsmacked. The Lance Maiden herself? Emperor Dreichels’ most trusted, and also a hero of the War of the Lions more than two centuries ago?

“But that’s impossible!” Alisa blurted out, eyes wide. “She would have been more than two centuries old if that is true, and no human can live that long!” She looked at Rean who looked thoughtful. “Right, Rean?”

“I don’t know. When it comes to Ouroboros, we should have learned by now that anything is possible when it comes to them.” Rean reminded his classmates. “Besides, weren’t we saved by someone similar to Lianne Sandlot in Lohengrin Castle?”

The ones who were with Rean during the Legram field study recalled the strange blonde figure in the castle, and how Laura had believed it to be the ghost of the Lance Maiden. Perhaps it isn’t quite her ghost, but the real person herself?

“How can someone who was alive 250 years ago be alive now?” Millium was honestly perplexed and confused.

Rean said nothing, the gears in his mind whirring, and he made a mental note to reread the Black Records should they make it out unscathed of the Infernal Castle.

The Imperial family had always made meticulous records of their ancestors and their close allies. Emperor Dreichels’ death was recorded, and it had always been a tradition for the Imperial family to offer their respects to the renowned emperor’s grave on the date of his death anniversary—like how the Arseid family does the same for the Lance Maiden.

But unlike Emperor Dreichels, there is no known tomb belonging to the Lance Maiden. All there is, is just the memorial of the Lance Maiden and her two closest confidantes in Legram—being marked by the famous statues that Laura had once showed her classmates the first time that they’ve gone to Legram.

In the end, did the Lance Maiden really die? Rean definitely doesn’t recall reading anything about the Lance Maiden’s death, and where she is buried.

Laura who had been strangely silent finally decided to speak up, shelving the mystery of whether the mysterious Steel Maiden is the famed Lance Maiden or not to the back of her mind. “Still, with a name like the Stahlritter, it’s abundantly clear that inspiration was drawn from the Lance Maiden and her Eisenritter if nothing else.” Laura remarked.

“Indeed.” Duvalie said almost proudly. “She saw my potential, and guided me in all her wisdom, graciously ushered me to new heights few could ever hope to reach. Someone from a mere branch like the Arseid school could never hope to compare!”

Fie was enraged and insulted on Laura’s behalf, as is clear by the look on her face. And if looks could kill, Duvalie would be six feet under. Laura however doesn’t seem to be affected by Duvalie’s words, and only looked thoughtful.

“…Interesting.” Laura said at last. “The chance to face an opponent related to my life’s goal is a gift I am rarely presented.” She commented calmly. “Duvalie, it would be an honour to test my skill against yours. Neither to prove the Arseid school as more than a branch, nor to defend its name.” She drew her broadsword. “But simply so that together, we may both aspire to greater heights!”

Duvalie isn’t the only one taken aback by Laura’s words and conviction. Class VII were surprised for a moment before exchanging smiles.

It sounds just like Laura, always cutting her way through with her frank mannerisms and her bold sense of right and wrong. It is clear to all her classmates that someday in the future, Laura would make a good Viscountess Arseid once Victor Arseid decides to retire and step down from his viscount duties.

“Hahaha! Laura, you’re so awesome!” Millium cheered. Airgetlam gave out chirps of agreement.

“That’s our Laura.” Fie agreed.

Crow chuckled. “Somehow, I shouldn’t be surprised to hear this from you, Laura,” he commented, slapping his hand against his forehead. “And yet, I still am.”

“It’s very Laura.” Rean agreed.

“I can’t help but feel that she’s won the duel before the battle’s even begun.” Alisa commented.

“I think you’ve chosen the wrong girl to pick a fight with this time.” Sara said sweetly, mocking Duvalie in her own way.

“Augh!” Much to Class VII’s amusement, Duvalie actually stomped her foot like an angry child throwing a tantrum. “Stop staring at me like I’m some sort of naughty child!”

“Maybe if you don’t act like one, we wouldn’t?” Crow offered with a mischievous grin.

Duvalie scowled with Crow’s words before clearing her throat to compose herself. “It’s all very well to talk big, but it means nothing without strength to back it up!”

Bleublanc gave a dramatic sigh, having remained silent whilst Duvalie is having her exchange with Class VII. “If I may interject, a spectacular stage is nothing without a spectacular cast,” he remarked. “What say you, Class VII, to settling things between us in one last performance?” The Phantom Thief offered, before he snapped his fingers, and with a flash of light, two archaisms appeared on either side of the two Ouroboros’ members. “It is a terrible shame I can’t do the same with my worthy rival. I guess I’ll have to settle for his cousin and his classmates.” He gave Rean a smirk, even as Class VII readied their weapons. “Though there are certainly worse ways to pass the time than crushing the dreams of those with whom he placed his faith.”

Rean gave a long, drawn-out sigh. “Olivert told me quite a few stories about his encounters with you in Liberl, but somehow, I feel as if he’s downplaying just how dramatic you could be,” he deadpanned, and his classmates almost sweat dropped. “And coming from Oli, that is saying a lot.”

“Well, enough prattle.” Bleublanc said, readying his staff. “Shall we begin? You, the cousin of my worthy rival as well as the Awakener of a Divine Knight. And another being the Awakener of another Divine Knight, as well as the famous Purple Lightning.” He looked from Rean to Crow and to Sara. “Show to me the beautiful emptiness that lies at the very depths of despair!”

“I’m going to have a long word with Olivert about his ‘friendships’ with strange characters the next time he goes gallivanting about Zemuria.” Rean deadpanned.

“I’m right there with you.” Crow said with a sigh, giving his double sabre a few twirls.

“If it’s a fight you want, it’s a fight you’ll get!” Sara snarled, tightening her grips on her orbal gun and sword, tensing her muscles.

They’re up against two members of Ouroboros, with one being an Enforcer, and with the other being the protégé of the Steel Maiden, if her words are to be believed. Sara has every faith in her students’ abilities, considering how well they’ve fared throughout the civil war. But Sara will be damned if she allows any of her students to be harmed by members of that accursed organisation!

“Don’t hold back, because I certainly won’t!” Duvalie said determinedly. “On my name as the foremost knight of the Stahlritter, Duvalie the Swift, you shall be defeated!”

“Ready your sword!” Laura said.

“Class VII, let’s get this done and keep moving!” Rean added.

“Remember, they’re members of Ouroboros! Don’t take them lightly!” Crow warned. “Form up! Let’s get this done!”

The battle against the combination of Duvalie and Bleublanc is a mixture of trickery and speed. As they have faced Bleublanc in battle once before in the Nord Highlands, they have a fair idea of the Phantom Thief’s fighting style. But Bleublanc’s tricks and mirages together with Duvalie’s sword skills and speed have Class VII being pushed against their limits, and they have to use every trick in their arsenal to even come out on top.

“…We were victorious.” Laura said at last, trying to catch back her breath. And it’s not just her, but all her classmates were equally exhausted. “Somehow.”

“I never want to go against them again.” Elliot sighed, using his orbal staff to still remain standing.

“Ugh… That was some fight.” Sara grunted. And here she thought that a certain maid is tough when she’d last faced her in a battle two years ago when the whole crisis in Liberl had gone down.

“We won. But just barely.” Alisa panted, exhausted.

“They just didn’t want to go down.” Fie sighed. She and Laura had to use several of their skills in combination together with each other along with Crow and Rean to take down Duvalie before they could then support the rest of their classmates in taking on Bleublanc.

“And here I thought that fighting Vincent is annoying.” Crow deadpanned.

“The strength of Ouroboros’ prime members is not to be underestimated.” Jusis agreed.

Bleublanc chuckled, with his mask having fallen off sometime during the battle, revealing his face. “Well, you have aptly demonstrated that you can overcome despair,” he remarked. “But alas, you may have been a little too unlucky with your opponent.”

Class VII was momentarily confused with the Phantom Thief’s words, but their attention was caught by Duvalie who was mumbling something about the Steel Maiden, with disbelief at her defeat before something seemed to snap within her, and she then zoomed about with astonishing speeds that even Fie at her best would be hard pressed to achieve.

“T-This is what she’s capable of?” Laura was impressed, despite herself.

“So this is why they call her Duvalie the Swift.” Sara commented.

“She may not have a number among the Enforcers, but it’s most assuredly not for lack of skill.” Bleublanc commented. Rean narrowed his eyes, as he definitely recalled his brother mentioning something about that once. “So long as her lord wills it, she’ll fight till she’s breathed her last.” Bleublanc moved to replace his mask back onto his face. “And with that, the first act was a most impressive performance, but now begins our second act of despair!”

Crow breathed heavily, looking around their surroundings, and cracking his brain to think of a plan. “This isn’t looking good,” he breathed. “Any ideas, Rean?”

“None from me.” Rean admitted.

“They’ve got the advantage now. There’s no way we’re getting past them.” Fie said with worry. “We need to find some way to turn this into our favour.”

“I’m afraid they have to bow out for now, but not to worry! The real stars of act two have arrived!” said a familiar cheerful voice.

“T-That sounds like…” Rean trailed off slowly. “Oh, come on!”

Crow chuckled tiredly from next to Rean. “Your cousin sure has a flair for the dramatics, Rean,” he commented, even as a burst of rose petals exploded from somewhere above them.

“Could it be…?” Bleublanc was suddenly interested.

“C’mon! Pay attention now!” said another voice that is remarkably familiar to Rean and Crow.

And then, several powerful arts was cast simultaneously around Class VII, forcing both Ouroboros’ members to back away from the teenagers, impressing the Phantom Thief who recognised the effects of those arts as extremely high level ones. And to cast several of them at once simultaneously spoke of the caster’s skill in casting them.

As one, Class VII turned towards the source of the voice only to see both Toval and Prince Olivert standing on a nearby alcove.

“Olivert! Toval!” Rean was highly relieved to see them both. While he knew that both of them would be fine, with how things have been over at the western front, he had been worried about his cousin and his family.

“You both couldn’t have come at a better time!” Crow grinned.

“If I didn’t know you, I’d almost think that you were there the whole time.” Sara chuckled.

“You had to have planned that.” Fie deadpanned.

“Well, we weren’t standing around waiting for the right time to make our grand entrance, I’ll give you that much.” Toval admitted awkwardly.

“Speak for yourself.” Olivert said. “And if you must know, Class VII, the situation in western Erebonia has finally turned in our favour. And as soon as it did, we made for the capital as fast as we could. Even so, we only just arrived. It did take us quite some time to breach the barrier at the front of the Infernal Castle. Hence why it took us this long. And Rean, your father should be back in the capital soon. He’s fine. It’ll take a lot to even hurt Uncle, and if there is anything that can hurt him, I wouldn’t want to meet it.”

Class VII almost sweat dropped with that statement.

“We’re grateful to have your support.” Laura said appreciatively.

Bleublanc let out a loud bark of laughter, causing everyone to turn their attention back towards the Phantom Thief. Even with his mask back on, everyone could tell that Bleublanc’s eyes seemed to be almost shining even as he stared at Olivert.

“To think I would get the chance to face you here after all, Prince Olivert!” Bleublanc crowed. “The Goddess has truly shined her light upon us—or the devils have cast their shadows, at the very least.”

“Who cares about a debaucherous prince and some bracer who’s only as good as his arts?” Duvalie complained. “If you’re going to try to talk big, at least bring Mueller Vander with you!”

“Oh, but we did bring him.” Olivert smiled, not seemingly all that affected with Duvalie’s insults.

“Contrary to the inside, things weren’t looking so hot outside out in front of the castle, even with the Thors students and the Imperial Army’s support, so we asked him to stay out there and hold the line.” Toval explained. “His friend showed up to help, too, so who wants to bet how long it’ll take before they’ve got everything under control?"

“His friend?” Elliot echoed. He remembered one little titbit about Mueller Vander from the stories that Neithardt and even his father have often told him since he was little, and his face brightened up. “You can’t mean…”

“Yes, indeed. Between Mueller and Neithardt, the both of them should have no problems with cleaning up the Magic Knights now terrorising the city.” Olivert reassured. “Lieutenant-General Zechs Vander even asked me to make sure that his charge is fine. Last that I’d seen of him, he is assisting with the Magic Knights as well.”

Rean let out a sigh of relief upon hearing that his guardian is fine.

“You just leave things here to us.” Toval added. “I’m sure that between myself and the prince here, we should be more than enough of a match for those two. And I’ll take care of the prince, Rean. Major Vander actually passed on his babysitting duties to me before he headed out into the city. And I’m starting to grow an appreciation for him, considering how long he’s been doing this.” He deadpanned, and Class VII almost sweat dropped.

“Well, it looks like you’ve got quite the climb ahead of you.” Olivert commented. “Rouse those fighting spirits of yours! And…” Olivert sighed, looking worried and concerned for the first time. “I heard about what had happened to Cedric. Please… Do what you can to save him. Save my brother.”

“Of course.” Rean promised at once. “It’s what we came here for.”

“We won’t let you down!” Laura said determinedly.

“Kick some ass, Toval!” Sara winked at the blonde bracer even as Class VII took off towards the direction of the magical elevator, despite Duvalie’s attempts to stop them.

“Nuh-uh, not so fast.” Olivert cut in, narrowing his eyes at Duvalie before Toval and Olivert then leapt down to the ground level, standing in between the Ouroboros’ members and Class VII who were already halfway to the elevator. “Toval?”

“Right there with you!” Toval said cheerfully.

The pair then activated an arts at the exact same moment, with their combination arts casting a stronger effect of Cross Crusade than normal, with Duvalie and Bleublanc barely managing to avoid getting caught in the art.

“A-Are they both casting arts at the same time?” Duvalie questioned with disbelief, even as the familiar light of an arts being cast surrounded both Toval and Olivert once more.

“What fun!” Bleublanc almost crowed, causing Duvalie to give him several strange looks. “How often does one get to do battle with two distinguished arts users at once?” He then raised his staff, readying his own arts. “Then it seems I will have to demonstrate my proficiency with my own magic as well!”

“This is not the time to try and one-up each other!” Duvalie complained. She then remembered that she is supposed to stop Class VII, and turned around just in time to see the teenagers already departing on the elevator behind them. Crow actually gave her a jaunty little wave, much to her annoyance. “Damn it!”

Olivert chuckled. “Sorry, Miss Stahlritter, but my cousin wouldn’t be able to accompany you any longer,” he said almost cheekily. “How about I substitute in for him? Rest assured, I’ll make it worth your while.”

XXXXXX

Lechter breathed heavily even as he brought down another Magic Knight with his rapier, with the after-mentioned Magic Knight giving a low howl before it dispersed in the familiar pinkish light.

He had lost count of the number of Magic Knights that he had taken down since he’d made his way to the capital city after ensuring that the Emperor and the Empress have the appropriate number of guards with them to ensure their safety. Halfway across Heimdallr, Lechter knew that the Thors students would be taking care of the Magic Knights there, if he knew them at all, from the fact that he saw the Courageous heading towards the direction of the black castle awhile ago.

It definitely isn’t looking good however. It seems like it is that black castle that is also the cause of the Magic Knights appearing in Heimdallr. In that case, all that Lechter could do is to pray that Rean and his classmates could handle whatever is going on in there, and all that Lechter could do is to make sure that the Magic Knights don’t hurt more people.

“Lechter!” A familiar voice called out to Lechter, and he turned around just in time to see another Magic Knight be taken down by a shot clean to the head, causing it to give out a mournful howl and disappearing.

There is a grim look on Claire’s face as she ran towards Lechter’s direction, standing back-to-back with him even as the two Ironbloods eyed the Magic Knights surrounding them. With Rufus’ treachery discovered, and now that he is essentially no longer an Ironblood, by default, Lechter is now their leader.

It is a position that Lechter is still trying to get used to, though honestly, he thought that Claire would fit the position better than he could. But as Claire had admitted to him later, she is more of a follower than a leader. And much as Lechter wouldn’t believe it, he is better suited to leading people better than Claire could.

“Where’s the old man?” Lechter demanded, before lashing out with his rapier at the nearby Magic Knight and taking it down.

“He’s on the way! Prince Olivert as well as Viscount Arseid and Toval have gone on ahead to the Infernal Castle!” Claire informed him. “Where’s Rean and Class VII?”

“Inside the Infernal Castle!” Lechter informed Claire, much to her shock. “They’re the only ones that might be able to do something about the whole mess now! Once I get my hands on Duke Cayenne, I’m going to throttle him! Whose bright idea anyway is it to summon some massive ancient black castle right in the middle of a civil war?”

“You won’t be the only one that wants to kill him.” Claire tried to hide her amusement. Last she’d seen of Giliath Osborne, he was saying quite a lot of colourful words about Duke Cayenne as well as the Cayenne heir. “Where’s the other two anyway? Aren’t they supposed to be with you?”

“They’re currently tying up some loose ends. But they’ll be here, don’t fret.” Lechter reassured Claire. “Let’s clean up here as fast as we could and meet up with the old man!”

“You read my mind.” Claire smiled before she readied her gun.

Lechter looked around at the Magic Knights surrounding them and smiled to himself. “Just like old times, eh, Claire?”

XXXXXX

The higher up Class VII go, it seems to them that the more ridiculous the Infernal Castle became—it is truly a place out of reality.

Though much like when they reached the end of the first stratum and ended up facing Duvalie and Bleublanc, they ended up facing Xeno and Leo when they reached the end of the second stratum. It gives Fie a chance as well to face her demons and her past, and to demand the answers that she’s been seeking for well over a year.

Though in the end, Zephyr is still one of the strongest jaeger corps in Zemuria, and Xeno and Leo are two of the best that Zephyr has to offer. Thankfully, Sharon had come to their rescue at the most critical moment, but not before Xeno and Leo had said something about ‘getting back the boss’, much to Fie’s confusion and bewilderment.

Class VII was already getting exhausted when they reached the end of the third stratum whilst battling all those monsters, despite their method of alternating their combatants when they need to rest. It is just Crow and Rean however who have stayed in the active combat teams without taking a break, much to their classmates’ concern.

Some of them are however aware that it is probably Crow and Rean’s method to take their mind off things and to distract them from what they are going to face soon once they reach the top. Or rather, whom they are going to face.

At the end of the third stratum, Class VII came face to face with the one member of Ouroboros whom they never want to face again: McBurn.

Thankfully, Viscount Arseid came to their rescue before McBurn could finish them all off. And the Radiant Blademaster indeed proved that he had earned his title as the strongest swordsman in all of Erebonia when he had managed to force McBurn into a corner, with Class VII taking the chance that the viscount had given them to head to the next level.

Laura was undeniably concerned for her father, but she also trusted his abilities, and knew that if there is anyone who could best McBurn, it would be her father.

The atmosphere was tense and grim by the time that Class VII had made it to the top of the Infernal Castle where the Vermillion Throne sits, as what Emma had informed her friends. Thankfully, both Ordine and Valimar have also managed to regain enough of their mana, and thus, were ready for combat at any time.

And there before the Vermillion Throne were Duke Croire de Cayenne and Eisen Cayenne—two of the people whom Rean never want to see again, along with a Soldat waiting silently by the sidelines. Though the design of this Soldat is nothing that any of them have ever seen. Though judging by how it looks, Rean and Crow knew that they would be in for quite the fight, as clearly, this Soldat is created specifically to fight them.

And with his hands bound in front of him next to Duke Cayenne is a very pale Cedric who brightened upon seeing his cousin and his friends.

“R-Rean!” The Crown Prince squeaked, his blue eyes shining with joy upon seeing his cousin. “Thank the Goddess!”

“Cedric!” Rean was highly relieved to see his cousin, but also infuriated with the way Duke Cayenne had basically taken his cousin hostage. “Duke Cayenne, the hell do you think you are doing with the Crown Prince of the nation?” He demanded coldly, causing his classmates to shiver with fear.

“And what’s that red thing up there?” Machias gaped at what looked like some kind of knight half protruding out of the pulsating red tree above them. It reminds Machias a little of Ordine and even Valimar. But unlike the two Divine Knights that his friends piloted, this ‘knight’ gives off an almost malicious aura.

“That’s the Vermillion Knight, Testa-Rossa.” Emma answered grimly. “It was sealed away under the capital a long time ago, and it was responsible for countless calamities.”

“It’s often referred to as ‘the demon which wields a thousand weapons’.” Celine added. “And to expand on what Emma said, the ones who supposedly sealed it away were Dreichels the Lionheart and the Lance Maiden.”

“It certainly was.” Duke Cayenne almost crowed, taking perverse delight in seeing Class VII’s shock with seeing the Vermillion Knight. “And the only ones capable of rousing it from its slumber are descendants of the Arnor bloodline.”

Rean gritted his teeth, understanding now why his youngest cousin was kidnapped and held hostage here. From how frightened Cedric looks, Rean knew that the Crown Prince knew that he is in some serious trouble now.

“Duke Cayenne, surely you realise how utterly disrespectful you are being?” Jusis managed to force his words out through tightly gritted teeth. If this civil war ever ends, regardless of which side wins—though Jusis is placing his bet on the Reformists’ Faction, chances are high that Duke Cayenne would either get imprisoned for life or executed.

“I have a little dream of my own, you see.” Duke Cayenne continued, ignoring Jusis. “A dream my ancestor was unable to reach in his lifetime. One that I will make a reality in his place.”

“What ancestor?” Millium asked with confusion.

“Wait…” Gaius frowned. With how similar this civil war is to the War of the Lions, could this ancestor of the Cayenne family be…? “Was this ancestor alive during the War of the Lions?”

“Precisely!” Duke Cayenne raised his arms dramatically, “Emperor Orthros Reise Arnor, born to the first of the emperor’s secondary wives—the daughter of a duke!”

Rean’s eyes were as wide as saucers. He knew his country’s history, and he knew the names of the princes that have fought and battled in the War of the Lions before ultimately, it fell to Prince Dreichels and his allies to stop the man who would later go down in history as the False Emperor.

“O-Orthros?” Cedric whimpered, flinching when Duke Cayenne’s gaze fell on him. “That name sounds familiar…”

“It would, Cedric.” Rean said slowly, even as the gazes of his classmates fell on him. The petite omega’s face was pale, as he is starting to realise that they’re in big trouble now, and that Duke Cayenne’s reasons for starting up a civil war might not be something as simple as just wanting to show the superiority of the nobility. “It’s the name of the man who had occupied Heimdallr during the time of the War of the Lions. But due to his atrocious deeds, it ultimately fell to Prince Dreichels and Lianne Sandlot along with their allies to stop him. And he then went down in history—”

“—as the False Emperor…” Crow finished Rean’s sentence, remembering this part of Erebonian history that Rean had helped him with months ago when preparing for the midterms.

That part of history had stuck with him, as he remembered thinking that if any descendants of the False Emperor were still around, they have as much a claim on the throne as the current Arnor family—though honestly, not many would support the descendants of the man that had single-handedly almost sent Erebonia into utter chaos during the War of the Lions.

“You know your history.” Duke Cayenne smiled at Rean, causing him to shiver, “Beautiful and smart, just like your mother.” He leered, and Crow scowled before moving to block Rean with his body. By the side, Eisen Cayenne glared at his uncle. “But what most aren’t aware of is that direct descendants of the False Emperor are still around. And that line ended in the current Cayenne family! I inherited the blood of the False Emperor!”

“That’s impossible…” Jusis shook his head with disbelief.

Like with most nobles, he was educated thoroughly on his country’s history, and he knew that all remnants of the False Emperor were eradicated. Back during the War of the Lions, it is said that the False Emperor’s bloodline was eradicated—mainly to prevent Prince Orthros’ family from seeking vengeance on Emperor Dreichels.

“So there are survivors.” Rean murmured.

“I had no idea that the Cayenne family were descendants of the False Emperor.” Laura commented.

“Hardly a surprise. When the war came to a close, that truth was buried.” Duke Cayenne stated. “And Prince Orthros’ family was eradicated to prevent survivors from seeking vengeance. I suppose it was also Emperor Dreichels’ way of trying to avoid any further conflict among the nobles.”

Given how the War of the Lions started due to a battle over succession of the throne, no one is surprised.

“But a son of Prince Orthros survived, and he hid away, changing his name and hiding his true identity, cursing Emperor Dreichels and the Arnor bloodline until the day of his death.” Duke Cayenne proclaimed dramatically. “And not one day had passed in all these years since has my family forgotten the sheer humiliation! It is the bloodline of Prince Orthros that should be the rightful rulers of this land, not the usurper! And so I dreamed of a future where I would take back the Vermillion Knight and this Infernal Castle! The proofs of ownership over this city that Emperor Orthros had disgracefully stripped away!”

There were several long moments of stunned silence after Duke Cayenne’s proclamation, with Class VII staring at him with disbelief. This is the man that headed the Noble Alliance and started a civil war, causing major unrest in Erebonia, thus forcing their fellow countrymen to turn against each other, and this is his reason?

“You occupied Heimdallr and started a civil war, and that’s your reason?” Machias demanded, enraged.

“Only once you’ve lived with utter humiliation like my family did would you understand my reasons for doing so!” Duke Cayenne sneered. “I will return this country to the way it should have been, and rule over them all, as is my birthright!”

“What nonsense…” Laura murmured, furious.

“He doesn’t care about anyone but himself.” Alisa muttered.

“All right, enough talking, Uncle.” Eisen interrupted, stepping from the side where he had remained silent whilst listening to the entire exchange. “You say you need time to prepare the Vermillion Knight, and that you won’t interfere with my battle with them.” Eisen’s eyes glinted with depravity—almost similar to the look in Duke Cayenne’s own eyes. “I hope you aren’t going back on your word.”

Duke Cayenne scoffed. “Do as you wish,” he sneered. “Maybe you can prove to me here that you are worthy of being named my heir, after all.”

Eisen Cayenne scowled at his uncle before he smoothed his expression, with his own spring green eyes so much like his uncle’s glinting as he turned his attention towards Class VII, his lips spreading into a thin smile as he laid eyes on Rean.

“…Rean,” he greeted. “It’s been quite awhile. You’re looking as beautiful as ever.”

The petite omega hitched a breath, looking as if he’s on the verge of having a panic attack. As one, the alphas of Class VII—Laura, Jusis, Gaius and Crow stepped in front of him, blocking Rean from Eisen Cayenne’s sight. Elliot quickly wrapped his arm around his best friend’s shoulders, trying to calm him down.

“Don’t even look at him.” Crow growled low in his throat, resisting the urge to reach for his weapon. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Crown Prince Cedric looking petrified, but still concerned for his cousin. “There’s a great many people I’m annoyed with throughout the years since I’ve came to Erebonia. But not one—not a single person had ever made me want to butcher them until I met you!” Crow’s eyes flashed with pure fury, with his alpha pheromones almost flooding the chamber. “You sick bastard! How dare you touch Rean?!”

“I only did what any alpha would do when a delectable omega is placed in front of them.” Eisen shrugged uncaringly. “I didn’t do anything that you didn’t do.” Eisen licked his lips, giving a small smile as he eyed what he could see of Rean from behind the forms of the four alphas of Class VII. “He has a great body. I wouldn’t mind having a taste of it again.”

“You sick…” Laura shook with anger, unable to even form words to express her fury. The rest of her classmates are no better, from how they look to be one step away from killing Eisen Cayenne themselves.

“No omega should be abused this way!” Gaius was enraged, with the normally gentle Nord furious with what he is currently hearing. “Only the lowest of the low would sink this low to force themselves on an omega!”

Eisen sneered at Gaius. “What would you know?”

“He knows more than you!” Elliot defended Gaius, his eyes flashing with anger even as he felt Rean trembling under his arm. “And I’ve seen the damage you did to my best friend when you kidnapped him to the Pantagruel!” Elliot shook with anger. “If the Emperor don’t execute you first, mark my words when I say that there would be quite a line of people queuing up to kill you!”

“You’re an omega too, aren’t you?” Eisen ignored Elliot’s words, licking his lips as he looked Elliot up and down, causing the musician to shiver. “You’re not as good as Rean, but maybe I’ll take you to my bed too—”

“You’ll do that over my dead body!” Gaius roared, eyes flashing dangerously. “You lay even one finger on Elliot, and I’ll kill you!”

“I’ve said before, Armbrust; that what I want, I get.” Eisen sneered at the furious Crow. “And it’s Rean Osborne whom I want. Maybe I’ll have sex with him again after this war—and maybe I’ll make you watch as I have my way with him—”

Before Eisen could say another word, whatever that he is about to say was cut off when there was the sound of a gunshot, and a patch of red covered Eisen Cayenne’s chest over his shirt. Class VII’s eyes were wide, their eyes going to where Duke Cayenne is standing, with his gun out and pointing it at his nephew.

His eyes were cold, and there is a sneer on his face.

“…Why…?” Eisen coughed out blood, stumbling on his feet even as he covered his chest—it is clear to everyone that the gunshot had hit his heart. “…Uncle…”

“I’ve put up with lots of things from you ever since I took you in when my fool brother died in that accident.” Duke Cayenne sneered. “But I will not have you dragging the name of House Cayenne through the mud even more than you already had! Once I remake this country into my own image, I will have no shortage of women to be with me, anyway. I’ll have my own heir—one that wouldn’t question me and defy me like the way your brother did, or even cause me problems the way you did!”

Eisen had fallen to the ground by this point, with Class VII rushing to him, along with Vita. A quick examination showed that the bullet had nailed him cleanly in the heart, and he is gasping for breath, grabbing at the first person he saw who turned out to be Vita.

“…Please…” Eisen gasped, with true fear appearing in his eyes. “…I…don’t want to die…”

“Vita…?” Emma looked at her sister, hesitating.

Vita looked conflicted, before she looked at Emma and then to the pale Rean who is currently in Crow’s arms. She seemed to make her mind up just then, as she smiled at them before looking down at the dying Eisen, removing his bloodied hand from her dress.

“I told you that you should have more consideration in how you treat people.” Vita said coldly. “I can’t do anything when you raped Rean. And I couldn’t do anything when you forced yourself on all those poor people. I said that all your deeds would come back to bite you one day, and it did.” Vita breathed. “I’m not going to kill you, Eisen. But I’m not going to help you, either. You’ll die, knowing that everyone hated you, and you are truly alone in every sense of the word.”

“…V-Vita, please…”

Vita only smiled coldly down at Eisen, not moving a single muscle, and not making any movements to cast a spell, even though she could probably cast a spell to make Eisen’s last moments painless. Even as darkness slowly overcome Eisen, he cried out in his mind.

He cried out for someone to save him. And for the first time in his life, he cried out for his brother and his sister. He doesn’t want to be alone. For in the end, at the heart of his core, Eisen Cayenne is still a lonely child who is constantly overshadowed by his more talented siblings.

But at the end of his life, Eisen Cayenne is truly alone, with no family and friends to speak of.

A very long and shocked silence fell amongst Class VII after Eisen breathed his last, with his glassy eyes staring accusingly at them, until Vita reached over to close it to give him some semblance of peace. Sara was the first one to speak, glaring at Duke Cayenne who seemed uncaring that he had just killed his own nephew.

Cedric’s face was pale.

“Your own nephew…” Sara hissed. “Your own heir… You killed him?”

It is almost unheard of for a noble to kill their own heir. Family is everything to members of the nobility, though occasionally, they do have the few rare cases when the heads of the houses doesn’t seem to care about the children in their household at all.

“I should have killed him a long time ago!” Duke Cayenne sneered. “He set back so many of my plans when he got himself expelled from Thors! At least he still proved useful as the leader of the Imperial Liberation Front. Though he is so useless that he can’t even get himself chosen as the Awakener of the Azure Divine Knight lying beneath Ordis for centuries!”

Class VII tensed, recalling Crow’s stories of how he’d stumbled upon Ordine beneath Ordis some years ago when he was there as his grandfather’s representative to visit some merchants. And Sara was almost dumfounded with Duke Cayenne’s words and actions towards his own heir—his nephew.

“He was your nephew! How could you say that about him?”

“The Divine Knight chooses their Awakener.” Vita said coldly. “And much as I loathe to defend Eisen Cayenne of all people, it’s definitely not his fault if he can’t get Ordine to respond to him! He’s not Ordine’s chosen. I’ve told you that before!”

“Silence, witch!” Duke Cayenne screamed. “Everything! You bunch of brats ruined everything!” It is almost amusing to see a grown man stomping his foot like a child, but everyone tensed when they saw the duke pointing his gun at the trembling Crown Prince who squeaked in fear when he felt the cold metal of the gun touching his temple.

“R-Rean!"

“Cedric!” Rean’s eyes were wide with shock and horror. “Let him go!”

“Once again, those from Emperor Dreichels’ bloodline sees fit to ruin my plans!” Duke Cayenne seemed almost crazed, but no one dared to move a muscle—all of them watching Duke Cayenne and Cedric with bated breaths. “And just like your father, you’ve became a thorn in my flesh!” He turned his gaze towards Rean. “Your mother, Kasia, she could have anything she wanted if only she would agree to become my wife. Why would she settle for a commoner who is just nothing but a lowly soldier?!”

Rean is starting to understand why his parents never like Duke Cayenne, especially with the way he is currently disrespecting his mother.

“It takes a special woman for one to agree to be your wife.” Fie muttered, her eyes narrowing at Duke Cayenne, and wondering if she could throw one of her daggers at his hand to make him drop the gun. She quickly discarded that option, as there is also the risk of Duke Cayenne shooting the Crown Prince.

There was a gentle male laugh echoing through the air just then.

“I concur, Miss Claussell.”

And then there Rufus Albarea stood in his pristine green outfit, walking towards them briskly and without pause, though his eyes flickered towards the body of Eisen Cayenne. Crow immediately pushed Rean behind him when Rufus made his appearance, with Gaius and Laura doing the same with Elliot and Fie.

Duke Cayenne looked highly relieved and even happy when he saw Rufus. “Rufus! Of course, I still have you! You can help me!”

Rufus laughed almost mockingly, staring at Duke Cayenne with cold eyes. “In the terms that the commoners like to use, ‘in your dreams’, Duke Cayenne.”

“What?”

It happened so quickly that Class VII almost couldn’t catch it.

One moment, Duke Cayenne was standing there with the Crown Prince hostage. The next, there was a sudden flash of light before a familiar silver-haired girl sitting on a black puppet had knocked Duke Cayenne to the ground, also pinning him down with her puppet, and sending the gun that he was holding skidding away.

“Target restrained.” Altina announced emotionlessly.

It only took several moments for Class VII to realise that this might just be the ‘mission’ that Altina had alluded to back in the Karel Imperial Villa.

“Good work.” Rufus praised, and Altina only gave a small nod of acknowledgement, pinning Duke Cayenne down to the ground with Claimoh Solais which gave out several light chirps.

Cedric quickly took the chance when he is finally free from Duke Cayenne to run towards his cousin as quickly as he could, and Rean quickly enveloped the terrified prince in his arms, checking him over for injuries.

“Rean!”

“What is the meaning of this, Rufus?” Duke Cayenne demanded from the ground, struggling to break free, but found that he is unable to even move. “Let me up this instant!”

“You’re quite mistaken if you think I answer to you.” Rufus said simply. His eyes then went towards Class VII and flickered towards Eisen Cayenne’s dead body. “Though he wouldn’t be happy that we couldn’t get here in time.” He took a step towards Class VII who were all defensive, but paused in his step the next moment when a templar sword was pressed against the side of his neck by a certain orange-haired woman who had appeared from out of nowhere, glaring at Rufus coldly whilst positioning herself in between the former Ironblood and Class VII. “Well now. This is a surprise.”

“Don’t even come near Rean, Albarea, or my sword would remove your head from your shoulders as the Goddess is my witness.” Scarlet warned. “And while I would rather deal with you myself, I’m certain His Excellency would rather deal with you himself once he is able to.”

“‘His Excellency’?” Class VII parroted with confusion. A few of them seemed to have realised what is going on now.

“Scarlet, you’re an Ironblood?” Rean spluttered with surprise and shock.

“A secret member, like how Rufus Albarea’s role in the Ironbloods is left unknown to everyone until his treachery was discovered.” Scarlet explained with a small smile. “In this case, only His Excellency knew about me. Not even Lechter does until recently.”

“Is it a lie when you said that the Chancellor cost you your childhood home, and that is why you joined up with Eisen approached you?” Duke Cayenne demanded from the ground, seeing his plans crumbling to ashes before him.

“It’s half true. I technically didn’t lie.” Scarlet answered, unbothered by the accusations. “The Empire does need the land that my family farm stood on to build a railway to Jurai all those years back. But what I neglected to mention is that the Chancellor made sure to find another place with good soil and the appropriate conditions for a farm, and also made sure that we settled in well. Crow won’t remember me, but my family farm now stands on Jurai land.” She smiled at the shocked Crow. “We supplied half of the goods that Jurai has from the produce that the farm produces. It is only after I am sure that my family is settling in well before I left home again to complete my training at Arteria. When Eisen approached me to join the ILF, I informed the Chancellor. I volunteered to be his spy in the ILF and the Noble Alliance, especially after what had almost happened with Liberl. And with what Eisen almost did to Vulcan, I am also not surprised when Lechter told me that Vulcan agreed to join the Ironbloods.”

There was a stunned silence after Scarlet’s declaration. Crow chuckled. “I thought that you look familiar to me from the start. So that’s why,” he said at last.

“I should have guessed that the Chancellor still has a few tricks up his sleeve.” Rufus commented. “He is after all the man that I had once admired and looked up to. But he isn’t the man I answer to any longer. I now answer to another person. Isn’t that right, Freida?”

Everyone tensed when a lady with lilac hair did up in a bun, with trails of it falling down her back showed up. She was followed by three men, with two of those whom Class VII is familiar with, especially Rean and Crow. Two of the men were those whom they’ve met at Celdic and Baraehard respectively. The last man was one whom none of them have met, but he just looked so similar to Abel that Rean is certain that they must be related somehow. Twins, perhaps?

It didn’t take long for Class VII to realise who they are, and Freida’s words then cemented it for them.

“Good day, members of Class VII.” Freida gave a polite bow. “I’m Freida. I serve as part of Lord Euram’s Black Hawks. And we are here on official duty.”

Jusis’ mind clicked just then, and he turned towards his smiling brother. “You’re a member of the Black Hawks?” he demanded, his heart going cold when he recalled what Millium had said once before—that the Black Hawks are assassins.

“Newly initiated.” Rufus corrected. “But yes, I am part of them now.”

“That damn nephew of mine!” Duke Cayenne scowled. “What does he think he’s doing? Let me up!”

“What I think I’m doing is that I’m stopping a war criminal.” A cold voice spoke. The members of the Black Hawks parted ways for a tall imposing man with mint green hair to approach Duke Cayenne, the ends of his black coat flapping about his legs. Scarlet moved carefully so that she is standing in between the shocked Class VII and the Black Hawks. She barely registered the fact that Sara had stood next to Scarlet, ready to protect her students if necessary.

Euram Cayenne smiled coldly down at his uncle. “How the mighty falls,” he commented. “I told you that this plan of yours won’t work, Uncle.”

“Euram!” Duke Cayenne growled. “Why are you doing this? You’re a noble as well, from the proud Cayenne line! And yet you refused to assist me in the Noble Alliance and even throughout the civil war! If you had helped us—”

“I never agreed with anything that you’ve done, and it’ll be a cold day in Hell before I help you.” Euram cut his uncle off, his eyes flashing with fury. “You killed Iain.” Duke Cayenne went pale. “Do you think I wouldn’t find out? My wife… And now, I find that you killed my brother too.” His eyes flickered towards Eisen Cayenne before he made a hand motion, and the twins walked towards Eisen Cayenne’s body. “You might as well be prepared to spend the rest of your life in jail. Because mark my words, if the Emperor isn’t ordering for your execution, that will be what is going to happen to you."

“I… What…?”

Duke Cayenne then slumped over in a deep faint, all the shocks proving to be too much for his system.

Vita chuckled coldly, and all eyes turned towards her. “I always thought that something was wrong with you.” She said, looking at Rufus who only smiled. “So this explains it.”

“You might as well clear out now, witch, before I change my mind and decides that I want you dead.” Euram said, and Emma tensed. “You might also want to go back to your master and inform them that I’ll be taking over the Phantasmal Blaze Plan of yours. And if you and the rest of those from your little group decides to get in my way, I’ll crush them.” He said coldly. “Get out of my sight.”

“Vita…”

Vita smiled sadly at Emma. “Sorry, but I think I should go before he changes his mind,” she said. “Send my regards to the Elder, would you?” She then disappeared in a flash of light.

“W-What just happened?” Crow finally managed to find his voice, watching as the Black Hawks went about securing Duke Cayenne and even cleaning up Eisen Cayenne’s body.

“So… That’s Euram Cayenne?” Cedric whispered from within his cousin’s arms. “He’s scary…”

Rean and Crow exchanged looks before looking at the rest of their classmates, and their gazes then returned to Euram Cayenne and his Black Hawks who were now revealed in their full glory—with each of them seeming as dangerous and intimidating as their master. Amongst which included Rufus Albarea of all people.

Now Rean understood why Rufus Albarea had betrayed his father. Euram Cayenne had gotten to him.

The Erebonian Civil War is as good as over, it’s true. But now, it seems like they got bigger things to worry about.