[An entry from a book in the Royal Library]
The Floating City
The floating city was founded by Romulus Vargas, and it serves as a sanctuary for many people. The city is considered an independent nation, but there have been many times in the past where trade has occurred between the city and the empire. Many scholars have studied the mysteries of the city’s workings, yet answers have yet to be found…
The roar of the winds was loud when they finally emerged on the deck. Ivan kept his wings close to himself, afraid that he’ll lose control if he doesn’t. No matter how talented a flyer a Sirin was, he didn’t think they’d be able to navigate in these winds. Ivan watched as Alfred pulled his goggles over his eyes to protect himself from the wind. For a dragon, Ivan thought, Alfred was really severely lacking any natural defences against the forces of nature.
“Hold tight!” The vampire in front of Alfred, Vlad, shouted at them. “Just follow me!”
They held on tightly to the railings that surrounded the deck and followed the vampire towards the door, deeper into the ship. Once the vampire managed to get the door open, they all stumbled inside, pushed by the strong winds behind them. Alfred buckled to his knees, and Ivan was barely able to balance on his feet with the help of his wings before the door slammed shut.
“We don’t have a barrier around that deck cause we’re using the wind as another source of energy, so it’s always difficult to get through. But it’s better here. Look,” Vlad said, grinning widely at them.
Ivan looked. The entire left wall of the area they were in was wide open, but they didn’t feel or hear any of the strong winds outside. The open wall allowed them to see the wisps of clouds floating outside and the foggy mountains and valleys beneath them.
Ivan heard Alfred gasp before the younger man scrambled and ran towards the opening. Ivan, afraid that he would fall through, reached out to grab at the back of Alfred’s coat, only to miss it because of Alfred’s speed. He didn’t fall, but Ivan watched in awe as Alfred fearlessly pressed his hands closely at the invisible wall between him and the air around them. Alfred had removed his goggles, pushing it over his hair so that he could look at the skies better. It made the joy in his eyes all the more clearer to Ivan.
It was breathtaking, and Ivan wasn’t entirely sure he was only referring to the mountains and not the wide eyed look of excitement on Alfred’s face.
“This is awesome!” Alfred exclaimed, turning quickly towards Vlad. “How do you do it? Some kind of magnetic force field?”
Vlad shook his head. “It’s simple air magic. Ask your Sentinel there. Most of the Sirin can perform these kinds of magic when they’re flying. At least, they used to.”
“Magic?” Alfred frowned, and Ivan almost expected his previous adamant denials. “But you use steam too? I saw it when we were down below.”
“Why does that confuse you?” Vlad laughed. “Does it have to be one or the other? Magic and science have always existed side by side. It is only Cautania who has chosen to forsake magic, and the tribes have always preferred their lands over industrialisation. We, on the other hand, have no preference, which makes things all the better, yeah? Come on.”
“Where are we going?” Ivan asked as he took Alfred by the arm to follow behind the vampire. Alfred was still staring all around them, and he was very much likely to run into things if he wasn’t careful.
“There are some people here who would be happy to see the Kirkland boy,” Vlad answered them as he swung up on a staircase.
Alfred turned towards the vampire with a scowl. “I’m not a boy,” he said, indignantly. “And I’m not a Kirkland. Not anymore.”
“You have the blood of Drachen in your veins,” Vlad pointed out. His steps rang out on the metal staircase as he ascended rapidly, with Ivan and Alfred following at a more leisurely pace. Although, Ivan was quite sure that Alfred was quite ready to just run up the stairs. “You’re a Kirkland to me.”
“Blood isn’t everything,” Alfred said as he crossed his arms and pouted.
Vlad stopped at the top of the stairs and turned towards them, red coat swirling at the sudden movement. When he grinned, his fangs flashed clearly, almost like a threat. “I’m a vampire,” he said. “Blood is everything to me.”
Alfred didn’t seem to have anything to say to that, going quiet and fiddling with the metal tags he wore around his neck. Ivan released the hold he had on Alfred’s arm and chose to take his hand in his own instead. Alfred turned a bright smile towards him and squeezed his hand tightly. Ivan thought of the dance the night before, of Alfred’s hand clasped tightly in his as they swayed under the singing tree. It would have been nice if it could have lasted forever.
“Here we are,” Vlad said, stopping in front of a wide set of double doors. “A little warning. You are guests, but if you ever do anything that will harm our city and its citizens, you will be thrown out. We’ll see how you brave the skies then.”
“Right,” Alfred said as he edged closer to Ivan. “We won’t do anything. I promise.”
Vlad nodded and turned his back towards them. “Well then, let’s go in.”
As the door opened, the two of them immediately followed after Vlad. The room has a similarly large window as the hallway they were in before, and there was already a group of people sitting around a large round table.
Ivan tensed as he recognised the familiar faces of the Cautania unit he had stolen Alfred from. There was a soft noise of surprise from Alfred as he let go of Ivan’s hand, stepping forward with hesitation clear in the set of his shoulders. The group hasn’t noticed them yet, and Ivan couldn’t help but think that he could take Alfred now and run, just brave the skies and never look back.
Still, Ivan didn’t move, and he simply watched as Alfred took another step forward. “Ludwig?” Alfred said.
The prince looked up at the sound of his name. As soon as he saw Alfred, he was immediately running towards them, pulling Alfred into a tight embrace.
“Alfred,” Ludwig said, gripping the back of Alfred’s coat. “You’re safe.”
Alfred laughed, returning the prince’s embrace. Ivan felt a pang in his chest at the sight even as Alfred buried his face in Ludwig’s shoulder. “I should be saying that, idiot,” he said. “I’m your knight. I’m supposed to protect you.”
Ludwig stepped back but still held on to Alfred’s shoulder. “How can you do that when you get lost?”
“Hey!” Alfred cried, indignant. Ivan thought of Alfred’s similar protests while he had been trapped in the ice and covered in snow. “Anyone can get lost in a snowstorm. Except maybe Ivan but that’s just because Ivan might be insane.”
“I am still here, Alfred,” Ivan said, stepping in at the opening provided by the other soldier. Alfred looked over at him and pouted, so Ivan just smiled at him.
“What?” Alfred said with a smirk. “It’s true.”
“Alfred, who is this?”
“Oh, this is—“ Alfred started excitedly but suddenly stopped, looking at him with a frown. “Ivan.”
“Why is he here?”
“He just—“ Alfred stopped again. He looked towards Ivan, and their eyes met. Alfred’s expression was unreadable, and for a moment, it seemed like his eyes had flashed gold. Ivan thought of Alfred in the temple, of golden eyes and a tired grin. Ivan wondered if he was about to be killed or arrested for kidnapping and almost killing a member of Cautania’s nobility. “He saved my life. He’s my friend.”
Ludwig looked at Ivan and nodded. “Thank you,” the prince said.
“Your highness,” another man said, standing up from his seat to stand by the prince’s side. “I would be careful. He is from the tribes, it looks like.”
Alfred tensed. “You’re—Drei, was it? The leader of the Boreal Project.”
Ivan also tensed when he heard the words from Alfred. Although Afred wasn’t looking at him, the way he leaned closer to Ivan made Ivan think that those words were meant for him. The leader of the project. The one person who might know why people from the tribes have been disappearing.
“What’s the problem with people from the tribes?” Alfred asked with a scowl.
Some looks passed between the people from Cautania’s unit. This time, Ivan was sure that he didn’t imagine the flash of gold in Alfred’s eyes or the sudden spark of energy. He took hold of Alfred’s hand, flinching at the surge of energy, but he needed to make sure that Alfred wouldn’t accidentally hurt himself or the others in the room.
Ivan glared at the soldiers and researchers from Cautania. He took note of the look of suspicion and curiosity from the so-called leader of the project after Alfred’s sudden outburst of magic.
Ivan wasn’t quite sure about the position they were suddenly in.
“Tell me,” Alfred demanded. Like this, he was no longer the playful and charismatic hero who Ivan had spent time with. Instead, Ivan can see the soldier, the captain who had survived through war.
The prince nodded, looking like he’s made a decision. “It will be good for you to know this as well, Alfred.” When he turned his gaze towards Ivan, it was filled with suspicion instead of gratitude from before.
“I’m not sure this would be wise, your highness,” Drei said.
“Stop,” Ludwig said. “This is Alfred. He’s a hero of our empire. I trust him.”
“What is this about, Ludwig?”
“After you disappeared,” Ludwig said, glaring at Ivan openly. “Cautania’s settlement was attacked by people from the Boreal tribes. The people in this room are the only ones who were able to escape.”
Ivan found Alfred in their shared cabin. After meeting with his old unit, Alfred had insisted that he should stay with Ivan despite everyone’s protests. Even Ivan didn’t understand why Alfred wanted to stay with him despite how obviously upset he was about what he was just told.
Alfred sat cross-legged on the bed with his back pressed against the wall. He was hunched over and tinkering with the same watch that Ivan had found him with beneath the singing tree. He was surrounded with small gears and screws, and the small golden Drachfeurite ore was balanced on Alfred’s knee, the light pulsing regularly like a heartbeat. At the sound of the door, Alfred looked up, and his eyes were strikingly gold.
“Alfred,” Ivan said, shutting the door softly behind him. The empire did not believe in magic, and any idea similar to it at the moment was regarded with suspicion. It wasn’t safe for Alfred to keep losing control like that.
“Where’d you go?” Alfred asked, his hands stilling above his work. The different gears around him glinted under the light of the ore, and the same light cast his usually friendly face in shadows as he scowled at Ivan. His cold demeanour reminded Ivan of how Alfred was when he had first captured him.
“I was exploring,” he answered evenly, ignoring the hostility in Alfred’s voice. It would not do for both of them to lose their temper.
Ivan took his coat off and folded it neatly on his bed before facing Alfred. “Does it matter why?”
Alfred set his jaw stubbornly. His work had been forgotten though his long calloused fingers were still poised above the dark metal of the watch. “I just want to know.”
Ivan sat on his own bed and stared at Alfred who was so still on his own bed across the room. “What else do you want from me, Alfred?”
Alfred winced like a child who’s been caught doing something he shouldn’t have. He still didn’t seem to realise how he looked at that moment. With his eyes bright and still form, he could have been a predator getting ready to lunge at Ivan. Ivan lightly touched his own scarf, taking comfort in his older sister’s protection magic before he stood to cross the room. “Tell me,” he demanded even as Alfred jerked, the pocket watch, gears, and ore falling from his lap onto the bed.
Alfred bared his teeth at him like a threat. “You don’t get to threaten me.”
Ivan sighed and chose to crouch in front of the bed so he wasn’t looming so threateningly over Alfred. He let his wings relax so that it didn’t cage Alfred, taking care not to repeat their first meeting. But it was something similar, he thought, with him questioning and Alfred on the defensive.
“I wasn’t,” Ivan said.
“I don’t believe you,” Alfred said.
“Because of what they told you,” Ivan stated. It wasn’t a question. There was tension between them that hasn’t been there since they fell into the old temple.
“Is it...true?” Alfred gripped one of his tools tightly in his hand, tight enough that it turned his knuckles white. “Did you attack us?”
“I don’t know anything about it,” Ivan said. “Even if it’s true.”
There was a long beat of silence between them. For a moment, Ivan almost thought that he saw a crackle of lightning on Alfred’s hand as he opened it, letting his tool fall gently on the bed. The golden glow of Drachfeurite seemed to cast sinister shadows around them as Alfred’s shoulders slumped, and the ore finally dimmed. “I don’t know what to believe,” Alfred whispered like a confession. “You did kidnap me.”
Ivan smiled. He still hasn’t moved from his position by Alfred’s bed, didn’t want to spook the other when he was so obviously stressed. “Why didn’t you tell them then?” Ivan asked, genuinely curious about the other’s answer.
“You tell me,” Alfred grinned. “Maybe I’m just being stupid again.”
Ivan kept a close eye on Alfred as he reached out, ready to take his hand back if it was unwelcome. Alfred didn’t do anything as Ivan clasped his hand in his. “I should teach you magic,” Ivan said, feeling the sparks of energy that stung him as he held on to Alfred’s hand. “Magic is dangerous if left uncontrolled.”
Alfred frowned. “I don’t have magic.”
“You didn’t,” Ivan corrected. “But whatever happened at the temple changed you.”
Alfred took his hand from Ivan, and Ivan frowned at the sudden separation. Alfred carefully flexed his fingers, seemingly entranced by the play of lights and sparks around them. “Ivan,” he said. “Will you teach me?”
“Of course,” Ivan replied, smiling. He stood up, and this time, Alfred no longer seemed afraid or unsure of himself as he looked up at Ivan. Ivan offered a hand for Alfred to take and pulled Alfred up from the bed. “Shall we go somewhere else?”
“A dragon’s magic in an enclosed space?” Ivan chuckled. “We shall be lucky if we only end up destroying this room.”
“Where are we going then?”
“It would be nice to look around the city, da?” Ivan looked over his shoulder at Alfred. “You were quite excited after all.”
Alfred grinned, and Ivan felt the tension between them ease. It was much better, after all, to see Alfred in such good spirits. “We should get something to eat,” Alfred said as they prepared to go out. “I’m starving. Then, you can teach me what you know.”
“As long as you can keep up with the lessons, Alfred.”
Alfred pouted and shoved at Ivan playfully as they left the room. “Watch it,” he said, grinning playfully. “I’ll become even better than you.”
Alfred dodged several ice arrows from Ivan, and he used the momentum of his last roll to kick at Ivan. Ivan dodged the sudden attack and summoned his ice to freeze Alfred in place once again. Unlike their time in the mountains, this time, Alfred grinned and easily broke free. Ivan could see the sparks of golden energy around him, like Alfred himself was electrified. When the soldiers from Cautania talked about Alfred as some kind of genius, Ivan thought they had been exaggerating. Teaching Alfred about magic for a few days had changed Ivan’s mind entirely.
A genius, he thought and scoffed as he sent another flurry of ice arrows at the younger man, which was destroyed this time with an electrified barrier in front of Alfred. The title of genius seemed like an understatement for Alfred.
Alfred pressed his palms together, concentrating his magic in his hands before putting them into fists and charging at Ivan. Ivan smiled and easily blocked Alfred’s first punch with an ice shield. Alfred’s next strike broke through the ice, shattering it and sending Ivan back with the force. Ivan used his wings to regain his balance, but Alfred wasn’t done with his relentless assault.
Alfred threw another punch, and Ivan encased his arms in ice to block it. He could feel his hair rise at the pulse of electric energy from Alfred. Alfred grinned and tried for an uppercut. Instead of blocking it, Ivan chose to dodge by taking to the air.
Alfred lost his balance with the wind from Ivan’s wings. When Alfred looked up at Ivan, there was excitement in his golden dragon’s eyes. Ivan called on the wind and prepared for whatever Alfred thought up next. Alfred was forever coming up with unusual ideas for his magic. Unlike Ivan who grew up learning his magic as a part of himself, Alfred seemed to use his magic as another one of his tools for creation and tinkering.
The younger soldier adjusted his stance, and Ivan watched the spark of energy around the other man’s feet. Alfred directed the force of his magic at the ground to launch himself into the air. With a cry, he tried to land another punch at Ivan. Ivan chuckled and easily moved out of the way. Compared to Alfred, the air was a battlefield that he was very much used to. Alfred landed, his boots skidding on the ground and leaving a shallow ditch with the force of his landing and magic. Alfred pressed his palms to the ground and looked like he was getting ready to launch himself into the air once again. Ivan braced himself for the attack and built a shield made of ice, holding it in both his hands.
Alfred launched himself from the ground. His fists were covered by electric charges. When Alfred hit the shield, a thin crack appeared on it. Ivan glared at the grinning Alfred as he repaired the shield. Alfred flipped in the air and landed back on the ground. He didn’t take as much time this time to launch himself into the air. When he hit Ivan’s shield this time, it shattered into several pieces.
Ivan felt a sharp pain in his wings. It wasn’t entirely healed yet , he realized, as they both fell towards the ground. Alfred’s eyes widened, and he turned them both so that he took the impact. Alfred groaned when they hit the ground. His eyes had turned back to blue, and he was grimacing.
“That’s awful,” Alfred groaned as he sat up. “Why did you do that before?”
“Why did you do it now?” Ivan replied, watching as Alfred rubbed his neck and rolled his shoulders.
“Can’t have you breaking your wings again,” Alfred said. He was still wincing and grimacing in pain. His hair stuck out wildly as if he had been electrocuted by his own magic. Although his eyes no longer shined with his magic, Ivan could still feel the powerful draw of it. “Especially not cause of me. I can take the fall.”
“But you didn’t have to,” Ivan said, as he took one of Alfred’s hand in his own. He brushed a thumb over the bruised knuckles and urged both their magic to aid in his healing. “I would have been fine.”
Alfred blinked and stared at Ivan as if he couldn’t understand what he was saying. There was still a hint of the manic energy of his magic in his eyes when he finally grinned. “I’m a hero,” he said. “Of course, I’ll save you.”
Ivan shook his head in exasperation. “You’re incorrigible.”
“But you like me anyway, right?”
Ivan froze, quite unsure about what Alfred was saying. But Alfred was looking at him seriously now, his earlier grin disappearing to be replaced by hesitation. Alfred bit his lip, refusing to look at Ivan’s eyes. There was a storm behind his eyes, something wild, dangerous, and beautiful at the same time. Magic had been a part of Ivan’s life since he had been a child, but he has never seen magic like Alfred’s. Alfred shook his head, chuckling, reining in the Wild and the Storm from his eyes as if he could hide it and pretend to be someone else. In the days since they’ve met, every time he thinks he’s figured Alfred out, he would always throw him off.
“I’m starving,” Alfred said, brushing his clothes with his hands as he stood up. “Do you think--”
Whatever he was going to say was forgotten as Ivan pulled him by his wrist, letting him tumble over Ivan again. Ivan made sure to cushion his fall. Alfred gave him a look of confusion and shock, and Ivan brushed a thumb over the knot on his brow, trying to smooth it out.
Ivan cupped the other’s face in his hands and pressed their lips together to silence Alfred’s protests. Alfred tensed under his hands, and for a terrifying moment, Ivan thought that he might have made a mistake, might have read the signs wrong. He was almost prepared for Alfred to shock him with his lightning.
But he didn’t have to worry. Alfred was already melting into the kiss, surging forward and curling his hands around the scarf around Ivan’s neck. When they broke off, Alfred’s face was flushed, and his golden eyes bright once again. “That was--I didn’t think--”
Alfred was biting his lips once again, and Ivan couldn’t help himself as he pressed a more gentle kiss at the corner of Alfred’s lips this time. “Then don’t,” he said. Alfred chuckled before letting himself be kissed again, and it was everything and nothing like either of them expected. Ivan could feel the magic underneath both their skin, as if their magic were singing to each other.
An old symphony, an old dance. There was something quite wonderful about it.
Alfred groaned and bit softly at Ivan’s lips the same way he had to his own several moments ago. The Dragonborn shifted his weight, straddling Ivan’s lap and grinding down. Ivan gripped tightly at Alfred’s shoulders and trailed kisses down the other’s jaw and his neck. There was a certain thrill at hearing Alfred gasp and feeling the way his fingers scrambled for purchase on Ivan’s clothes. There was something thrilling at feeling Alfred’s magic around them, literal sparks that flew between them.
“Alfred,” Ivan whispered the name like a prayer and a warning all at once as he kissed and tried to mark the hollow of Alfred’s throat. “Control yourself.”
“What?” Alfred’s voice was breathless and confused, and he looked quite offended.
Ivan chuckled and pressed a soft kiss on Alfred’s cheek. “Your magic, solnyshko moyo.”
Alfred blinked, fingers tracing at the edges of Ivan’s scarf and trailing on his neck. He smirked and rolled his hips, eliciting a low moan from Ivan. “Why don’t you try then?”
It was Ivan’s turn to be confused. “Try what?”
“Control the storm, Ivan,” Alfred grinned before kissing Ivan again. He had only just pressed his lips on Ivan when the ground beneath them shook.
They separated in a panic, both of them scrambling to their feet. When the ship rocked again, Ivan had to place a hand on Alfred’s shoulder to keep the other from losing his balance. Alfred was scowling now, and Ivan watched the gold in his eyes turn brighter as he scowled. “What’s happening?” Alfred said.
The ship was rocked once again, but Alfred managed to keep his balance this time. He pulled a pistol from his coat and glared at the ceiling above them. “Explosions,” Alfred said. The set of his shoulder and his stance shifted into the soldier that he was. “The city is under attack.”
The open deck with all its shops and the barrier that prevented the winds from destroying it was empty of civilians. It was a strange sight especially since Alfred and Ivan had always gone around the shops at night, when they were all alight with lamps powered by magic and electricity. There was another explosion, and this time, they can see the flames hitting the barrier, spreading like another layer on the barrier.
Alfred still couldn’t see where the attacks were coming from, but he could hear the sound of fighting from further down the deck. He looked back to see Ivan following close behind him, holding tight on a staff made of ice. “I can hear them,” Alfred said. “They should be at the plaza.”
Ivan nodded and followed closely behind Alfred. They raced through the floating city’s empty streets, and Alfred gritted his teeth as he gripped his gun tightly. He was trying to make sure to keep his magic in check.
It seemed he was right to keep his magic in check as the soldiers from Cautania were gathered in the plaza. They seemed to be fighting with a few people. From where he was, Alfred could see the smaller ships hovering around the city.
“Pirates,” Ivan said, placing a hand on Alfred’s shoulder to stop him from rushing towards the enemies.
“Are you serious?” Alfred said, turning towards the other. He’s only heard of pirates from stories, and he thought that they were things in the past. He was certainly not expecting to encounter some of them in the floating city. “Why are they here? Wait, that doesn’t matter. We need to help them. Ivan?”
Ivan had a frown on his face, but when he saw the worried look on Alfred’s face, he immediately replaced the frown with a smile. He sighed and removed his hand from Alfred’s shoulder. “Very well. Be careful.”
Alfred grinned at Ivan. “You don’t have to worry about me,” he said as he rushed into the fight without hesitation.
Alfred wondered if Ivan believed his words. Besides his brothers, Ivan was probably the only one who knew of Alfred’s nightmares, of the things that still haunted him from the battlefield. Most people only saw the genius hero who managed to win the war when others had only died. Alfred, though, knew that he probably survived many of his earlier battles on luck rather than skill.
Alfred was immediately attacked as he joined the fight. He ducked from a sword swing and countered with his pistol. It probably wasn’t a good idea to rush into close combat with only a pistol for a weapon, but he had gotten too used to using his magic to augment his own abilities when practicing with Ivan.
He looked around him and at the Cautanian soldiers and knew that there was no way to use magic without arousing suspicion. After all, Ludwig himself seemed to hate magic after the tribes had supposedly attacked Cautania’s settlement with it. It rankled at Alfred, that suspicion of magic, especially since he knew that few people actually believed in magic in Cautania. Hell, Alfred refused to believe it even when Ivan had shown him several times during their first days together.
Alfred turned at the sound of his name and caught the staff that Ivan threw at him. It was just in time for him to use it to deflect a blow from one of the pirates. He kicked the man in the stomach before using the pistol to shoot him in the head. He dodged another blow and incapacitated his attacker with a heavy blow of the staff to the back of the pirate’s head.
“Alfred!” Alfred almost turned to attack the person who had called out to him, but managed to stop himself when he saw Ludwig.
“Ludwig,” Alfred said, startled. He didn’t expect the prince himself to be fighting. Alfred cursed as he saw another assailant approaching from behind Ludwig. Without warning, he pushed Ludwig aside and shot at the rushing attacker. “Not the time to talk, huh?”
Ludwig grimaced and took Alfred’s lead, turning his back towards Alfred so they could watch each other’s backs. Alfred managed to take down two other attackers, and he made sure to watch Ludwig’s own fights, getting ready to step in if needed. He wouldn’t be able to face the emperor if he somehow managed to let the prince die.
He gritted his teeth as he blocked another attack with the staff from Ivan. He could feel Ivan’s magic in the staff and could feel his own magic stirring underneath his skin. If it had just been him and Ivan, he would have already launched himself to the air to try and destroy their attackers at the source. He hated the limitation, especially knowing what was now available to him.
Alfred was never really one for limits and control. He wouldn’t have become a soldier if he had let his brother limit his movements after all.
It only took a few more minutes before they were able to take care of all their attackers. Above the city, the ships also seemed to be retreating. Alfred turned and grinned at Ludwig, already putting on the mask of the confident hero.
“Is everyone alright?” Alfred asked, looking around at their group. Ivan was standing apart from the rest of the group, and Alfred gave him a small smile before letting his gaze wander around the rest, checking for any serious injury. As he was looking around, he noticed the movement from the ground as one of the pirates raised a pistol. Time seemed to slow for Alfred as he pushed Ludwig out of the way of the line of fire, knowing he was putting himself in danger instead. Alfred raised his own pistol and took a shot.
The two shots seemed deafening in the calm silence after the fight. Alfred stumbled as the bullet grazed his left arm instead of hitting him on the chest. His own shot seemed to have missed in his haste, but Alfred could see how the pirate had missed him as well. The man’s arm had been pushed to the side and encased in ice.
Alfred’s heart was pounding in his chest, and he looked towards Ivan, and Ivan stared at him with wide worried eyes. He looked pale, and his hands were outstretched towards the pirate. Alfred opened his mouth to thank Ivan or perhaps to reassure him, but before he could, some of the Cautanian soldiers disarmed and restrained Ivan. Ivan still seemed shocked, and he didn’t even try to fight the soldiers when they did, still staring wordlessly at Alfred.
“What?” Alfred said in confusion at the sudden movement around him. Everyone was on guard again, and Alfred felt as lost as he did during his first battle. He glanced towards Ludwig to ascertain the prince was fine before turning back to the other soldiers. “What are you doing?”
“I asked them to arrest the man who had attacked you and the prince, Captain Kirkland.”
Alfred scowled and turned towards the man who approached him with a snarl. He didn't even bother to correct the name that was used to address him. “Attacked us!? What the hell do you mean by that, Director Drei?”
Drei waved a hand towards the now unconscious pirate with his hand still encased in ice. “Is it not clear that he used his control over the elements to get that man to attack you and the prince?”
“What proof do you have!?” Alfred demanded, grabbing viciously at the project director’s collar. The director only looked at him impassively, as if he was humoring a child. Alfred could feel the call of his own magic underneath his skin, felt the need to let it out. He wanted to burn the man in front of him.
“Alfred,” Ludwig placed a hand on him to calm him down, breaking the magic’s hold on Alfred. He took a deep breath to calm down, to calm the storm within him. The prince was frowning when Alfred finally deigned to look at him. The other soldiers have disappeared and taken Ivan somewhere, and Alfred gritted his teeth.
“What? I’m right, aren’t I?”
“He’s from the Boreal Tribes, Alfred,” the prince said.
“So?” Alfred laughed humorlessly. “Does that make one a criminal these days?”
Director Drei cleared his throat and smiled at the two men. “They did attack us, captain, yes? This could just be another part of their plans.”
Alfred wiped the expression on his face and stared at the other’s cold blue eyes. He didn’t know what to do about the situation, but it wouldn’t do to make an enemy of one of the empire’s most prominent organizations. Not if he wanted to free Ivan. “What are you going to do with him?”
The man smiled placidly, as if he was finally pleased at Alfred’s attitude. “We shall be at the capital in a day, your highness. If it is proof that you want, then I’m sure a trial would be good enough for you, yes?”
The capital. Alfred gripped at the pistol in his hand. It had felt like ages since they left the capital event though it hasn’t even been a month since then. He’s lost the staff Ivan made somewhere. Perhaps, it had been lost when Ivan was taken since there was no magic to sustain it. He took a deep breath and restrained the storm inside him. “Alright,” he said, looking from the prince to the director. “The capital and a trial then.”
Alfred’s expression was grim as he stepped off the platform in the capital. He could see Ivan surrounded by soldiers a few feet away from him, but Ivan seemed determined not to look at him. It was frustrating, and he had to fight the urge to rush towards them. He didn’t expect that anyone would be welcoming them to the city, so it was surprising to see his brother standing at the bottom of the platform, already giving orders for people to prepare their carriage.
Somehow, Alfred thought, it was a relief to see Arthur acting the same as always. The moment Arthur stopped ordering the people around him, Alfred approached him. “Artie,” he said.
“Ah, Alfred, you--” Arthur’s voice trailed off as Alfred suddenly engulfed him in a hug. He hesitantly gave the younger man a pat on the back. “Are you alright, lad?”
Alfred froze, suddenly feeling the call of another person’s magic in Arthur. Arthur also seemed to realize it because he had stopped patting Alfred’s back. “Arthur, you--”
“Not here,” Arthur said in a low voice as he stepped away from Alfred. “I’m glad to see you back, Alfred.” He looked over Alfred’s shoulder at the rest of the party that was led by Ludwig. Arthur gave a small bow towards the prince. “Welcome back, your highness. The emperor awaits your report.”
“Duke,” Ludwig greeted, looking from Arthur to Alfred. “Are you coming back with us to the palace?”
“If you don’t mind, your highness, I would prefer to speak with my brother at our residence. We have heard about the trouble you’ve faced, after all.”
Ludwig nodded and placed a hand on Alfred’s shoulder. “I shall see you later then, Alfred.”
Alfred gave a small tired smile at the prince. He did need to speak with his brother, but he also knew that he needed to see Ivan soon. They would have taken him in the palace, and the trial would surely be held there as well. “Yes,” he said. “Later then, Ludwig.”
The Duke of Drachen’s carriage was waiting for them outside the Airships’ port. Alfred touched the crest on the door of the carriage, remembering the same crest that decorated the walls of the temple he and Ivan fell into. He wondered if Arthur could tell him something about that. With a sigh, he boarded the carriage and waited for Arthur to follow. Alfred glanced outside the carriage, at the bustling crowds that always gathered outside the ports. He should be happy to be home, happy to be where he was most comfortable, but the storm inside him would not stop. He leaned his head on the glass and let his eyes slip close.
He was just beginning to doze off when Arthur finally entered the carriage. Startled awake, Alfred tensed and fought to control the lightning at his fingertips. Arthur glanced at Alfred’s hands before lightly touching his shoulder. “Relax, you’re safe,” Arthur said before sitting across Alfred.
The moment the door closed, Alfred clenched his hands into fists and leaned forward. “You have magic,” he stated. He had the same single-minded focus in his eyes that he had when he was working on his own projects. It would have been intense for anyone, but Arthur was long used to his brother’s curious obsession with things that interest him.
Arthur looked at him calmly. “I do,” he replied with a chuckle.
“You never told me,” Alfred said as he sat back. The lightning in his fingertips had disappeared, and he was starting to relax in the presence of his older brother. “I thought magic wasn’t real.”
“And I was hoping you would continue to think that way,” Arthur said.
“But why?” Alfred frowned. “Magic seems so useful.”
“Useful but very dangerous.”
Alfred snorted. “So are weapons,” he said. “And that’s everywhere in the kingdom right now. I literally helped to build ships and other machines that could kill people. Magic doesn’t seem that much different.”
“Magic is much more destructive than you think, Alfred,” Arthur sighed. “Many people are afraid of it.”
“But that’s not all, isn’t it?” Alfred scowled at his brother and he crossed his arms over his chest. He thought of Ivan teaching him magic, of the magic that he can feel inside him. He couldn’t believe that people will just pretend such a power doesn’t exist. People were too greedy to ignore such a thing. “What are you hiding, Arthur?”
Arthur sighed. “One day, that curiosity will get you into trouble.”
Alfred laughed and grinned at Arthur. “Hasn’t it already?”
“More than it already has,” Arthur said with another sigh. “You always worry me, Alfred.”
“And you’re dodging my question,” Alfred said with a scowl. “I want to know the truth.”
“Very well,” Arthur said, and he folded his hands over his lap. “Magic used to rule this empire. The first empress was a demigod after all, and through the use of her magic, he won control of this land.”
The first empress, Alfred thought. He remembered Julchen in the temple and the names of the Empire’s founding families on the wall. He remembers the name Drachen and Kirkland, and he could still see the dragon corpse itself inside the temple. “Empress Julchen, huh?” Alfred murmured. He looked to Arthur to question him. “That’s the emperor’s ancestor, right?”
“That’s right, so you do listen to your lessons,” Arthur said with an amused smile.
“Artie, I feel like you just insulted me,” Alfred joked. Then, as if flipping a switch, his easygoing expression turned serious once again. “Then? If the royal family’s magic is so strong, why is magic practically nonexistent in the empire now?”
“You’re not going to turn this into another research project, are you?” Arthur shook his head. “It weakened. As the years went by, magic seemed to decline. It wasn’t enough to keep the empire safe and to continue developing it.”
“So they decided to hide magic? Why?”
“Why do you think?”
Alfred groaned. “We’re not having a lesson, Artie.”
“Aren’t we?” Arthur countered with a grim smile. “This is a serious matter, Alfred.”
“I know that,” Alfred scowled at the streets outside. He wondered where Ivan was, if Ivan thought that Alfred had abandoned him. He can no longer feel the call of Arthur’s magic, but he could still feel the comforting hum of electric magic from the Drachfeurite in his coat pocket. It was almost like being in one of his airships again. “Do you think I’m not taking this seriously?”
“Perhaps,” Arthur conceded with a grimace. “You’ve always been a reckless child.” There was silence between the brothers after that. Alfred pressed his forehead to the glass window of the carriage, watching the familiar streets pass by as he thought.
“Power,” Alfred finally said. “If Julchen ruled through magic, people would not accept a ruler that didn’t have it. Not unless they did something to remedy the situation. So did they suppress magic then? The royal family?”
Arthur looked pleased that Alfred chose to answer. “Something like that,” Arthur agreed. “It is why the RSS exists and why we continue to be the most technologically advanced empire.”
Alfred snorts, “And so we forget and fear magic instead?” He grimaced. “I don’t like it.”
“It seems you have some things to tell me too, lad.” Arthur said. The carriage had stopped, and Alfred stared at the familiar facade of their family’s home in the capital. Its imposing columns reminded him of the temple, of a history long buried in secrets and politics, of magic and wonder hidden behind the guise of advancement. “Alfred?” Arthur asked in a worried tone.
Alfred remembered going home after the war, remembered the same worried tone in Arthur’s voice. He remembered feeling lost and clinging to his older brother. He felt lost now, and he wondered if Arthur could sense it. He wondered if Arthur’s magic felt the call of Alfred’s lightning, volatile and bright like its master.
“Arthur,” Alfred said, turning from the window to look at his brother. Their eyes met, and Alfred could only think of all the trouble he’s caused in the past. He thought of all the things he's learned during this mission, of what it meant for him and the empire. He thought of Ivan, who came all this way for him. He thought of a dance under a singing tree and kisses that made storms rage inside him. There were things that Alfred needed to do and learn, but he didn't think he could succeed on his own. He wasn't the same reckless child that thought of war as a game. “I think I need your help.”
[Fragment from a Classified File in the Royal Archives]
...The crown prince shows great development in his magic. During the experiment, he was able to destroy several cannons and an airship with only his magic. It is a kind of power that has not been seen in the empire for decades. Emperor Klaus continues to reject the proposal to keep the prince in isolation until this power is under control...