173 - Afterwords





[AN: Warning, this contains ~5 chapters worth of story]

Narrator's Point of View

Over the next few months massive changes would shake Ristaze to its roots, similar but incomparable to itself.

---Till now---

During the one month the Princess had been out of the capital multiple initiatives had been put into order. The first of which was the 'Royal Intermediary For Pharmacy and Herbology'; A state funded company to control all export of medicine, drugs, herbs and spices. The company would buy the plants or powder from the producer, and then sell it on to merchants either local or foreign. However, its main function was to assist in the transition to disallowing a very, very long list of drugs. Lists had been put up around the capital, containing names of to be illegal plants, where owning them would be marked as a crime. The company would be the only legal way for the producers to get rid of their remaining produce and plants, though requiring them to list themselves up to avoid them producing any further drugs.

Alongside this, House Listere lead another initiative which was far more in the shadows. They were digging through the House Salender papers that were in the capital, getting locations of the underground guilds and the underground tax section. By the time the Princess returned to the capital they were mostly done with the preparations to turn over the underground of the capital.

The day after Emilia returned to the capital, letters were sent to all countries that Ristaze had business with, declaring the end of an era in Ristaze, and that she had laid claim to the throne. Furthermore, that Ristaze would not be accepting delegates before springtime, to risk putting them in danger.


---Late Fall---

As late fall approached half of the armies holding the capital closed  went south, striking directly for the head of the snake, killing Lord and Lady Salender in a collaborative effort between part of the forces from House Tepet, House Celeste and the Northern Marquesses, guided by Princess Emilia's words that carried the knowledge of the dead. Large parts of the capital went into an uproar, during this time, causing large amounts of trouble for the troops remaining at the capital. Barely held in check by Lady Tepet, Bertram and Reynold who arrived at the capital to alleviate exactly this. During this, both Bertram and Reynold displayed frightening instincts when it came to the underground's underhanded tactics, especially including assassinations and traps.

The injured Tepet troops would be healed by House Listere or the Heir's new fiance. The battle hardened Tepet soldiers were already impossible for a civilian to injure in a fair fight, and the resisting nobles had hidden in the shadows. Shadows where the Northern troops would find them. The capital river became a deathtrap, an area avoided by anyone that didn't need to be there.

As house Salender fell, an odd, tense silence fell over the capital, and for the first time a very real fear started to spread.


A week before the beginning of winter a royal decree was announced to the public throughout Ristaze, but mainly in the capital, and in the now occupied large pleasure cities along the river going from the capital to the sea through the former House Salender territory.

'Any members remaining in UCOR, will be arrested and executed come winter.'

UCOR was an abbreviation for United Criminal Organizations of Ristaze, the formal name for the system House Salender had been keeping control of for the last many hundred years.

Over the following days members of UCOR gathered, preparing for their resistance. The decree meant an all out war, and what had been dissatisfaction before turned to a war for survival. Of course, many who could tried to escape UCOR as well, especially those that had already seen or experienced the force of trained soldiers. Those who were only halfway into the organization hid away, some sending a 'resignation letter', betting their lives that the Princess would be serious.

...but most weren't lucky enough to escape the grasps of those that had planned their lives on blackmail, protection money, drugs and murder.

However, this decree was not the only thing that was whispered throughout the underground. Another, far stranger offer was extended: Any spies still remaining after the fall of house Salender would be offered a position as investigators or guard captains, were they to surrender themselves to the crown.


---The First Night of Winter---

The first night of winter arrived. A crisp night where leaves were covered in a layer of frost. A full moon night tall and white... and a night that would henceforth be known as The Night of Bloody Shadows, or the Winter Purge among nobility.

As the moon rose over the city, the army surrounding the capital descended upon the capital, going through the streets from the outside and in, in a grid formation. They walked as shimmering shadows under the moonlight, only to slam in the doors of civilian residences, ripping screaming family members from the arms of their beloved, and executed them right then and there, staining the cobbled streets with blood. Then continued to the next house like bloodhounds hunting foxes for their master. That is how the commoners remember the night, glancing from their windows and trembling as they hoped their turn wouldn't come next.

By the time it ended, the streets and houses were stained red with blood, and the smell permeated the cold winter air, together with the reminder that the rule had changed, and those unwilling to change with it, would die.

Gambling dens, whore houses, slave traders, drug dens, crime headquarters and 'disposal guilds', all closed forcefully and brutally, making bundle of screams echo into the night. Where the soldiers weren't enough to deal with those who resisted, came a high noble that turned the scene into a scene of horror that would haunt everyone there for the rest of their lives.

Come morning, the corpses were still being cleared away, creating a sight that none who lived in the capital would ever forget. For the next many days the rain poured down heavily.


---Winter---

With the massacre came the consequences. For the capital wasn't the only place that had been hit. Lord Celeste and Lady Tepet had been going through what they could catch in their own lands, and the Northern Marquesses made short business of what remained there, though they had been doing a slow purge themselves ever since they found out they were being targeted.

The large pleasure cities along the river were economically crippled, as they'd thrived on the lack of rules, and the free work force from people under slave contracts well hidden away.

Slaves that were now free.

On top of that, those that had made their living off of crime, but had given up that life were, just as the slaves, helpless and work-less.

Huge sums of money that had been confiscated UCOR's associates were fueled into initiatives to lure new merchants, chefs and the like to open new stores in the now vacant spots, with the requirement that they take a couple of the female slaves or former prostitutes in as apprentices.

The situation for the men now without work was far simpler. Now where the control over the underground had been cut, pockets of remaining resistance began appearing. In addition, nearly all guards were corrupt and needed fresh blood. The men were to serve either with the army, or in newly formed guard squads vastly increased in size.

Existing corrupted guard captains were given exactly two chances to reform to a long list of new, practically military, standards. There were rules from everything between training routines and guard routes, to basic etiquette when dealing with nobles and foreigners. The spies that had surrendered themselves would get a chance to lead new guard squads like these, of course under supervision.

By springtime this had taken quite hard on Ristaze's economy, but the Ristaze that appeared that spring had already changed drastically.

Once again, letters were sent to Ristaze's business partners. An invitation for a party, and wishes to continue their cooperation.


---Spring---

When the foreign dignitaries arrived the sight that met them was far from the war ravaged land they had expected once they were forbidden entry during the winter.

Their favorite shops were still open and the buildings were intact, but the amount of flowers was without a doubt lessened compared to usual. There were many gardeners working on new arrangements to take over the old ones, but everything still seemed somewhat the same. The first thing that truly stood out to them, was spotting groups of highly visible guards in the streets in stylized uniforms matching the district. Ristaze had always prided itself on having no need of guards. The number of guard squads they spotted on the way to the palace was quite high as well, far higher than they were used to from their own homes.

In the end, the capital didn't actually change that much other than that. The belly of the capital wasn't a place for many nobles anyway, and though now under supervision, both the black market and the red district still exists. It's shrunk a lot, but still runs. Those running the black market are of course nobility, but both quality and quantity is both in small controlled percentages of what it had once been.

The only things gone for good were drug dens, actual organizations and the 'cleaners'. A surprisingly large part of UCOR had been getting money to get rid of the immense number of people overdosing from drugs. A shadow number that would only truly be felt over the next few years as Ristaze went into a baby boom.

The biggest change was with the pleasure cities along the river.

They were still cities of pleasure, but the number of restaurants, herbalists, beauticians and wellness stores had exploded in the absence of the less well seen businesses. The casinos that did remain were quite high class and offered gambling for both real and false money.

Crime was never entirely eradicated, but whereas you before could walk down just about any alleyway, you started needing to know where to look.

As the yearly tourists carefully expected the changed city, many left with disappointment, while others enjoyed the slight change of scenery and focused on the displays of research directly from the academy.

Business did far from as well as it used to. It was without a doubt the worst economical year Ristaze had seen in centuries, and it would never return to the same standards. However, the production and research of medicine in general would explode, mostly in the direction nutrition and general health.

In case you worry for the general civilian, you don't need to. Those living outside the cities neither heard or noticed the difference, until their semi-large villages had their local guard squads replaced or put under strict orders. If anything, their payments decreased and became regular.

Another change was fashion among the ladies of Ristaze.

Over the next decade the look of seductive opulence and extravagance was replaced by two general styles. The look of innocence, and the look of elegance.

Idealized by the future Prime Minister's Fiance, Claire Talwen as innocence, and the future Lady Tepet, Lily Celeste as elegance. Large gems and ruffles were replaced with intricate lazing and simplified designs, adding ribbons or small details to style it sweetly, and no matter the style, far less skin would be shown than had been custom.

--- In the general future ---

One of the biggest changes in Ristaze was the change of four laws:

- Taxes for the entire country was decided by the crown. Changes in taxes would have to be accepted by the crown.

- All land belongs to the crown

and

- Nobility that holds land were no longer forbidden from holding military.

- Land was no longer locked to a specific title or family name.


The first two laws, though seeming unimportant at a first glance would spark another grand wave of dissatisfaction among the nobles. It was a bold decision made while everyone had the memory of the King, Alstair and House Salender's fall. Those who resisted would have to go up against the only three houses with trained military forces, as well as the royal army. The only resistance ended up being in the shadows for a long time.

The second law, while seeming vague, was the biggest change of the four. In effect, it meant that Emilia could take land away from nobles if she wanted to. She needed no further reasoning. Of course she would give reasoning to minimize satisfaction, but that is the amount of power this one little sentence gave her.

In effect, those that ended up unable to manage their territory when the taxes were lowered, would be stripped of their land and replaced. This was of course very few nobles, but the discontent would be palpable.

In return, this created an upwave of popularity among the commoners that had been suffering under greedy lords, decreasing the dissatisfaction over Emilia's magic, as they reached a conclusion: Corruption was purged, be they commoners or nobility.





The last two laws would spark many conflicts in the nobility that had been used to having their land promised for eternity as long as remnants of their family still existed. Within a decade the first armed disagreements began between nobles, and that was the first time the throne would put the nobles in their place.

At the field where the two nobles meant to fight it out, a third army appeared, twice the size of each army. The royal army.

Each side was given the following order:

'A request for military movement has not been filed, nor has the agreements for the battle. Return your troops or have them eliminated. '

It was a rule of might.

The agreements were to follow a set of rules set down by Augustus Celeste and named 'Formalities of Internal Armed Conflict', which was based on the rules Rei herself had been subject to in her former life, though with some modifications to make it fit better with the traditions of knights.


Zocria who had not signed the peace treaty didn't make a move up until this point, but after this incident Zocria initiated positive contact for the first time.

Crinia turned itself inwards after Catarina died. With support from Headal, especially in the form of knowledge, the Queen started taking her place as the ruler seriously. She married a year later and would soon become pregnant. After about a decade Crinia started a foresting project to increase their livable areas to the south, and along with many changes in social policies left over from the Tyrant King, Crinia would slowly begin to sprout as a nation once more.

Semor to the North remained quiet, but over the next decade increased their defense at the border immensely, gaining what seemed to near paranoia. Landon knew exactly who was the main cause of those four rules, along with the overhaul of much of the military in Ristaze that would happen over the years. Rei's clan had been known for one thing, and one thing only, which was their military and its ruthless efficiency. Now given what seemed near full control over the military, many of the methods used would be implemented. These methods were mainly in structure and communication, and they would be developed further by military researchers that blended these methods with the magic in Ristaze. Aware of this change, Landon wanted to take no chances on the temper of someone he killed once.

It would later become public that King Landon accused King Jacques of killing Catarina, but a lack of evidence, and the intense protests from Crinia to let the dead rest with honor, the matter was put to rest. Headal and Semor never reconciled.



Characters

--- Claire's Future ---

Claire and Soleil's story together first began during the kidnapping event. During the month that Lily, Lionel and Emilia were gone Soleil and Claire worked closely together, sharing many additional moments together. Claire had already been there when Soleil was at his lowest, so now he approached her without regrets.

Claire, who had promised her heart to Augustus, had been rejected. Augustus was in love with someone else, and though hesitantly she would let Soleil's displays of kindness, care and professionalism in the work they were doing, begin to affect her.

When the two of them finally took a break at Soleil's family home in the capital, both Soleil and his family realized that Claire fit into the family perfectly, handling Soleil's many younger sisters with seemingly boundless love. By the end of the day they were referring to her as onee-chan.

From this point on Soleil's mother began interacting with Claire's family via letters to improve the relationship between the families. Aiming to make Claire a part of the family before Claire could fall back to Augustus Celeste.

On the other hand, the relationship between Soleil and Claire got intimate quickly. Claire would have Soleil sleep with his head on her lap when he was exhausted, and he would let Claire sleep on his in return. Late meetings became dinner invitations, exhaustion became intimacy, pauses became time where they got to know each other better, and step by step the two started forming a far closer bond, than distant one-sided crush that she had with Augustus.

However, Claire, as Lionel had warned Lily, might seem quite innocent, but her mind would at times go straight to the gutter. This began happening with Soleil, and Soleil would begin to notice this as well. Thus, due to certain... incidents... the two of them would be engaged quite rapidly.

Claire's Point of View - Present Time

I am so happy Magdalin-chan is safe after everything that suddenly happened. I knew Wolfram-sama was going to propose, but how... how could her own family be like that?!

I was so shocked. To think her own father would say something like that... and Lily-sama even looked more angry than I've ever seen her before. I ended up locking eyes with her at that point, giving me this nod like it was some sort of signal that something was planned. But, as the situation unfolded, I became sure of what I was to do!

I would have gone even if Lily-sama didn't give me the sign, but with this I wouldn't hesitate at all! And the two saying she might be their daughter seemed like good people too!

Still, that is that and this is this...

This is a very important conversation.

I look up at Lily-sama's elegant figure as she sips her cup of tea in front of me. Even though Lionel-sama gave me his mean stare before we went inside, I need to ask her!

"Uhm... Lily-sama... are you perhaps trying to seduce Lionel-sama?"

Lily-sama's eyes narrow at me. I, didn't want to believe it, but if she reacts like that, then that means she is, right?

"W-why would you do that when Augustus-sama loves him too?!"

I blurt our the words. Can I convince her not to? No, in the first place why would she do it? I looked up to Lily-sama... why would she try to steal the one her brother loves?

Is this because of Lionel-sama?!

He always acts embarrassing, and gets too close. What if he seduced Lily-sama instead while he had Augustus-sama?!

"Claire."

I jolt and look up at Lily-sama. She looks annoyed and a little angry.

"Your thoughts are being noisy."

"Noisy?" I ask while tilting my head to the side.

"Just now you went from blaming me to realizing Lionel might have been the cause, didn't you?"

I stare at Lily-sama shocked.

"Can you read minds?"

I knew Lily-sama was a skillful lady, but I never expected this!

"Stop. You're having a strange misunderstanding all on your own. Your thoughts are showing too clearly on your face right now."

S-so clearly? I suppose Soleil-sama says the same thing when he embarrasses me once in a while... but now even Lily-sama joins in.

I cup my cheeks for a few moments to somehow get my face back to neutral.

"Ah, Lily-sama, don't redirect the conversation!"

As expected of Lily-sama, she is good with words!

Lily-sama actually clicks her tongue at me before taking another sip of tea, while making a grimace.

"I am not seducing him. Besides, once Eric or my father accepts it, Lionel and I will be officially engaged."

E-engaged?!

"Wha-?!"

I stand up from the couch I'm sitting in, and slam my hands on the table.

"That is too mean towards Augustus-sama! I cannot accept it!"

I try to give Lily-sama my most intense stare, but in return she looks at me like I'm a pebble at the roadside.

"I will protect Augustus-sama's happiness!"

Lily-sama puts her tea cup down while staring at me with cold eyes.

"Then stay out of it, and quiet down."

"Why?!"

"Because I do not want you to whether I am in one garb or another!"

Eh...?

Lily-sama continues relentlessly as I start looking Her over from top to bottom.

"You have been obsessing over Augustus for more than half of your current life, and that obsession was there only because of one little kiss, for a kid that is understandable, but you should have grown up enough now to see that it is an unhealthy obsession. Did you even once consider that even if you love 'Augustus-sama' that you were not Augustus' type at all? You have been far too stuck in your own head. You have already been rejected quite clearly too!"

Lily-sama lets out a sigh of frustration.

"You need to find someone that actually cares for you instead of a foolish one sided crush that will never pay off-"

"I have," I vaguely manage to interrupt her, though my head is spinning right now.

"Just before, you said whether you were in one garb or another..."

Lily-sama crosses her arms while staring at me... emphasizing her lack of shape in that specific region...

"...it couldn't be..."

I look over Lily-sama again, feeling blood fade from my face.

"If I had let you heal me in any way, then you would have noticed, wouldn't you?"

Ah- my confession at Castle Celeste, and when Augustus-sama was taken away after the battle at the palace...

No no no, wait! She could be lying. But how would I prove that she is not Augustus-sama? ...wait. Is this the reason Asher shifted to Lady Lily's side so quickly?! Then that look he gave me-!

"But! But w-why would you keep such a thing secret?!"

My head is spinning. If Lily-sama is Augustus-sama, then... then what have I been imagining all this time?! T-the images of romantic scenes flash by, together with the less pure ones from right after I saw Augustus-sama ride away from the school. I had imagined Augustus-sama lean over me the way Lionel-sama had done!

"Why would I tell anyone? You yourself know what a scandal it would be if anyone found out. The only reason I am telling you right now is because you would go out of hand if I didn't."

...she's right... but somehow I just can't accept this!

"But! But it's not fair for it to stay hidden that Lily-sama then saved us!"

Lily-sama sighs again, and then picks up the tea.

"Why would that be so important? I know what I have done, and my heart is where I feel it should be. I didn't go out there for glory, but to protect what is important. However, if I did go out there for glory, then why is it not satisfying enough, just because the name is another, which is also still mine?"

She pauses to stir her tea, as an oddly calm mood overcomes her.

"Is it because other little girls should look up to me?... that is a foolish thought... Don't compare me to any normal woman, as I can use abilities you cannot. Doing that would cause more harm than good... there are places where the physically weaker can help in a war, but the frontline is not a place where they should be. Had their example been a scout, an archer or mage instead of me, then it would have been good. However, on the front line they would be hit with strikes far harder than what their light bodies can handle as long as the men. That's why, even if it came out I am a woman, nothing good would come if it."

Lily-sama looks into my eyes.

She... isn't wrong. When we got kidnapped and I held down that one guy, I could feel the massive amount of strength under me. I had only my position to use against him... even if I had been stronger, would I have been able to hold him down properly?

But... it's still unfair... if Lily-sama is Augustus, then she's beautiful, she's wise, she's elegant and good at dancing and the other girls look up to her from afar while trying to compete with her... if she on top of that is Hero-sama...

...then doesn't that make Lily-sama twice as amazing? If how much I looked up to Lily-sama and how much I looked up to Augustus-sama is now the same person.

I look at Lily again. Poised, elegant. Still a little angry.

She even took her time scolding me to find something more than an unrequited love. She worries for me, and she worries for others even though she scolds people.

I feel a smile spread on my lips as I go through the memories I have with both Lily-sama and Augustus-sama... but in place of a guy is now something else... there's the face of a cool older sister doing what she needs to do, even if it hurts her and even if she needs to hide away afterwards.

I recall her flustered expression when I fell into her lap and cried just when the school year began, and I finally realize that she must have avoided me because I might have recognized her. I remember how she was cautious with Alstair, and how she must have seen through him already back then.

"Lily-sama..."

I look up at her, and our eyes meet. Her eyes are really like Augustus-sama's.

"Can I call you onee-chan?"

After Lily-sama answered that only her blood bound siblings and fellow apprentices can call her that, I was overjoyed. After all, for the next two years I got to call her onee-sama. She did try to withdraw her permission immediately afterwards as I tried to grasp her hand, but too late! We have classes together after all, Lily onee-chan!

—- Eric and House Celeste's Futures —-

Once Eric noticed that Claire and Soleil were getting close, he decided to test if the curse that had haunted him for the last few years was finally over.

Of course, Eric had already suspected that it wasn't actually a curse, but interference from Gilbert that had lead to the many rejections and the few accidents that had happened. He was still looking for proof of this, but regardless of the cause, it would be gone now. Claire had settled on a man, and house Salender was gone.

He spent the last couple of weeks before Lily and Emilia returned, on approaching one of the more curious noble ladies who was watching the knights with interest in what they were here for. He managed to sneak a lunch invitation out of her for the knights, and she showed up with a huge picnic basket the next day, to let the Celeste knights get a snack while working... with an actual meal for the two of them to enjoy while chatting.

She was a far more playful girl than Claire, and was a girl with a lot of joy, which was only constrained by her manners. Even then, an aura of life surrounded her, quickly charming both Eric and the Celeste knights.

When Eric graduated the Academy that spring, he married her, and almost immediately took the role as Lord Celeste. Still guided and advised by Adam Celeste, but the young lord. It took a while for them to get children, but Eric would end up the father of two curious boys.

Adam Celeste, now retired as a Lord, spent his retirement with Adela while watching over their two grand children. He would at times join a patrol of their fiefs with the knights to confirm the quality of the new guard system, and to make sure the villagers were safe and happy.

Adela, as she always had been, remained a social butterfly. Already guided away from the path of opulence years ago, she had lost her biggest weakness since then, and thus now where the queen was gone and Lady Salender was gone, Adela was the center of social society for the older generation of noble ladies as the society around them began to change. Anyone who resisted the change under her gaze would soon find themselves trapped in her spiteful humiliating schemes, that were as always unchanged. In the years to come, the social circles of the older generations remained vicious, to such a point that the younger generations would fear becoming a part of it.

--- Asher and Alva's Futures ---

As Asher finished his second year at the academy the following spring, Alva was forced to give birth to a healthy baby girl. As Alva refused to push, knowing that her life was over the moment she gave birth either way, the doctors and midwives of the palace had no choice but to get the baby out by force. A bloody and macabre operation that still had a a hundred percent death rate.

As the seasons changed to summer, a small basket with a crying child was found by the door to the knights' dorm house. With it was a letter written by Alva. They had Alva write it back in Headal shortly after they caught her, and now this was in Asher's hands.

The letter was simple. She declared that the child was unwanted, and that she regretted the time they had spent together. The dead refused to talk to him about where Alva had gone after delivering the baby, so he was left with only this and the child.

Emilia herself had delivered the baby together with Jacques. For a while, Jacques had considered keeping the child, but in the end he decided to let Asher have the opportunity to take care of the child that had been born without his knowledge.

The scandal shook the academy. It wasn't unusual for the young knights to go out into the red light district of the city, or mess with the young girls, but this was the first time one of the knights had been given the child. Usually a child born in such sin would have been abandoned or killed. If not that, then hidden far away where they could never be found by curious eyes.

Yet, Asher picked up the small fragile child from the basket and let their eyes meet. Her wails would stop as she looked back up at Asher, and instead a tear filled smile spread on her chubby cheeks.

Among the curious eyes of the other Celeste knights he held the baby girl tightly, and named her Joy. The dorm leader of the Celeste knights would change rooms with Asher for the next nine months until Asher graduated, and a nanny would feed Joy as Asher finished his time at the Academy.

Asher became a doting single father, and would routinely bring Joy with him to work. Be that watching Lily, or training with the other knights of House Celeste or House Tepet. By the time she could walk Joy was the darling of the Tepet knights. She was gentle, smiling and always excited to judge a match from the sidelines.

Asher himself didn't take a woman for many years, but took care of joy instead. His reputation among nobility was far too battered after the scandal to find a noble woman. Even among the commoners he was watched cautiously by the ladies for a few years. The few ladies that were curious were also worried that he might love Joy more than any child that they could give him.

—- Iris and Curtis' Futures —-

When Lily returned from the war, it was a reunion of tears and smiles Iris. Sobbing loudly she had thrown herself at Lily as always, and as always Lily had stopped her easily. Though, this time with a hand which she used to ruffle Iris' hair, while giving a soft smile.

The two remained both distant and yet close as the years passed. Even if Lily had decided to get closer with Iris, it was far too much like an overexcited puppy Iris trying to play and love the grouchy old cat Lily.

Iris remained persistent as always, of course, be it about learning the prayers of gods or about Curtis. However, no matter how persistent you are, your plans don't always pan out the way you want them to. Iris never did manage to call upon Lumere's favors even once.

Despite Lily finally teaching Iris how to call upon the spirits for their attention, it never succeeded. Lily herself wasn't surprised. The ability to sense the gods was the keystone in communicating with them, and if you couldn't communicate, then no prayer would be answered. This ability wasn't a skill, but something you were born with. Just like the purple eyes of those blessed by dark faeries, it was something to see beyond the veil that gods and faeries exist behind.

Of course this didn't stop Iris. Eventually, she did make a contract with a water fairy, but she would still mimic Lily's prayers before she used magic. Lumere had... mixed feelings. While he was asked for permission for being used, his answer technically didn't matter.

When Iris was old enough to enter the academy, she published the 'Theory of Nature's Will' through Emilia without Lily's knowledge. The theory proposed that parts of nature had a will separate from the actions of the faeries, and that this will could overrule the magic of the faeries. When Headal magicians started supporting this due to unpredictable changes in vectors both during the battle at Ice Claw Keep, but also at the Peace Negotiation, the theory started gaining traction. Another researcher proposed that this will was what caused the internal mana explosion when basic elemental fairy magic was used beneficially directly on people.

Iris spent most of her academy days working on proving this theory by finding a way to see or contact what she knew was gods.

Meanwhile Curtis was becoming a fully fledged knight like his brothers, however, unlike his older brothers Curtis never managed to prove himself in battle, earning him no title of his own to keep.

When Iris finally graduated from the academy the two of them married, and were given a ceremony far beyond what their new status would otherwise let them.

They received an old and fairly unkept castle and land south of Celeste Castle in their wedding dowry from Lord Celeste. It was a place that needed a good bit of work as it needed to be reclaimed from the hands of time. Of course, the two of them were both quite stubborn, and the castle would end up being a center of everything Lily would mention that the gods fancied and all of Iris' experiments.

They did travel overseas for about five years where their poor retainer had to take care of their castle, and when they came home they brought along a fierce dark skinned and red haired boy from Crinia that they took as their adoptive son. A couple years later when they got their own son, the fierce kid became a doting and cuddly brother.

That red haired kid would in the future become Lily's first apprentice.

---Mike's Future---

Mike's Point of View

I stare down at the snow covered dirt road passing by beneath my feet. It's midwinter, and the beautiful landscape is covered in white as far as the eye can see... but I find it hard to lift my gaze as we approach my village for the first time since...

I shake my head as I feel my chest tighten up again.

I spent a long time preparing for this. I- I am okay. I'll be able to say it.

I glance towards out Lady riding next to me in the guise of Augustus. She has gone to visit the other families of dead knights already. Rudder's family is the only one left...

I grasp Rudder's sword tighter and feel myself begin to tear up. Merely the thought of their faces makes my chest tighten up and my hands tremble. It's okay. I thought long an hard about how to tell them.

"Mike."

Our Lady calls me with slight worry in her eyes.

"We are here."

I look up.

The snow covered buildings of our village stands before us as we move past the first home. I catch a glimpse of the warmth from a fireplace through one of the windows and quickly look back down as my heart starts hammering.

It's okay. I'm ready.

I'm ready.

"It's Mike!"

I freeze at the bright sound of children's voices calling my name. I look up at the smiling village children that run off in all directions with excitement in their eyes.

"Mike. Which house?"

Lady Lily calls me, and almost in a daze I point towards one of the larger houses... mine is right next to it. She nods and dismounts. Then puts a hand on my back without a word... a quiet, wordless gesture that makes my eyes begin to water. She walks past me, glancing back as she waits for me to follow...

List Chapter

1 - Poisoning

2 - Lily Celeste

3 - The Dinner and The Beginning of Change

4 - A Matter of Sincerity

5 - The Gallery

6 - Unspoken Intentions

7 - Lake Lumere - Part 1

8 - Lake Lumere - Part 2

9 - The First Spell

10 - A Maiden And A Lady

11 - A Tea Party Confrontation

12 - Bittersweet Drops of Jealousy - Part 1

13 - Bittersweet Drops of Jealousy - Part 2

14 - Our Little Secrets

15 - Evening Party at Salender Mansion - Part 1

16 - Evening Party at Salender Mansion - Part 2

17 - Evening Party at Salender Mansion - Part 3

18 - Evening Party at Salender Mansion - Part 4

19 - Ghosts In The Closet - Part 1

20 - Ghosts In The Closet - Part 2

21 - Ghosts In The Closet - Part 3

22 - What We Must Do For Each Other

23 - Smooth Preparations

24 - The Obligations of Nobility

25 - Rei

26 - Asher Baker

27 - The Commander

28 - A Hero and A Heroine

29 - Beneath The Ashes - Part 1

30 - Beneath The Ashes - Part 2

31 - In The Shadow You Cast - Part 1

32 - In The Shadow You Cast - Part 2

33 - Siege on Celeste Castle - Part 1

34 - Siege on Celeste Castle - Part 2

35 - Siege on Celeste Castle - Part 3

36 - Siege on Celeste Castle - Part 4

37 - The Wolf's Honor

38 - A Hero and Their Lord

39 - Strengths and Weaknesses

40 - Consequences - Part 1

41 - Consequences - Part 2

42 - Fragile Situations - Part 1

43 - Fragile Situations - Part 2

44 - Fragile Situations - Part 3

45 - Let The Sleepy Wolf Lie

46 - The First Dreams

Intermission 1

48 - The Beginning of A New Journey

49 - Behind The Opening Scene

50 - The Main Villainess - Part 1

51 - The Main Villainess - Part 2

52 - The Main Villainess - Part 3

53 - Scars and Truths - Part 1

54 - Scars and Truths - Part 2

55 - Scars and Truths - Part 3

56 - Veering Off The Path

57 - Cookies

58 - Vows and Loyalty - Part 1

59 - Vows and Loyalty - Part 2

60 - Gilbert Salender

61 - Privileges and Obligations - Part 1

62 - Privileges and Obligations - Part 2

63 - The Secrets In A Dance - Part 1

64 - The Secrets In A Dance - Part 2

65 - Secret Malice

66 - Boundaries

67 - Helena Fox and The Villainess

68 - Old Fashioned Or Cruel

69 - Flower of Headal

70 - Cruel Reality

71 - Honor and Shame - Part 1

72 - Honor And Shame - Part 2

73 - Honor And Shame - Part 3

74 - Honor And Shame - Part 4

75 - Arrival of Summer

76 - Distance

77 - Secrets of Villains - Part 1

78 - Secrets of Villains - Part 2

79 - Love In The Present

80 - The Spymaster

81 - Evening Meeting

82 - Departure

83 - The March - Part 1

84 - The March - Part 2

85 - The March - Part 3

86 - The March - Part 4

87 - The March - Part 5

88 - A Doki Doki Epilogue?

89 - Whispers - Part 1

90 - Whispers - Part 2

91 - Flowers and Kittens

92 - Distrust

93 - Lions and Shadows

94 - Choices That Must Be Made

95 - Little Truths - Part 1

96 - Little Truths - Part 2

97 - Little Truths - Part 3

98 - Into The Skies - Part 1

99 - Into The Skies - Part 2

100 - Into The Skies - Part 3

101 - The Field of Death - Part 1

102 - The Field of Death - Part 2

103 - Making Amends

104 - Our Liege

105 - Contracts

106 - Companions

107 - Punishment and Determination

108 - Pointless Arguing

109 - Labyrinth - Part 1

110 - Labyrinth - Part 2

111 - Labyrinth - Part 3

112 - Labyrinth - Part 4

113 - Not One of Us - Part 1

114 - Not One of Us - Part 2

115 - One of Us - Part 1

116 - One of Us - Part 2

117 - One of Us - Part 3

118 - One of Us - Part 4

119 - A Game, a Novel and a Reality - Part 1

120 - A Game, a Novel and a Reality - Part 2

121 - Between The Lines - Part 1

122 - Between The Lines - Part 2

123 - Your Actions and My Response

124 - Prelude to Decision - The Fallen's Part

125 - Headal's First Part

126 - Headal's Second Part

127 - Helena and Jesmaine's First Part

128 - Helena and Jesmaine's Second Part

129 - Helena and Jesmaine's Third Part

130 - Helena and Jesmaine's Final Part

131 - Faded Smiles

132 - Soldier's Choice

133 - House Tepet's Choice - Part 1

134 - House Tepet's Choice - Part 2

135 - Informing House Stanbell

136 - Choices of the Minor Nobles

137 - Their Doubts and His Letter

138 - Loyalist

139 - The Crumbling Net

140 - Returning Home - Part 1

141 - Returning Home - Part 2

142 - Returning Home - Part 3

143 - Returning Home - Part 4

144 - Iris Celeste

145 - The Meeting of Wind and Water - Part 1

146 - The Meeting of Wind and Water - Part 2

147 - The Meeting of Wind and Water - Part 3

148 - The Meeting of Wind and Water - Part 4

149 - My Last Goodbyes

150 - A Promise of Fealty

151 - Violation of Contract

152 - A Path of Prosperity Drenched in Blood

153 - Even Beyond Death We Stand Together - Part 1

154 - Even Beyond Death We Stand Together - Part 2

155 - Choosing a Future

156 - To Those Left Behind

157 - Aftermaths and Beginnings

158 - Magdalin

159 - Conflicting Emotions

160 - Behind The Curtains - Part 1

161 - Behind The Curtains - Part 2

162 - Brothers

163 - Peace Talks - Part 1

164 - Peace Talks - Part 2

165 - Peace Talks - Part 3

166 - Unheard

167 - A Chain of Unfortunate Events

168 - More Than Just Characters

169 - Pent Up Emotions

170 - A Request

171 - Trapped

172 - Not As Planned

173 - Afterwords