Special Episode 1: Seven Years Ago - Part 3 (Tension to the Fore)
Special Episode 1
Seven Years Ago
Part 3 - Tension to the Fore
Seven Years Ago
Part 3 - Tension to the Fore
Melchior couldn't sleep.
Nearly a week had passed since the mission at Yew Gulch in which Dalibor had suffered a grievous injury that left him comatose. Following that, he was placed in the care of one of the hospitals of Iria, and the Guild, along with Cornelia and the Grimmhatt orphans, had been told of what had happened. The response was shock followed by subsequent anger and grim seriousness from Mitrofan and the other Guild members, and an eruption of tears from Cornelia and the orphans upon being told the sad news. It wasn't an experience Melchior and Kallias wished to repeat, telling them of that tragic event.
Since then, over the last week, three notable events occurred, and each of them played out in the Swampert's head.
The first happened the morning after their return to Iria following the Yew Gulch mission.
"Um, Kallias, Melchior? Marshal Yuliya wants to speak with you."
Nikita was the one to say this, after knocking on the door of Team Marshwood' dormitory. The duo looked ragged - proof that neither had slept well.
"Marshal Yuliya?" Kallias said, wiping sleep from his eyes. "Right. We'll be out at once."
"Okay. She's waiting in the Guildmaster's office." With that, the Cubone left.
After a quick thrust of water on their faces, Kallias and Melchior made their way to Mitrofan's office. There, the Furret awaited, along with Mitrofan.
"Good morning, you two," the latter greeted.
"Morning, Mitrofan. And good morning, Marshal Yuliya," Kallias returned. "What brings you here so early in the morning?"
"Yes, apologies about the earliness," Yuliya replied. "But I wanted to get this information off my chest. It's about that map you presented to us that you found among those outlaws' possessions in Yew Gulch."
"Yes…the map of Iria," Melchior recalled. "What of it?"
Yuliya unfurled that same piece of parchment on Mitrofan's desk. "These markings," she gestured to each of the marks located at various points around the capital. "We've figured out what they're referring to."
"And they would be…?"
The Furret's expression became serious when she revealed the answer.
"Wells? As in to collect water from…?" Kallias's voice trailed off as the horrifying realisation of what this fact meant to the case at hand came to him.
"Y-You don't mean…!" Mitrofan seemed to have come to the same conclusion, judging by his perturbed look.
"It seems to be," Yuliya said. "It seems to be a plan to poison the wells of Iria. If such a plan succeeded, many of our citizens would fall ill from it."
"But not just them!" Melchior pointed out. "There'll be a whole host of different people at the jubilee this week! People from all across the country…and foreign dignitaries and leaders, too! Not to mention…" A fearful look came into his eye. "...Loved ones, too."
"Oh…will your family be coming to the jubilee, Melchior?" Yuliya asked.
"No," Melchior blurted quickly. Kallias caught the split second flash of pain across the Swampert's face, and understood. "But…my wife will be there."
"And our own wives and children will also be at the jubilee," Kallias added, gesturing to him and Mitrofan.
"That means…" Mitrofan spoke grimly. "...That should this plan go through, our own families may be in danger."
"We could always tell them to stay at home. But…I can't very well do that. Elvira's been looking forward to the jubilee for months, as has Zenobia. It'd be a crushing blow to them if I told them they couldn't enjoy the festivities."
"Likewise, we could hardly cancel the jubilee over this, could we?" murmured Mitrofan. "So many logistics have been put in place for the day that it would be impossible to call it all off. I can only imagine the rebuke we would get from nobles, Branislav and House Ruslan for even suggesting the idea. That would be a greater blow to our name than anything else we've had thrown our way."
"True." Yuliya nodded in understanding. "...Well, we have to work with the jubilee's logistics, whether we like it or not. It will no doubt be made all the more difficult with the crowds. The possibility of the fugitives behind this blending in with the throng of citizens is a possibility that we can't deny.
"But we in the knights of Iria will act vigilantly! In the name of His Majesty, we shall see to it that your families, and all the citizens of Iria will not be endangered by the nefarious plots of this underground group! I, Marshal Yuliya of House Lysagora, swear this on my name!" She held up her right fist in the salute of the Selenian knights. "I will allocate knights to defend the wells marked on this map. No invaders will be able to taint their waters. I don't care if it means sullying my name with the other knights, cooperating with mercenaries. Their criticisms will mean nothing if it means saving the lives of countless civilians."
"Glad you're able to see the bigger picture, Marshal," Mitrofan praised. "I look forward to having your support."
"Yours too, Guildmaster Mitrofan," returned the Furret, before making her way to the exit. "...Oh, before I go. Thank you very much for unearthing this plot. We may be able to avoid a major calamity thanks to the handiwork of you, Team Marshwood."
"Anything if it means making our nation safer," returned Kallias. "You needn't worry. Our goals are perfectly aligned."
"Indeed they are. …Farewell. I look forward to our cooperation."
And with that, Yuliya left.
The second event happened three days after the mission, and two days after the first one.
Kallias and Melchior were having some dinner cooked by Aldebrand. But just as they finished up and gave their trays to the shelled dragon, Nikita came up to them.
"Um, Melchior? Kallias?" the Cubone asked, a very nervous look on his face and pressing his forefingers together. "Could you come to the main area? There's…something you need to be there for. Guildmaster's orders."
"...Of course," Kallias replied, with a slight frown. Nikita's expression didn't invite confidence that this would be good. "We'll be there at once."
"Thanks." Nikita turned and left. Team Marshwood followed him to the assembly area, where a sight awaited them.
Mitrofan stood, awaiting the duo. But so was a small group of knights, and between three of them, Spiridon stood, with his hands behind his back.
The Hawlucha had been suspended until further notice by Mitrofan due to his actions at Yew Gulch. It hadn't been a surprise to him or Team Marshwood, but Spiridon was still assigned tasks within the Guild, usually under the watchful eye of another - usually Helena, Aldebrand, Krim or Nikita. However, as punishment, he wasn't allowed to leave the Guild unless approved by the Guildmaster himself.
However, seeing the avian handcuffed by the knights, both members of Team Marshwood had the same guess as to what might have happened to have warranted this.
"Team Marshwood," Mitrofan acknowledged. "...You've no doubt connected the dots as to what's happening here."
"Well, just in case…why are you arresting Spiridon?" Kallias asked the Nidoqueen who appeared to be leading the group of knights.
"...It relates to one of the outlaws that was captured by the Guild members that partook in a mission at Yew Gulch in the Nagoria oblast," the Nidoqueen lieutenant explained. "A Perrserker named Perdido."
"Yes…what about him?" Kallias had a sneaking suspicion he knew what was coming next.
"...As you testified before, Spiridon had plunged his head into the vat of poison, with the intent to 'get revenge', as was stated by you both. In doing so, Perdido ingested some of the poisonous liquid, and a fair quantity at that.
"He fell ill not long after coming into our custody. He suffered from a high fever, sweats, stomach pains and vomiting. His condition only deteriorated over time. And this afternoon…" She paused briefly. "...He passed away, most likely from the poison."
"...'Most likely'?" Melchior echoed.
"An autopsy hasn't yet been performed on him," explained the Nidoqueen. "But the poison he ingested is the likeliest possibility. And as for who made him ingest it…" Her gaze fell to Spiridon. "...A charge of murder is being levied against him."
"...I…" Spiridon faltered, but he was interrupted by Kallias.
"I did warn you in Yew Gulch that letting your emotions get the better of you would lead to doing something you would regret," the Sceptile said with evident disappointment. "And now look." He gestured to him. "Being arrested for murder."
"But I…!" The Hawlucha tried to come up with a counterargument, but it died at his lips.
"...A great shame it came to this, Spiridon," lamented Mitrofan. "And at a time when the Guild's image is coming into sharp focus. If the leaders all around Ardalion heard that a murderer was mixed in with the Guild's ranks, then that would be a massive detriment to our name. It would be a convenient excuse for the nobles and knights that resent our presence to move to restrict the freedom we have right now. That's the last thing the Guild needs."
Spiridon flinched at the stern look of the Aggron. "...I-I'm sorry, Mitt!" he cried. The reminder of how his actions impacted the Guild made him blink with tears. "I never considered the Guild…I acted way out of line. I really made a mess of things, didn't I…?" He sniffled, trying to rein in his emotions.
"...I don't like to rebuke a good friend of mine like this," murmured Mitrofan. "But it must be done. As Guildmaster, I must consider the Guild's welfare and reputation above all. I can't pretend what you've done isn't a hammer blow to that."
"Mmm." Kallias nodded in agreement, as did Melchior.
"...But Spiridon?" Mitrofan continued, drawing everyone's attention.
"...Yes, Mitt?" Spiridon asked, his voice strained by his emotions.
"...We will get to the bottom of this," he vowed. "This whole episode has sent Dalibor into a coma and you into prison. It's a twisting, pernicious evil that's bubbling under the surface. For your sakes…I will bring it to the light."
"Mitt…" The Hawlucha swallowed the lump in his throat. "...Thanks. Thank you…"
"...It's all I can do," the Aggron replied. "That's all I have to say. Take him away, Lieutenant Ludmila."
"Hmph." The Nidoqueen turned to her fellow knights. "Take him away, men. Hop to it!"
"Yes, ma'am!" saluted the rest of the knights, before moving to take Spiridon away to the nearest prison.
All three watched them, Mitrofan's words to Spiridon going through in their heads.
…Yes. We will not allow this evil to derail the jubilee.
Finally, the third event happened a day after Spiridon's arrest, and two days before the jubilee.
"...Yes, I think that would be for the best," Kallias agreed. "There's just too much riding on this to be able to perform our duties properly."
"I could tell," Melchior said. "You definitely have your focus elsewhere when we're in practice for this."
"Well, that's a bummer." Rufina was with them, and didn't sound thrilled by the proposed changes. "The kids'll be sad not to see us there. But, hey…I get your point. "
"So we're all in agreement, then," Mitrofan surmised. "Very well. I'll present this proposition to Marshal Branislav. …Nikita, if you could?" he asked the Cubone off to the side.
"Of course, Guildmaster Mitrofan," obliged Nikita, taking the letter and exiting the office.
Some time passed before a reply was issued. And much to their surprise…it was delivered by none other than the Sirfetch'd himself, along with a small retinue of knights. And among them was the same Nidoqueen lieutenant that had escorted Spiridon away a few days prior.
Perhaps not to their surprise was the attitude with which he responded.
"My, my, this is a surprise." The bird knight sounded awfully smug and wore an expression to match. Instantly, Teams Marshwood and Silver Axe, along with Nikita who was with them, found an irrational want for him to get this over with. "Both Team Marshwood and Team Silver Axe are dropping out of the parade?"
"That is correct," Mitrofan affirmed. "It was a collective decision by all members of Team Marshwood and Team Silver Axe." He gestured to himself, Rufina, Kallias and Melchior. "It has become apparent that a group existing in the shadows is planning an operation to contaminate the waters of Iria. Most likely, it will happen during the jubilee, when the capital will have throngs of people enjoying the jubilee celebrations. If the wells are poisoned…the level of sickness will be unimaginable."
"And we know for a fact that this is a deadly poison," Kallias reinforced. "Sickness would be putting it lightly. You would have death on a massive scale. Everyone, no matter their class, would be affected. It would be nothing short of disastrous if their plans were allowed to succeed." If one thing had been gained from Spiridon's actions, it was that they could indeed confirm that this poison was deadly to those who ingested it.
"Hah! Bluster!" Branislav insinuated. "You mercenaries plainly see the attendance in His Majesty's parade as too daunting for your freelancing ways! This is your attempted justification at downplaying your fear! Who in their right mind would have the gall to abandon their place in His Majesty's parade? Only a coward, that's who!"
"You plainly don't understand," Kallias replied, feeling his annoyance increase. He tried his best not to let it show. "Are you aware of what we have uncovered? Did Marshal Yuliya not inform you?"
"Of course I did. She made it plain to His Majesty and Marshal Trokhym as well," the Sirfetch'd replied. "But that is nothing we knights cannot handle! Besides, we cannot very well unfold all that we have prepared! It would be an insult to bow to this threat! As they say in the theatre, the show must go on. His Majesty's parade will go ahead, no matter what happens! To even think of rejecting such an honour…you mock His Majesty's name and spit on it!"
"I beg your pardon, Branislav." Mitrofan's tone was definitely more curt. "This has nothing to do with offending His Majesty. On the contrary, we seek to quash this threat before it can derail his jubilee."
"Rubbish," scoffed Branislav. "Do you think us knights incapable of resolving such matters, Guildmaster Mitrofan? …How typical of mercenaries. Never bound by loyalty to His Majesty, and skiving off their duties whenever they feel like it. No honour, this lot! Always trying to outdo us at every turn and undermine our honourable name!" he ranted to his knights.
"...It's like you never even heard what we just said," Rufina said, shaking her head in annoyance. "This is our case! We mercenaries were the ones that uncovered this plot, so we should be the ones to put it to rest! And especially these two - " She gestured to Team Marshwood. " - Who you all desperately want to be in the parade because they're the real ones that gather all the clout and made all these people come to Iria in the first place!"
Melchior was getting worried. Oh dear…she's getting fired up, he thought. Please don't go too far with this, Rufina…
"What? ...Such insolence," growled Branislav. Behind him, some of the other knights glared at the Haxorus. "Do you know who you're talking to, madam?"
"Of course I do," fired back Rufina. "A snobbish brat who happened to become a marshal because his dear old daddy happened to do a favour at the right time for the tsar. Someone who'd barely seen a glimpse of training as a cadet, suddenly made a marshal in the blink of an eye!"
"Y-You dare insult me like this?!" the Sirfetch'd spluttered.
"Yes, I do!" the Haxorus returned, before turning to the group of knights accompanying the knight. "Is this the kind of man you lot take orders from? I gotta say…I pity you all. You deserve better than this sad sack who hides behind his authority and uses it to mock others lower than him over the pettiest of things. Yuliya's good, and so is Trokhym, but him?" She pointed to Branislav. "He's a coward and a bully who doesn't deserve to be where he is today!"
"Silence, you uncivil woman! You dare to vilify - "
"Shut up," Rufina instantly shut down. "Listen here, you all." She continued directing her speech at Branislav's knights. "Those aren't rumours about how he became marshal - it's the damn truth! …Isn't that just sad? Think about it - all of those days, months, maybe even years training to rise in the ranks, only to find you've been bypassed by a lord's son who's barely seen combat in his life."
As Melchior had feared, she had pulled no punches. And her opponent looked apoplectic with rage.
"...Guildmaster Mitrofan." Branislav turned icily to the Aggron. "Does your partner's insolence know no bounds? Are you going to be responsible and rein her in as a leader should?"
Mitrofan considered the marshal's question before uttering his reply.
"...I beg your pardon?" The Sirfetch'd did a double take.
"Mitrofan?" Melchior looked over in shock and confusion at the guildmaster. This is new. He's not reining in Rufina this time?
Kallias, meanwhile, knew the look in the Aggron's eye. Hmm, this might be interesting. Let's just hope Mitt doesn't take it too far…
"My next words are not for you, Branislav, but for your fellow knights," Mitrofan told the Sirfetch'd, before turning to the group of knights accompanying him. Clearing his throat, he began.
"Within the Knights of Selenia, I am aware that there is friction between us. I am also aware of the fundamental distrust that exists in the knights towards us. A fear of being undermined, a fear of being recognised as second best by His Majesty Tsar Kliment. And in recent times, some in the knights, and also the noble houses of Selenia have accused us of purposefully interfering with the jubilee celebrations. I wish to set the record straight, and for you all to hear the lips from the Guildmaster himself.
"Let it be known that I have no issue with working with the Knights of Selenia. I am perfectly happy to cooperate with the knights in the setup of the celebrations of His Majesty's silver jubilee. And many of the mercenaries of this Guild share this view. Though there exists friction, there have been many cases where we have worked together without trouble. Marshal Yuliya, for instance, has been cooperative, as has Marshal Trokhym on the few occasions when we have worked together with him. House Ruslan, too, has been greatly supportive of our efforts, and the personal word from His Highness Prince Kasimir is that he wishes this cooperative spirit between the knights and mercenaries to continue beyond the jubilee. I, too, wish for this. And no doubt there are many knights that wish for this too.
"However…a certain someone - a leading light in the knights, at that - has done nothing but stymie our efforts to cooperate." Mitrofan turned to glare at Branislav. "I have seen to it that the anti-knight rhetoric is dialled down within my Guild, in order to ensure greater cooperation. But I have received a number of complaints from my mercenaries, rookie and veteran alike, of your continued derision and insults towards them. Evidently, you haven't done the same. You seek to keep stirring the pot, for what purpose I cannot fathom. This can only hinder the jubilee's preparations, and worsen our relations. And now, when I ask for your understanding over why we do not wish to participate in the jubilee parade, with no insult to His Majesty's name…you intend to twist into that very thing.
"I have held my tongue at your insults long enough, Marshal Branislav. But when you seek to personally mock good friends of mine within the Guild…then I can no longer ignore your words. You have crossed a line. And so, I will not condemn Rufina for what she has said. Because you deserve every insult thrown your way by her."
MItrofan's words were icy and cold. But the sudden change in tone next shocked everyone in the room.
"…Petulant, petty, pathetic. That is no attitude for one of the most prestigious men in the country to have!" he suddenly thundered. "Rufina is quite correct! You are unworthy of the title of marshal! And these honourable men and women do not deserve to be under your command! Now act like a man worthy of your title and recognise this danger that faces Iria! Because if you don't, then all those people you swore to protect when you took your oath as a knight will perish in a painful and horrible death! An infant could see the peril! If you have even the slightest devotion to your people, then you will allow us to withdraw from the parade! And if you do not do this, then I will raise the issue with His Majesty himself! Then we'll see just how much your authority means in the face of the tsar! Have I made myself clear, Branislav?!"
…The silence was deafening in the aftermath of this. Everyone, be they mercenary or knight, gawped at the Guildmaster's rant. They had no idea at the start of his speech to Branislav's subordinates that it would descend into this. Even the knights could appreciate the sheer authority that radiated from Mitrofan in that moment. It was as if they were being faced with the wrath of a veteran general - and by the looks on each of their faces, the knights plainly had never been at the receiving end of such an authoritative wrath. Certainly, Branislav had never mustered such genuine fury, and probably never would.
(Perhaps the most stunned of them was the Nidoqueen lieutenant, who couldn't tear her gaze from Mitrofan in the aftermath of what had happened.)
The Aggron's wrath, however, was a sign that he had come to the end of his rope with the Sirfetch'd. All Guild members recognised this, and so Kallias spoke up.
"...The Guildmaster's normally a very patient man," he spoke. "To drive him to what we just saw…it's plain as day that a line has been crossed. I don't care for what kind of authority Marshal Branislav has. This wouldn't have happened if not for him."
"...I think it's best you all left," Melchior advised. "Let His Majesty know of our wish to withdraw, and the honest reasons for it. It's best we remain apart for a while until things have settled down here."
The knights looked at each other. A wordless understanding was reached between them, and so they turned to leave. Branislav's look on his face betrayed his wounded pride, and he gave Mitrofan a meaningful glare as he went to climb the ladder. The Aggron returned it.
Once they were gone, Rufina let out a snicker.
"Wow, Mitt. I forgot you could get that angry. And what a speech, too!" She gave a few light claps.
"Yeah…Y-You stood up to him really well, Guildmaster," praised Nikita.
"...It's nothing worthy of praise," Mitrofan downplayed, taking deep breaths to calm himself down after that catharsis.
"Mmm...as much as I hate to admit it, you have a point," Kallias said. "Branislav won't be forgetting that easily. And I don't think many of the lords would take kindly to that evisceration by words to a marshal, especially a darling in their eyes like him."
"...Let's just hope nothing boils over on jubilee day," Melchior said hopefully.
Melchior tried and tried to fall asleep. But with these thoughts swirling around in his head, it was plain that it wasn't going to happen anytime soon.
"...Can't sleep?" a voice said to him in the dark. Turning over in the bed, the Swampert saw his wife staring at him.
"Paulina? …I'm sorry I woke you up," he apologised.
"It's okay, Mel," the Meganium assured. "...Is it this whole mission that's keeping you up?"
"...Yeah, it is."
"...It must be a great burden, having a week like that pass you by."
"...It is. To think, in a week, I've had a friend put into a coma, another friend arrested for murder, and my guildmaster erupt into a fury like nothing I've ever seen from him," Melchior reflected. "And then there's the biggest burden of all…this whole plot."
"...How evil," Paulina remarked, shuddering. "Death on a scale like that…I shudder to think what will happen if these mysterious people manage to succeed in their plans."
"...That's also it, too. If anything, that's probably keeping me up more than anything else," confessed Melchior. "...It's really occurring to me now just how big the stakes are if we fail. If they win…then many people will die. Hundreds, thousands…" He began to quiver. "...It scares me. It really does."
"They won't win," Paulina encouraged. "Not when they're faced with you and Kallias. They'll easily be defeated by you two! …Oh, and don't worry about me. I brought spring water from Serykholm to use tomorrow. Zenobia did the same."
The Swampert couldn't help but sigh. He was glad for the Meganium's encouragement. But it still didn't deter his nerves. It wasn't as if the problem disappeared at her motivating words
He reached over, therefore, and hugged his wife in a longing for comfort. Sensing his stress, Paulina let him embrace her, and she wrapped some of her vines around him. Normally, the mudfish hated this - he was a Water/Ground-type, after all - but when it was Paulina doing it, it was okay.
He didn't cry. He felt emotional, but not enough that tears fell. The stress of last week, as well as the comfort of his wife, helped bring him to this point.
At that point, he closed his eyes, and said a silent prayer in his head.
Thank the heavens for Paulina. For her sake, as well as everyone else in Iria…please let luck be on our side tomorrow.
Today was the day.
Many in the Tsardom of Selenia had been looking forward to this day. It was a day that would be marked as a monumental occasion in history. A celebration of their leader, focusing on his past achievements, his present good health, and hopes that the future would herald more prosperous tidings for their lands.
On this day twenty-five years ago, Kliment Nikiforovich Ruslan became leader of House Ruslan and ascended to become the tsar of Selenia. Twenty-five years later, he was to be lauded by the nobles and commoners under his rule, as well as foreign dignitaries from Alba, Dresilia and Miletos.
Many travelled to Iria to be a part of this historic occasion. The nights prior to jubilee day saw large groups of visitors travel to the capital, and inns and taverns across Iria repeatedly reported to travellers that they were long since full. Undeterred, many visitors simply camped out on the streets or outside the city walls.
Kallias and Melchior were aware of this. Therefore, they told their wives to come to Iria sooner to avoid the chaos. Paulina and Zenobia, along with Elvira, were accommodated in Mitrofan and Rufina's house in town two days before the jubilee. The members of Team Silver Axe were all too happy to help them out, and Rufina was eager to catch up with the two of them, as was Elvira with Stiliyan and Nevena.
Meanwhile, their husbands stayed at the Guild, except for the night before the Guild, when they temporarily relocated to Rufina's house and spent the night in bed with their wives. When morning came, they, their wives, and children, all had a big breakfast in preparation for the day ahead of them.
"So you two and Dad are on a big, top secret mission?" Stiliyan asked Team Marshwood, his eyes wide with curiosity.
"Yes. And one with very high stakes," Kallias informed. "If we fail…then there'll be grave consequences for the people coming for the celebrations today."
"...W-Will something bad happen?" Nevena timidly asked, looking over at her parents.
"No, it won't," scoffed Rufina. "You're looking at the finest men of the country right here. They'll stop whatever hare-brained plans these maniacs have come up with." She stopped to feed some food to Luka.
"...Was that why you three have been holed up in the Guild for the last two days?" presumed Zenobia.
"Yes," Kallias confirmed. "We've been trying out all sorts of plans for what these fugitives might do. Mind you…it might all be for nothing. Marshal Yuliya has kindly diverted some knights to guard the wells marked on that map. They might well abandon it now that we know of their plan. But I'd bet a sizable chunk that these people won't give up in trying to derail the jubilee. If these are pragmatic people - which I wouldn't be surprised if they were - "
"Or desperate," interrupted Rufina.
"...Yes, or if they're desperate, then they might abandon that plan and try something else," Kallias finished, glossing over the Haxorus's interjection.
"...Oh yeah…it's like what you told me, Dad," Stiliyan said. "Just as heroes never give up, villains don't give up easily either."
"Quite right, my boy," Mitrofan replied. "A good lesson in persistence. You'll hopefully learn that when you become a mercenary in your time."
"Yeah…Can't wait to become one." The Axew looked psyched. "Then I'll be like you guys, taking on top secret missions like this thing you're doing right now!"
"...Be careful what you wish for, Stiliyan," his father warned. "If you were in my position right now, you would want no part in it. It's been a stressful affair, with harm dealt to good friends of ours in Team Hair Trigger. It's led to me being rebuked by His Majesty and House Lada for raging at Branislav. And all the while, I'm reminded of the calamity that will be inbound if we can't stop these evildoers."
"...Don't put him off, Mitt," Kallias joked, in an attempt to lighten the mood and paint a brighter picture for the children in the room. "The boy won't ever want to become a merc again with what you're telling him. Look on the bright side. If we win…then we'll have averted a major crisis. We have to look at it like that. If you believe we'll lose, then we'll lose. We gotta keep our chins up. Not just for our sakes, but for our little ones too." He looked at the four kids around the table in acknowledgment. "We will win. Don't worry about us today. You just focus on enjoying the day for what it is."
"...Sure, Dad," Elvira said. "It's sad we can't see you and Melchior in the parade, but…you have important work to do instead. And because of it, you're gonna save everyone in Iria."
"Don't let nerves get to you, dear. I know you can do it," Zenobia encouraged. "You're one of the best mercs out there. And you too, Melchior," she said to the Swampert. "These villains won't win against you!"
"You can count on us," promised Kallias. "We'll have this whole mess sorted out by day's end."
"And we'll look after the kids," Paulina said.
"Sure as hell we will. I'm not letting one of those freaks lay their hands on them if it ever comes to it!" vowed Rufina. "They'll be safe as houses with us."
"...Right then." Kallias rose from his seat. "We have all the materials, yes?"
"We do," Melchior affirmed, going over to where their mercenaries' bag was located.
"...A-Actually, wait, Dad," Elvira interrupted. "Um...Mom and I have something for you."
"Oh yes, of course. I nearly forgot," Zenobia realised. "Hang on. We'll get them for you." The mother and daughter duo disappeared to their bedroom.
They returned with a small bag, and gave it to Kallias. He looked inside, and was staggered by what he saw.
"Zen! These are…"
"I know. Elvira found them being sold by a Dresilian merchant in Ozerograd earlier in the week. Given what we were hearing from you, we figured it would help you on this mission. You and Melchior are the most capable men I know. But…it couldn't hurt to have it. A contingency plan for if things become awry."
"...Thank you." Kallias felt touched. "I don't know if we'll use them, but…we'll certainly take them." He gave them to Melchior, who put it into the bag. After that, he gave the Heliolisk a big hug.
"Stay safe," she urged.
"I will. We'll come back with a heroic story to tell," the Sceptile promised. "...Now then. Let's go."
And Team Marshwood, followed by Mitrofan, headed out the front door.
The moment they stepped out into the street, the three mercenaries could immediately sense the change in atmosphere to a joyous one. The houses along the street were all decorated and repainted in preparation for jubilee day. Even those who didn't have the highest respect for Tsar Kliment saw it as a chance to get their houses redone. Rufina was one such person, and saw to it that the house looked presentable to any onlookers. Some banners, bunting, and other such decorations were hung up to fit in with the general look of the street they lived on.
There were also a number of people lining the streets. Not suffocatingly so, but there were certainly enough to make a misanthrope's skin crawl. Thankfully, they were all neighbours of Mitrofan and Rufina, and knew something of the situation he was in. Of course, they didn't know the full details, but they knew the sort of person Mitrofan was. If he had bowed out of something as honourable as the tsar's jubilee parade, then he most likely had good reason for doing it.
Therefore, not many people batted an eye when he appeared out of his home with Team Marshwood. On the front doorstep stood a familiar figure.
"Hello, Guildmaster Mitrofan," greeted Nikita, a happy smile on his face upon seeing the Aggron.
"You too, Nikita," Mitrofan returned. He then turned to Team Marshwood. "...Well, you two, this is where we separate for now. I'll scour the western side of town for any suspicious activity, You do the east."
"Right. Understood," Kallias obliged. "We'll see you later."
"See you. Oh, and…" Mitrofan paused to add, with a serious look on his face, "...Take care out there. We know these brutes are not afraid to murder. And after the way you took down two of their operations…I would rather you not meet a fate like Dalibor or Spiridon did."
"..." Team Marshwood's faces grew solemn in remembrance of what happened in the past week.
"...Please don't fall victim to them." The Aggron's tone sounded almost pleading. "Consider it an order as your Guildmaster…and as your friend."
"...You don't have to worry, Mitrofan," Kallias assured. "If these brutes think they can outsmart us, then they've got another thing coming."
"That's right," Melchior seconded. "We'll see to it that their plans never come to fruition. Not today, not ever!"
"...Good. With your determination, I know we'll win this." Mitrofan turned to leave with Nikita. "I wish you the best of luck." And with that, he headed left down the street.
"Well, let's get going," Kallias said to Melchior. "I say we monitor those wells marked on the map." He took out a map - an illustrated replica of the one he'd retrieved from the Yew Gulch mission. "Let's see…all along here." He pointed to the wells in Iria's eastern half. This had already been discussed in the planning they'd done with Mitrofan over the past week, once they'd learned the information about the map from Yuliya.
The duo set out, down the streets. They took quieter routes that didn't have as many people on them, so they wouldn't draw as big of a crowd if they were noticed, and subsequently interrogated by people on the street. They mostly avoided blatant scrutiny, thankfully.
Still…that didn't mean they didn't receive a number of odd looks as they walked down the streets. A number of whispers were overheard by them.
"There they go…"
"Why aren't they gonna be in the parade? People would kill for that!"
"Now, dear, don't be that way. You know what they're like. There must be an important mission or something that means they can't make it."
"...Important enough to miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity like that? …That kinda sucks. The little ones were looking forward to seeing them in the parade…"
Melchior couldn't help but feel slightly downcast at hearing this last remark. His partner happened to notice this.
"...You okay, Melchior?" he asked.
"...Yes. It's just…I fear many people will be disappointed not to see the two of us in the parade," the Swampert replied. "I wouldn't be surprised if people travelled to Iria just to see us, and they didn't get the memo that we had dropped out of the parade."
"...Well, nothing we can do about that now," Kallias returned. "...If they knew what we were doing, they wouldn't be questioning it."
"But it's not like we can tell them," Melchior mourned. "The last thing we want to do is start a panic."
"We've kept missions secret before, Melchior," Kallias reminded. "This is just another one of those instances."
"...Right," the Swampert murmured as the trio marched onwards.
Without incident, the duo made it to the first well. There stood two knights, who stood attentively and watchfully, looking out for any suspicious activity. This had been an arrangement by Marshal Yuliya, who had met Team Marshwood and Mitrofan the day before, which notably, was the day after the latter's outburst against Branislav. Yuliya had been quick to apologise for his behaviour, and doubled down on aid to the Guild in this mission. As such, she assigned a number of knights to guard each of the wells marked on the map retrieved in Yew Gulch. It took quite a bit of convincing from Trokhym and especially Branislav to arrange this, but it was eventually approved.
"Oh, it's Team Marshwood," said one of the knights, a Dewott.
"We haven't found anything out of place, before you ask," the other knight, a Sunflora, added.
"Really? Nothing at all?" Melchior asked. "Nothing suspicious?"
"Nuh-uh." The Dewott shook his head. "Nothing or no one suspicious. A few passersby going about their business, at best. But it's been all quiet here."
"Right," noted Kallias. "Thank you for telling us."
And with that, Team Marshwood departed for the next well on their side of town. With all of them, it was a similar story; the assigned knights at each well reported no oddities. And on their own, they didn't spot anything strange or out of the ordinary. (Apart from the atmosphere of jubilance due to the day's celebrations, of course.)
Once they had done a sweeping search on their side of town, Melchior couldn't help but feel discouraged.
"...I really hope we haven't made a mistake here," he said worriedly. "Are we sure those villains will strike today? Or have they aborted their plans?"
"...It's too early to come to that conclusion," Kallias replied. "It might seem like paranoia, what we're doing. But if we slacken our efforts, then they will strike, and the people here today won't be so jovial any more."
"…You know, we still haven't answered that question," the Swampert pointed out. "Who are we chasing here? We know it's an underground association of some kind. But we don't have a name for these people, much less their motivations. What drives them? What could they possibly be after? And why would they try to mass murder so many people?"
"...I can't answer that," Kallias replied regretfully. "But with people with ambitions like that…I don't know if it's worth trying to figure out such a psychotic mindset. I can appreciate convincing petty criminals to abandon their ways, but…I can't accept anyone who would even contemplate such a plan."
"Nor would I," Melchior sighed. He then looked up at the sky. "...It's not quite noon yet."
"…We should meet up with Mitrofan at some point," Kallias replied. "See if he has anything to report."
"That's a good idea. …Let's do some more searching for clues on our side of town, before we meet him."
And so they did that. But this venture yielded no further leads for the Master Rank team. Not feeling any more encouraged, the duo went to one of the southern wells that had been earmarked for Mitrofan to investigate. Luckily, they found him there with Nikita.
"Ah, Team Marshwood," he acknowledged. "Has something happened on your end yet?"
"No, nothing." Melchior shook his head. "None of the knights on our side have reported even the slightest thing out of line."
"Same," Mitrofan replied. "...The worst part is that some of the knights are beginning to get restless. On a day when the spotlight is on Tsar Kliment and the Knights of Selenia are being honoured, they're stuck monitoring wells because of the paranoia of some mercenaries. I can't say I blame them, truth be told. …I do worry that if nothing happens, then we in the Guild will look foolish."
"True enough," agreed Kallias. "I can only imagine how Branislav would milk that and use it against us."
A growl emanated from Mitrofan at the mention of the Sirfetch'd. "He would too," he muttered angrily.
"...Hmm…" Melchior seemed to be in thought. "You know…I've had a bit of a thought."
"...What is it, Melchior?" Kallias asked.
"…We've had trouble figuring out just why these people would think of such a plan. But…maybe that's the point," Melchior surmised. "Maybe creating chaos is their goal."
"...Perhaps," Kallias remarked. "What reason could one possibly have to commit a mass murder of innocents on a scale like we're envisaging? Maybe they don't need a reason, if chaos is their end goal."
"...You might possibly have a point," Mitrofan somewhat agreed. "...We were speaking of alternative plans back at the house. If we want to win against them, then we must think like them. What plan would do more than anything to cause chaos on a day like this?"
"...Assassinating the tsar," Kallias proposed. "After all, he's out in the open here. If one wanted to kill him, today would be a good opportunity to do just that. And besides…think about it. If you wanted to create chaos, what better plan is there than killing the tsar? That would send the country into a right panic."
"...Indeed," the Aggron replied. "But the knights' security is extra tight today. Our warnings about a plot compelled them to do this. Marshal Yuliya told me as much."
"...Still, that doesn't mean we shouldn't check out Tsar Kliment," Melchior reasoned. "There might be something there that the knights are missing."
"...You wouldn't want Branislav hearing you say that," chuckled Kallias. "...But you have a point, Melchior. Let's head over to where the tsar is now. Which is where…?"
"Right now…" Mitrofan looked at the sky. "It's midday. If I'm not mistaken, Tsar Kliment is or will be giving a speech at Olbia Square around now. We should make our way there."
"Then it's settled," Kallias said. "Let's go."
Olbia Square was one of a number of public squares dotted around Iria. It was the biggest and most prominent of them, featuring an elegant water fountain and a distinguishable statue of a regal-looking Pangoro. Even children knew who this was - this was the ancient hero Ruslan who founded the tsardom of Selenia and became its first tsar. Beneath his statue, many of his predecessors had given speeches, and his current descendant ruling the house he created would follow this same trend.
With him, of course, came the usual throngs of people that had gathered on this day to see moments like this that would be remembered for years to come. This proved to be quite a problem for Team Marshwood, Mitrofan and Nikita. Long before they were even at Olbia Square, they found one of the streets leading up to it to be choked with people.
"Damn," cursed Mitrofan. "We need to get there quickly. But there are all these people in the way…"
Various heads turned in the direction of the new arrivals. Several of them did a double take at two of them in particular, and then it began.
"Hey…is that Team Marshwood?"
"A Sceptile and a Swampert? It sure looks like them…"
"It is them! I've seen them walking through these streets before! You can hardly miss them, what with those scarves!"
"Holy shit, it is them!"
"Not just them. Guildmaster Mitrofan's here too!"
"Wait, but why are they here? Why aren't they in there with the tsar and the knights?"
"Is it true you've fallen out with His Majesty? Is that why you're not in the parade today?"
"That's the reason? What, has His Majesty stiffed them or something?"
"Apparently the Guildmaster yelled at Marshal Branislav, from what I heard."
"What do you say to that, Guildmaster Mitrofan? Did you and Sir Branislav have a falling-out?"
"...Whether Marshal Branislav and I have fallen out is not relevant to the matter at hand," the Aggron immediately deflected. "May I ask that you let us through, please?"
"Sounds like you did have a bust-up with him," a member of the crowd snarked.
Mitrofan breathed in, and for a moment, Team Marshwood feared a similar outburst to the aforementioned incident with Branislav.
"Excuse me, Mitt," Kallias interjected. "We'll handle this." He cleared his throat, and addressed the crowd. "I know you all have many questions about our withdrawal from His Majesty's parade. But please…it's imperative that you allow us to pass. The joy of the jubilee today might well be scuppered if we can't make it in time to where we need to go. …Please understand. We're on an important mission, and time is of the essence for us right now. We need to get to the stage where the tsar's giving his speech."
"...Sounds serious," a Clefable remarked. "And if it's Team Marshwood, it must be serious. …Well, come on then, everyone! Let 'em through!"
"Yeah!" a Loudred yelled, in the way their kind did. "They've helped us plenty! Now it's time for us to return the favour!"
The crowd of people began to disperse, and a path through was eventually made.
"...Thank you all," Melchior said gratefully. "We'll answer your questions in time, after all this is over."
With that said, Team Marshwood made their way through the crowd down the street. It took some awkward manoeuvring to get around the crowd, and Mitrofan took to hoisting Nikita onto his shoulder so the Cubone wouldn't get lost in the crowd.
But eventually, after much painstaking asking and a host of 'excuse me's' from the group, the four made their way down to where the square began. From here, they could see the stage, and it appeared that they were just in time to see Tsar Kliment begin his speech.
The tsar was clothed in his full Selenian regalia. A refined Bisharp he was, wearing a distinguished crown and cape, and wielding a royal sceptre specifically for special occasions such as this one. He exuded power - he was one who, even without his regalia, could be picked apart in a crowd from the common 'mon. From this alone, many could say he deserved his position, and twenty-five years of relative peace was a testament to his skill as a ruler.
By his side stood his family - the noble family of House Ruslan that ruled over the country. There was Yelizaveta Markiyanovna Ruslana, his Infernape wife and the Tsarina of Selenia. There was his tsesarevich, Crown Prince Kasimir, with a smile on the Monferno's face at the crowd before them. Beside him stood a Mienshao - Svetlana Gerasimovna Lysagora, his fiancée and princess-to-be. And equally as happy was Kasimir's younger brother on his other side - Prince Leonid, a Pawniard with resemblance to his father. Flanking each of them were a number of retainers, as well as the three highest marshals of Selenia - Yuliya, Branislav and Trokhym.
A great cheer went up in the audience as Tsar Kliment stood up to the podium. Right now, it all seemed to be a defining moment in his reign: twenty-five years of ruling over the subjects before him, and they all reciprocated with cheers of joy and gratitude for their leader. The tsar couldn't resist a slight smile as he began his speech. The Amplification Crystal resting upon the podium would ensure that he could be heard even from the back of the crowd.
"Today marks a historic day for Selenia. A day of celebration, but also one of remembrance and reflection. I remember this day twenty-five years ago well. I ascended to the throne upon the unfortunate death of my father, Tsar Nikifor III. For me, that day was bittersweet. I had lost my father, who I had loved dearly, and I had no choice as the tsesarevich but to take up the mantle of leader of House Ruslan, and become the tsar of Selenia, an event that always felt like a distant fantasy to me. But that fantasy would now become reality.
"I was wracked with nervosity on that day. But one thing compelled me to carry out my duty that day; the citizens of my country, who applauded and cheered me and wished me good fortune as their new leader. I pledged, on that day twenty-five years ago when I became Tsar Kliment VII of Selenia, that I would forever devote my life to your service. Though I was yet green in judgement…that was a decision that guided me to carry out my responsibility to lead our nation. And now, twenty-five years later, I renew that same pledge, and it shall remain that way until my death, whenever that will happen."
His coronation, huh? Sounded like quite an event, Kallias mused briefly. If only Melchior and I were there to see it…
"These past twenty-five years have been fruitful for Selenia, and the stability and peace that persisted during that time is something I wish to upkeep in future. The jubilance of this occasion fills me with hope and optimism that this will come to pass. It has been of great benefit to our people, and I am only thankful to you, the people of Selenia, for seeing our tsardom through this era of peace and tranquillity. You are forever her bedrock, and I have eternal gratitude for your undying support for our nation."
Playing to the masses…at least he recognises their efforts, Mitrofan noted. It would be a glaring omission if he said nothing of their work to uphold his regime.
"I am blessed, as well, to have the support of my family through these times. In Tsarina Yelizaveta I have had a tsarina willing to carry out her duties and make sacrifices for our nation. She echoes the efforts of my own mother, Tsarina Sofia, when she was the consort to my father during his tenure as tsar. I have little doubt that my mother would look upon her with pride from the heavens above, and deem her a worthy successor to her."
Tsarina Sofia…Melchior reflected. He didn't know a huge amount about her, given she had passed away not long after he and Kallias arrived in Selenia, but from what he'd heard, she was a benevolent tsarina who worked to help Selenia's poor and supported the Guild in their actions.
"And it is with hope and pride that I will be able to say the same to my own son and tsesarevich, Kasimir, when he should one day carry the name of tsar. I wish that when that day comes, you will treat him and Lady Svetlana of Lysagora, who will become tsarina along with him, with the same respect and goodwill that you have bestowed upon Yelizaveta and I during our reign. I wish similar success to my younger son, Leonid, who will devote himself to his nation as any other member of House Ruslan would.
"With the blessing of Lord Arceus, our Creator, that will be in the distant future, and I will still be capable of ruling over Selenia and her people for many years to come. May that time be blessed with prosperity, just as the last twenty-five years have been! May our tsardom strive for greatness, and forever work to make our country a righteous and just nation!"
This was met with raucous applause throughout the crowd. Melchior looked around him; there were few people that didn't receive the tsar's message with acclamation. After all, who wouldn't wish for a better tomorrow? Who, within this crowd, would not want to repeat the glorious twenty-five years that Kliment had presided over?
That answer, the crowd would unfortunately find out.
Within the crowd, Melchior spotted movement through the crowd. There were a number of Pokémon gradually moving their way through the throng of people, and getting closer to the front.
"Kallias," he said to his partner. "Look." He pointed to them. A dark feeling was growing in his chest.
"Guildmaster." Nikita had the same thought. "There are some people going to the front…"
"Are there?" Mitrofan turned to look. "...Those people…a Skuntank, a Magmar, a Typhlosion, a Torkoal…? Mostly Fire-types…Just what are they doing…?"
They would soon have an answer. Once those Pokémon got close enough to the stage, they collectively unleashed a massive Smokescreen that enveloped the surrounding area.
Immediately, everywhere at the front was sent into a panic. And Team Marshwood, Mitrofan and Nikita were caught right in the centre of it.
"Argh!" Melchior cried, feeling himself being jostled by the panicking crowd. "No! Just like in Yew Gulch!"
"Only this time…" Kallias looked toward the stage, now obscured by smoke. "Even more lives are at stake…!"
"Nikita!" Mitrofan coughed, feeling the smoke. "Hold on tight! Don't get lost in the crowd!"
"Okay, Guildmaster!" Nikita called back, and did as the Aggron instructed.
"Protect His Majesty!" Team Marshwood heard the calls of knights over the panicked cries of the audience.
We can't stand by and do nothing, Kallias decided. Maybe we ought to -
Before he could finish this thought, he felt someone brush past him. He noticed a Jolteon speedily run past them…toward the stage.
Alarm bells rang in the Sceptile's head, feeling something was definitely up. And so he gave chase through the smoke, and managed to tackle the Electric-type to the ground.
"Agh! What the hell?!" the Jolteon cried out. Getting out from under the Sceptile, he did a double-take once he saw Melchior run up to accompany him. The duo pulled their scarves over their mouths to better weather the smoke.
"You!" His face contorted into an angry snarl. "You two! Here to foil our plans again!"
"That's right!" Kallias responded, moving in to slash him with a Blackthorn Cross Slash. "So you're with them, then! We won't allow you to go through with this!"
"We'll never let the likes of you win!" Melchior vowed, readying a Mud Bomb and throwing it at the Electric-type.
"Agh! Curse you!" hissed the Jolteon. He breathed to let loose a Discharge. This, if it had been successful, would've hurt the bystanders that had gradually moved away from him. However, a stun seed thrown in his direction stopped this attack in its tracks.
"Dammit!" The quadruped's eyes were filled with fury. "Team Marshwood! Damn you! May you be cursed for all eternity!"
"Oh, shut up. I don't have time for this," growled Kallias. "You need to stay down!" With that, he spun around and unleashed a Belladonna Cross Slash on the Jolteon. That managed to do him in, and he fell to the ground with a thud.
"Right, that's him dealt with." The Sceptile turned his attention back to the scene. "Now then - " But before he could say any more, a voice called out to them.
"Team Marshwood? You're here?"
The duo turned to look, and Marshal Yuliya was approaching them with a small entourage of knights.
"Marshal Yuliya," Kallias greeted grimly. "We had a feeling the attackers had changed tact, and go straight for the tsar himself. …It would appear we were correct."
"We have to stop those that are putting up this Smokescreen," Melchior said. "There were others - a Skuntank, and some other Fire-types, if I recall…"
"We are aware of this," Yuliya replied, and pointed to where a number of other knights were suppressing the Pokémon setting up the Smokescreen. Due to this, the Smokescreen was starting to dissipate, and once it had, the damage could be seen.
Thankfully, it was not extensive. The citizens were more startled than hurt, although a number of them were coughing and spluttering, afflicted with smoke inhalation. Kallias and Melchior could see Mitrofan and Nikita, whom they had become separated from after Kallias had made after the Jolteon, aiding a number of those who had been afflicted.
"Treat the wounded!" the Furret called to a number of knights. "Make sure that everyone is okay!"
"Yes, ma'am!" saluted a Gumshoos knight, before he and nearby knights dispersed throughout the crowd to check on the afflicted.
"...What happened here?" Yuliya asked.
"He was running towards the stage," Kallias informed. "We feared he was going to do something to His Majesty."
"Speaking of His Majesty…is he safe?" Melchior queried.
"Worry not, Mud Bomber Melchior," another voice touted. "His Majesty has been escorted to safety, as has Tsarina Yelizaveta and Princes Kasimir and Leonid, away from the actions of these rapscallions."
Team Marshwood looked over and saw that the answer had come from Marshal Branislav. The Sirfetch'd was now approaching them, while his own entourage seemed to be scouring the crowd for any more potential attackers that could strike.
"So they've been escorted away, then?" Kallias asked.
"Yes," Branislav confirmed. "They are safe. Marshal Trokhym and his men led them away."
Team Marshwood noted the slightly disgruntled edge that came into his voice, evidence that he was still smarting from the incident two days ago. Evidently, he was trying to hide it, and Kallias had a feeling that even he knew it would be unwise to have a go at them while surrounded by so many people.
"That's a relief," Melchior sighed, mopping his brow slightly.
"...So this rapscallion attempted to assassinate His Majesty, you say?" the Sirfetch'd queried.
"Yes, that's true." Kallias looked again at the Jolteon, before noticing the satchels attached to his sides. "Hm. What's that all about?"
"I'll check," Melchior volunteered, going over to the unconscious quadruped and opening the satchel.
There was one item in the bag. And once he took it out, the blood of everyone who saw it collectively froze.
It was an ovoid object with numbering on it.
…That was counting down.
"T-This is…!" an aghast Branislav reacted.
"No, it can't be!" Yuliya cried out in horror.
"In front of all of these people…!" Melchior said, looking around at the people around them.
"We need to get this out of here, away from these people!" Kallias yelled out. Alas, this was easier said than done, what with all the people blocking their avenue of escape.
"Leave that to us knights, Kallias," Yuliya replied, before stepping forward. "Excuse me, everyone! Please clear to either side for Team Marshwood to pass through! We must get this bomb out of Olbia Square now!"
Once the word 'bomb' was mentioned, no one needed to be told twice. No one hesitated to obey the Furret marshal's instructions. Thus, a path was cleared, and Team Marshwood ran with the bomb in hand.
They were far from safe, though. The bomb's timer continued ticking down as they ran.
"What do we do?! Where do we go?" Kallias was frantic.
"...Somewhere where this won't harm anyone when it explodes," Melchior panted. "But…that's easier said than done on a day like this."
"...Dammit," cursed Kallias. "...Where? Where can we go?"
"..." Melchior's thoughts were in a fray, due to the pressure of the time bomb. But a thought did come to him in that moment.
"How about the canal? That's nearby!"
"The canal?" Kallias didn't sound fully convinced. "There's bound to be people there too…But it's not like we have much of a choice! Come on, let's go!"
They ran towards the nearest bridge to the Miroslav Canal. This was a canal built some eighty years ago that ran through Iria and travelled through the central flatlands of the country to the River Evor, the tsardom's longest river. Its main purpose was for commerce and ease of access to the capital - two things that were being capitalised upon today.
This was of no reassurance to the duo as they came to the bridge running over the canal, where a fair number of people had gathered. Below, a number of boats were tied up at anchoring points.
All the while, the countdown was nearing the end.
"Everyone, get off the bridge!" Kallias insisted. "Please, it's for your own safety! This bomb's about to detonate!" His panic was enough to compel the people to do so.
"I've got it!" Melchior yelled, holding up the bomb and rearing his arm back to throw it. As if he was throwing a Mud Bomb, he hurled the not-at-all-muddy bomb as far away from them as possible.
He and all who were looking on saw the splash in the canal as the object landed in the water. Everyone braced themselves for what was to come.
The noise was deafening. Equally as forceful was the massive deluge of water that was thrown in all directions from the explosion. Many of the spectators were drenched, and a number of the nearby boats suffered some damage. Others were snapped loose from their moorings. The buildings nearby were drenched too, with a number of windows broken. As they looked upon the scene, Kallias and Melchior silently prayed that no one in those houses had stayed home.
"...Whew," Kallias breathed, with slight relief. "Wasn't expecting a dousing like that when I got up this morning."
"Is anyone injured?" Melchior asked.
The crowd looked around them. Apart from ringing ears from the explosion, there looked to be few, if any, physical injuries. Thankfully, there were no Fire-types in the small crowd of people hit by the water, as they could have been grievously hurt. But there was no instance of this - the crowd looked more disturbed than hurt.
"...No. I think we're alright for the most part," a nearby Skiploom replied, wringing the water out of their foliage.
Thank goodness for that, Melchior silently thanked.
"But what was that?" exclaimed an Aromatisse. "Why did you throw a bomb into the canal?"
"Yes…that is our question too." Looking over, Team Marshwood saw a number of knights making their way over to them, no doubt having heard the explosion. They were led by a stolid-looking blue Meowstic. "Would you care to explain your actions, Team Marshwood?"
"...Gladly," Kallias replied. "We do apologise for the disturbance. But that bomb over there that just blew up was originally meant to detonate under the stage where Tsar Kliment was giving his speech. If it had happened there, many more lives would have been at risk, and he and the other members of the royal family would almost certainly have been killed. And possibly many more, too."
"Hm…Is that so?" The Meowstic, as well as the collected crowd, were surprised to hear this news.
"It is. Marshal Yuliya and Marshal Branislav can back us up on this," Melchior replied.
"...I see. Well…if this is true, then a major crisis may have been averted," the Meowstic knight surmised. "I thank you in advance once I affirm this for myself."
"Yeah! Three cheers to Team Marshwood!" cheered an onlooker, and the rest of the gathered folk gave similar noises of gratitude.
"That being said, that bomb was likely to have caused structural damage to the buildings and this bridge. I must ask that everyone stay off this bridge until we have confirmed its safety," requested the blue cat. "Men, start investigating right away."
"Yes, Lieutenant Rafail!" saluted a Politoed knight, as he and his fellow knights gathered to investigate the bridge. Kallias and Melchior had stepped off it to allow the knights to carry out their assessment.
"...A bomb, huh?" Melchior remarked. "Those people changed tact quickly. From poison to bombs…whatever next?"
"I don't know. But…" Kallias happened to look off to the side, and he drifted off course from the conversation.
This was due to movement from the corner of his eye catching his attention.
And what he had seen had made him go rigid.
A black-and-white shape seemed to flash by the edge of one of the nearby alleys. It might have been difficult to see behind the crowds of people, but Kallias happened to spot it.
This wasn't just any black-and-white shape, though. It looked familiar - distinctly familiar - and Kallias's lips pursed as he realised what, or who, he was looking at.
Is that who I think it is…? Kallias fist clenched. If it is, then…we have a score to settle.
"Kallias?" Melchior said. "What's up?"
"...Melchior," the Sceptile began. We need to head that way." He pointed to the direction in which he saw the figure, who he had caught sight of again and noticed was beginning to move away from them. If we are to apprehend him, then we need to act fast.
"That way? Why?"
"An old colleague's made his reappearance," Kallias replied curtly, holding back a snarl. The tone of his voice told Melchior all he needed to know.
"Hinnerk?! He's here?"
"Yes! And we need to catch him now!" Kallias turned in the intended direction. "Even if he might not be involved with today's events, I haven't forgotten about his actions a week ago!"
"...Nor have I." A determined expression crossed Melchior's face. "Come on, Kallias. Let's go."
And so they ran off towards where Kallias saw him. They saw a black-and-white shape in the distance; however, it occurred to them that the stance of the Pokémon seemed to be bipedal as opposed to the quadrupedal stance of Linoone. For a moment, the duo wondered if they had the wrong person, but they quickly dismissed that thought.
Hinnerk could very well have evolved into an Obstagoon. This would be something of a difficulty for them in the case of combat, due to his tougher strength. But that didn't deter them. He needs to answer for his crimes.
They reached a fork in the road. Hinnerk went down the left path, and was pursued by Team Marshwood.
"Get back here, Hinnerk!" shouted Kallias, before making a dash down that street. "You need to answer for what you've done!"
The chase went on, down a number of winding streets, until eventually the two of them arrived at the entrance to an ancient looking building. This was the Irian Arena, a known landmark within Iria which in older times hosted combat events, typically to recognise someone as a potential marshal in a special ceremony put on in olden times. However, new systems put in place by subsequent tsars eventually saw the obsolescence of this, and so the arena had no use for this anymore. It was kept in place, though, due to the will of those who liked its iconic look, including successive tsars and influential Selenian lords. While not quite matching up to magnificent monuments of similar stature in the East, it was well-regarded nonetheless, and still held events from time to time.
It was normally off limits to the public. But a lawbreaker like Hinnerk had no regard for such things, and went into the arena. Kallias, intent to chase him down, ignored this too, and chased after the rogue. And a few seconds afterward, Melchior entered the old building, following after his partner.
They soon got to the central arena. There was only one person in there, who was panting slightly from all the running he had to do.
"...Damn you two," hissed Hinnerk, now an Obstagoon. "You're always finding some way to ruin my day. And it looks like today won't be any different."
And a cliffhanger. Glad to get this one done - I was stuck on where exactly to take it for a while.
Kliment's speech is loosely based on the Accession Day message given by Queen Elizabeth II for her Platinum Jubilee. (Also, RIP Liz - thanks for living long enough for us to make jokes and memes about you being immortal.)
My train of thought regarding this Special Episode ended up contradicting some points I made up earlier in the story about this period in time. So I've gone back and altered some lines around this in previous chapters, now that I have a clearer picture of what happened seven years ago.
One more part to this Special Episode. Stay tuned!