The palace dungeons were dry and musty, with mold growing in the corners and rats scurrying about. Kakane was completely silent as he and Rean sat in their small jail cell. He was staring at nothing, crimson red eyes completely dead. Rean tried cheering him up with funny tricks Megrez showed him, but the Draconid did not react one bit. Occasionally, Kakane would absentmindedly touch his scar, but his hand would drop to his side in a matter of seconds.
The Doryokan soldiers had taken away all of their belongings, including Rean’s precious notebook. It could do nothing but absentmindedly draw in the dust of their cell. It and Kakane were forced into ratty clothes covered in dirt, with their necks being chained by tracking and shock collars. Immune to the electricity, Rean could easily escape with Kakane, but it seemed the scarred boy had no motivation to escape. Not wanting to risk it, Rean brought its knees up to its chin in sullen sulking.
The door to the prisons opened and Rean perked up. It stuck its head through the bars of its cell as a soldier walked up to them, holding a scroll.
Leering at Kakane and Rean, the guard announced, “As minors, the two of you automatically get access to a trial despite lacking the necessary funds to hire a lawyer. The trial will be judged by Crown Prince Fuyuuki Hononen as ordered by His Majesty, Enjo Hononen. The trial has been declared a practice exercise for His Highness. The purpose is for him to get used to the judicial system, which is fundamental knowledge he must know for when he becomes king. The trial begins shortly.” He unlocked their cell. “You will now be escorted to the courtroom; do not try to resist or it will be counted as one of the charges against you.”
Kakane let the guard cuff his wrists with chains, not fussing as he was led out of the prison by an iron rope tied to the collar around his neck. Rean did its best to get the message across that everything would𑁋probably𑁋be fine, but Kakane wasn’t paying attention. His eyes were still lifeless and devoid of all hope.
Kakane and Rean were forced to stand in front of everyone in the courtroom: the judge, the nobles sitting with their fancy clothes on the courtroom balcony, and even His Majesty himself, King Enjo Hononen, who was observing them from a raised room towards the back. Kakane surely saw Enjo Hononen, but he didn’t even flinch. Instead, he was looking at their judge, the crown prince of Doryoku, Fuyuuki Hononen.
Kakane wasn’t sure what was more confusing to him: the fact that Enjo Hononen was here in the first place, or Fuyuuki Hononen’s resemblance to Takeru. The prince had the same pale lavender eyes as the warrior of the Dagaalyahanno, but his hair was shorter and the colors were reversed. The top of his head and his bangs were snow white but the locks brushing by his chin were a powdery blue. He and Takeru could have passed for identical twins, but that was impossible. If Takeru truly was a prince of Doryoku, what was he doing in the Bannaanka Weyn? Crown Prince Fuyuuki sighed and hit the gavel on the block.
“Order in the court, please.” He seemed tired. “Sir, if you may.” He nodded to a man, presumably a lawyer, who stood up with a scroll in his hands.
“This is the trial of 16-year-olds Agni Tolan and Verle Barath. Please note that Mr. Barath is said to be mute. Names not found within the directory, presumed to be foreigners not from Doryoku,” the lawyer read aloud. “Accused of breaking into the third floor of His Majesty’s Thunderclap Palace and assisting in an assassination attempt to kill the Head of Treasury, Lord Daitai.”
“What do you say to these charges?” Prince Fuyuuki asked. Kakane said nothing for a moment.
“…Is she alive?”
“The soldiers from that night said they found an unregistered clinic. Among the patients, there should have been a white-haired girl with pink eyes, around my age, suffering from frost fever. Is she alive?” Prince Fuyuuki turned to a soldier.
“Sir, you were there on that night. Can you attest to this?” The soldier nodded.
“I was the one who found the clinic. There was indeed a white-haired girl with frost fever. I was also told that all of the patients in that clinic were being cared for until someone could claim them. So, yes, the girl should still be alive.” Kakane was visibly relieved.
“…I don’t care about my own life. Just promise me you’ll take care of Serena and I’ll do whatever you ask of me. Just please, please make sure she lives,” Kakane begged.
“He tried to kill the Head of Treasury. Your Highness, I find it foolish to listen to the demands of a would-be murderer,” the lawyer said.
“I at least want Serena to live if I am condemned to die,” Kakane said. “She is… She is everything to me. Whatever punishment you give me, at least spare Serena. It’s not her fault she got frost fever. It’s mine. Everything I have done is for her.”
“Were there any other conspirators, then?” the lawyer asked.
“The people who hired me were these men in purple cloaks.” Prince Fuyuuki looked troubled.
“Purple cloaks…? Please, continue, Mr. Tolan.”
“They told me to find a man in the kitchens. My job was to slip a bottle of poison to him. That was all they asked.”
“Oh, that would be our covert agent,” the soldier said. “We anticipated a plot like this, so we had an insider weave his way into the enemy. We had hoped to capture the Manjusaka, but we didn’t expect the assassins to be the two of you.”
“Forget that; why in the name of the gods would you do such a thing?” the lawyer asked, crossing his arms over his chest. “Not that scum like you would have a good reason to go about killing our Head of Treasury.” Kakane took a deep breath.
“I had to get that money. I couldn’t let Serena die. I couldn’t… I can’t lose her. I won’t allow her to suffer because of my foolishness. I will accept any punishment as long as Serena gets to run free. So please! Promise me she’ll get better. Promise me you will not let her die,” Kakane pleaded, bowing his head to the crown prince of Doryoku.
Rean blinked, letting Kakane’s words sink in. Wasn’t he hell-bent on killing a princess of Doryoku when they were climbing the Yukishi Mountain? Yet here he was, prostituting himself at the feet of his sworn enemy’s crown prince. Thinking back on it, Kakane had also ignored the frost breath iris when they left the Yukishi Mountain… What was he thinking? No, Rean knew what it was. It was desperation; Kakane’s anguish over Serena’s illness. And to that end, it had to do whatever it took to make sure Serena stayed safe.
A small board was thrust into Rean’s hands, as well as a stick of chalk.
“Mr. Barath, what do you say to these claims?” Prince Fuyuuki asked.
Suddenly filled with determination, Rean took the board and began writing on it. For a few seconds, nothing could be heard in the courtroom but the squeak of chalk and the murmurs of the nobles above. The puppet struggled to find the right words to say and found difficulty in writing them properly. It could tell that the people in the courtroom were getting impatient, but it did not falter. Finally, Rean showed its thoughts to the prince.
My Will Is The Will Of My Sworn Friend’s.
Kakane didn’t know where Rean learned such large words, but he was grateful for the support. Rean smiled at him and gave him a thumbs-up, which slightly raised Kakane’s spirits.
“I see that your friendship runs deep,” Prince Fuyuuki noted.
“Your Highness, you couldn’t possibly be pitying these murderers, could you?” the lawyer asked incredulously.
“I simply see in front of me two boys who did everything they possibly could to save someone important to them. They had no other choice,” Prince Fuyuuki said. “Their skills were coveted enough that they were chosen to be part of an intricate assassination plan. It would be a shame to see people like that sent to the gallows; their abilities are undoubtedly of the highest caliber. Doryoku needs more people like that in its ranks.”
“Your Highness, where are you going with this?”
Prince Fuyuuki hit the block with the gavel. “Thus, this is my decree: Verle Barath and Agni Tolan are to attend a second-year class of the Adamas Royal Magic Academy as a reform school while performing community service as a suitable punishment. They will be heavily monitored and judged for good behavior.”
“And what good will just sending them to school do?” the lawyer asked. “Your Highness, are you thinking this through?”
“It’s for them to make bonds,” the prince explained. “If they make friends in Doryoku, they might be coerced into staying here and becoming citizens. Thus, if they are deemed people abiding by the laws of Doryoku, they will be released at the start of summer vacation, which is three months from now. Their wish will be honored, and their friend Serena shall receive the proper treatment.”
“Is that really the best you can come up with?” the lawyer huffed. Prince Fuyuuki glared at him.
“I firmly believe that the justice system does not exist solely for the prosecution of criminals,” the prince said coolly. “I wish to see it used as a way to give people a second chance. I will not immediately punish these boys; instead, I want to give them an opportunity to become new, reformed people. Case dismissed.”
Prince Fuyuuki turned to his father, who was glowering at him. Slowly, Enjo Hononen gave his son a curt nod and promptly exited the building. Prince Fuyuuki let out a sigh and was escorted out of the courtroom, which was abuzz with the whispers of the nobles in the balcony.
Relief washed through Kakane, as he realized he just dodged a major bullet. This could have been far, far worse. He sunk to his knees, breathing heavily as his scar throbbed. Rean was beside him in an instant, looking worried. But it was smiling and gave Kakane a thumbs up. Really, this was the best-case scenario. The crown prince had been awfully lenient in his judgment. Kakane supposed he ought to thank Prince Fuyuuki for that. Three months of schooling and community service were nothing compared to what might have been brought upon them. Wait…
“We’re going to school!?”
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