Today, something bad happens...
Chapter 8: No Dinner Plan Survives
The aforementioned relief sigh was immediately followed by a shriek of terror as the sight to greet the auctioneers and the auctioned was not the expected lavishly decorated corridor leading to the dinner hall, but a rather grotesque vision of carnage. Two young men, identical in life, but quite different in death, were spread across the corridor like strawberry jam on bread. Various elements of their anatomy were attached to the ceiling and windows of the long corridor, slowly oozing downward, leaving rust colored lines in their wake. At the far end of the corridor, a thin black film with numerous pox-like marks on its surface was whipping about like a curtain in the wind.
“By Crown and Stock! Have you utterly lost your mind, you demented —” The Princess shouted, instantly positioning herself behind Von Schmidt, who seemed like the most viable cover in the immediate surroundings.
The latter didn’t let her finish the sentence, which was probably for the best, since its last few expressions were highly inappropriate for a lady of her station. “I assure you that this is not my doing. My only plans for dinner were aperitif, first course, main course and dessert. In fact, have you not reacted with such genuine vehemence, I would have suspected this pointless brutality to be your doing.”
“Mine?!” The Princess shouted indignantly, but was wholeheartedly ignored.
Von Schmidt and Tanka exchanged glances. The former nodded and the latter charged forth, moving almost too quickly for the eye to follow. Whatever it was that he endeavored to do was accomplished so rapidly that an ill-placed blink had prevented the Princess from witnessing it. However, the end result of Tanaka’s actions was him standing several meters behind the black curtain, the latter being as dispersed and ruined and the unfortunate menservants before it.
Jean recovered from the initial shock and said, “Von Schmidt, the quality of your guests had significantly deteriorated. I can understand suffering the presence of pirates and merchants, but these filthy, mindless — ”
“Your ignorance is most lamentable. I would gladly enlighten you as to its depth, but presently we must seek a safe place before the less malnourished friends of this somber confetti arrive. In my experience, they never travel in groups of less than a thousand, as it is impossible to catch a sufficient amount of solar wind otherwise.”
“Mon Dieu...” The other Jean mumbled. “Are you saying this is a flap of sun sail? Why would anyone use a sun sail almost sixteen light hours from the sun?”
Von Schmidt pointed at the corridor side of the observatory’s gates. The powerful gates were partially molten and the stone around them was charred and cracked, as if targeted with an industrial-grade laser beam. “What is provocative to my interior design will be absolutely ruinous to your flesh. If you wish to be vaporized, burned or torn to ribbons; by all means, do stay here. However, if your plans for the evening do not include these pastimes, I highly recommend that you kindly follow me.”
Not waiting for anyone to reply, Von Schmidt made a series of motions in the air and a map of the castle and the surrounding area appeared floating in front of him. It flickered often, making it difficult to read. There were black dots moving to and fro both around and inside the structure. Ivanov and Tanaka approached Von Schmidt. The three men had a brief conversation that consisted of technical terms, and hmmmm’s and ahhh’s. At its conclusion, Von Schmidt turned to the Princess and the Jeans and said, “It seems that we’ll be heading to the dinner hall after all. Kindly refrain from all manner of divisive backstabbing, name calling or social exclusion of servants and gardeners as the enemy we’re facing is quite united in its cause and does not enjoy the benefit of classes and roles as we do.”
“Whose enemy, ours or yours?” The Princess asked. It did not seem likely that her family and Von Schmidt would have any common enemies. In fact, she felt that any person to whom Von Schmidt or any of those other present referred to as “enemy” would be her friend.
Von Schmidt turned to the Princess with a grim expression that caused her to flinch. A second after, his hand shot forth and clenched her throat with such strength she was forcefully thrust against the wall. The back of her head hit the hard concrete. Pain and dizziness spread through her entire frame like molten lead flowing down her veins. However, these were negligible compared to the paralyzing, sickening fear she experienced. This was the first time in her life she experienced physical violence used in anger.
“Unlike the others present,” Von Schmidt hissed, “you do not have the choice to stay here and perish. You will come with me and you will live this through even if I have to break several of your bones to achieve this end.”
The Princess was shaking so badly she couldn’t speak. The rest of the crowd gawked in shocked disbelief. The sole exception was Ivanov, who was tinkering with the image and seemed to be oblivious to the enormity happening just a few meters away.
Von Schmidt returned their stares with such animal viciousness that everyone lowered or averted their eyes. Still holding the Princess by the throat with a hand that felt like hot steal, Von Schmidt turned to Ivanov. “Have you rearranged the portals and drones according to our escape route yet?”
“Da.” The young man answered coldly. “We can move. But must be careful. Some of this drjan is in our way.”
“No.” Tanaka said. “Let he who’s in our way be careful.”
Von Schmidt let go of the Princess. She crumpled to her knees, shaking and coughing in a manner probably unbefitting a lady of her upbringing. The gates in the other end of the corridor slid open, revealing a disastrous scene of thermal destruction. Bright blue streaks marked locations were the integrity of the structure was compromised and the damage was automatically sealed with silicon. The Princess couldn’t even guess at the former utility of this room. At present, it looked like the core of a rural furnace.
Von Schmidt caught the Princess by the chin and forced her to look into his strange eyes, two bottomless pits, one artificial and one natural, both much scarier than a bloodied hallway or a burned chamber. “Let me make this very clear for you. You’re thinking that the enemy of your enemy is your friend. You’re mistaken. The injustice which our species has wrought upon our uninvited guests is so enormous that no amount of spurious apologies or halfhearted compensation will ever correct it in their eyes. They cannot tell the difference between a German soldier and a slab of cheese, let alone between a young royal and an old libertine. Do not attempt to do anything romantically foolish, because, if history had taught us anything, it is that when a princess missteps, other people take the fall. Not that they understand what individual death is.”
“Who are they?!” The Princess finally managed to find her voice, shouting the words so loudly that her own ears rang long after the echo of her shout subsided.
Von Schmidt didn’t flinch. “They are your ‘refugees,’ the chornoi. Believe me, they do not execute justice. They simply execute.”