Ilysveil: Twin Dawn Rising
J. H. Zech
"Virtue is the truest nobility." b>
Miguel de Cervantes
Junho set down the knight tile on the board with a clack. "Checkmate."
Alice clapped while smiling, her pink robe sleeves flapping around. "Good job, big brother. You finally beat me."
"I don't get you. You're happy even though I won, and somehow, I don't feel all that glad." Junho rested his chin on his hand. The warm afternoon rays from the window behind him made the orange-black fur on his ears glow golden.
"That's because you take this too seriously. It's a game. It's supposed to be fun."
"You've been talking to Mizael again, haven't you?" He crossed his arms, wrinkling the elbows of his Western suit.
"What's wrong with that?"
"Nothing, I suppose." Junho rotated the King tile between his fingers. "It's just, he's a Makuranian. Zangi is a game that simulates war. Someone who never had a war fought on their own homeland wouldn't understand us. He can think it's fun, but I can't help but take it seriously."
Alice fell silent for a while. She didn't really know how to deal with her older brother when it came to war. "Don't worry about it too much. It's not like this game really matters."
"You're right. I got worked up for no reason. Sorry."
A rumbling came from outside. They turned to the window. A line of spider tanks marched through the dirt road by their house. Gravel crunched under the weight of their metallic grey legs. A little girl ran out into the street chasing after a ball. Her mother pulled her back before she reached the tanks' procession, and the ball was flattened under the tanks. She cried as her mother dragged her into their tiny house. The papers said the Oblivion War was over four years ago, but that didn't mean war had ended.
"Sometimes I wonder whom this country belongs to. We just traded the Solradian occupiers for the Makuranians," Junho said.
"Someone's got to maintain law and order. It can't be helped," Alice said.
Junho continued staring at the tanks and clenched his fist. What if it could be helped? Alice was afraid of the answer to Junho's unspoken question. Everyone had lost so much. She didn't want to see anyone else lose anything.
Someone knocked on the papered sliding door.
"You may enter," Alice said.
A middle-aged servant in white robes slid the door open and bowed, his tail flat on the ground. "Young Lady, Young Master. The Count has a message for you. The Makuranian Deputy Minister of State will be at five o'clock. Please prepare to greet him."
"Thanks, Kyuhan," Junho said.
Kyuhan closed the door.
"What time is it?" Junho asked.
Alice grabbed the pocket watch chained to her sash. "Four fifty. Straighten your tie. Comb your hair too." She looked around. "Let's see. What else " Everything had to look perfect for Minister McLazarus.
Junho put his hand on her shoulder. "Relax. I know you like Mizael, but you don't need to go overboard to look good in front of his father."
Her heart screamed. Alice's face flushed and turned hot. "W-what are you saying, big brother? There's no way I like Mizael."
He sighed. "Whatever. Just follow the usual procedures we do for foreign diplomats, and we'll be fine."
They headed out to the lobby area, where the white crystals of Western alchemic chandeliers shined brilliantly. The muted red wood and the golden lines around the columns were garish in the face of such bright light.
The front door slid open. A blond human in an expensive-looking suit followed by two men in sunglasses entered. He raised his hand above his crisp, combed hair. "Ugh. I told Count Lee that these lights were a bad idea. He never listens, does he?"
Alice wanted to nod, but she couldn't embarrass her father like that publicly. She and Junho bowed to Minister McLazarus. "Welcome to the Avalon Inn."
"Oh, you two must be Count Lee's children," Minister McLazarus said.
Junho's striped tail twitched, but Alice remained silent.
One of the bodyguards whispered in his ear.
"Ah, yes. Junho and Alice."
"The Count is expecting you," Junho said. "We'll show you to your room, and a messenger will come for you when he is ready to receive you."
The Minister and his bodyguards followed Alice and Junho through a corridor and around the corner. A few of the staff ladies whispered as the Minister passed by the unlit wooden halls.
"This is your room, Sir," Alice said as she turned the knob and opened the door for him.
"And my guards?"
Junho gestured to the room next door. "They'll be close by, rest assured."
A young girl in an orange staff robe approached them. "Welcome, Minister McLazarus. I'll be your service staff for your stay. Just ring the bell in your room if you need anything."
Alice rushed next to her and whispered, "Yuna, the bow!"
Yuna hurriedly bowed ninety degrees, her twin-tailed hair swinging around. "Sorry."
"Apologies, Sir. She only started today," Alice said.
"As long as she can do the work, I don't mind," the Minister said. He handed his suitcase to his bodyguards and stepped into the room. The guards inspected the entire room, even testing the ceiling panels in the closet.
After getting the Minister and guards settled in, Alice and Junho returned to Alice's room. They sat across from each other at a low table. The sun had almost set. Dark grey clouds gathered over the horizon, and a dull grey light passed through the window.
"What do you suppose the Minister came to talk about?" Alice said.
"Judging from the tanks, I'd say it's about how to strengthen Radiaurora, or at least this side of it. Maybe they think the dwarves will make a move soon," Junho said.
"I hope there's no fighting. Why can't the Dwalvic Union just leave already?"
"I imagine some of us Radiaurorans on the west side are saying the same thing about Makuran."
"Excuse me," Kyuhan said from outside the door.
"What is it?" Alice asked.
"I'm here to inform you of my absence this evening."
"For what reason?"
"It's the thirtieth anniversary of my father's death. I'm going to visit his grave. The Count has given his permission."
"I see. Be safe on your journey," Alice said.
"Yes, young lady." Kyuhan's footsteps trailed off.
Alice and Junho played a few more rounds of Zangi to pass the time. At some point, a group of footsteps passed by the room, and the Minister's voice was saying something in Ilysveilan that Alice couldn't completely understand.
"Agree . purge plan tonight."
After their games, they each took to reading their own books. Alice flipped open to her bookmark in No Longer Human. Junho was absorbed in The Odyssey of Hong Gildong, not even looking up as Alice stared at him. She focused back on her own reading; it was best to let him have his peace in his own little world.
Alice clapped her book closed and looked out the window. It was completely black outside, a new moon, as Mizael called it. Rain pelleted their window like bullets. The darkness itself was flowing, carrying with it memories of the war.
"Well, it's time to turn in. Good night," Junho said.
He slid the door closed behind him as he left. Alice pulled the cord on the ceiling light and crawled into bed. Sleeping in a bed, soft, was indeed superior to sleeping on the floor in a futon. Perhaps she also had Mizael to thank for that. After all, her father had only begun to modernize this inn after he came. Reminded of what Junho had said earlier, she cleared her head and sank into slumber.
The next morning, Alice awoke to some commotion down the hall. She slid open her door and headed to the source of the noise.
Several staff ladies were whispering to each other outside the Minister's room. One of them was hugging Yuna tight as she cried. The bodyguards hung their heads low. Alice rushed over. "What's going on?"
"Young lady, you should not see this," Nina said. The elderly chief maid held Alice's hand.
She broke free and looked, anyway. Minister McLazarus lay dead in a pool of his own blood. Alice staggered back and braced herself against the wall. The bloodshed was supposed to have ended.
Junho ran up to them. "I heard what happened. Has the Count been informed?"
"Sùkhua has been sent for him," Nina said.
A cane rapped on the wooden floor. Her father approached from down the hall, escorted by Sùkhua. Her father wore a stern expression, further creasing his wrinkly forehead. His greying goatee bore a resemblance to that of solemn Western gods.
"Move aside," he said.
Alice, Junho, and the staff all backed away from the room. Her father looked at the gruesome scene for some time. He turned to them.
"Sùkhua, telephone the Makuranian embassy and inform them of what's happened. The rest of you, return to your duties. Do not enter this room. We'll let the police find the truth."
"Yes, my lord," Sùkhua said. He brushed aside the bangs of his wavy hair and walked off with haste and elegance. The Western butler suit looked too good on him.
The staff dispersed, and Alice and Junho returned to her room.
"Looks like it hasn't been reported in the paper yet." Junho held up the June 25, 1949 issue of the Radiaurora Daily.
"We only found out this morning," Alice said.
"It'll probably be in an extra by the afternoon," Junho said.
"How could this have happened here?" Alice looked down.
"The war never really ended. I hate to say it, but as a Makuranian minister, he probably had a lot of people who wanted to kill him, even if he hadn't done anything."
An hour later, Mizael blazed through the front, yelling, "Where's my father? Take me to him."
Alice and Junho went out to the front.
"Mizael, I'm so sorry," Alice said. She avoided his eyes; she didn't know how to look at him after what had happened.
Two human men in grey uniforms and caps entered behind Mizael. "Please step aside and let us do the investigating."
Mizael shook his head, his spiky blond hair shaking. "I want to see his body." Clad in a trench coat, he wore all black, as though he were already in mourning.
"You may look, but you must not interfere. Come with us," one of the military police officers said.
They all went to the room where the Minister lay dead.
Mizael clenched his fist. "What about the murder weapon?"
The officer put his hand on Mizael's shoulder. "Leave the investigating to us. We'll make sure the culprit is brought to justice."
The two officers entered the room and closed the door behind them.
Mizael turned to Alice and Junho, his normally clear blue eyes now icy. "Tell me everything you know."
"We shouldn't talk here. Let's go to Alice's room," Junho said.
They sat on tatami mats around the table in Alice's room. The mournful heavens continued pouring outside.
She couldn't bear to see Mizael like this, so Alice broke the awkward silence. "Have you lost someone before?"
Mizael looked away and down. "Ah, you could tell? Before I came here, my mother passed away from pneumonia. My father was the only one I had. And now, I have no one."
"We can't promise anything," Junho said. "But if it will make you feel better, we'll tell you everything that happened."
He sat up straight. "Please do."
Alice and Junho told him what they remembered of last night.
"So my father arrives at five. You hear him leave his room and go past your room, but you don't hear him come back. You went to sleep at eleven? When do you think he left his room?"
"Nine thirty," Junho said.
"How are you sure? You said neither of you checked the time."
"Dinner services end at nine thirty. I heard them locking the dining hall."
"Perhaps he didn't lock his door?"
"I don't think so." Alice tilted her head. "He had the only room with a lockable door by his request, and he had bodyguards too. Would someone like that really not lock the door?"
"This is just speculation. What we need are facts," Junho said.
"How about we ask the staff some questions?" Mizael said.
Alice had a mischievous smile on her face. "I've got an idea. We can eavesdrop on the police when they're questioning the staff."
"Are you going to use one of those weird tigerborn magic spells?" Mizael asked.
Junho looked at Mizael askew.
Alice shrugged. "I'm not very good at magic, so nothing that fancy. We've got an attic, and we can hear everything that goes on in the inn from there."
They gathered in the dusty attic, their faces close to the floor. Many voices were scattered throughout the inn. Alice listened for the officers.
"Where were you yesterday night?" an officer asked.
"I went to visit my father's grave," Kyuhan said.
"Did you see any dwarves around here as you headed out?"
"Think carefully. It doesn't have to be a state official or anything. Any dwarves at all?"
Mizael whispered, "I know what's going on here."
"They seem eager to pin this on a dwarf," Junho said.
"The Dwalvic Union is Makuran's enemy. They want a justification for action. I don't like the dwarves as much as the next guy, but this is just a sham. They're not interested in who actually did it."
"Let's keep listening," Alice said. "Even if they have an agenda, we might be able to find something out."
"Do you know if his door was locked last night?" an officer asked.
"I don't know. I wasn't here."
Later, a high-pitched voice came into the room. "Am I in trouble?" Yuna asked.
"No. Just answer our questions. You were the staff in charge of serving Minister McLazarus. When was the last time you saw him alive?"
"Do you know for sure?"
"I think so." Her voice was small. "I looked at the clock before I came to his room."
"What was he doing?"
"He was drunk, so his guards were carrying him to his room."
Alice said, "They're being more thorough than I expected."
"Even if they want to blame the Dwalvic Union, they at least need a compelling case. They'll probably just blow up any link they find at the end," Junho said.
"Did he lock the door?" an officer asked.
"I heard the door lock," Yuna said.
"Did he say anything to you or his bodyguards?"
"No. I asked him if he needed anything, and he didn't say anything."
"Was this before or after he locked the door?"
"Before. The men put him in bed and closed the door. I asked if he needed anything, and he didn't reply. He just locked the door, so I thought he didn't need me."
They spent the rest of the interview trying to grab straws at any link to the dwarves. Nina was questioned next.
"I hope I can be of some help to you, but I didn't see much of McLazarus around," Nina said.
"Just tell us what you can. All the times you saw the Minister."
"I saw him once as he was first walking to his room. And once later when he was going to meet the Count."
"Did you notice anything unusual?"
"No, his guards were with him every time I saw him."
The rest of the interviews yielded no useful information, at least as far as Alice could make out. Even her father's account was predictable. They had discussed political matters and made small talk, and the Minister had too much to drink and was half-asleep as his guards carried him to his room.
"Even my father doesn't know anything." Alice sighed.
"It makes sense. The Count is on good terms with the Minister. He's the least likely to have any knowledge of a plot to kill him," Junho said.
Mizael looked at them curiously.
"What is it?" Alice asked.
"You two are siblings, right?"
"Maybe it's just a cultural difference, but I just wanted to know why you call him your father, but Junho calls him the Count. Sorry, it's off topic, but it was bugging me," Mizael said.
Alice looked down. "Ah, that " She was sure it was a painful memory, or lack thereof.
"Did I ask something I shouldn't have?"
"No, it's okay," Junho said. "It's not a secret. I'm an adopted son. I was part of the An clan."
"I feel like I've heard of that name."
"They were one of the noble clans that took part in the February 1st movement in 1919. The protest against the Solradian occupation. There was a crackdown in the years after that, and when I was young, they dissolved the clan by arresting or executing most of them, including my parents. I was only five, so I don't even remember their faces. Then Alice's family adopted me. That was fourteen years ago," Junho said.
"I'm sorry to hear that," Mizael said.
"That's ancient history though. Let's take a look at the room."
Alice wondered whether it was worse to remember such a tragedy, or to have knowledge of it but have lost one's memory of it. Either way, if it was ancient history, Junho was still living in it, and Alice couldn't say anything to him; she had no right to. Her family had collaborated with the Solradians, building an inn for occupation officials in exchange for subsidies. No matter how much she loved her older brother, her words would only sound hollow to him.
They stood in front of the room where the Minister had lain, his body now gone. The pool of blood had disappeared too.
"The police really cleaned this place up. Not a trace of my father." Mizael looked at the doorknob. "Is there any way to pick this lock?"
"No, there's only one way to open it from the outside if it's locked," Junho said. "You have to draw a special magitech pattern on the knob. The only two who know the pattern are Nina and the Count." He stepped inside the room and turned the lock. "The only way to lock it is from the inside."
"What about magic?" Mizael asked.
"Mizael, there's no magic that convenient. Radiaurora is importing magitech from Ilysveil and Makuran. If there were any magic that could just open a simple lock from outside without damaging it, you would know before us," Alice said.
Junho walked up to the one window in the room. He felt the hinges on the left and right. He looked at the glowing sphere attached to the center of the two window panes. "The hinges are fine. The locking talisman is fully functional too. This window can be closed from the outside, but it only opens from the inside."
"None that I'm aware of, and I've lived here for years. And the bodyguards inspected every corner for stuff like that."
Mizael sat on the floor. "This doesn't make any sense. The only way into the room is through the door. The door was locked from the inside, and it wasn't tampered with. My father locks the door at eleven-ten, and he's just dead in the room in the morning?"
Alice twirled a lock of hair between her fingers. "A few things are out of place."
"You have some ideas?" Mizael asked.
She smiled. Alice had never imagined she might be helpful to Mizael like this. It wasn't right to be happy in a situation like this, but she couldn't help it. "It might be nothing, but it's worth checking out. Yuna just started the other day, so why was she put in charge of an important guest like the Minister? Wouldn't a veteran normally be assigned for such a guest? Who was in charge of the assignments?"
"That would be Nina, since she's the chief maid," Junho said.
"We should talk to her. It's not like I suspect her or anything, though," Alice said. She wasn't sure whether she had said that to justify her course of action to them or to herself.
They caught Nina hanging clothes on the drying line behind the inn. Yuna handed her a blanket from the basket, and Nina hung it up on clothespins.
"We would like a word with you, Nina," Alice said.
"Yes, of course, young lady," Nina said. "How can I help you?" Her wrinkly smile was gentle.
Alice felt guilty about asking these questions but pressed forward. She chose her words carefully. "Why did Yuna get assigned to the Minister? I know it wasn't her fault, but she had a lot of responsibility from day one, and the way things turned out, it must be weighing on her."
Yuna hid behind Nina and grabbed onto her robes. Nina stroked Yuna on the head and sighed. "This child has had a hard life. Her father died in the war. He was one of the conscripts in a factory in Hirosaki when the void bomb hit."
Misery loved company. The suffering of war always spread beyond its immediate victims. "What about her mother?" Alice asked.
"The provisional government needed some women to earn some money for the country through any means. I've heard the odds of her coming back home are slim."
"What does that have to do with her assignment though?" Mizael asked.
Nina looked at Mizael. "As you can imagine, the Count was hesitant about hiring a twelve year-old. I told him I would take responsibility if he gave her a chance to prove herself by serving McLazarus satisfactorily. I know it must hurt to lose your father, but please don't be angry with her."
"Can we just ask her a few questions?" Junho said.
"Are you up for it, Yuna?" Nina asked.
Yuna nodded. "I want to be helpful."
"When were all the times you saw the Minister?" Junho asked.
"I saw him when he arrived. Later, I brought him some coffee. The Count told me Minister McLazarus prefers coffee to tea. He left to go to the bathroom for a bit after that. He went out to meet the Count at night, and he came back drunk. I checked up on him a bit after he came back, but he didn't answer me and just locked the door."
Junho patted her on the head. "That's all. Thanks for helping us out."
"Let's talk to Sùkhua," Alice said. "The last thing the Minister did was talk with my father, and Sùkhua's my father's personal butler. Maybe he noticed something."
They ran into Kyuhan carrying a tray of beef bone broth and pickled cabbage. "Hello young lady and young master."
"Welcome back, Kyuhan," Junho said.
"It's good to be back, though I heard about what happened," he said.
"It's not your responsibility," Alice said.
"Yeah, don't worry about it." Mizael looked somewhat down as he said it, though. "That looks good. What is it?"
"Sùlrùngtang and gimchi. I don't think you would like it though. Westerners think the gimchi smells bad."
"I think my father would have liked it. He didn't care about the smell of foods, only the taste."
Kyuhan patted him on the back. "My old man had bad breath too. I still loved him. It's hard, but you've got a long life ahead of you. I've got to get this delivered." He walked down the hall and around the corner.
They filed into the main staff room and found Sùkhua boiling tea. Aside from the smell of cleaning solution, a soft scent of green tea and herbs floated throughout the room. He looked up as they entered.
"How may I help you?"
"We were looking into the Minister's death for Mizael here. You were one of the last ones to see him alive, during the meeting with my father. Did you notice anything strange?" Alice asked.
"Unfortunately not. I told the police. The lord was talking about acquiring a construction company to build more branches. The Minister was talking about offering him a contract to build some part of a new military base. Other than that kind of standard political talk, they made some small talk."
"Everything was normal up until he was murdered " Junho said.
"No, that's wrong. It wasn't," Alice said, looking back up.
"What do you mean?" Mizael asked. "Was there something wrong about that conversation?"
"No, not the conversation itself. But things weren't normal before the meeting either. The Minister came here at five, and he was supposed to meet my father soon, but he didn't meet him until nine-thirty. Why?"
"Ah, that." Sùkhua took the steaming kettle off the stove as it screeched. "All of the staff were in a meeting with the lord, well, except Yuna and Nina."
"It wasn't scheduled. What was this all about?" Junho asked.
"Many of the staff wanted the lord to support the People's Legion. They begged and pleaded for a while."
"The Linkists?" Mizael cried. "Did the Dwalvic Union actually have something to do with this?"
Sùkhua shook his head. "No, no. I don't think it was anything of the sort. I didn't see any dwarves with them nor did they mention any alliance with the Dwalvic Union. They said the people had suffered under the old Radiauroran dynasty, and again under Solradian occupation. They asked the lord to cut ties with Makuran and support equality."
"What did he say?" Alice asked. She had heard of the Linkists. She didn't fully understand them, but she got the sense that the turmoil in this land had not subsided.
"He refused. For better or for worse, he chose to collaborate with Solradia and now Makuran. He believes he protected Radiaurorans by making a place for them."
"What's going to happen now?"
"We may lose some employees, I'm afraid."
"One more thing. When did the meeting with my father end?"
"Thank you." She didn't want to lose anything, yet the world around her was tearing at its own throat. Alice had already had a premonition that something terrible had happened right under her nose, but now the pieces all fit together. "Mizael, Junho, I have an idea."
They sat in her room once again.
"You have that look on your face that says you know something," Junho said.
"I'm not completely sure, but I think I figured it out," Alice said.
"Tell us," Mizael said.
"I don't know if I want to believe it myself, though."
"It's my father. I'm ready for the truth, no matter what it is, so there's no reason for you to be afraid."
There was, but she had to say it. "Kyuhan killed your father."
"What? He was the one person who couldn't have done it. He was at his father's grave," Junho said.
"I know. That's why he was the perfect person to do it. No one would suspect him. And he wasn't alone. He did the killing part alone, but others set up the situation."
"A completely locked room. That means Nina had to have opened the door for Kyuhan since I doubt it was your father," Mizael said.
"No, that would be too obvious. I'll go through everything in chronological order. The Minister arrived here at five. The guards inspected the room for any secret passageways and such. Yuna greeted him. A bit later, Kyuhan leaves the inn for his father's grave. Instead of the meeting with the Count happening as planned, the staff are all protesting in my father's room. Yuna gives the Minister the coffee during this time and later he goes to the bathroom before he goes to meet my father at nine-thirty. The Minister gets drunk by the end of the meeting, and he returns shortly after ten fifty-five. Yuna sees him but doesn't do anything until eleven-ten when she knocks on his door. The door is locked and no one says anything. The next morning, Yuna is worried that the Minister is not answering the door, so Nina unlocks it, and here we are."
"Right. Those are the basic facts. He had to have been killed between eleven-ten and the morning," Mizael said.
"No. He was already dead by eleven-ten," Alice said.
"But he locked the door, so he must've been alive."
"How do we know that was him, though? He didn't say anything. I think it was the killer who locked the door."
"How did the killer get in though? His guards would've heard someone trying to enter."
Junho gasped. "No, there was one time he could've gotten in. The door can only be locked from the inside."
Alice nodded. "So when he went to the bathroom, and his guards were with him the whole time, the room was unlocked."
"But all the staff were accounted for except for Yuna and Nina, and they couldn't have hid in the room the whole time. People would question where they went," Mizael said.
"All except one. Kyuhan was not supposed to be here, so no one would question that he's not present. He's the only one who could've snuck back into the inn and hid in the Minister's room without raising suspicion. Perhaps in the closet or under the bed."
"This feels like a stretch," Mizael said.
"If you want a smoking gun, there is one. Kyuhan was supposed to have left right after the Minister came. Kyuhan said that his father had bad breath too. You only said that he didn't mind smelly foods, not that he didn't take care of his breath. I didn't notice anything unusual about his breath either. But if he came back drunk, his breath would have stunk of alcohol. There was no way Kyuhan could have known that if he wasn't with your father after the meeting," Alice said.
"That bastard. Tell your head maid to suspend him right now so we can get the police." Mizael stood up, but Alice grabbed him by the sleeve.
"No, we can't tell Nina. There's more."
Mizael sat back down. Junho looked away. It seemed he understood where this was going.
"There's the question of why didn't Nina just assign herself as his service staff and just go in and out late at night since she could unlock the door? That's exactly why she didn't. Suspicion would fall on her immediately. That brings us to Yuna. I wondered why Nina chose her. I do believe her story about her parents. But that's why she's perfect for her role. A kid with that much to lose is the least suspicious. The plan relied on the Minister going to the bathroom at the right time. There was no way to guarantee that unless he was poisoned with something nonlethal. If it was lethal, then the staff would be easily suspected. Yuna served him coffee, but where did that coffee come from? Coffee is very fragrant, but when we went to the stove, there was only the smell of tea. Nina must've given her the coffee from somewhere else."
"There's no way to know when he's going to go the bathroom though," Mizael said.
"There isn't." Alice buried her face in her hands. It felt as though the whole world turned its back on her. "It was weird that the staff tied up my father for a whole three and a half hours with their pleas. They had to be stalling for time so Kyuhan could slip in after the Minister went to the bathroom. Everyone was in on it."
"Why? Why is everyone so determined to kill my father?"
Alice couldn't answer that.
"1919." Junho looked at Alice, and then at Mizael. "Kyuhan said this was the thirtieth anniversary of his father's death. It's 1949 right now. A lot of patriots died in 1919. Yuna had her father ripped away from her by the Solradians, and the Makuranians sent him to his grave. The provisional government collaborating with the Makuranians took away her mother. From their perspective, the Makuranians are just the Solradians all over again. The Count is a collaborator, and the Minister the occupier."
"I can't just let this go, even if the culprit is everyone," Mizael said.
"I don't want to lose everyone, but this is a murder. There might be nothing I can do," Alice said.
"These people aren't evil. They're patriots that have been through a lot, and they're still fighting for Radiaurora," Junho said.
Her big brother was right next to her, yet he felt so far away. Everyone did. "I just wanted everyone to be happy."
"There's no way to make everyone happy," Sùkhua said, leaning against the doorway. "Sorry for eavesdropping. I was curious about the case myself, and it seemed you three knew something."
"Did you come here just out of curiosity?" Mizael asked.
"No. I said there's no happiness for everyone. But there is a way to make everyone equally unhappy."
"Anything," Alice said.
"We'll tell the police about the main participants. Nina, Yuna, and Kyuhan, but we'll give them advance warning so they can run."
"But what about the rest of the staff? The explanation will have holes without their involvement," Junho said.
"That's why this will make everyone unhappy. One person needs to be a scapegoat. Someone who was the ringleader of this People's Legion protest. The staff were just unwitting participants in the murder plan. This person, if caught, unlike the others who will go to jail, will likely have a public execution."
The room went silent. Even if they had killed the Minister, a public execution was too much.
"I'll do it," Junho said.
"Junho!" Alice cried. "What are you thinking?" She grabbed his sleeve as he stood up.
"My family died fighting for independence, and I grew up spoiled by a collaborator's family. I love you, Alice, but it's time I fulfill my duties as head of the An clan. I'm going to fight. To protect everyone. I can't let anyone else die fighting an occupation."
"Pack your bags, then," Sùkhua said.
"You know I can't accept this," Mizael said.
"I won't ask you to. There is no justice here. If you won't do it for the people here, at least do it for Alice. Just let it go this once. You can do whatever you want afterward," Junho said.
"I'm going to hunt all of you down. You know that, right?" Mizael said.
"You'll be executed."
"I've made my peace," Junho said. He left with Sùkhua.
Mizael kicked the wall and screamed.
Next morning, Alice awoke with tears in her eyes. No, it hadn't been a dream. She had lost Mizael's friendship, Nina who had been like a grandmother to her, Kyuhan who had served her since she was little, and even her beloved older brother, all in the span of a day. She got up and looked out the window. A brilliant dawn was rising from the horizon.
Big brother, are you seeing the same dawn I am?
© J. H. Zech 2018 All Rights Reserved
Date and time of last update 11:09 Wed 14 Feb 2018
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