Chapter 312 58.3 Endgame?
"N-Never again... Man isn't supposed to fly..."
I couldn't help but chuckle at the poor woman currently kneeling on all fours on the ground. Her daughter and her husband were quick to comfort her, and I was quick to stop the others from needling her too much. And when I said the others, I meant Nicole.
Seriously, this woman just won't stop being a menace.
"Let's go once we're all ready then," Shizu remarked as she took the lead once more. She didn't have to, really, but it was more for the sake of those that were unfamiliar with the place. "We're nearly there."
"I-I'm fine," Carbuncle breathed out as she picked herself up off the ground. "Let's continue."
With all of us accounted for, we made our way up the lavish living spaces of Yagokoro all the way up to the Imperial Palace. Like last time, it was all about the jade and luxury as the Imperial guards let us pass by freely. Well, most of us. Those that weren't with us from back in the day got stopped for inspection before Shizu stepped in and vouched for them.
A few things then happened as we went in. For one, there were a lot fewer guards than the first time that Guidance and I went here. There was also considerably less jade littered across the hallways, and overall, it just felt less... luxurious somehow.
"What happened here?" Shizu couldn't help but ask aloud despite knowing that she had to maintain decorum. "I don't remember the palace looking like this..."
"Something must've happened," Shade remarked. "Maybe a bit of remodeling was needed?"
I couldn't help but shrug at what was being observed. I didn't know anything about how this palace worked. All I knew was that the palace was lacking a decent amount of its former shine and that something must've happened to necessitate it. Perhaps a selloff? Maybe more materials were needed to pay for something? But I doubted that though...
"Whatever... Let's just go meet Father," Shizu waved at her, her tone wavering even as she showed her usual smile. "He'll have an explanation, I'm sure."
Following her lead, we all went deeper into the palace. Slowly but surely, some of the former splendor was back in full display, but it still felt eerily fake somehow even as we stood in front of the massive door leading to the throne room.
"Before I forget, just follow my lead and don't do anything else unless you're spoken to," Shizu briefed us, her princess persona now in full swing as she straightened her back and gaze. "Do not speak, and most especially do not do anything that can harm everyone inside."
Thankfully, nobody seemed to have anything to say against such instructions before Shizu turned to place her hands on the massive double doors. Taking a deep breath, she pushed it open, something that I didn't recall happening the last time we were here. Really, something seemed off... and the feeling only heightened as we entered the throne room.
It was... It was considerably empty. Like, barren of all things that seemed valuable.
My gaze fell to Shizu, only to see that the princess was visibly distraught by what she was seeing. Why wouldn't she? She grew up here, and to see that everything not bolted down on the ground going missing would upset anyone that had a connection to their homes.
Despite this, she remained quiet. Her head held high, she maintained her decorum as she went and walked up to an alarmingly empty throne. Nobody was there to greet us, and nobody even said anything to us as we bowed down. Nobody announced Shizu's presence as a princess. Nobody to bow to us as they should to the Imperial Princess and Heiress apparent...
In fact, now that I think about it, even the guards outside didn't seem to care much about Shizu's return.
"Well, this is awkward."
All eyes sharply fell on Nicole as her loud mouth just couldn't help but say something stupid. Shizu visibly flinched, but she didn't dare try and remove herself from kneeling to the empty throne. She was still waiting for something to happen, for her father to somehow show up and tell her to raise her head.
"Shut up," Guidance harshly whispered.
"Why? It's not like anybody's here to even hear us," Nicole scoffed. "Why are we even still kneeling when we could-"
My eyes widened as it all happened in the blink of an eye. Before Nicole could even begin to stand up, Shizu had already gone and slammed her head back down on the ground. The princess didn't even look that apologetic, something that was starting to look more and more common on Shizu's face as she spat on the Marquean.
"Pay respects to the Emperor," Shizu coldly stated. "We will not stand until we're given permission."
"But who's going to give that permission?" Nicole ground out, her cheek still firmly on the floor as she replied. "Nobody's here, and the guards clearly don't think that something's wrong."
I kept my silence as I gave Shizu another look. She was trembling, but her dedication to her composure as a princess won out as she maintained the same passive face that she had worn ever since we entered the palace.
"That only means that you defer to me, Alset," Shizu coolly replied before she returned to kneeling to the throne. "Do not make an enemy out of us just because you don't like proper rules."
I inwardly chuckled at that statement. It was kind of rich hearing that kind of talk from someone that had consistently broken rules herself. Then again, that was whenever she wasn't in her princess persona. That, I could understand.
And so we stayed in the throne room, kneeling down on the jade floors for what felt like an hour. Nothing changed, and I could tell that everyone was getting rather antsy at the nothingness we were receiving. Thankfully, the Vestygian seemed to have everything locked down in terms of preventing Gem from speaking out. Likewise, Shen's newfound maturity seemed to help the mechanic from shouting out her own boredom at having to wait for nothing to happen.
Eventually, however, something changed.
Footsteps echoed from beyond the throne itself. Heavy and yet weak at the same time, I fought the urge to raise my head as I felt the Emperor's familiar aura wash over me.
"Stand, Princess Caris."
The princess did as she was asked, and I quickly motioned for the rest to keep kneeling before they followed suit. We weren't the ones addressed, so we had to keep kneeling.
"What have you done, my daughter?" the Emperor's voice boomed, a hint of accusation, wariness, and disappointment seeping into his authoritative tone.
Shizu audibly shrank, but she stood her ground as she replied. "I did what I thought was best for the Empire."
"So what was best was for your group to antagonize a known neutral party in the War for the Shallow Deep?" the Emperor dubiously asked. "Did I not instruct your group to attack Vestyge?"
"And not only did you ignore such an order, but you went on your own to launch an attack on Marquee," the Emperor followed, his tone starting to rise with each syllable. "Why, my daughter? What even compelled you to do such a politically disastrous move?"
I saw Shizu's feet shuffle ever so slightly, her anxiety starting to roll off her in waves as she fought against her own nerves to speak.
"I-I had heard that Marquee was developing a weapon of great destructive power," she bravely replied, her voice starting to waver and buckle even as she held her ground. "It was imperative that we try and prove its existence, and we succeeded."
"By attacking Centrax and destroying their capital?"
Beside me, Guidance flinched. The rest also couldn't stay impassive as they all braced for the Emperor's wrath.
The source of this content is nov/el/b/in[./]net'
"N-No! That was an accident!"
"An accident that sparked an even greater conflict," the Emperor scoffed. "Even now, our forces are starting to thin with the front now having to cover for Marquee's potential retaliation."
I ground my teeth at that. That sounded like it was the worst thing that could ever happen. Not that it wasn't. I could only assume then that the palace looking so empty was because everything was being put into the war effort.
"Even now, you waste my time by presenting yourself like this when I could be overseeing the war effort," the Emperor scoffed. "Where did I go wrong, Daughter? When did you become so unfit to rule?"
"No, Father! You didn't-"
"I gave you everything, and yet you repaid me with something that could endanger the very existence of our home," the Emperor cut her off, making Shizu gasp in horror. "You're no daughter of mine."
"Begone from my sight, Caris. Or should I say Shizu? That is the name you go by now, isn't it?" the Emperor coldly scoffed. "Until you've proven yourself changed, I am removing any and all power you might have under your name."