Beatrice and Runa stepped outside to see what all the commotion was. There was a fire emerging in the direction of Castle Balarand, pillowing smoke rising into the air. What could it be? Beatrice quickly ruled out that Runa was enacting any of her schemes since she too seemed surprised. It must have been an accident, like a gunpowder spill or a kitchen fire raging out of control.
The fire was in the direction of Emi’s house…
Emi was probably okay. She may not have even been home, being the rich and famous elite she was. Likely she was out at some mansion by Lake Geoffrey, riding animals and drinking fruit juice and doing whatever rich people did in their free time.
…Beatrice felt like walking towards her house regardless, just to make sure it wasn’t affected by the fire. Despite the fervor on the streets with the protests, it seemed the most sensible thing to do. “Come on,” she told Runa. “We’re taking a walk.”
“But my mother told me not to leave your house or she’d shut down my laboratory for a month.”
“We’ll be back before she comes to pick you up,” Beatrice said. Runa’s mom was supposed to come by in fifteen minutes, so that was unlikely. But it was probably better anyway if she was able to impede Runa’s quest for world domination, even if only for a month. With whatever was going on, it was also possible that Ms. Arakawa was not going to be able to pick her daughter up soon after all. She had a bad feeling about that fire.
The mostly melted snow still laid on the ground, off to the side or on top of roofs. It was still too cold to go outside without a scarf and gloves. But the growing fires in the distance looked to change that. Beatrice couldn’t tell if it was just her mind playing tricks, or if there really was a growing warmth around the area.
They walked towards the city center and Beatrice quickly noticed an eerie calm had set over the streets. People were not emerging from their homes and the growing fire was seemingly being ignored. She noticed why as she grew closer and heard the banging of boots against the ground.
A group of two or three dozen soldiers, not in any consistent uniform and certainly not belonging to Dannark, marched down the Grand Concourse. In a cart that rolled behind them there was a cage full of prisoners.
The realization hit Beatrice like a brick against her skull.
This was a full-on uprising.
She and Runa rushed to the city center with all their speed; she didn’t take the time to explain the situation to Runa, because it was unlikely she would be able to understand the dynamics of the situation quickly enough, but she knew she needed to find her and make sure she was safe immediately.
The large fire was actually a controlled bonfire in front of the steps to the castle. There were a growing number of people gathering in a crowd around it, and many of these same men and women in ragged outfits were standing at the crowd’s center.
One man that Beatrice immediately recognized was Mr. Ulric Statusian.
This… couldn’t be happening.
Why was he…
How could he be…
Beatrice lost all ability for reason and rationality.
Ulric Statusian stood atop a box and shouted at the crowd, brandishing a sword up in the air. “We have had enough of the tyrannical rule of the Dannark Empire!” he shouted. “Just this week, Dannark demanded King Kline must be turned over, or else they will invade Fathie by land and sea. Will we stand for our ruler being treated like a common criminal?”
“No!” the crowd chanted back.
“We, the common folk of Balarand, will take back Elince for ourselves and destroy any traitor to the crown who stands in our way. We will save King Kline, and we will save our kingdom!
“There are people all over the city just like us who have joined the cause to protect Balarand. Look what we have captured–” He hoisted up a sparkling object instantly familiar to any citizen in the city–”The Jewel of Elince is ours. With this, our enemies are hopeless. We will triumph.”
The crowd went wild.
“Take up arms and join us!”
The men and women in uniforms began handing out weapons–everything from pikes and axes to sharpened gardening tools–to those in the crowd. They weren’t trained soldiers, but they were enraged and riled up, and things were sure to turn violent any moment now.
She noticed the cage of prisoners, now wheeled up next to the bonfire for display purposes. Judging by their clothing, those people consisted of the same types of folk that went to Mammoth Pass with her last month, still dressed in whatever fancy cloaks or nightgowns they wore before they were seized.
Ulric Statusian shouted, “These men and women have collaborated with Dannark to keep the power structure stable. These men and women compromised the integrity of our kingdom so they could keep their wealth, and we will not allow them to get away with their robbery. These men and women will stand trial for their crimes. If you find a traitor, take them prisoner and bring them to us!”
Emi… Her entire family… She begged her mind not to think about that right now.
Runa, who had been taking all this with an unusual sternness, said only, “This will negatively impact my plans for the Grand Experiment. We must find a way to stop this.”
“What can we possibly do?” Beatrice balked.
“We… Hmm, no. Not that either. We… Aha. We’re going to perfect my experiment and unleash it upon all who dare stand up to me!” With that, Runa took off in a sprint northwards. Ahhhhh…. No, no, not during the middle of an armed insurrection… This girl…!
Beatrice knew she needed to stop Runa before she got hurt. But just as she began to take her first step, her eyes met with Ulric Statusian’s. He smiled and his face brightened. He began walking through the crowd towards her. She took off in a sprint.
She didn’t want to be involved in any of this. And she didn’t want anything bad to happen to Runa. So all she could do was run.
“Wait up!” Beatrice shouted. Runa was fast, though. Way too fast. And Beatrice hadn’t done much physical activity since she got back from Mammoth Pass…
Still, the drive to not be captured by the rebels and to not let Runa do anything foolish kept her going, huffing and puffing all the way. In the middle of absolute chaos on the streets, and this girl was running? Why?
She must have run for twenty minutes before her strength finally gave out and she was forced to walk the rest of the way.
When she finally reached Runa’s house, her ultimate destination, she realized the entire neighborhood was deserted. No shops open, no kids playing on the street. If anyone knew about the rebellion, they were either hiding in their homes, fleeing the city, or joining in with the fight.
Balarand really was about to change forever, wasn’t it?
Beatrice entered the Arakawa home and went into the basement.
Runa was already back in her laboratory, yelling curses at the people who inspected it earlier in the day. “They stole my schematics!” she yelled. “How will I replicate my experiments now? This is a disaster, Beatrice. A complete disaster, I say.”
“Replicate what experiment? What are you talking about, Runa? Why in blazes are we back at your–”
Runa held up a finger to her mouth. “Shush.”
Beatrice was so flabbergasted by this command that she obeyed it.
Runa rummaged through a stack of books and revealed a stone protruding out of the wall. She pressed it inwards and another wall to the laboratory spun around, revealing–
“Oh my Gods,” Beatrice said.
“You’re safe. I am so pleased,” Runa said with a grin.
It was a monster.
A repulsive, nearly naked monster.
It was a large humanoid creature, breathing in and out quietly as it slept chained up to the wall. Its eyes bulging out of its eye sockets, its skin pale, its hands gigantic.
“I have made the world’s first homunculus,” Runa said. “I used naught but two bunnies and the hair of that beautiful companion of yours. But I must make more if I am to be successful. I must get those schematics back. Help me, Beatrice. You are my greatest hope. Rather, the most convenient hope.”