ORCHID 4 DIVIDED BY DOGMA
"The Grand Royal Parliament today unanimously condemned the statements issued last week by the mysterious Macbeth, leader of the terrorist organization R.A.I.N. In a rare public statement, Head Regent Winchester vehemently denounced the actions of R.A.I.N. and vowed to bring Macbeth to justice.
"Per the Head Regent's orders, the thirty-seven soldiers captured in Skyscraper One on 23 August were swiftly executed by the military yesterday evening. The sole member of R.A.I.N. not to be executed has been identified as an individual operating under the code name 'Mercutio.' The B.E.B.C. has confirmed that he was the individual shot by Azure Dunbarton, the son of Valhalla Corporation C.E.O. Edmond Dunbarton, that fateful night. Mister Mercutio remains under military detention in Dublin awaiting further questioning. Efforts to reach both he and Mister Dunbarton for comment have remained unanswered."
Azure slowly places his fork down on his plate of bacon and waffles. He touches a finger on the tablet computer in front of him and the image of the news broadcast disappears. Azure's normally warm eyes are frigid with silent anger. He is seated on a wooden stool in front of a handsome marble countertop in the middle of a cavernous kitchen.
From the adjacent foyer, a click sounds. Samuel enters through the front door of the Dunbarton estate, clapping his hands with some satisfaction. "You shall be pleased to learn, Young Master Azure, that I have just set the lawn sprinklers upon the gaggle of media vultures trespassing outside in hopes of securing a comment from you. The endeavor proved extremely persuasive in encouraging their imminent departure."
"Yeah," Azure mutters. Not bothering to turn to greet Samuel as the latter enters the kitchen and puts on a pink apron with daisy prints, Azure rises from his seat as he leaves his half-finished breakfast on the counter.
Picking up after Azure while humming a familiar opera tune, Samuel shouts to Azure as the latter stalks up the staircase outside in the foyer. "Please do not forget to pack your things for tomorrow's trip, Young Master Azure. We shall be leaving promptly at eight thirty in the morning. Do kindly remind Miss Tsukiko as well."
As Azure reaches the upstairs landing, he finds Tsukiko standing in the hallway just outside the door of his room. She gives him a trifling look as he approaches. "Oh, good timing. I just finished redecorating your room."
With a sprint and a slam, Azure bursts into his room. Horrifying posters of cartoon bunnies and kittens decorate the formerly plain walls. Obnoxious pink doilies have seemingly crept into every nook and crevice. Sitting on the bed is a party of stuffed animal dolls of varying shapes, colors, and sizes. The crème de la crème of the collection is a lion-shaped doll wearing a crown of daisies and large detachable black sunglasses. A lurid smile is plastered across the creature's face.
"What is the meaning of this?!" Azure shouts absurdly, rounding upon Tsukiko and viciously thrusting the lion doll into a face-to-face confrontation with its mistress.
"Remove your hands from Mister Stuffy Paws at once," retorts Tsukiko in a low, dangerous voice. She quickly snatches the stuffed doll out of Azure's hands.
Azure blinks. "Stuffy Paws?"
"Mister Stuffy Paws," corrects Tsukiko, wandering over to a seat on top of Azure's bed.
Sighing and massaging the side of his head with his hand, Azure glares at Tsukiko, who has made herself quite comfortable on his bed. "By the way, Samuel asked me to remind you to make sure to pack everything before tomorrow."
"I already did," says Tsukiko. The girl lazily shoots a searching glance at Azure. "What's wrong with you? You look rather angry."
The rigid look on Azure's face does not go unnoticed by Tsukiko. But Azure does not respond to her inquiry. Nonetheless, Tsukiko smiles knowingly as she continues to toy with Azure. "I saw you earlier. You were watching the news. Well? What do you think of the Empire's approach to justice?"
"Those R.A.I.N. soldiers deserved it."
"As they should," Tsukiko answers, now taking Mister Stuffy Paws' sunglasses and trying them on for herself. "After what they did to your girlfriend."
"She's not my girlfriend," Azure insists with a growl, glaring impatiently at Tsukiko again. "I just don't like R.A.I.N. They're just a bunch of hypocrites. They claim to be supporters of democracy, and yet they harm and kill innocent people without even stopping to think about it. They're just terrorists, yet they claim their goal is to establish a democracy?!"
After removing the fake sunglasses, Tsukiko gazes thoughtfully out of Azure's bedside window. A calm, clear day is dawning over the neat, grassy lawn of the Dunbarton estate. "I wonder," she says, "if that is really their true goal."
"Hm?" Azure looks with genuine curiosity at Tsukiko. "What do you mean?"
Now it is Tsukiko's turn to look impatiently at Azure, though it is a much more amused sort of look. "You were the one who shot him, weren't you? That R.A.I.N. member, Mercutio? The initial reports from that night claimed he had pilfered something from Skyscraper Two. Yet there has been no indication of what that object was, and all of the news reports since have neglected to mention that fact. Do you not find it curious that he was the lone terrorist spared from the executions?"
At these words, Azure's eyes widen. "You're right…." He begins pacing the room in a circle. "Now that you mention it, the thief was definitely carrying something on his back when I shot him."
Tsukiko looks up. She sits in an upright position, her entire body much stiffer than moments before. "What did that thing look like?"
"Hmm…" Azure mutters, thinking back. "It was rather long and thin, and wrapped in black cloth. It looked—almost like a sword, but that's—"
"I see," hisses Tsukiko, though she does not elaborate.
Azure glances quizzically at his companion. "What is it?"
"It seems their object was Julia. The attack on Skyscraper One was merely a diversion. But… that does not make any sense. Why would they go after Julia? Unless…"
"Julia?" repeats Azure.
Rain lashes against the rocky shores of Ireland south of Dublin. A vast fortress of concrete and brick stands at the edge of a cliff overlooking the jagged coastline. Waves crash against the rocky wall as thunder booms dully from a place far removed from the Dublin Military Detention Facility.
"Julia," says a burly black official in a green military uniform, as he paces back and forth across the cramped and soundproofed interrogation room inside the Dublin facility. With great reverence, the military official holds in his hands a naked sword. Its long blade gleams with a pristine silver color, yet it is thin and elegant, like a rapier.
Across the interrogation table sits the member of R.A.I.N. known as Mercutio. His hands are restrained by a strait jacket, while his ankles are chained to the table in front of him. His brown hair sits damp, drooping low over his jade green eyes, while his normally handsome face is pallid and lined with sweat.
"I pray," Mercutio says, "while I may harbor great abhorrence for the symbolisms of Empire, I do implore you to wield that virgin blade with greater decency that your foul hands may not muck it up. Since when is a lowly grunt as your brutish self allowed to view the sword Julia in its naked shame?"
"You bastard!" thunders the military man. "Do you understand who I am, terrorist? I am Major James Albert, Head of the Interrogation and Information Department in the Grand British Army! You do not want to screw around with me."
"I thank you for supplying your loathsome identity!" replies Mercutio with false cheer. "It shall be noted within the confines of my fabulous faculties, so that at which time is appropriate I shall etch and scrawl it on the wall of my urinal so that I may gloriously piss upon it every time the cardinal duty of relieving my natural functions calls."
Major Albert clenches his fist angrily. "You damn terrorist bastard, you realize I can—"
"Salvation! Or rather, a saturation of entities contriving to deprive me of salvation!"
The door to the interrogation chamber suddenly opens. Standing in the brightly lit doorway is a much older gentleman. He wears a handsome black suit with a purple silk ascot tie. His gray hair is smooth and well-kept. As he walks, this man carries himself rigidly, with the gait of a nobleman.
The jaw of Major Albert quickly drops as he lays eyes upon this man. He rushes into a low bow. "H-Head Regent Winchester! My lord, at your service!"
The Head Regent saunters into the room. Silently, he takes Julia from Major Albert's hands and cradles the thin blade himself with his gloved hands. Finally, Winchester turns and sets his contemptuous brown eyes on Mercutio. "I wished to interrogate the damned terrorist myself."
"Yes, my lord," Albert mutters obsequiously. He shuffles into a corner of the room.
Mercutio remains silent as Winchester approaches him, though his eyes gaze back at the Head Regent with obvious defiance. Winchester places Julia on the table in front of Mercutio.
"This sword was found on your person the night of 23 August. I want to know why you were in possession of it, and what object you hoped to achieve by stealing it. Speak now."
"Beats me," Mercutio answers. He grins. "Perhaps you should try asking Macbeth."
Winchester glares coldly at Mercutio. After several seconds, he turns away. "Very well. I shall return later, after you have… spent more time with Major Albert here. However, do take care to remember that I am not a man to be trifled with, terrorist."
Without waiting for a reply, Winchester trots away. Yet before he reaches the door, Mercutio utters his answer: "Fine by me. But do take care to note that you are quite dead to me, Head Regent."
"Bastard, apologize immediately!" Major Albert roars, but Winchester either does not hear Mercutio or pretends not to as he disappears from view.
"Julia?" Azure says again. "As in, the sword? But what would a terrorist want with it?"
"I don't know," mutters Tsukiko. Through the window, sunlight streams into the room, illuminating her person with a soft glow. Tsukiko blinks as the sunlight reaches her eyes.
"But Julia is regarded as one of the most treasured artifacts of the Grand British Empire. Traditionally, it's been passed down to the crown princess of the royal family from each generation since the days of Gregory. It doesn't quite have the same meaning as Valhalla, but…"
Azure remains silent as Tsukiko appears to lose herself in thought. Eventually, he mutters in a low voice, "An organization promoting democracy while chasing after royal artifacts, huh?"
Before he has a chance to muse over this thought any further, Azure's mobile phone rings. Caught by surprise, he hurriedly reaches into his pocket and looks at the number on it. Glancing at Tsukiko, who remains lost in thought, Azure strides out of his room back into the hallway outside.
"How are you, Azure?"
Frowning, Azure retorts back, "What are you talking about, Father? A strange girl suddenly appears out of nowhere saying she's going to be living with us and you ask me how I am?! Is anybody going to explain to me what's going on here?"
"Oh, that's right. Tsukiko will be living with us for at least a year. She will be going to school at Cambridge Imperial with you as well, so make sure that you look after her and treat her like family so that she feels at home, all right?"
"I think she already understands that better than I do," Azure interjects, watching Tsukiko lying comfortably on his own bed through the open door.
"Well, make sure that Tsukiko does not get into any trouble. I'll explain more later, that's all I can say for now."
Azure lets out a sigh. "Fine. It seems nobody is going to tell me what's going on. Well? What did you call me for, Father?"
Edmond Dunbarton's voice suddenly grows serious on the other end. "Our board meeting just finished. I did promise you I would call you as soon as we settled the details. Are you free to talk now, Azure?"
"Yes, of course, Father," stutters Azure, unconsciously shuffling further away from the open door where the watchful eyes of Tsukiko lurk.
Edmond Dunbarton issues a brief exhale of breath as he prepares to speak. "The search is taking longer than expected, Azure. I will not mince words. I intend to stay here in India as long as it takes to find it. However, someone must stay in London and make sure that the daily affairs of the company continue to run smoothly. Azure, I know this is a bit premature, but I have decided to appoint you as temporary C.E.O. of Valhalla Corporation."
Dead silence rings on the other end for Azure, as he remains silent with shock. "Hello?" Dunbarton asks.
Azure shakes his bangs out of his eyes. "What are you talking about, Father?" he asks. "You can't be serious. How can I possibly succeed you as C.E.O.? I still have school, and besides, you promised when I enrolled in Cambridge Imperial that you would postpone that decision until I graduated."
"I understand that," Dunbarton says, his voice ticking ever so slightly more with caution. "Look, I know I promised you that we would not discuss your role in the company until after your graduation, but you only have one year left at Cambridge! You can't keep postponing the decision indefinitely. You know how I feel, Azure. I want you to succeed me as C.E.O. and truth be told, there is no better person to do so."
Breathing heavily, Azure replies, "All right. I'll… think about it. But I want to make it clear that I want to at least finish school before making my decision."
Silence greets Azure on the other end for several seconds. Finally, Dunbarton responds in a low, measuring voice, "Azure. You understand more than anyone that what I am doing in India is a matter of grave significance. It goes beyond family, or even national pride! I want you to consider this decision carefully, for the good of the company and this mission we are undertaking."
Azure remains silent as another sigh escapes his adopted father's lips. "Very well," Dunbarton continues in a low voice, "I will find somebody else to fulfill the position while I am gone. We will decide on your permanent role in Valhalla after you graduate. Goodbye, Azure."
Without waiting for Azure to respond, Dunbarton hangs up, leaving Azure alone to brood. Unnoticed by Azure, a pair of steel-black eyes silently observes him through the crack in the door of his bedroom.