Alek slept like a baby, the comfort of his matress enveloping him in the best sleep he had gotten in a month. He didn't even dream, just slept peacefully. Deryn was huddled in his arms all night, most likely fearing Volger would walk in at any moment.
He got a long rest, and awoke at the first signs of life in the castle. Alek heard a few servants walking around the hallways, most likely geting ready to make breakfast. He nudged Deryn awake and they got up quickly.
"How'd you sleep, love?" Alek asked Deryn, wrapping his arms around her waist. She leaned into him, holding his hands in hers. Her soft touch sent a shock through his body.
She shrugged. "Alright, I suppose. Scared the clart right out of me, sleeping here with Volger so near. But a proper bed was lovely. I can't believe this was your home all your life. Barking princes." Alek laughed at her, kissing her ear.
He untangled himself form her and went over to the door, pressing his ear against it. He heard nothing so he unlocked the door and peered around it. No one was in sight. They crept out into the hallway, Alek gesturing for Deryn to follow him. He took them all around through back passages, so as to avoid being noticed. The sun was just starting to peek over the horizon when the finally reached Alek's parents chambers.
Surprisingly, the door was ajar, and Alek could hear muffled voices. One was unmistakably Volger's. He snuck closer to the door and listened intently.
"I'm very sorry to ahve woken you so early, but I could not sleep once I heard you were back. I have heard tell that he has been spotted in the country now. Nice work. Your estimates have been extrememly spot on." Volger said. Alek heard the count's quiet footsteps on the marble.
What Alek heard next nearly made him pass out.
"Thank you, Count. I expect you will be giving me back what is mine now?" said a female voice. No...
"Alek!" Deryn hissed in his ear. "Is that who I think it is?"
Alek nodded in horror. The voice belonged to Lilit.
Volger chuckled, his voice threataningly close to the open door. "Now, my dear. That wouldn't be fair at all. Until Aleksandar is truly dead, I will be witholding your payment. Nene is fine, I assure you. Alive and very well, I have made sure of that. And, if things go according to plan, I will have payment for you as well." Alek heard the squeak of a drawer, and a gasp from Lilit. "I thought that you would like that. It will be yours if the boy shows up."
Deryn held back a gag. Alek put a hand over her mouth and looked into her eyes. "I love you, okay? I love you more than anything. I love you so much I'm going to ask you to stay out here, don't come in after me. Only come in if you suspect I need your help, you know me. Keep watch, but do not let yourself get seen unless I need you, or if I call you in." He kissed her on the lips then stood, leaving Deryn with a perplexed expression on her face.
Alek took a deep breath, his heart nearly breaking his ribs, and walked through the door.
"Well, it looks like you won't have to wait much longer, Volger."
Volger turned on his heel and stared. His face made several different expressions at once; surprise, anger, curiosity, amusement, but best of all...fear. Lilit gasped, her eyes wide.
Alek took a few steps foward, taking in the room quickly. It looked nothing like his parents chambers. The familar portraits had been replaced with tapestries of red and gold, all of the furiture new and very expensive looking. A huge rack of fencing sabers hung on the wall to his left, right next to the wooden desk where Lilit now sat.
"Aleksandar." Volger mused, a very amused look covering up his surprise. "Right on time." the wildcount smiled widely, gliding across the room. "So, you are indeed, alive. I was starting to think your friend here was lying to get what she wants."
Alek dared a glance at Lilit. Tears were flowing from her eyes, which were pleading with Alek to forgive her. He cleared his throat, looking away. How could she...?
"No, I have been making a life for myself abroad, living a very normal and happy life. But, you see, once I heard of the things you were doing, I could not help but return here to ask you how you dared do this to my country."
Volger laughed loudly. "How dare I? Oh Alek, can't you see what I'm doing is for the best? No more unsightly deaths like that of your father and mothers'. No marriages like the one you are about to get yourself mixed up in. Like father, like son, I see."
Alek clenched his fists. "If I got one thing from my father, it was his respect for love. I love Deryn, and I love Austria. I don't see why I can't have both."
Volger sneered at him, drawing closer still. "Alek, we can't have Royal blood getting muddled with that of commoners! Your family was bred to rule - "
"And what makes that so damned special? What makes my blood any different than yours? Or Deryn's? Or Lilits?" Alek was yelling now, advancing on Volger. "A name, that's the only difference between you and I, between the heir to an entire dynasty and a count. We're no different, Volger. But I know you can't see it. You never have and you never will."
Volger took this into offence. His face contorted into sheer anger. "Yes, I may have tried to talk you ignorant father out of marrying your mother, but once his mind was made up, I helped him do everything in his power to make your life safe. To protect you from your granduncle."
Alek knew his words were true. While Volger had been and insufferable ass to him, he had made sure things were properly prepared. If it weren't for him, they would not have been in the Alps, and he would have never met Deryn, or flown on the Leviathan.
"I understand that, Volger, but Franz Joseph is dead, and I think it is time for me to to take my rightful place."
Volger laughed, coming within arms reach of Alek. He had aged since Alek last saw him, his hair even grayer, eyes looking as though they'd seen better days.
"And just how do you propose to do that, Aleksandar?"
Alek pulled the scroll out. "I'm sure this will help me out a bit."
"And just who do you plan to show it to? I'm the duke, after all."
Alek laughed. "I'm fairly certain the public will find this scroll authentic."
Volger crossed his arms, still smiling. "Yes thats all well and good, Alek. But how are you going to show them when I'm not going to let you leave this room?" With that he pulled out his saber from its holster at his side and lunged at Alek. He jumped out of the way, running to the rack on the wall and grabbing the closest saber. Volger was on him in an instant, but Alek parried it, sending Volger flying backwards. Lilit ran from her chair to hide in a corner, still sobbing.
Alek and Volger fought now, neither one holding back. Volger was strong, and extremely skilled, but he had taught Alek well, too well. Alek attacked Volger with an agressiveness he had never found in himself before, nearly predicting the moves Volger used. He could see the mans face grow angrier as they fought on, and he began using some moves tha would have been deemed unfair in a proper fight. Alek was forced to jump up onto the large desk to avoid a particularly nasty attack by Volger. He slashed and swiped at the mans vicious lunges, then jumped off the desk and behind Volger, slapping him hard in the back with his saber. Volger didn't even let out a complaint, just spun and went after Alek faster than before.
Alek's arms were getting tired, not having fenced in a very long time. Sometimes he and Deryn fooled around in their apartment, practicing so Alek didn't loose his touch, but it was nothing like this.
Alek continued lashing out at his old tutor, his fencing arm about ready to crumple. He faltered one step, and that was enough for Volger to get his shot, and he made it count. Pain exploded in Alek's abdomen, and he fell to the floor, crying out in agony.
Volger strode over and took Alek's saber, using his foot to push the boy to the floor. He kept his boot on top of Aleks shoulder, laughing.
"Well, my boy, that was some fight. You haven't forgotten a thing I've ever taught you. And I will be quite sad to do this, but I must."
Alek turned his head and saw Volger raise his saber, aiming it for just over Alek's heart. Alek shut his eyes briefly, thinking about everything that had ever mattered to him. His home, his parents, the Leviathan, Deryn...
Suddenly Volger's weight was lifted from him, and Alek opened his eyes in time to see Volger ram into the wall behind him. Alek dragged himself away under the desk and watched as Deryn chased after the man, a saber in her hand. She slashed at him viciously, her face contorted with rage.
"Don't. You. Ever. Threaten. Him. Like, That. Again!" she shrieked, pursuing Volger around the room. "So help me, Volger, if you lay a finger on him - "
In one swift movement Deryn disarmed the count, catching his saber as it flew. She tossed it aside. In her rage she slashed at Volger, and the man crumpled to the ground, blood pouring from a cut not visible to Alek. Volger twitched on the floor, writhing in pain.
"Alek!" Deryn rushed over to his side and moved his hands off his wound. Blood was starting to seep through, but it wasn't bad. "Are you alright?"
Alek nodded, wincing. "Fine. But I know I'm going to need stitches."
Deryn ripped a piece off her shirt and stuck it under Alek's shirt to try and stop the bleeding. She then helped him to his feet, just as a few servants were entering the room. They stared at Volger on the floor, then stopped and gawked at Alek.
"Medic, if you please, this man and I are quite injured."
One of the servants tended to Volger while the other dashed out the door. Volger was alive, but seemed to be unconcious. The servant began sopping up the blood with a nearby blanket.
Alek limped over to his fallen fencing master, slowly kneeling down next to him.
"Well, Volger, I hate to see you like this. But you just wouldn't listen. I'm so sorry."
Deryn had slashed the man right across the neck, and deeply, too. Volger's blood was everywhere. The man opened his eyes and stared into Alek's.
"Alek," he rasped "I was just... trying to do ...what was right."
Alek held up a hand. "I understand. But you went about it entirely wrong, my friend."
Volger nodded slowly, reaching out and taking Alek's hand with his own bloody one. "You are ...meant for this. Your father... would have been... very proud of you."
With that Volger took a deep breath, then exhaled, and the light of life left his eyes. Alek's fencing master and tutor was dead.