Ever since the vortex incident that thrust her and Iska apart, Alice has been sighing heavily a lot while looking out the window of her bedchamber. She’s clearly pining for him, purportedly to fight and defeat him once and for all, but both we and Rin can see there’s more to it than that. Absent any other leads, Alice decides to return to the Neutral City Ein, hoping they’ll bump into him once more.
Meanwhile, in the empire, Mismis’ left arm has felt funny ever since falling into the vortex. But it doesn’t hurt, so she chalks it up to nothing serious. Their next mission, however, is no joke: Led by Misya, Unit N07 is to infiltrate the Sovereignty and capture Queen Nebulis! We learn how difficult it is for any non-astral mage to enter the Sovereignty.
The crests all mages bear are used as passports, which is a fuck-you to the empire for using those same crests as evidence for their witch trials (and subsequent genocide). Iska, Mismis, Nene, Jihn seem like nice people, but Jesus Christ is the empire they serve fucked up!
Alice and Rin arrive in Ein, and stand by the fountain where she encountered Iska before. However, in this case where she’s actively trying to encounter him, Rin doubts they’ll find him easily. Rin even suggests Iska might’ve died in the vortex, but Alice won’t hear of it: he’s alive, and she’s going to date—er—fight him. Even so, three days pass, with no sign of Iska.
Rin is concerned about Alice’s sudden intensified fixation on Iska. Other families are watching the Lou family for weaknesses, ready to take the throne, while Alice’s sisters are diligently preparing for the forthcoming eleciton. Meanwhile Alice is committed only to fruitless stakeouts in Ein. Rin knows she’s the only person who can get Alice “back on track”.
Meanwhile, Mismis’ arm won’t stop feeling strange, so she removes her jacket for Nene to inspect it, and that’s when she discovers…an astral crest. In one lift of the sleeve, Mismis’ life has changed forever. If the research institute found out she was hiding the crest, she’ll be summarily executed! Even if she comes forward of her own free will, she’ll be imprisoned, likely for life!
All Iska and the others can do is try to comfort Mismis (who is understandably freaking out), and Iska lays out the options: turn herself in, or keep hiding it. As their captain, they’ll follow whichever path she chooses.
In the meantime, Iska decides to take Mismis to Ein, where she’ll be safe for the time being. Ein is so incredibly peaceful and idyllic, one wonders how it’s even able to exist between two warring nations, one of which is brazen enough to attempt the kidnapping of the other’s sovereign. Does Ein have its own force to deter either side from starting shit?
That aside, the minute Mismis leaves Iska to buy some drinks, Alice appears, and there’s a neat little scene where neither Alice nor Iska recognize one another at first due to the glare of the sun. That said, once they do recognize each other, it’s not long before they’re sitting on the bench together, exchanging blushing looks.
Alice even declares she’s glad to see her purported “enemy” is safe after the vortex incident. Indeed, she’s positively giddy to see him, and when she senses something is troubling Iska, she asks him to tell her, as she’s good at keeping secrets (though she undermines that claim rather totally by saying she only tells Rin, who is clearly more than a maid).
Before Iska can say anything, Rin appears with drinks, and to the surprise of both Alice and Iska, she offers one to Iska. It’s an apple-lemon blend, which calls to mind “apples and oranges”—a nice metaphor for the Empire and Sovereignty. But it’s not the strange blend that knocks Iska out: it’s a sleeping drug that Rin slipped into the can. When Iska passes out on the bench, Rin reveals her plan: she assumed he’d reject the offer of a drink due to his distrust.
He’d then take it as a sign he should stay away from her. But Iska did trust Rin, and not just because they were in neutral territory. Alice’s behavior totally disarmed him, because like him, she had no ill intent that day, having declared a “temporary truce”. Rin regrets not using a fatal potion, but the fact remains they can’t just leave him there, so she takes him into custody.
When Mismis returns, even Alice knows there’s no easy way to explain what’s happening, so she slides back into official mode, telling her they’re taking in an enemy of the Sovereignty. That’s when Mismis insists they let him go…and her astral crest activates, albeit without any kind of control. Again, Alice doesn’t have any time to consider why an Imperial soldier has a crest; she freezes Mismis’s foot to the ground and takes off with Rin and Iska.
We don’t learn if any witnesses saw Mismis’ astral power awaken, just Misya meeting with the Emperor himself to report Iska’s kidnapping and requesting instructions. In a way, having the Queen’s own daughter bring Iska into the Sovereignty means the infiltration plan has gone off without a hitch; there will be a lemon in the land of apples. All Iska needs to do is free himself, capture the Queen, and return to the Empire, and it’s mission accomplished!
Of course there are a variety of questions in play: will he be able to free himself? If he does—or Alice is the one to do it—will he still go forward with his unit’s mission, or will he and Alice be able to make a sliver of progress with peace talks? Will Misya learn Mismis has a crest, and if so, will she punish her, or use her to infiltrate the Sovereignty and rescue Iska? Tons to consider…I look forward to seeing how it all shakes out.