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Princess Vileena and Orba disguised as Prince Gil.
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In the distant future on a planet colonized by Earth two countries have waged war with one another for ten years. To put an end to the fighting the royal families of Mephius and Garbera have arranged a political marriage. The wastrel Prince Gil of Mephius, faced with impending marriage and the scorn of his father, goes on yet another drug-addled romp in town and never returns. The only witness to his true fate is the merchant Fedom who sees in it an opportunity.

Not long after the war started the peasant boy Orba was displaced from his hometown by Garberan soldiers and witnessed his fellow refugees slaughtered by Mephian soldiers. Forced into a life of crime, Orba was eventually jailed where his unusual resemblance to the Prince was noted. Fedom arranged for Orba to be made into a gladiator and hid his face while looking for an opportunity to exploit it. With the Prince gone, Fedom offers Orba freedom in exchange for acting as a body double, supposedly due to fear of assassination.

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Unknown to Fedom, Orba has his own purpose in taking on the role of Gil: To find his missing family and take revenge on Mephius for his suffering. His plots are complicated by the arrival of Princess Vileena of Garbera, who for the good of her homeland aspires to control her husband, and through him Mephius. And both must deal with plots by factions within both their nations and without which conspire to reignite the war.

Also known as "Emblem of the Branded", this Light Novel series by Tomonori Sugihara is complete at 12 volumes. "Tales of Leo Attiel; Depiction of the Headless Princess" is a 4 volume Light Novel taking place in the same world.


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Tropes:

  • Accidental Murder: Rone was just trying to restrain the drug-addled Gil to protect his daughter. Gil tried to grab Rone's gun and in the ensuing scuffle was shot.
  • Ace Pilot: Vileena is a master when it comes to small airships, able to pull off maneuvers many combat pilots can't.
  • Ambiguously Brown: Hou Ran's skin is darker than most other characters, which is noted to be due to her Zerdian heritage. She is a descendant of the planet's original population and so not strictly human.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: Zodias left a dying command which has been carried out by the mages of Ende for centuries. Garda has been working to subvert this command as part of his plan.
  • Bandaged Face: While going out as himself, Orba wears bandages to hide his face when the mask is inconvenient or uncomfortable.
  • The Beastmaster: Hou Ran is able to easily handle any dragon she encounters, even ones that are ordinarily completely wild. She considers them very intelligent and empathetic but easily riled.
  • Becoming the Mask: Orba is disgusted when he realizes he had been casually considering conscripting commoners into his army, acting exactly like the nobles he despises.
  • Big Bad: Garda has been secretly manipulating events around the continent to engineer the rise and fall of nations, with his current target being Mephius.
  • Black Widow: In volume 9 it's strongly implied that Empress Melissa poisoned her former husband so she could find a better prospect.
  • Body Double: Fedom Aulin gave this as the excuse as to why he retrieved Orba from being a sword-slave (which the former made the latter into the first place).
    • Orba in turn has one of his fellow sword-slaves, Kain, pose as him when Orba and Gil both need to be present.
  • Body Surf: Garda is capable of this due to sealing his soul into a claw. He tends to wear out bodies rapidly.
  • Book-Ends: Chapter 1 of the first volume takes place in a gladiator arena where Orba fights for his life as a sword slave. In the epilogue of the last volume a young teen with a similar grudge against Mephius is sentenced to live as a sword slave and earn his life.
  • Broken Bird: Layla was nearly raped by Gil and witnessed his murder, only to learn he had apparently survived. With her marriage canceled, she and her family fled to start a new life only for Mephians to attack, killing or maiming her friends and injuring her father. It's little wonder she was planning to kill "Gil"... and then just to make things worse, she got mind-raped by a sorcerer.
  • The Caligula: The Abigoal noble family are the worst nobles seen in the story. The father Jairus is callous and sees no problem burning down a village of three hundred people just to kill one runaway slave. His son Boyce is even worse, using the pretext of rooting out rebels to pillage his own lands, raping and killing as he sees fit. It's little surprise when the entire civilian population of their stronghold rises against them.
  • The Chains of Commanding: In volume 9 Orba begins to feel this as the enormity of his decision to rebel against Guhl settles in. Not only will he send hundreds of men to die in battle, but if he himself dies then every person who has followed him will suffer for it. As Gilliam notes, Orba is no longer free because his death is no longer his to choose.
  • Chekhov's Boomerang: In the first novel, the sword engraved with Orba's name is used to save his and his mother's lives when he's a child and is later reclaimed by him as an adult. Several volumes later he encounters the blacksmith who crafted it, which serves as the catalyst for finally accepting his family and friends are dead.
    • The medal Vileena gives to Orba saves his life from a bullet in the same volume; he later gives it to the above mentioned blacksmith for repairs. Volumes later, Vileena receives the medal from said blacksmith which causes her to begin acting in response to Gil's apparent death. When injured during a failed assassination attempt, she sends the medal to Orba to prove she is still alive.
  • Chekhov's Gun: In Volume 10's prologue it's mentioned that the Imperial family has the right to choose marriage partners for the nobility but never actually do so. Come the epilogue, Orba forces a rapist to marry his victim and then divorce her. This satisfies her religious obligation to marry the man who took her chastity while leaving her free to remarry.
    • A long term one is that the imperial shrine is built in the same location as the remnants of the colony ship, first mentioned in volume 1. This comes to a head in the final volume when Garda uses an escape pod from said ship to escape.
  • Civil War: One erupts in Mephius when the ruler and his heir have opposing views of the country's future.
    • In Volume 10 one starts in Ende when the second Prince is named successor and the first Prince absconds with their country's banner.
  • Clingy Costume: The tiger mask that Orba was force to wear when he became a sword-slave. It is a magic mask that can only be removed by the one who made it. The mask also helped Orba's face stay similar to Gil Mephius as Orba grew-up.
  • Colonel Kilgore: General Zaas Sidious and his father before him are bloodthirsty battle maniacs who only feel alive when they're killing. This works against Zaas when he's lured into a duel with Shique and forgets about leading his army.
    • Prince Kaseria is a skilled tactician and master of close combat who absolutely loves war and killing other people. The middle of a battle is the only place he really feels alive.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: Both Orba and Vileena mature a great deal as they leave behind their childhood fixations and grow into their adult roles as future rulers of Mephius.
  • The Consigliere: Simon Rodloom, as Guhl's old friend and fellow soldier, had freedom to reproach Guhl. This kept the Emperor's excesses under control until he began to put more trust in the Dragon Faith.
  • Cool Airship: Airships are prevalent in Mephius and Garbera and apparently use some form of magitek and exotic elements such as dragon bones to function. They range from single-person sloops used as couriers and scouts to merchant ships to massive battleships equipped with cannons.
  • Cool Mask: Orba wears an impressive iron mask with two tiger ears.
  • Cruel Mercy: Rather than executing Marilène, she is spared and exiled. As Orba explains, she was willing to do anything to hang onto her position and comforts, so living without them will be a greater punishment. It's actually to save her life as she had done everything to protect the people.
  • Cultured Badass: Orba may be a gloomy, brooding gladiator but he reads voraciously.
  • Curbstomp Battle: Orba easily defeates Oubary and he was still holding back; he didn't want him to die too soon.
  • Days of Future Past / Feudal Future: The series said that in the distant past, humans from Earth landed on the planet and due to fighting with the natives they depleted their technology. In the current time the series takes place there are countries that have similarities to the Age of the Roman Empire to Feudal Age Europe. i.e. Mephius is similar to the Roman Empire with gladiator combat.
  • Decapitated Army: Downplayed when Zaas is lured into a duel with Shique. While Zaas's army loses some coordination it has enough experienced officers to keep the pressure on Orba.
  • Decoy Leader: Fedom's grand plan is for Orba to become Emperor with Fedom guiding him from behind the scenes.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: After getting revenge on Oubary and accepting his family is dead, Orba finds himself without a real purpose aside from fulfilling his promise to Vileena. Volume 5 sees him dealing with this and gradually developing an appreciation for the good a decent noble can do.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: Two of Garda's subordinates are revealed to be working on behalf of another villain, who used Garda to destabilize the region.
  • Do Well, but Not Perfect: During the festival tournament Orba deliberately sabotages his own performance just enough to make his win sloppy. This allows him to stage an apparent beating by "Gil" to earn trust from the sword-slaves.
    • Orba is told by his friends that to cement his relationship with the Taurans he needs to bed a dancing girl. However he should aim for a mid-tier girl rather than a real beauty as it will make him seem more human.
  • Droit du Seigneur: Blitzed out of his mind and full of self-pity, Gil decides to make everyone else just as miserable by claiming this with a newly-wed couple. Things do not go as planned for anyone.
  • Engineered Heroics: One of Gil's "friends" tries this by hiring some lowlifes to scare Gil, at which point the friend would step in as the hero. Unfortunately the lowlifes end up more interested in killing them.
  • Faking the Dead: Orba kills his "Prince Gil" identity to escape his situation and heads west to live as a mercenary. His soldiers do the same by staging a massacre.
  • Fantasy Metals: Weightless metal is refined from fossilized dragon bones and is critical in building airships. It is also useful in weapons, such as edged boomerangs.
  • Fighting from the Inside: People brainwashed by sorcerers will not do anything they would not contemplate normally, such as committing suicide. To avoid this, sorcerers need to find people who already have an inclination to act a certain way and reinforce that desire.
  • Fingore: Orba leaves Oubary with three fingers after the fight, all taken after he was already down.
  • Frame-Up: Orba's vengeance on Oubary is to frame him for the murder of Prince Gil, on top of mutilating him.
  • Gambit Pileup: Happens periodically during the climaxes of volumes, usually involving three or more parties. Gil usually manages to come out on top due to being better at adjusting his plan when things go awry.
  • Gladiator Games: The Mephius Empire have this as entertainment. The majority of the gladiators are enslaved criminals.
  • Gladiator Revolt: A group of sword-slaves plans to rebel against the Emperor and wipe out the nobles during a major festival, not realizing their backer is a noble who plans to use their rebellion to seize control and kill them all.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Marilène of Helio never produced an heir for her husband but managed to retain her seat as queen by marrying the man who seized control after the king's death and the man who seized control after that. She was reviled on all sides for her behavior and after the usurpers were defeated was set for execution. She actually used her position to minimize the damage done to Helio until the real heir could return; she viewed the hatred and her death as a necessary cost.
  • Heroic Suicide: Guhl chooses to kill himself rather than be possessed and used to destroy his country.
  • High-Class Call Girl: Tauran dancing girls are high-class prostitutes skilled in multiple arts, including sword dances and multiple instruments. They are free to drive off unwanted customers and being able to choose from the more beautiful girls is seen as a mark of prestige. It's not uncommon for dancing girls to be permanently hired by royalty or even become queens.
  • Honor Before Reason: A big flaw of Garbera's knights is their blind devotion to honor and chivalry. Ryucown was too invested in his honor to accept a politically-mandated end to the war with Mephius while Zenonn wanted an honest face-to-face battle with his enemies despite being outnumbered and outmaneuvered.
    • Guhl Mephius suffers from his own version in that he feels he must be a decisive and forceful leader. As such he continues to push ahead on reckless courses of action out of necessity.
  • Horse of a Different Color: Dragons are used as heavy cavalry and beasts of burden with different breeds even having different numbers of legs. They are never truly tame and must be constantly watched for fear of being eaten.
  • Identical Stranger: Downplayed and then enforced. Orba originally looked very similar to Prince Gil, but a closer look would reveal noticeable differences. The mask slowly reshaped his face to match Gil's.
  • I Have Your Wife: Garda manages to control his army and conquered cities by holding a large portion of the female populace hostage and for use as power generators.
  • Inadequate Inheritor: Prince Gil lacks the martial skill, political savvy, and charisma of his father. The only reason he is heir is due to being the Emperor's sole son and the Empress becoming pregnant puts that his position in jeopardy.
  • Lost Colony: Having expended most of their advanced technology while subjugating the native species the planet has lost all contact with Earth, though the fact that they are a colony is widely known.
  • Magitek: The society of the humans who landed on the world evolved into this due to depleting their original technology when fighting with the natives. A researcher named Zodias discovered ether and developed objects that allowed the use of magic based on artifacts he studied of the ancient native civilization of the planet.
  • Mark of the Supernatural: Some magicians have oddly-proportioned facial features that make it difficult to determine whether they're young or old.
  • Momma's Boy: General Phard wears a cloak depicting his mother's silhouette, which he often clings to and cries over while sleeping. She's still alive, he just really misses her while on a campaign.
  • Moody Mount: Dragons are very sensitive to human emotions and behavior. Any sign that the human isn't focusing on them is potentially the sign of a threat and they will retaliate, whereas they respond aggressively to fear.
  • More Than Mind Control: Sorcerers cannot force a person to do something against their nature. Instead they must find an individual with a desire to do what they want and gradually reinforce that desire until it seems entirely natural to do that.
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: Two of the generals sent by Guhl to invade Tauros are torn because they know the war is not righteous and will be costly for their country. Despite this they were willing to go along with the plan until Orba offered them an alternative.
  • Mystical White Hair: Hou Ran has pale silver hair and is highly spiritual, able to understand the feelings of dragons and control them with unusual skill.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Orba uses Gil's reputation as a weak-minded fool to his advantage often, luring his enemies into exposing themselves while he has an advantage.
    • Vileena learns to use this as well, acting like a willful child so that people will give in to demands they really shouldn't.
  • The Omniscient Council of Vagueness: What are the elders and Garda's sorcerers working together to accomplish? What are the sorcerers of Ende trying to protect? It's left deliberately unclear until the last volumes.
  • Once More, with Clarity!: When Marilène is first seen, her father-in-law is cursing her. Based on what follows it seems this is due to her marrying the man who usurped her husband's throne without a second thought. Ultimately it's revealed he was cursing her for choosing to sacrifice herself to protect Helio; he didn't want his beloved daughter-in-law to suffer like this.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Dragons were the dominant species of the planet before it was colonized and were originally intelligent. They come in a wide range of breeds with different body shapes and even number of legs but are uniformly mean-tempered and never fully tame. Fossilized dragon bones are a critical component in the magitek airships.
  • The Paragon Always Rebels: Ryucown was the model knight of Garbera, but his honor demanded he continue to fight Mephius after the peace treaty was made. He rebelled against his liege and was even willing to kill his country's princess to continue his crusade.
  • Plot Detour: Volume 5 and 6 see Orba abandoning his role as Gil and playing mercenary in Tauros while coming to terms with his feelings about Mephius.
  • Pocket Protector: Vileena gives a medal to Orba, having come to consider his gladiator identity a friend. It saves his life when he's shot by Zaat... while in his Prince Gil identity, requiring a bit of fast talking.
  • Politically Active Princess: Vileena despises her coming marriage but has resolved to use her position as Empress to influence Mephius policy for Garbera's sake.
  • The Power of Friendship: While fighting Pashir, Orba begins to lose his will to fight due to his conflicting desires. At the last moment he sees the medal Vileena gave him as a token of friendship and he gets his second wind.
  • Pretext for War: After Orba fakes Prince Gil's death, the Emperor claims it was the action of a foreign nation and declares war.
    • Allion is an expansionist state which is very skilled at finding a "just cause" for conquering other nations. Whether that "cause" remains valid doesn't matter to them.
  • Prince Charmless: Prince Gil was a talentless, drug-abusing wastrel more focused on his own feelings of inadequacy than improving himself. Orba has no compunctions about portraying this sort of character to further his schemes.
  • Prodigal Hero: Orba tries to make a break with his past and start a new life. Instead he's plagued by thoughts of Vileena and chooses to resume his role as Gil when Guhl Mephius starts a war with the Taurians.
  • Put on a Bus: A majority of the developed characters, including Vileena, made no appearance in Volume 5 and 6 due to Orba taking a bus.
  • Rags to Royalty: Orba was a commoner sword-slave who, through a scheme of Fedom Aulin, became a prince.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Vileena, having sided with Orba during his rebellion, goes to Guhl and asks him to lend her soldiers. Nobody at the court can believe she'd be so bold or that Guhl actually agreed.
  • Retirony: Kain starts chatting about how one day he hopes to tease his grandchildren with regards to what he did while a soldier. He dies in battle the same day.
  • Revenge: The thought of this keeps Orba going throughout his years as a slave. After achieving it he feels empty and adrift for quite some time.
  • Rite of Passage: In Mephius a common rite of passage for children is to ride a dragon during the annual festival.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Orba as Prince Gil comes under this trope, being active in political, economic, and military matters in order to secure his position. The Emperor was also this when younger but has become more hands-off as he aged.
    • Most royals depicted are active in the military or political scenes, though rarely both.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Shique is the first of Orba's friends to die in battle against Guhl's armies, proof that this war will not be as easy as the last ones.
  • Secret Keeper: Many of Orba's fellow slaves are aware of his dual identity, as is Fedom. Late in the series his comrades go to great lengths to help him hide the brand which proves he's an impostor.
    • Several nobles and royals realize the truth late in the series and choose to keep the secret for their own reasons.
  • Slave Brand: All slaves in Mephius are branded, which is the source of the light novel's name.
  • Spanner in the Works: Orba manages to completely derail Garda's plans without having any idea they exist. He would have been killed at birth to prevent this but Herman masked his existence so Garda could not foresee his interference.
  • Starting a New Life: Orba and some of his fellow slaves attempted this in Tauros after faking Gil's assassination.
    • After Gil's death, Rone took his family and started a new life in a Tauran border village far from the Imperial capital.
  • Stop, or I Shoot Myself!: Vileena tried this to make Ryucown stand down, only for him to say he'd do it himself and use her death to justify the war.
    • Vileena repeats this in Volume 10, only here she has greater conviction, causing Salamand to lose his cool.
  • Succession Crisis: Volume 5 deals with the struggle for control of the city-state Helio after the legitimate king dies in battle. Despite his father and son being alive, the court descends into a backstabbing frenzy ending with a minor courtier taking power by eliminating other claimants after they'd weakened each other. And then he's replaced by a treacherous mercenary captain only for the legitimate prince's supporters to retake the city.
    • In the backstory, Zodias become ruler of the entire continent after mastering magic. When he died the various regional governors and generals proceeded to carve up their own personal fiefdoms.
    • Ende faces this due to the Grand Duke's failing health. His two sons jockey for position until their father passes and his will names the second son heir... only for the first son to steal the country's banner, preventing the coronation from proceeding, and recruit foreign aid to seize the throne.
  • Sword and Gun: Firearms exist but are not so prevalent as to completely displace traditional melee combat. A mixture of them is commonly deployed in battle.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Salamand became obsessed with the idea of dying against Mephian soldiers, as he was certain this would trigger a war between Garbera and Mephius.
    • Simon Rodloom engineers his death so that the general public will believe it accidental but his friend Guhl will know the truth. This allows him to send a clear message to Guhl without undermining his credibility.
  • Tomboy Princess: Princess Vileena of Garbera would rather race airships and listen to her grandfather's war stories than act like a proper lady.
  • Toxic Friend Influence: Prince Gil's "friends" like undercutting Gil and, after Orba's success improves Gil's reputation, try to tear him down by hiring lowlifes to threaten him.
  • Trojan Prisoner: Orba pretends to have been captured and held hostage by revolting slaves so the actual enemy will expose themselves. In fact his men are holding hostage a girl beloved by the slaves, forcing them to reluctantly play along.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Garda seriously believes that his actions will create a better world, so the momentary cost of destroying entire nations is meaningless.
  • Villain: Exit, Stage Left: Garda pulls this on realizing his plan has been almost entirely destroyed, making off with Guhl's unborn child in an escape pod.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Volume 12 ends with an epilogue that gives tantalizingly brief snippets about future events involving the main characters.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Orba isn't good at massively complex schemes, but he is good at setting up a plan and adjusting as needed to counter the plans of his enemies.
  • Yes-Man: The members of Guhl's court are afraid of earning his ire so they don't dare to openly speak against his decisions, even when they go against law and tradition.
  • You Are What You Hate: Orba is horrified on realizing he was acting just like the nobles he despised, viewing his soldiers as tools and even considering conscripting peasants to supplement their numbers.


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