I wonder what position I’ll get… Eibron’s thoughts wandered yet again. A rare opportunity had finally come his way, so he had to make the best use of it.
But when he turned back and saw his companions, his expectant thoughts vanished, drowned in regret. He should have taken up their offer and joined them from the get-go. He and his team were already famous, while he…
The uncertain tide in the west had flowed in only one direction since Alissanda started acting in the region. The enemy didn’t just no longer have working supply lines, but their entire intelligence network had been ruined, and its head, Haden of all people, killed. The cleansing of the man that had organized the last assassination attempt on the emperor was no small feat, and few people could probably match his merits or his popularity in the empire at the moment.
Not only that, even the happy-go-lucky Ley had turned out to be Leguna, though Eibron was even more surprised to learn he was also Dark Requiem.
Dark Requiem had only recently made its appearance, even just as a phrase, on the continent, just six months earlier. It had also made its appearance in relation to only a single matter: the extermination of Simralsin’s Bloodhand criminal organization.
Nobody heard anything of the assassin thereafter. Some believed Dark Requiem was just a cover for one of the empire’s agents. Maybe the empire could no longer tolerate the bandits, so they sent a mysterious expert to deal with them.
But an announcement from Hocke shattered everyone’s guesses a few weeks ago. Dark Requiem hadn’t disappeared; he was still on Chino. He had only assumed another identity to take part in the recent tournament, his identity had been ‘Ley’.
Eibron would never have guessed the youth a few years his junior, who talked so freely to him, would be Dark Requiem! He had little choice but to accept it, however, Leguna admitted it himself, but most of all, the empire had made it official.
He’d only discovered the party’s true capabilities thereafter. Leguna was ridiculous enough on his own, but there was Kurdak, who was several times worse. Not only was he not the old brute his appearance suggested, he was a young, sharp man few could equal when it came to leading others.
Leguna wasn’t slacking too much, however. He’d become to talk of the town in far too many towns since his assassination of Haden. He assassinated the man, a well-known high-order assassin, and a few others who stood not far behind the man, whilst he himself was still in the mid-order. Not to mention his single-handed elimination of Bloodhand. He was certainly not the strongest in the party, he could probably brawl much better than his leader, despite his light, almost feminine frame.
Vera’s abilities were average in comparison, but, in her own way, she was even worse than the other two put together. Eibron was under no illusions that, while Kurdak may nominally be the group’s leader, that counted only in battle, in all other circumstances, Vera was the real boss, the other two were only her pets. Of all the people Eibron had encountered before, including the once or twice he’d come across a saint-ranker, she was the one he least wanted to offend, ever.
Then there was Annelotte, or at least, there used to be. She was easily the strongest in the party. She wasn’t just the most talented, enchanting, and drop-dead gorgeous, but her father was the galestorm swordsaint. She had parted ways with the party, but, for all her stubbornness, Eibron at least leaned in the direction that she would eventually rejoin them, Leguna was stubborn enough to match her, and then there were the others. She would, even if she didn’t join them again, certainly not hesitate to jump to their rescue if they ever found themselves truly in danger.
His greatest shame was that such a party had invited him to join them… and he’d turned them down! He had no contributions worth mentioning in the face of theirs, and he could have shared their same contributions if only he hadn’t been so blind, so stubborn.
He feared most that he would end up a subordinate to one of them. He could take being Vera or Kurdak’s subordinate, but if he were to find himself below Leguna? He would die of shame, if not killed in some reckless mission a few days after he discovered his fate. Unfortunately for him, that was to be his fate.
“Here,” Lisana extended a pork foot in his direction as his mind still wandered.
Lisana had been taking care of their food for the last few days. She wasn’t just a top notch swordsman, it turned out, she was a great cook as well. Leguna kept ‘reminding’ Eibron, however, that, good as she may me, she could not compare to ‘his’ Eirinn.
“Master…” Lisana murmured as she handed a joicu piece of roast meat to Marolyt.
“Sorry for the trouble,” Marolyt smiled.
The old man had heard his disciple’s life-story in the days since they’d set out for Melindor and now treated her even more gingerly than he did his own daughter. Eibron noted that his three crazy companions frequently had to stop and pick up their jaws when they saw the old man and his disciple together.
“My pleasure, Master.” Lisana said.
She was initially overwhelmed by her master’s appearance and final acceptance of her, but she had since become painfully aware of the ocean between their abilities and stations. Her initial familiarity had vanished, she now treated the old man with the utmost respect, but it came with its own distance. She wouldn’t even have addressed the swordsaint directly if he hadn’t insisted she do.
“Alright, child. Don’t be polite. I haven’t changed, don’t you do now either. Just act like that week I stayed over at your place. It’s fine to treat me like an old ruffian.”
So he could actually be self-aware? Leguna smiled, half-viciously, at the thought.
“That’s the spirit! We’ll reach Melindor in half a day, right?”
“Yes, by nightfall.”
“It’s been so long since I was there. I wonder if my nightingales miss me,” Marolyt exclaimed lewdly.
“Does Master keep birds?” Lisana asked innocently.
“I do. They’re very cute little birds, too!”
“Be honest, Sir. You don’t date go frolicking with women while Annie is in the city to find out,” Leguna yawned.
“Stop trying to be snide. If you can get away with two-timing her, I doubt she’ll skin me for going to Second Heaven!” Marolyt bore his death, in spite of his grief-stricken expression. He would never admit it, of course, but his expression told Leguna all he needed to know.
Lisana’s cheeks were quickly turning bright red. She didn’t know if she was more embarrassed by what her master had really just referred to, or that she only now realized what he really mean.
“I guess you’re right…”
Leguna said, but his heart didn’t agree. He knew how scary Annelotte could be. He, even as a swordsaint, wouldn’t stand a chance… He naturally would never dare to put his thoughts into words. Prospective father-in-law or not, the old man was an insurmountable mountain, not to mention that he had a… prickly relationship with the old man at the moment to say the least.
“Hmph! You’re just scoundrel doing nothing but irritating her, I’m her beloved father; I occupy the lofty position as the only man that can boss her around! How would she sare lecture me?!”
“Really?” a cold voice said, “No one ever told me you had that kind of authority.”
“Good that you get it,” Marolyt said, his head bobbing like a small toy ship on a pond in a particularly windy day.
His eyes, however, caught a blonde, long-haired girl dive into Leguna’s embrace as the last work left his mouth.
“Kid! Who is this?!”
The temper he’d fought so hard to keep under control, flared up even worse than when he’d realized what relationship the brat and that half-elf had.
“She…umm…” Leguna muttered awkwardly, “I think it would be best of we talked about this later.”
“Why not now? Hmm?” Marolyt asked, but a cold wind blew against his back.
He ignored whatever was causing it behind him completely. Right now he had far more pressing concerns. The little girl was yet another problem he had to solve, it seemed.
“Maybe you should look behind you,” Leguna suggested, wiping cold sweat off his brow.
Lisana turned around at his suggestion, and saw a young girl standing there. Her spine tingled furiously when she saw the girl’s eyes. Lisana recognized her immediately.
“Master’s daughter, Miss Annelotte? She’s… really…” her voice trailed off.
Marolyt took a hidden breath, then turned around, his face the picture of serenity, to face his daughter.
“Oh, Annie, why are you here?” he asked, his lips curling forcefully into a smile.
“I’m here to tend to you,” Annelotte answered expressionlessly.
“You’re really something… I’m gone for just a few months and you’ve already developed a sense of humor,” Marolyt answered, a single drop of sweat clinging to a hair along his ailing hairline.
“Come on, let’s go.” Leguna said, holding Innilis’s hand as he pulled Lisana away.
“Why are you pulling me away? Master’s daughter is there! I haven’t greeted her yet! You can’t force me to be that rude!” Lisana protested.
“You can worry about politeness later, right now you should worry about your life first!” Leguna whispered harshly, “I won’t let you die over something stupid like this.”
The cloth of Leguna’s shirt froze the moment he finished speaking.
“Is that so? Big Brother?” Innilis’s emerald-green eyes glinted. “Who’s this woman? What is your relationship?”
“Ah, this is–” Leguna hastened to explain, but Lisana quickly interjected.
“Oh, little girl, I’m Lisana, Leguna’s friend. He saved my life once!”
Oh… a friend, I see… Okay…”
Leguna pressed down on Lisana’s shoulder so hard it felt like it was going to break, though his face said nothing.
“Remember this! I will get you back for this!” he said through immobile lips.