Azhure: Pretty early but-
Voice: Have a happy new year!
“…I-I’m sorry!” With her eyes closed, the frail maid Willow thrust the knife forward to the duke.
However, no blood came out to soil her hands nor does she feel the knife puncturing the soft flesh of the duke but rather something hard. Confused, she slowly opened her eyes.
And to her surprise, there was a thick square… shield of ice-blue crystal right in front of her, it had blocked her strike against the duke she was just about to murder who was standing across this structure equally agape.
And all of the sudden, the arched window behind the desk broke into thousands of pieces as a tall light-blue cloaked figure literally crashed through it, uncaring of the shards that could injure them. Landing on one knee just shaving the front of the desk, the figure immediately stood up slowly.
“M-Mister Ruze!?” the duke, Allister al Illyer, exclaimed when he looked at the figure behind him revealing to be the Court Wizard Joshua Ruze, the friend of Ronald Bell.
However, what’s more surprising was his face devoid of all expressions he was so full of on that faithful breakfast.
Dashing through the crowd, hoping they would ask no further as to how he was able to move so fast, Joshua rushed to the Illyer mansion as fast as he could.
Damn it! Right after we eat! he groaned internally.
He and Ronald knew this alliance would catch the second prince Van’s ear, but they didn’t expect a response so soon.
By his guess, a spy must’ve spotted the Illyer’s invitation to the Bell Branch manager. And since the manager has been burning the second prince’s offers, literally, Van probably thought to assassinate both the duke and the manager to kill two birds with one stone.
Wait, that assassin targeted Ronald… Joshua realized, just grazing past a fruit stall. Then there must be a mole inside!
There were way too many servants for the assassin to stealthily maneuver inside the mansion, and no water spirits would want to aid the uninvited guest. So contrary to the report, one of the Illyer’s staff must’ve fed the information to the assassin outside.
And that assassin was loyal to their master enough to take the initiative to assassinate Ronald, the heir of the company that refused to bend to their liege’s will, instead. Or maybe taking him hostage in broad daylight ’cause whatever that chump’s doing was badly improvised if his emotion suppression kicked in early when it’s usually almost too late in good ambushes.
But that may have been the result of the shock of the information of him and Ronald giving Orders and revealing the duke the Otherworldly Court. So the assassin probably thought rashly and tried to take both of them out in an ambush to remove the bigger threat.
That fool, Joshua mocked the assassin. If you did pull that off, you’ll just invite your boss the entire Court’s wrath.
Of course, it could have just been a coincidence that the assassination attempt on the duke was this very day which would explain the poor attempt to kill Ronald as an added objective.
But regardless, the Otherworldly Court has been exposed to the second prince and the duke’s in danger, both of which detrimental to the operation and needed to the salvaged from further losses.
He assumed Ronald had come to the same conclusion with the interrogation of the assassin and contacted the Transporter Room to send a Court Wizard and a [December rone] to find and intercept any form of messengers the assassin sent, be it another assassin, a messenger bird, or another mole.
Joshua sir, the duke is in his office and I found a maid carrying a knife coming to that location. I repeat, the duke is in his office and I found a maid carrying a knife coming to that location. (Operator)
And right on time. Got it, Joshua replied to the Transporter Room operator.
Joshua went full speed ahead as the gates to the manor was in full view. The gate guards he passed by twice was a man and a woman now that he got a good look at them, they noticed his sudden arrival and motioned him to halt from dashing closer. But he ignored them and prepared a big [Eject] diagonally upward.
The guards widened their eyes as Joshua released a significant amount of maneg to vault over the gate, leaving them to dust.
With another burst, Joshua flew towards the part of the mansion where the duke’s office would be, according to the layout Daisuke Fujiwara obtained, the east part of the mansion.
There he is. In the air, Joshua saw the arched window with its curtains pulled, allowing Joshua to see the duke, alongside the intermediate water spirit, inside. He was in front of the door, with his hand holding it open, just standing there not getting out of his office. The maid assassin’s already there! he concluded.
In full concentration, Joshua gave his Order, [Barrier 1] 5 cm front of blue outfit old man.
Then, a square of ice maneg appeared before the duke, it was thrice wider than him. While he doesn’t see it, the Ice Court Wizard could tell it had served its purpose, viva Memorized Orders and the totally accurate description of the duke’s appearance.
“[Barrier 1] 1 meter my front,” Joshua ordered and the wide barrier of ice shimmered to existence. “You can even make a Memorized Order with the parameters set,” he turned to Ronald and Emilia. “So I only need to say the position.”
“Well that’s useful,” Emilia commented. “The more time we can shave off chanting our Orders the better.”
“And don’t forget you can cut off a few articles as long as the context’s still clear for our Maneg Souls even though it’ll upset language teachers,” Joshua reminded. “Got any questions?”
“Why are we using metric system?” Ronald asked. “We both don’t use it in school.”
“As do I,” Emilia added. “I don’t even know how to measure things,” she witted.
“Because, even though we can give a little bit vaguer Orders, like describing the target’s appearance, our founders apparently insisted that we don’t since it’s not so reliable and to just estimate the distance by our gut feeling.” Joshua smiled wryly. “And to be fair, it’ll be awkward using appearances to aim when most of our enemies wear matching attire.”
“That has nothing to do with my question.” Ronald deadpanned. “Like why use metric system of all things?”
“I’m getting to that.” Joshua narrowed his eyes. “So the folks at the first generation, already using Earth Base as a gold standard decided to double down and somehow taught the Mother Souls SI units.
“And so it was, every Court Wizard forced to use meters instead of whatever they’re more comfortable of, even though their Maneg Souls automatically know how they measure things in their world.
“Believe me, even I’m forced to use it. Now I keep getting confused over meters and feet every time I sit on an exam.”
“I see, and it makes me wonder why our country insists on their own measuring system,” Ronald mulled.
“At least people like me know how long my daggers are,” Emilia smiled.
Putting aside the precious memories that he will never come by in the future, Joshua tilted his body so that his legs point towards the window. The Court Wizard saw the water spirit Neptune being the first to look back to see him and gave a fright.
Ignoring the cowardly body-less soul (the universal name for their kind used by the Otherworldly Court), Joshua willed his maneg to gather to his shoulders.
And he was launched straight at the window, positioning himself to a superhero kick.
As if time slowed down, Joshua watched as the intermediate spirit made a huge gasp and the duke turning his body around as he barely scraped the desk, his cloak protecting him from the shards of his recklessness around him, and land flawlessly with his head down so none of the occupants could see his face sans Neptune who already did.
I always wanted to do that, he mused as he lifted his face. Even under the suppression of emotions, that’s not gonna stop him from doing that as long as he put an effort to break it just for that instance.
“M-Mister Ruze!?” duke Illyer exclaimed, recognizing Joshua almost immediately. Yeah, he kinda stood out here.
End active Orders.
Ignoring his cries, Joshua had wordlessly expired his [Barrier] prematurely as lept towards the duke, shoving him aside with his right from harm’s way.
“Oof!” the duke groaned as his back phased through the scared mute spirit he named and hit the wall.
Then, Joshua reflexively grabbed both wrists of the maid who tried to murder her lord with his left, pulling her hands holding the knife high up to ironically the duke’s direction due to his motion he can no longer stop.
But in an instant, Joshua saw a blue paler than his eyes.
‘We ought to check on her after this.’
This was how he checked back on her.
“Aah…!” Willow cried weakly as the tall man’s tight grip on both of her hands made her drop the clean knife.
Not only that, the maid looked terrified with Ruze’s imposing hold on her. Allister can see why, he was about to call out to him but was taken aback by the boy’s expression, or the lack of thereof.
Gone were his aloof demeanor as his friend made an important alliance and the forgiving kindness he showed to the very maid he restrained right now when she almost spilled his breakfast. All the duke could see were his cold eyes staring emotionlessly on the frail maid, it was so unnerving that he almost forgot that the maid had just tried to murder him.
“Your arms are weak,” Joshua said. Like his gaze, his voice was as devoid of emotion, verbally attacking the poor maid who tearfully shut her eyes in a cold observation. “And you seem way too amateurish, I doubt your frailty was not genuine. There’s no way you’re a trained assassin if I restrained you so easily.”
And Allister did not want to believe that she was an assassin. Willow was hired long before the succession war began – it was the safest job for her weak body -, there’s no way Van would think that far to send an infiltrator at that time.
And admittedly, he had refrain to hire more house workers when the succession war started for fear of a mole by Van unless he was sure of their character such as his daughter’s personal maid Mia’s sister, Tia.
Furthermore, Willow was not the type to accept bribes. Allister knew her background, as with every other servant, coming from an orphanage of a small village in his territory she decided to work as a maid to support the orphanage back home.
However, she did this to repay the kindness the orphanage gave to her, Allister knew that the orphanage was well-funded and he has regular inspections of all the orphanages in his territory for corruption. So there was no reason for her to accept bribes.
Along with her frail body, there was no reason for Willow to risk assassinate him yet she did. There has to be a reason for her actions.
Has it to do with how desperate she was? Allister thought, recalling what she cried before driving the knife to his stomach. Could it be!?
“And yet, I still feel a threat,” Joshua stated, interrupting the duke’s motion of thought.
What does he mean? Allister wondered. Is he saying there is still-
“Got it.” Suddenly, Joshua let go of Willow’s hands and immediately turned around, the words he uttered was as if someone coordinated him…
…as he summoned the same shield of crystal…
…that blocked a knife thrown into the room, coming from the broken window where there was a black-garbed figure, the true assassin, crouching on a tree branch with their eyes uncovered by their disguise opened wide.
Then, like the same as before, the shield shattered into nodes of light-blue just before the throwing knife fell to the floor.
Then, Joshua, in the words the duke could only describe, flew in inhuman speed, out of the window he broke with his fist curled up, towards the assassin. In such a motion, the assassin had no time to react to it.
And so, a powerful hook was delivered and the assassin was knocked out of the tree branch and fell from view as Joshua skillfully landed on the same spot.
“…” Wordlessly, Allister slowly approached the young man standing on the tree, minding the glass shards on the floor but ignoring the maid behind him when she had just tried to kill him.
He was about to say something when Joshua turned around. “So, would you like to tell us your story, miss?” he said to Willow with a gentle smile, completely contradicting his previous expression.
“…Huh?” And Allister could only stare at him confusingly.