Azhure: I decided to take more time to write from now on. Less stress that way.
“Are you not disturbed by the fact that you ripped out a piece of your own soul to perform your art- I mean, Orders!?” Irene exclaimed, almost spilling the teacup she held.
During the conversation in the hallway, Ronald and Irene decided to move to a more suitable location to have a conversation, over tea (the Illyers really loved their tea).
There, the Illyer confessed wanting to know about Ronald’s ‘arts’ and how they worked. Seeing no harm, and with the privacy of their chatting room, he decided to indulge her, without the censoring of Otherworldly Court terms.
While Ronald wasn’t Joshua, he had still explained the best as he could: how Maneg Souls merge with people’s souls to become Court Wizards; the ‘compression’ of their actual souls; the loyal maneg and disloyal maneg; maneg itself; the Elements; the slight alteration to their minds; and how they give Orders.
And apparently, the last part freaked Irene out.
“Um, what do you mean?” Confused with Irene’s sudden uncharacteristic outburst, Ronald only made an innocent meek while sipping his tea.
“To perform your Orders, you use a portion of your own soul,” Irene repeated. “Does that not disturb you?”
“…Hm, now that you worded it out like that, it does sound bad,” Ronald remarked. “But we mostly use disloyal maneg, which is not our actual souls, and we can recover them from the environment.
“Our actual souls, loyal maneg, always stays with us, so it’s not that big of a deal.” Ronald continued, “but I guess our Maneg Souls also help calm us down when our seniors break the news of how Orders really work.”
“And then there is the other thing.” Irene, however, rolled her eyes and continued her argument. “Are you quite fine with your… Maneg Soul altering your mind? Or is it also its doing?”
“Probably,” Ronald shrugged. “I mean, it mostly makes us get along with each other and suppress our emotions from getting in the way of fights, so it’s mostly beneficial to us.”
“I see, if you say so,” Irene relented. “So this is why Layla called them having ‘fractured souls,'” she mumbled.
“Hm?” Ronald perked his ear, Maneg Souls, unfortunately, didn’t enhance his hearing, unless the Element was air. “Did you say something?”
“Oh! No, it is nothing!” Irene quickly denied, oddly flustering as she did.
“Okay then.” Ronald shrugged. “Any other questions?”
“Other than how utterly unsettling your emotions suppressed in battle is, nothing else,” Irene huffed.
Ever since the kidnapping, Ronald has been interacting with the lady more frequently, as it was obvious being her savior.
At first, it was just passing “Hello”s but eventually, Irene invited him for tea with the casual topic of other worlds; how they were like and what sort of adventures Ronald stumbled into.
In the next conversation, it was about the Bell Conglomerate. Ronald could tell the awe Irene had when he narrated his family story.
After that, they got into other topics every now and then throughout the past few months, whenever they get the chance. And frankly, it was quite enjoyable.
Only now she wanted to talk about maneg and Orders.
And lady Irene’s more casual than she realized now. Musing that to himself, Ronald carried on, “Well then, is there anything else you want to talk about?”
“Hm… Oh!” Irene placed her finger on her lips, thinking of something before figuring something. “I never know your family. You know mine, so it is appropriate that I know yours.”
“…” However, she was met with silence.
“…Is there something wrong?” Irene asked in concern, realizing the sudden loss of the casual air around the young man.
Ronald, on the other hand, simply answered this, “…Well, you know my father, Alan. There’s also my grandfather, Thomas, who founded Bell Conglomerate, along with my grandmother. Like my father, I am an only child, so there was never an inheritance problem. I have no cousins either, not that I know of.”
His words were disconnected as if he was struggling to pour it out. But regardless, he had still worded it out and Irene listened intently, knowing the grim tone he conveyed.
The grim tone in which Irene noticed one thing Ronald had left out.
“…What about your mother?” she dared asked.
“…” And it hit the mark. With a pregnant pause, Ronald eventually confessed, “She’s already gone.”
“..!” Irene wordlessly gasped, covering her mouth. “My apologies! I-”
“It’s fine,” Ronald stopped her. “It was a long time ago. I just don’t like bringing that up.” Especially how mom…
“I see…” Irene nodded in silence. “Are you alright now?”
“Yes,” Ronald rolled his eyes. “I got over it a long time ago.”
“Oh, thank the greater spirits…” Irene smiled.
“You know,” Irene spoke up, breaking the heartfelt silence. “I would have never thought in my life I would see visitors from other worlds, as farfetched as that itself sounds, much less sitting here with you.”
“Hm?” Ronald perked up.
“And I would have never thought those same visitors offered to help my father’s campaign to ascend prince Albert to the throne because it was right,” Irene continued. “Not only that, you also saved me from being kidnapped too. Thank you again for that.”
“You’re welcome,” Ronald replied.
“Also, how long has it been since you and sir Joshua appeared before us?” Irene asked.
“Almost a year,” Ronald answered.
“I see,” Irene rolled her eyes. “Then we have been through a lot for almost a year then, huh?”
“Your father said pretty much the same thing moments ago,” Ronald dryly commented.
“Really?” Irene raised her eyebrow. “Fufu, so father beat me to it,” she chuckled.
“Yes, he did,” Ronald chuckled back.
“But regardless,” Irene continued. “It also means we have been here for almost a year too, right?”
“…Yes,” Ronald smiled. “We do.”
With the warm air of a private tea party returned as a flash of curiosity came over Irene again.
“Oh!” Irene exclaimed. “I was wondering, how did you get your Maneg Soul? Your first day as a Court Wizard? Was it by chance, or something else? I am sure there is a story to it.”
“That?” Ronald raised his eyebrow. “Well, it’s nothing special, though I forgot to mention how Maneg Souls choose us. You see…”
“Hm, I almost forgot. Did you tell everyone to call us sir Ronald and sir Joshua?” Ronald asked.
“Um, should I not?” Irene spoke softly as if she had done was wrong.
“Well, I guess it’s fine,” Ronald sighed.
“Why do you care about me, sir Joshua?” Willow asked, demanding even. While it could use better wording, the intent behind it was clear.
The break room for the mansion staff was awfully empty, save for the absurdly tall man and the frail-looking maid lounging there.
Like… sort of like Ronald with his rescue of Irene from her kidnapping, Joshua has been interacting with Willow far more than he should have been ever since the incident at the breakfast.
It wasn’t like this at first. In the beginning, Joshua merely passed by the maid which startled her every time – having your emotionless face looking down on her while gripping her hands high up the air roughly would do that to her, even if you saved her family afterwards.
Then, in one of those episodes, Joshua decided enough was enough and struck a conversation with her. Of course, it didn’t go so well.
Year 1397 in Manegia
“Hey, Willow!” Joshua waved his hand at the maid. “I was wondering if we could-“
“Eek!” Willow yelped, metaphorically jumping from the floor in surprise.
“Uh…” And Joshua stared at her awkwardly, his raised hand losing its strength.
Immediately, the maid bowed down to Joshua and incoherently rapped, “apologieslordruzebutimbusyfarewell!” and scurried off.
Of course, again, Joshua didn’t give up after the first try and pretty much hit on her every chance he got to the point where it was borderline creepy as it went for months.
He was sure that even Willow’s colleagues gave him the stick eye as they creep on him making his advances on her in totem pole heads behind doors, corners, whatever – those maids must’ve really looked out for her and had a lot of free time do to so.
But eventually, Joshua got a lucky score.
“Hey, Willow,” Joshua called her for the nth time. “Are you free right now?”
“I, uh…” Willow, as always, reflexively covered her chest with her arms, stepping back from the rather insistent tall man, as she tried to come up with whatever excuse she has yet to use to dodge him.
“Come on,” Joshua cooed. “I just want to talk to you, that’s all. I’m not gonna hurt you.”
“…A-Alright then,” she whimpered.
Since then, every time Joshua was in the mansion and Willow was on break, he would leave his junior to his own devices with his lady, and have a chat together with the maid in the break room about themselves, hobbies, favorite things, and anything mundane.
He even jabbed in a few jokes which he eventually got a reaction from the maid.
And through the conversations, little by little Willow’s fear of the Ice Court Wizard gradually lessened. Joshua could also feel the leering gazes from the other staff disappear as well. Half a year later, she became much more comfortable around him.
Comfortable enough for her to culminate it all to this moment.
“Um, what do you mean?” Joshua questioned. He had a sinking feeling where this was going.
“Alright, let me explain.” Willow took a deep breath, her posture in a resolute firm as she braved herself to say, “I am but an orphan girl who tried to murder the duke, my own lord, and you stopped me with that uncaring look in your eyes.
“So why do you suddenly care for someone like me? It doesn’t make sense.”
“You were threatened to do it,” Joshua retorted, pointing out what she omitted. “You didn’t do it for selfish reasons.”
“That’s not important,” Willow shook her head. “Yes, you saved my orphanage, and I am thankful for that, but that should where it ends.
“So why do you still care, no, cling to me?”
With that came silence as Joshua looked down on the maid’s determined eyes, now understanding what she meant. Yes, for all intents and purposes, she was an enemy yet Joshua tried to befriend her there was no reason to once she’s no longer a threat.
Honestly, I did it on a whim, Joshua thought, but Willow certainly wouldn’t accept that. And, I don’t think so too. I think it’s because of her… She’s the only reason I could think of…
“Well?” Willow waited, crossing her arms.
Seeing the impatient girl, Joshua relented …Welp, here goes nothing. Closing his eyes, Joshua took a deep breath as he was about to start his story – a story he was not supposed to share.
“…There was once a girl who traveled alongside me and Ronald, a junior like him under my wing. We had many adventures together, exploring places, hunting monsters, taking down corrupt nobles, us three.”
Sighing in melancholy, looking at the maid listening to him intently, he continued, “but then, tragedy happened and she’s gone.”
Then, he took another deep breath.
“Her name was Emilia Willows.”
And Willow’s response was almost immediate. “So you were re-”
“No!” And Joshua also immediately stopped her from finishing her sentence. With fierce eyes, he could see he startled the maid, but that wasn’t important as he pointed at her chest. “In fact, you are nothing like her!
“Emilia was more outgoing, energetic, and brash with her words. Hell, she makes a better assassin than you – she’s trained for it! The only thing that’s the same about you two is your hair color, and yours is paler than Emilia’s!”
“T-Then, why tell me this!?” Willow demanded, taking a defensive stance as she did months ago, yet still put up an act of courage.
“…It’s the only thing I could think of,” Joshua confessed, his expression turning a one-eighty. “Other than that, I don’t know.”
“What?” Willow blinked.
“I’m serious,” Joshua mooted. “In all honesty, I called you on a whim, but even I still think there’s a reason why I did.
“Maybe it’s because of what happened after that breakfast, maybe your similar hair color, or probably because you girls share the same name!”
Bending his head down, Joshua scratched his in frustration. “Or maybe I am replacing her with you!” he shouted, ironically spouting what he stopped from the maid.
Huffing in exhaustion, Joshua slumped in his seat, waiting for what Willow thought of all of this.
And it was a kind response.
“I see…” Willow rolled her eyes. “I admit I was scared of you at first, but as we spent time together, I can see that you are a warm person at heart. And regardless of your intentions, you still saved my orphanage, saved me from my circumstances. Thank you.”
Looking back at her, Joshua listened to her words. In the back of his mind, he finally realized it.
Both of their problems were polar opposites yet similar, namely about family. But where we, I, failed in Emilia, I was able to save Willow from her circumstance.
“Yeah, one thing’s for sure, both you and Emilia are kind people,” he smiled, deciding to tell Willow about it later.