Azhure: During the gap between this and the last chapter, I went to an online ‘Holiday Camp’ from my college learning GDevelop which I then proceed to spend a week creating a game (link: azhureraven.itch.io/defnottouhou), then I had another Zoom meeting on top of writing this the best I can. Anyway, enjoy.
Year 1396 in Manegia
Where an ashen willow tree stood in the lush green forest, a young maiden, whose light blue hair, in these days, was tied to a smooth ponytail that rested on her shoulder, lay among there, seated upon the dry grass.
Garbed in a brown roguish outfit that exposed her belly under a similarly shaded overcoat with its hood lowered, the maiden gazed upon the once mighty tree when she felt a kaleidoscope of light blaring behind her accompanied by the high-to-low pitch sound.
Turning on her back, she recognized the two figures in a familiar brown robe and light-blue cloak with their hoods lowered that emerged from the light. “Oh, it’s you two, Joshua, Chubby Boy.”
“I have lost my weight a long time ago, Emilia,” Ronald frowned as he and Joshua come to her.
“Yeah, sure,” Emilia smirked at the younger Court Wizard. However, that smile of hers was on the rather weak side, which both boys noticed.
“But you know, you haven’t called Ronald that for years now,” Joshua noticed as he sat beside the blue-haired girl. Ronald also seated himself on the other side.
“Really?” Emilia tilted her head. “I do?”
“Now that I think about it, you did,” Ronald realized. “I distinctly remember you calling Master Gertrude ‘Dwarf Grandma’ and Master Isaac ‘Actual Noble’ outside of formal events in our first two years before ceasing altogether.”
In fact, Emilia gave everyone in the Court an epithet, even the Transporter Room operators (though it’s just operator guy or girl which others did before her). And that’s not covering the Willow Tree assassins getting their… Alright, stop there.
“Yeah, I remember that as well,” Joshua chipped in. “Why’d you stopped?”
Staring off to the close-yet-distant burnt willow tree, Emilia contemplated for a bit, and “…I didn’t realize, I guess,” was her answer. “And now I just feel like doing it again.”
And “”Right/I see,”” was all they could say.
The three went silent after a while, unsure of what to continue with. But of course, someone eventually did.
“…But you know, Emilia,” Joshua spoke. “Some of your nicknames are pretty spot on, and it’s pretty amusing everyone’s reaction when you called them that the first time.”
Reminiscing this, Daisuke, for instance, got called ‘Mister Principal,’ after Emilia learned the word principal – it has a better ring than headmaster -, with how he wanted to start a school; he went all flustered, spouting about how there was no way he could ‘jump the gun’ like that or something.
Master Isaac, on the other hand, actually liked the ‘title’ Emilia gave him, showing that he indeed upheld the word ‘noble’ when other nobles did not. ‘A bunch of hooligans with deep pockets’ as the Guardian put the crooks. So it was kinda lowkey respecting him.
All in all, Isaac’s definitely going down as the first who didn’t drop his noble title before or after he became a Court Wizard at this point, and also as the Guardian of it to boot, much to everyone’s surprise and amazement. He’s likely going to be the only one too.
The Otherworldly Court really looked down on aristocrats. Even Court Wizards with noble backgrounds themselves came to hate their own society (also because they were former as well). Even Master Isaac, who was still a noble, was not spared from this prejudice, for reasons as stated above.
Incidentally, Master Gertrude only blinked with the most uninterested look on her eyes and a ‘kids these days’ kind of vibe on her face when hearing her nickname.
And those were all before Emilia’s fellow Willows’… Okay, that’s enough.
“Oh, please,” Ronald grumbled. “Like you are any… Wait, what was Joshua’s nickname, Emilia?”
“Hm?” At once, Emilia browsed within her memory and immediately came up, “I didn’t give him one,” in a listless manner.
“Eh?” Joshua raised his eyebrow before coming to a realization. “You never did…”
After all, Emilia didn’t come up with a nickname upon first glance of every Court Wizard she met (even a certain Chubby Boy). However, it seemed that Joshua’s nickname was never conceived as if Emilia took her sweet time to make one considering the obvious stature.
“Pretty sure you’d call me ‘Tall Guy’ or something,” Joshua continued in confusion. “Like, it’s pretty easy to make one up for me, right?”
“Yet, she never did,” Ronald stated.
“Well,” Emilia spoke up, “that’s…” coming up with an excuse, “that’s…” but the words never came out.
“Uh…” Joshua mumbled. “You okay there?” he asked, inching his face closer to Emilia.
“That’s- A-Ah!” Emilia yelped, realizing a Tall Guy’s face was awfully close to hers. “Don’t surprise me like that!” She shrieked.
“Eh! Sorry!” Joshua jerked back. “But really though, why did you never have a nickname for me though.”
…I swear. Looking at him with a straight face, Emilia sometimes felt like her mentor wasn’t suited to be a mentor at all with… how he was at times. Ronald would probably fare better than him. “…I suppose I didn’t feel like it, that’s all,” she huffed, turning her face away from Joshua.
“…Eh?” Joshua blinked, confused by the strange response. “What?” But when he looked for explanations, he only found the young lady giving him the cold shoulders as she turned away from him.
But even so… Though it seemed that way, Emilia still…
You know, you two ought to realize it by now, Ronald cringed, watching the two’s interactions, especially when he spied the girl’s tinges of red on her cheeks as she faced to his direction.
“But, you know…” Emilia then spoke, her face now downwards and unseeable, catching the other two’s attention. “When you guys came to rescue me from my clan years ago, a part of me feels happy to see you two…”
Ronald and Joshua didn’t say anything, but a small upward curve did show on their lips.
“But on the hand,” Emilia continued. “A part of me felt guilty for leaving my clan… for leaving my family behind… for leaving Ashe behind.”
“But you still got us,” Joshua tried to console her.
“Thank you,” Emilia smiled. However, turning up. “But I was the best in my generation, you know? No mean to brag though.”
“You definitely ain’t,” Joshua said. “With you backflipping left and right.”
“Indeed,” Ronald added, remembering some of Emilia in action in several missions.
“Right.” Emilia continued, “this coat was given to me as proof of my accomplishment, that I am better than peers of my generation.” She tugged the overcoat she wore, emphasizing it. “It’s said to be worn by the founder, the first Willows, and has a couple of enchantments, though it apparently only works in Irona – most of the time it does nothing.”
“I see,” Ronald noted. “I was wondering why it doesn’t seem to fit you when we first met.”
“Really?” Joshua raised an eyebrow. “Looks fine on her to me. The other guys just get generic cloaks with barely other colors for roles – our robes are still better looking, at least.”
“And somewhat still blends us in the crowd when we rescued you,” Ronald added.
“Well, it was a bit too big for me back then,” Emilia giggled. “And I suppose you have a point with our clan’s fashion sense.”
“That’s said,” Joshua continued. “If it’s some family heirloom, why did your clan execute you wearing that? Wouldn’t it get torn or something?”
“Now that you mention it, yeah,” Ronald realized. “You were definitely wearing it when we rescued you. Why though? It’s certainly wouldn’t do good to damage an enchanted coat with historical value.”
“…” However, they were met with silence.
With that, the mood turned somber again, much to the boys’ dismay upon realizing the young Willows’ falling expression when they were here trying to cheer her up, with what happened in front of them.
But again, she eventually fessed up, “Our cloak, my overcoat in my case, symbolizes us, our life and pride as a Willows. As we grow up and go into the different phases of our lives, so do our cloaks as we outgrow them. Then, once we reached adulthood, we pledge our lives as a Willows to be our calling for life, thus the only cloak we wear from now on.
“Whether it’s torn or burned, we do not replace them. Much like looking after our own health, we maintain our own cloak’s integrity, to do otherwise will bring shame upon yourself for making light of your identity as a Willows. To do without it, barring obvious time and places, is to abandon your pride and way of life.”
So that’s why… They both realized after all these years.
From the first mission together as three to the last, Emilia has always worn both the robe and her overcoat in all of them. Naturally, wearing two layers of thick clothing made her sweat bullets, and yet she insisted on wasting on cooling Orders than taking one of them off – though she does take off the robe when idling in the Court.
Another thing was that Emilia had always been careful not to let her robe be damaged. Ronald had distinctly once remembered observing the assassin girl pulling the hem of her robe to prevent a sword slash from getting to it, a very unnecessary and dangerous move. She also seemed to always spend her reward money on cleaning products to spotlessly clean her robe – she probably fell in love with them.
Now that Emilia had confessed to a culture from her clan’s, both boys had somewhat come to a conclusion from all of the above.
She was projecting her view of her overcoat onto her robe.
No wonder she’s always peeved how I never wear the robe, Joshua narrowed his eyebrows.
I had thought she disliked having to replace the robe when it’s too torn up or dirty, Ronald thought. But I should have realized this sooner when the robe was the exception.
Additionally, Emilia’s treatment towards the robe and her lament of how it was generally treated had pretty much created an unusual bond between her and Rose Bloodlight, the vampire who designed the robe in the first place, sharing the same sentiment.
“And so,” Emilia continued, breaking the other two’s conjecture of thoughts. “When a Willows was to be executed, they are to wear their cloak with its hood unlowered and the executioner will deliver a swift decapitation, severing both the literal and figurative lives along with its ties to the clan. Such is the punishment.”
“Whoa…” was all Joshua could say.
“But your overcoat doesn’t have a hood,” Ronald, meanwhile, pointed that out.
“Well, that’s because this overcoat has another meaning to it,” Emilia answered. Really, it should have, being the worn armament of the first Willows. “When the elders gave me this at a young age, it signifies that no matter what phase of life you’re in, you will always be a Willows, for the clan is eternal – they always give this overcoat to younger Willows to which they become the symbol of that.
“Because the overcoat possessed no hood, the overcoat bearer may be executed, cutting off their ties to the clan, but the eternity of the clan will continue on. However, the blood of the Willows who had shamed the clan will stain on the overcoat forever for the clan to remember.”
In other words, the overcoat was the symbol of the clan’s immortality, that it will stick around to the end of time, even if the Willows wearing it got executed. However, the executed wearers’ bloodstain will become a permanent mark (the boys assumed they’ll never clean it) as a warning for the next generation to not screw up like their predecessors. That was both boys’ conclusion with Emilia’s philosophical explanation.
“So,” Emilia continued, her words getting heavier. “When I-”
“Alright.” Suddenly, Joshua gently tapped her upper lip with his finger, motioning her to, “stop there.”
“Indeed,” Ronald nodded, taking a glance at the scene. “You don’t have to continue dejecting yourself.”
However, Emilia pried away Joshua’s finger, to which he weakly resisted. “N-No, I can’t!” she cried, pushing her head down that the other two could only imagine what painful expression she’s in. “Even though I’m considered a prodigy, I’m still hopeless! I’m only good for taking orders and perform them! All my life, I was taught to listen and never question the missions I’m given!”
“Emilia…” Joshua muttered.
Regardless, she continued, “And what’s worst is that I accepted it as my only way of life! Even when I’ve become a Court Wizard, learning a new life, and betraying my clan, I still can’t leave it behind!”
Not stopping, “I am an assassin, yet I couldn’t part away from my feelings. But I still blindly taken missions that I clearly don’t like, and I’ve followed after all of your lead like sheep! All the way to its tragic end without fuss. Even though you guys taught me to instead keep my feelings, I never pushed through it when I did express it – it always ended halfway!
“And… because of that, my clan was destroyed.” Emilia looked up, onto the once-proud willow tree, with tears soaking her cheeks. “I guess I was never cut out to be a Willows nor a Court Wizard.”
With the last of Emilia’s grief unloaded, it had left with a Ronald and Joshua with conflicted hearts. With everything said, they could really say nothing else to her, not that it could help anyway. How pathetic, they were here to lift her spirits up, but had achieved very little in regards to it.
It looked like there was… except Emilia spoke once again.
“But even so,” she smiled. “I never once regretted being a Court Wizard… and-!”
A sudden snap from the willow tree’s branch echoed the forest. From it, a small figure draped in a brown cloak lept from above it, brandishing a dagger overhead, down towards the Court Wizards.
“A Willows!” Ronald exclaimed, immediately shooting up, opening his hand as he formulated his Order.
“Damn! Did we miss one of them!?” Joshua also stood up, preparing his Order to counter the assailant.
By the trajectory of the assassin, they seem to be heading straight towards Emilia, clearly wanting revenge against the woman who brought her clan to ruin.
With that, the two Court Wizards readied themselves to defend Emilia from harm.
“Don’t,” Emilia whispered.
The hood of the assassin’s cloak caught the wind, blowing it open to reveal the face of a young girl with a pair of eyes and pigtailed hair of her target’s shade. She sailed through between a brown robe and a light-blue cloak harmlessly as the wearers simply stuck in place.
Her face was contorted in pure anger and anguish. But, as soon as she reached her blade to…
“Ah…” From the Mother Soul, Isaac Brzask, the Guardian of the Mother Soul of Ice, uttered only a single word as he stared at the horizon outside the balcony in the ice chamber.
“Master…” Standing across the Guardian, there was a vampire, Rose Bloodlight, a Fire Court Wizard, who was with him. “Is she?” She stepped forward as she asked, clasping her hands together.
Isaac turned around, soundlessly tapping his cane. “Yes,” he sadly nodded. “Emilia Willows has passed.”
“Oh…” Rose muttered, lowering her head.
Turning back around, the Ice Guardian rolled his eyes with a sigh. “So young and promising too…”
Year 1396 in Manegia
“…Sorry! I’m sorry! Sorry! I’m sorry!” Ashe repeatedly cried those words as she hung over her older sister.
“It’s alright, Ashe,” Emilia softly whispered, caressing her little sister’s cheek. “It’s not your fault.” Then, she looked over to Joshua and Ronald.
“Why!?” Joshua hoarsed, a painful expression over his face. Ronald too held similar grief.
“Sorry, you two,” Emilia merely smiled. “And please, don’t blame my sister for this. Don’t take it out on her for this, and tell the others they shouldn’t too.”
“…Fine,” Joshua gritted his teeth.
“…Very well,” Ronald slowly nodded.
“B-Big sis…” Ashe whimpered, holding out Emilia’s hand.
“Dammit!” Joshua grunted, yanking his hair. “I… I haven’t!”
“Joshua,” Emilia calmly spoke, catching his attention. “Come over here.”
“…” Wordlessly, Joshua kneeled down, edging upper body closer to Emilia, “..!” only for her to suddenly pull his cloak with her free hand and lifted her head over to his.
“There,” Emilia giggled as she let him go.
“…” And the stream of tears finally came down from Joshua.
Then, Emilia turned to Ronald. “Take care of this crybaby for me, will you?” she said to him.
“I will…” Ronald nodded, gulping as he shed his cry.
And then, to Ashe. “Forgive me, Ashe,” Emilia softly spoke to her. “For making you go through all of this. But, I’m sure that you will grow just fine, I promise you this.”
“Big sis…” Ashe cried, putting her forehead against her big sister’s hand, sobbing it.
And finally, to everyone, Emilia shed her tear, her tears of joy, “And thank you, you three. You are all… the best that happened in my life!”
Twenty-five years ago, light-blue particles floated to the air and vanished. With it, the eternity of the Willow Tree, leaving behind only two memories of one.
Azhure: And thus, the end of Ronald’s memories.