Azhure: Alright, this is going to be the first part of chapter 13 rewritten under a new title to boot. Frankly, I should have done this much earlier – I’m practically cringing myself reading what past me thought was a cool idea.
Azhure: I’ll keep the same number of sub-chapters as the original to make it less of a headache for me to upload the rewrites, so expect them to be longer than usual. Also, I’ll tweak Alicia Chapter 19 to reflect some of the changes I’ve made to this chapter. Enjoy.
“Are we on a beach?” Alicia wondered as she took to her surroundings once the light of the transfer died down.
“Whoa! Nice place!”
The salty breeze permeated the air as the sound of the waves came crashing down from her right. Alicia could feel the sand below her feet acting like a cushion sinking her where she stood. Seagulls flap their wings taking to the skies above the sea. All in all, this place looked like a great tourist destination.
“Yep, welcome to Coastline,” Owen remarked with a shrug.
“Hm, I still cannot wrap my head around the name of this kingdom just because it stretches along the coast,” Alicia said confusingly with the name she was briefed beforehand.
“Eh, don’t worry about it,” Owen waved off, walking past her. “It only gets weirder from there.”
“I-Is that so?” Alicia chuckled wryly.
They’re not the only ones here; there was William the Air Guardian. Just because he’s one of the leaders of the Otherworldly Court doesn’t mean he won’t do fieldwork – recruited Guardians still have the same first year as any other Court Wizards. Furthermore, the Trust boy has a reason for joining.
“I get paid for this,” the Air Guardian said bluntly. This was on top of the salary for being a Guardian.
Alicia was subtly reminded of William’s family situation.
“Let’s go,” said a rough voice who went ahead of the group.
One more Court Wizard was joining them on Qantasia, someone who’s from this world. Though honestly, Alicia was more interested in his Element: Nature. It was one of the more esoteric Court Wizard Elements with its symbol being two halves of two separate symbols mashed together.
This was because the Nature Element was split into two types a Nature Court Wizard can become: flora and fauna and can be identified by the green and brown maneg color respectively. Those categories were self-explanatory; flora nature is plant-based and fauna is animal-based. As to why it was the way it was, it was something Alicia would learn later.
Anyway, the Nature Court Wizard with them was flora and is a tall man, 192 cm tall, and about 20 years old. He has short black hair and obsidian eyes alongside a scar on his left cheek. He also wore an old beat-up cloak that must have been with him for years with tears being visible that could tell a lot of things.
“Name’s Jonathan,” he said in a rough voice.
Incidentally, Alicia never saw his right arm. It was something she didn’t want to pry as they followed the Nature Court Wizard to the capital of this kingdom aptly named ‘Coast City’.
“The plan was to install a ‘Bell Branch’ in major towns or cities in a world. Then, we hire a manager, and anyone else necessary, native to that world that we can trust our secret with and sympathetic to our cause.”
She was reminded of what his father said that night about the Bell Branches in other worlds and it was what they were here for. Typically, a mission involving Bell Branches boiled down to the manager wanting to hand over a report about the general situation of their place to the Court, but due to limitations Court Wizards have to go down and fetch that report in person.
It’s a rather mundane assignment but it showed the Otherworldly Court being a working organization like any other. That said, it wasn’t the only type of mission. Sometimes, the Bell Branch managers may encounter a problem they can’t solve themselves. In this case, they would call the Otherworldly Court for help. And it was this latter type of mission that Alicia and company were here for.
Ooh! Nice place!
Passing through the capital gates, Alicia could see the vibrant city beside the coastlines. While still having the feel influences by European fantasy, being in a tropical climate, the people were lightly dressed as they went on their day-to-day lives under the sun. And it wasn’t just humans, half-animals of various shapes and sizes also lived side-by-side: merchants showing off their wares behind stalls, kids playing around, and city guards patrolling the streets.
The Court Wizards, of course, were similarly dressed for the part – a sweat-inducing robe would’ve caught a lot of attention, after all – courtesy of Rose. Alicia was wearing a white, frilly blouse and a brown skirt over a green coat along with a pair of brown boots, looking the part of a visiting foreign merchant’s daughter. Owen and Will were also wearing similar clothing except with pants instead of a skirt and a simple tunic. Jonathan was seen wearing the aforementioned cloak.
“Aw, c’mon fellas! Can’t ya let me go just this once!?”
Alicia could hear a rather high-pitched voice emanating from the bustling street. Looking at the source, she saw two guards dragging off another person by his shoulders.
“No can do, mister thief,” one of the guards said in a jovial tone. “The law is the law and you know it.”
“Aw, c’mon! Just this once?” the thief pleaded, trying to resist the struggling guards with his feet dragging across the sands. “Getting hit hard with the war and all?”
“The war is over, and the new king has already been improving our lives better than the previous kings,” the other guard chastised with an unamused look. “There is no reason for you to steal anymore.”
It was probably that scene that burst the bubble in Alicia’s mind. This was the first time she had visited a civilization in another world, so her natural curiosity got her on a honeymoon phase. After that was abruptly over, she could finally see the general atmosphere of this place was far from perfect. Like the thief from earlier, she could see the fading signs of desolation around the city: poor people on the streets, people young and old with lost limbs or two, and all around a general sense of depression.
“What, happened here?” Alicia couldn’t help but mutter.
“Long story short, we’re recovering from a civil war,” Jonathan answered as he strode forward.
“Yeah, we’ll talk about it later,” Owen interjected. “But as you can see, it’s got a long way to go, but it’s getting there.”
“I see.” Before Alicia could ask any further, Jonathan stopped in his tracks.
“We’re here,” he said.
In front of them was a three-story building with a large emblem. The emblem was that of a bell. The bell, however, was rusted all over but a single spot which was gold. There was a light blue cloth behind the rusty bell that looked as if it was covering the bell. Below it was a sign that said ‘Bell Conglomerate.’
A bell since the founder’s last name was ‘Bell;’ the rusty aesthetic symbolizes how the founder was penniless, being worth nothing; the golden spot on the bell symbolized the worth in everything; the cloth to clean the bell, symbolized the strive of a poor man becoming rich and; the light blue symbolized the honesty and trustworthiness of the business. Such was the logo of the Bell Conglomerate, arguably the richest mercantile business anywhere.
And someone was threatening this business.
The group went through the door, ringing the doorbell, to reveal a bright lobby. The room was minimalistic, having a couple of sets of low tables and cushions, a table full of refreshments, and a bulletin board. All of them were placed in such a way that the lobby felt luxurious, a testament to the Conglomerate’s commitment to delivering quality at an economic value.
There were a few people there, sitting on the cushions talking to each other about business while enjoying tea and cookies. Most only spared a glance at the incoming Court Wizards before continuing what they were doing, minding their own business. Paying them no mind, Jonathan went to the receptionist’s desk where a young girl with long wavy light blue hair stood behind it and immediately noticed him.
“O-Oh! It’s you, Jonathan!” she gasped with a hint of red on her cheeks.
“I am, Maria,” Jonathan greeted her, feigning ignorance to her fluster. It looked like the two knew each other. “We’re here for the problem you have.”
“Oh! Thank goodness! You have no idea how bad it is, but if it’s you, then everything will be fine,” the receptionist, Maria, said happily as if a burden had been lifted from her. Looking at Alicia and the others. “I assume they are your companions?”
“Yes, they are,” the Nature Court Wizard nodded.
I guess she knows… Alicia pondered in her mind. A select few others than the manager do need to know about the Otherworldly Court, it’ll be awkward if it’s just the manager.
“Wait, that red hair… It’s lighter, but…” the receptionist then noticed. “Could she be!?”
“She is, Maria,” Jonathan answered with a whisper, leaning closer to the flustering receptionist. “Better not cause a scene.”
“R-Right, sorry!” the receptionist quickly nodded.
“We should go see the manager,” Jonathan then said before the other occupants in the lobby start snooping.
“O-Okay! Then, right this way!” the receptionist exclaimed, leaving the counter and beckoning the group to follow.
They followed Maria on two flights of stairs to the third floor where there was a room behind a wooden door. The receptionist went to the door and knocked on it. “Grandfather?” she said. So she was the manager’s granddaughter. “The Court Wizards are here.”
“Ah! Let them in!” an elderly voice came out behind the door.
Behind the door was a simple office with a few chairs, a cabinet, and an office desk. Behind that desk was this Bell Branch manager who was an elderly man with greying blue hair and wearing a brown suit.
“It’s you, Jonathan! I thank you for coming,” the manager exclaimed, looking like he had a sigh of relief as Jonathan entered first after Maria. “Please, have a seat!”
After that, the Court Wizards entered the room one by one. The office was rather small to fit half a dozen people, but it’ll do.
“Oh? You are Owen and William?” the manager muttered at the sight of the two boys. “I believe I remembered handing reports to you a few times before.”
“Yeah, we did,” Owen shrugged as he sat. William said nothing and followed suit.
“And,” the manager then looked at Alicia who was the last to enter. “Who might you be, young lady?”
“My name is Alicia Bell,” Alicia greeted. “Nice to meet you, sir.”
The manager did a spit-take. “Did you say your name is Alicia Bell?”
“Um, yes?” Alicia nodded, not sure why the manager asked.
“She’s the boss’ daughter,” Jonathan cut to the chase. So that’s what’s going on.
“O-Oh! Mister Bell’s daughter!” the elderly man exclaimed, the pieces falling into place. “Your father has told me a lot about you, miss Bell. I am the manager of this Bell Branch, Alfred Davis, it is a pleasure to finally meet you.”
“Likewise,” Alicia said with a smile, taking her seat and noticing the high number of chairs in the relatively small office. Are large groups frequent in this? she wondered.
“And I’m Voice!”
“Eek!” the receptionist jumped in fright.
“What in Abyss!?” The manager almost had a heart attack when the pixie shot herself out of Alicia’s chest.
“Well then, Maria.” After that episode, the manager told to his granddaughter. “You may leave.”
“Yes, grandfather. Excuse me,” Maria, replied to her grandfather before leaving the room.
“Now then, where to begin?” the manager muttered before figuring out a good point to start explaining. “Well, it all started three weeks ago when a restaurant we opened in this capital was visited by Doug von SaltWaters, an aristocrat.”
It’s SaltWaters, two words together in pascal case like someone’s username. It only gets even weirder from there. (Owen)
“He visited the restaurant with his cronies having heard of its success given the Conglomerate motto of serving quality with affordability,” the manager continued. “Being an aristocrat, he barged in and demanded the balcony table, the best table we have, but it was already occupied… by Maria and her co-worker friends on leave.”
“Is she okay?” Jonathan quipped, startling the manager for a moment. “What did he do to her?”
“He demanded my granddaughter’s group to give the table to him, but since we do not give preferential treatment to anyone, Maria promptly refused the request and told him to wait like everyone else,” the manager answered. “But Doug was being obstinate, insisting on taking their table and starting being a nuisance to other patrons.
“In the past, my granddaughter and her friends would have had to give up their table, but the new king has removed the nobles’ power over the common folk, so SaltWaters was all bark. Eventually, Maria called security and have the group kicked out. However, it was at that moment the security blurted out Maria is my granddaughter.”
“I see,” Alicia nodded. “Is that when he started to harass you?”
“Indeed,” the manager nodded sadly. “About three days after the incident, a group of thugs came and tried to destroy the restaurant. Fortunately, the restaurant security was more than enough to repel them before the city guards came to arrest them. Predictably, the thugs were hired to attack our place but did not know who hired them, only caring about the money. Well, even without it, it was only clear that it was Doug. Even though he no longer had power, it still doesn’t stop him from resorting to such tactics and unfortunately, we’re still recovering from the civil war so there were many people to choose from.”
This was a predictable pattern so far, to be honest. Just because the Bell family liked to be frugal doesn’t mean they shun themselves from entertainment. Alicia herself read a lot of fantasy books and media which she then realized might’ve been on purpose on her father’s part, quite ironic when he was very reluctant to have his daughter be a Court Wizard. Hearing the manager’s story, she can’t help but notice how it followed a lot of the tropes found in those books. Truth really was stranger than fiction after all.
“Anxious,” the manager continued. “I ordered the security to escort employees to home and work and surely enough, one worker was almost mugged if not of her bodyguard. The bodyguard tried to wring out information from the mugger but they knew little, only that they were paid to rob Bell employees. Furthermore, several of our employees reported receiving threats telling them to leave their work or else.”
“Are they alright?” Alicia asked in concern.
“They are,” the manager assured her. “I’ve given them extra protection to ensure they are safe and so far, nothing has happened to them.”
“I see,” Alicia nodded. “Let us hope it stays that way.”
“I hope so too,” the manager agreed. “But as you can see, we have been stretching our resources thin to ensure the employees’ safety and frankly, we can’t keep doing this forever. Normally, we would handle this ourselves, but Doug had covered his tracks well. With the new laws passed by the new king, we no longer have to worry about being convicted for little reason, but that meant we could not find any evidence to have him arrested either.”
That was an understandable problem. A fair justice system goes both ways; it’ll prevent the innocent from being wrongfully convicted but it can also let criminals get away if they know how to get around it. That’s to say, it can never be truly fair, just as close as it can and that’s still better than being far from being fair.
“It is not too surprising, it’s expected of Doug, or rather the SaltWaters. His father was a very crafty man, able to manipulate everything into his favor while getting away with it, especially during the civil war – it was fortunate he ultimately didn’t come out on top in that conflict.” The manager then concluded his story, his arms resting on the wooden desk with a slack, “and so, with that in mind, I made the decision to ask for your aid. I thank you for answering it.”
“Yes, mister Davis. We will be sure to solve this problem,” Alicia assured the manager. “I promise you this as the successor of Bell Conglomerate.”
“Yes, you have my gratitude once again to your family,” the manager thanked her with a nod.
“Hm?” Alicia perked at the language the manager used.
Noticing that, the manager explained, “Truth be told, my granddaughter lost her parents at a young age, leaving me to take care of her alone. But, with my old body, I couldn’t do labor work. I was worried about what would happen to Maria until your father came and offered me to be the Bell Branch manager ten years ago. Now, not only my granddaughter and I but also all the employees have more adequate lives, especially when we are recovering from the civil war.”
Suddenly, the door behind them was opened rather violently, surprising the occupants of the room. It was one of the employees in the same uniform Maria wore. The manager would have chastised him if not for the employee looking worse for wear as if he had run upstairs at full speed in an emergency.
Well, before the manager could say anything, the employee shouted, “Sir! That bastard SaltWaters is here!”
“W-What!” the manager gasped in surprise.
The manager went ahead after the Court Wizards down the stairs to deal with the unexpected guest. The Court Wizards followed suit, stopping midway on the stairs to see the commotion in the lobby from there. Alicia watched as the manager faced a plump, blonde man in some fancy attire flanked by two of his goons. The other guests in the lobby were watching from the lounge tensely while Maria remained at the counter looking nervous.
“You are Doug von Saltwaters, correct?” the manager asked in formality towards the noble.
“Indeed I am, mister Davis of Bell Conglomerate,” Doug flashed a smile as he straightened his suit in a pompous fashion. “And hello to you too, Maria, is it not?” the noble then cooed at the receptionist who flinched at her sudden involvement. “I believe we have met in a restaurant, right?” he then asked rhetorically, subtly confirming the manager’s suspicion.
“Ahem. Then greetings, mister SaltWaters,” the manager interrupted curtly, not even addressing the noble with his title. “Now, what are you doing here?”
“Hmph, how uncouth like the criminal you are! Today, I am here to enact justice!” Doug taunted in a cringy manner Alicia never thought was possible for someone to say. “You have been very naughty.”
“Hm…?” the manager raised his eyebrow in disinterest. “And what pray tell did I do?”
One of the attendants handed Doug a bundle of paper. “I have here evidence that your company has not been paying taxes,” Doug accused, waving the bundle of paper. “From such a wealthy business as yours, the consequences would be grim.”
The elderly man stayed silent, letting the noble go on.
“Furthermore, I have testimonies of some of your employees stating that they were given wages below the standard as indicated by the law,” Doug added, patting the papers with the back of his hand. “The list goes on and on. What do you have to say for yourself?”
“Nothing. Just wondering where you forged that,” the manager said calmly. “That’s all.”
Alicia couldn’t help but chuckle at Voice’s remark. But true, it was obvious the noble had forged those evidence.
“Hmph! Trying to deny it, are we?” the noble smirked with confidence. Pulling out one of the papers, he showed it to the manager. “I will have you know that this is a legitimate tax report on your company proving your fraudulent conduct,” he boasted, pointing his finger at a red spot on the report, likely a seal. “The king, after all, allowed us upstanding citizens free access to this information, for this reason, you know?”
“…The seal looks real,” the manager muttered hesitantly.
Smiling in victory, Doug switched out the incriminating tax report for the testimonies. “And as for the testimonies, you can see right here each and every one of them are signed with their signatures,” he bragged, pointing his finger again to a part of the parchment that looked scribbly from afar. Then, he quickly pulled back the paper testimonies out of sight. “So? How about it?” he said accusingly with smug.
“…” the manager stayed silent.
To the noble, it seemed the manager has been cornered. Capitalizing this, he bared his teeth and sneered, “Your sins crawling up your back? Well, tell you what? We can pretend all of this never happened as long as you do as I say from now-”
“I refuse,” the manager immediately declared. “I am the manager of this Bell Branch and I will not betray my master over false evidence.”
“Still trying to deny it? You do not have a say in this matter,” the noble taunted, lifting up the bundle of paper in assertion and retorted. “I have the evidence obtained in legal means pinning you as a lowly criminal. The new king, after all, will for fair justice to be served and it is fair justice I have served! You. Are. Guilty!”
A fair justice system goes both ways; it’ll prevent the innocent from being wrongfully convicted but it can also let criminals get away if they know how to get around it. That’s to say, it can never be truly fair, just as close as it can and that’s still better than being far from being fair.
But sometimes, after all the lengths to make sure it was fair as possible, a fair justice system can still become its biggest enemy when those unscrupulous find ways to use it against the innocent.
“No matter what, I am the manager of this Bell Branch and I will not betray my master.” Even so, the manager will still stand his ground.
“Tch! How stubborn!” the noble clicked his tongue. “I bet the so-called master of yours is as much of a scum as you are!”
Alright, I think that is enough, Alicia thought as she then began to come down the stairs.
“Alicia?” Owen called out to her sudden movement. He didn’t stop her though since he understood why.
There was an entitled brat who waltzed into a restaurant her family company owned, demanded unreasonable services as if he deserved it, and got kicked out for it. Instead of learning his lesson, he self-righteously thought he can attack the company for weeks straight just because he can get away with it. Now, this noble thought he could turn around and say her company was in the wrong and even bring her family into the picture.
There was no way she wasn’t going to act. Down the stairs, the heiress of the Bell Conglomerate marched forth towards the manager and noble, interrupting them with two words, “Hold it.”
Azhure: So, what do you all think of this sub-chapter? Is it good? Are there any problems with it? Any reviews or feedback is appreciated as long as they’re not plain insults meant to blow off your stress.
Voice: Don’t do that to people! Not even on the internet!
Support My Work
SociaBuzz (for local and global donations): sociabuzz.com/azhureraven/tribe