"Sniff--" Innilis wiped the tears from the corners of her eyes. "--Sis Annie... I... I don't know why... even though I'm happy... I just can't stop the tears from flowing... sniffle... it really feels weird..."
Annelotte tried to wipe some of the tears off gently.
"We can express our feelings with tears when we are sad, happy, touched, pained, troubled, and a couple others."
"But if I cry too much... Leguna might not like me..."
The girl's mind was fuzzy from the rush of emotion.
"If he dares..."
Annelotte's cold tone was enough to send Leguna shrieking for forgiveness.
"Don't worry. With me here, Leguna won't dare. And he isn't someone like that either."
Innilis could see the optimism in Annelotte's gaze. Only her Sis Annie could be so confident.
"Do you want to help me with something?"
Annelotte's tone made her fear her latent talent as a child abductor.
"Can... can I do it?" Innilis asked hesitantly.
She knew what Annelotte had been up to, but it was the Annelotte. Could she really help out with something so grand?
Annelotte stroked her little head and nodded.
"Then I will try my best!"
Leguna wasn't too surprised to hear that Innilis had joined Annelotte's research. He was a little worried that she wouldn't be able to keep up, but if he showed it, it might deal a blow to the girl's confidence.
He even went to ask Annelotte to ease Innilis into the process, only to be shooed away with an eye-roll.
"Don't think Innie is as dumb as you!" Annelotte had said, "Her achievements are only average so far, but I can assure you her talent is far greater than you think! While she hasn't been in the field for long, she gives it her best all the time! With all the knowledge she has, her work in theoretics can't be understated! Do you think coming up with the formula to cure Eirinn is simple? Even I might take as long, if not longer. You shouldn't worry about her. She is much smarter than you think -- and tougher too! You should worry about your bureau instead! I recall Arikos said the Stokian intelligence bureau is up to something lately. If you let them succeed under your watch, you might end up being humiliated. And--"
"Woah woah woah!"
Leguna had only come out of worry for Innilis and wanting to see Annelotte. He didn't expect a single question would spark a long-winded lecture. Wasn't she a quiet person? When had she become so talkative? Since Innilis appeared fine, he could finally rest assured. He went to her to cheer her up, but quickly left when Annelotte shot him the 'don't disturb us' glare.
Leguna had been quite busy the last couple of days with the bureau's Stokian counterpart.
Perhaps his performance was so effective that the Stokians decided to mount a full counteroffensive. Not only did they wipe out the Hockian informants in Stok, they even sent quite a number of assassins into Hock.
Even with all the preventative measures he'd put in place, he couldn't completely grasp their movements. He'd failed to stop the assassination of four division commanders.
And General Manhattan was on the kill list. Luckily, given that he was an 18th-stratum warrior and had a large private guard, he was not so easy to kill. And Leguna had taken extra precautions where he was concerned and had caught his assailants before they could act.
The assassin was quite stubborn though, and killed himself the moment he was cornered. Leguna couldn't get anything out of him before he died. He would have had a lot of things to say as well, since he was rumored to be one of Stock's best assassins and was quite high up their covert ladder.
With Arikos's help, Leguna thwarted one plot after another. While the results didn't seem optimistic, it was quite commendable for a kid not even in his twenties. While a few high-ranking officers had been killed, it wasn't that bad in light of his contributions over the last half a year.
"Ah, I can finally get some good rest," Leguna stretched lazily.
The recent confrontations with his nemesis had really taken a toll on him. He had to pay attention and be on his guard all the time, constantly pouring over the latest intelligence report and coming up with counter strategies.
[While their activities have caused the empire some losses, we also managed to sever many of their long fingers. I suppose we're pretty evenly matched.] Gahrona chirped, [Their intelligence bureau should be ceasing their efforts soon. I didn't think their head wouldn't be able to do much to a newcomer like you. You did well!]
Leguna was a little shy under his teacher's rare compliment and scratched his head awkwardly.
[It's thanks to your advice, teacher.]
[Don't be modest. I did give some ideas, but you came made most of the decisions on your own. You've really grown, Ley,] she sighed.
[It's thanks to your teachings.]
Leguna's original respect for his teacher had over the years turned into admiration and he rarely acted reserved in front of her anymore. He certainly never suspected her motives, unlike his first teacher, Wayerliss.
While the elf's personal strength might not be as great, his plans and schemes were terrifying. Even now, Leguna had a feeling he was still dancing to his tune. He sometimes feared he would end up like Balor.
A knock sounded at the door.
"Sir Leguna, I have a report," Xeno said respectfully.
"Come in," Leguna said after straightening in his chair and squaring his shoulders.
"What's wrong? Come now, don't swallow your tongue."
"I didn't want to stick my nose into this, but I can't feel assured otherwise, so I had to say something about it."
Xeno took a small envelope out from under his coat and handed it to Leguna.
"Is anything wrong?"
The report shouldn't have warranted Leguna's personal attention. It stated that the news of Annelotte working on a replica of the magic cannon had spread and Stok had gotten wind of it.
"I understand Miss Annelotte's research isn't exactly classified, but I am uneasy that it has been made public," Xeno replied carefully.
Leguna knew Xeno had been concerned about Annelotte. It wasn't that he had romantic feelings for her though; Leguna would not have let him live so long if he had. He was just showing his gratitude to her for putting his sister out of her misery.
Xeno also knew how his limits. He kept his concerns to himself. Leguna heard about them only on the rarest occasion. He also knew to avoid appearing in the same place as Annelotte, which sat well with Leguna, which made the boy the only male who could show any kind of positive emotion towards Annelotte, even if that emotion was just concern, without Leguna feeling the urge to gut him.
"Magic cannon research is crucial to the war," Xeno whispered, "If I were in charge of the enemy intelligence bureau, I would try to ruin it. I might even send assassins."
Leguna's mind stopped working and his face turned whiter than ash. So that was why most of the enemy espionage activities was in the north of the country! Instead of lacking the ability to cause trouble in the heart of the empire, they were up to an even more elaborate scheme!
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