"Pass on my orders!" Leguna said as he stood up and wracked his brains. "Mobilize all available personnel in the bureau and send them to Annie's laboratory to be on watch! Check every single person, material, concoction and even down to every single fly!"
"Yes, Sir!" Xeno replied hurriedly.
"Also, notify Gerd to be extra careful. He should be watching over Innie now and tell him that I'll hold him accountable for anything that happens to Innie! Also, get me reports of anything odd in Melindor. I will look over them when I'm free. That will be all for now."
"Understood!" Xeno committed everything to memory before saluting and leaving.
Leguna crossed his arms, closed his eyes and began to think.
He was quite surprised to hear Xeno's reminder. But now that he thought of it, with Gerd around, Annelotte and the others shouldn't be in that much danger.
Even though Larwin didn't classify the project, he didn't make any public announcement about it either. In other words, the information probably leaked from the upper administration of the empire.
How did it get out in the first place? Someone disseminating the information intentionally had to be the only explanation.
"I've been far too careless," he said as he scratched his hair, "I didn't consider the dangers of it being leaked because it wasn't classified... Fortunately, nothing has gone down so far."
[Teacher, who do you think could've leaked the information?]
[I'm not sure myself,] Gahrona said after some thought, [Your relationship with the high officials aren't that good, so any one of them could've done it to get you into trouble.]
[You have a point...] However he thought about it, he still felt uneasy about it. [I think it's best if I go check on Annie myself!]
Larwin had wanted to situate the lab inside the court magi association. It had complete facilities and she could request help from other magi as she needed.
But as Geoffrey would show up there from time to time, Annelotte herself requested for the lab to be built outside the palace. Larwin didn't say anything about the request either and found a quiet building at a quieter district in Melindor and had people working to renovate it into an alchemy lab.
Fortunately, the facilities were intact and complete despite the speedy renovation of the place.
Even though it was getting rather late, there were still a number of alchemists from the association hard at work in the lab. As alchemical experiments often required much trial and error to produce satisfactory results, working into the late of the night was something they were long used to.
The crazed alchemists didn't have a good concept of time. As long as the end of the experiments were near, they would work without much rest throughout the whole week.
And now, they were researching a most fearsome weapon that could change the tide of war on the continent -- magic cannons. It was something they've shown huge interest in a few months ago since they were first used in battle.
Though the cannons put to use were still early prototypes and hard to deploy because of their huge mass, the alchemists were all too aware of the implications of bringing the weapon to the battlefield en masse. So, they banded together and suggested to Larwin to be allowed to research the cannons. Ideally, they wanted a couple of them to study.
Larwin had no choice but to write to General Manhattan and get him to personally mount an attack to take back Seatide, which was defended by the cannons. With Leguna's help, the assignment was carried out with flying colors and a good number of those cannons were transported to Melindor. Two days ago, the first cannon had been sent to the capital through a long-distance transference spell.
The alchemists beheld the terrifying weapon with wonder and stubbornly continued their work without rest. Even Leguna felt ashamed of the amount of work he got done at the bureau at the sight of how hard they were working.
"Over here... these look like two mana-channeling circuits... No... the other is there to maintain a stable flow of mana... If that's the case... How in the world is this formation triggered?" an alchemist muttered with a piece of the cannon in hand.
"Ah, these cannons are made from enhanced mithril. Indeed, using a cheaper material for something so large is a sensible choice. But how did they make these materials strong enough to withstand the power of these cannons? I doubt these materials would hold up after a few shots under normal circumstances," another alchemist commented.
"Indeed. These materials are quite odd. Maybe we should take it apart and analyze them in detail," suggested another.
Discussions like those could be heard all over the lab. Even though Annelotte led the research project, she wasn't personally among these alchemists.
Annelotte was in charge of the most crucial part of the process -- analyzing the mana routing and the formations of the cannons. During the afternoon, she left with Perelia to the outskirts of the city to test out the power of her initial prototype formation. Given the magnitude of power those formations could produce, they couldn't experiment within Melindor itself, lest they accidentally hurt innocents in the process.
When she finished, she couldn't be bothered to return to the noisy lab. She'd rather arrange the data she gathered in Galestorm Manor and present those data tomorrow to the others for a discussion.
As for Innilis, she was put in charge of doing the calculations for the energy transfer of the cannons. Annelotte decided that she ought to do that as that was where she exhibited the most talent and she didn't need too much knowledge on formation theory to do so. The girl also didn't rest much. She sat in a corner of the lab quietly working on her calculations even as the alchemists blabbered on.
"Halt, who goes there?" a guard at the entrance asked cautiously. These guards were sent there by Gerd. As Innilis was at the lab, Gerd also came along. Annelotte allowed the guards to be there as they were quite orderly and convenient to have around to be sent on errands.
"I am a member of the court magi association here to deliver some magic materials," said a middle-aged man dressed like a magus.
"Do you have a crest from Miss Annelotte?" the guard asked.
"Umm..." The man hesitated, before saying, "The order seemed quite urgent, so Lady Annelotte didn't give me a crest. But I do have His Highness Geoffrey's crest."
He produced a pure-gold crest with the logo of an eagle with its wings spread. At the bottom of the crest was the first prince's name.
"The first prince's crest won't do!" the guard said while shaking his head. He had heard rumors of Geoffrey wanting to participate in the research as well, only to be refused by Annelotte. Perhaps that man was sent by the prince as a gesture of goodwill.
The middle-aged man wasn't the slightest bit mad at being refused. He merely smiled and said, "It's only natural for you to suspect me. How about this, the materials aren't that much anyway and I know the name of the alchemist that requested them. He's called Kadir. Why don't you call him out and let me hand the goods to him? I would be able to fulfill my task that way. I wouldn't come here this late in the night if the materials weren't urgently requested in the first place."
As he said so, he stuck a sack of gold coins in the guard's hand. "Come on, cut me some slack!"
The guard hesitated for a moment but nodded in the end. "Alright. Wait here. Shuck, watch him."
"No problem!" The other guard saw the bribe and looked forward to the free round of drinks after their shift. He wondered if they should invite Gerd to a drink too.
Not long after, the guard came out with Kadir. The delivery man didn't say much and passed two odd gems with magic formations on them to the alchemist.
"Alright, I'm done and shall take my leave now," the man said before he turned to leave.
Gerd just made it to the entrance of the lab. While Leguna's task for him was to watch after Innilis, he also started to secretly protect Annelotte. Whether he was powerful enough to 'protect' her was another question altogether. He had followed Annelotte to the outskirts for the experiment. Since the experiment required some hands, Annelotte allowed him to help out.
After that, he had a meal at a tavern before returning to the lab to see whether his men were slacking off.
"What's with that fellow that came just now?" Gerd asked as he pointed at the middle-aged man far in the distance.
"He said he was there to deliver some magic materials. Don't worry, Sir. I only let him hand the items over without letting him in, the guard said.
"Materials..." Gerd furrowed his brow and asked, "What happened just now?! Tell me without leaving anything out!"
"Yes..." He told Gerd what happened, but before he finished, Gerd's face grew sullen. He slapped the guard and cursed, "Fool!"
Before the guard knew what was going on, Gerd rushed into the lab.
Right before he entered, two booming explosions could be heard. The metal door of the lab was blown away from the force of the explosion and rammed into Gerd's chest, causing him to spit out a mouthful of blood.
"Miss Innilis!" he cried with a hoarse voice.
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