"I... Um..." Leguna didn't dare to meet her eyes. He averted her gaze and said, "I'm only leaving for a couple of days, it's no big deal. I was worried you would be busy, so I didn't want to disturb you."
Though it should theoretically be really easy for him to lie to anyone like a breeze given his personality, and though he was capable of lying to her from time to time, today was not the day. He felt guilt welling up inside him just by looking at her, which made his lie all the more unconvincing.
Annelotte didn't miss the detail either. She narrowed her beautiful eyes and glared at the avoidant Leguna "Don't lie to me. You should know what would come of it!"
He felt a chill down the back of his spine when he heard it, but he still stubbornly refused to tell the truth. He knew that she would no doubt insist on coming along if she knew that what he was up to. That mission was far more dangerous than any he had undertaken before. No matter how strong she was, he didn't feel it was right to take her along. She couldn't just ditch her research anyway, so he kept quiet.
"I know even without you telling me!" A hint of rage flashed across her eyes. "You're going to the northern highlands to try to negotiate with the barbarian king, and should that fail, you are to kill him or instill conflict within the tribes, correct?!"
"How do you know all that?"
"Don't forget that you're not the only one in the bureau that knows about this." Annelotte sold out her informant without batting an eye.
"I knew that Arikos couldn't be counted on!" Xeno and Gerd only knew where he was going, but only Arikos knew what he was going to do. There could be no other explanation.
"Why did you try to hide it from me?" She didn't say a word to defend Arikos. She had to wrestle the information out of him after much trouble, after all.
After mucking about for a few moments, he decided to tell the truth after seeing how pissed she was.
"I was afraid I would endanger you if I take you along. Master Messen also warned me to not disrupt your magic training progress," Leguna weakly said.
"Danger? So it won't be dangerous for you?"
"I'm not going alone," he said with a shrug, "Uncle Arikos is tagging along!"
A look of shock crossed her eyes. She had taken it to say that 'I don't need you anymore now that I have Arikos helping me!'
Leguna quickly noticed the look. "Hey, Annie! You misunderstand me! I didn't mean it that way!"
"I did not!" Though she refused to admit it, Leguna's frantic clarification did relieve her scowl considerably.
"Basically, I'm just afraid that it'll be dangerous for you if you tag along and your magic cannon replication project will be delayed. That's all there is."
Before she could finish what she wanted to say, Leguna interrupted her. "There's nothing 'but' about it. Annie, I admit that I am lacking in many ways. I might be more relieved if you're by my side. But even you should know that you can't be with me day in and out. I can't rely on you for every little matter either. So, please let me try this out myself!"
She turned silent from hearing that. She understood his reasons, but that didn't change the fact that Leguna was going to cause trouble for the barbarian king, an 18th-stratum warrior! He was also an earth binder!
Seeing that she was almost convinced, Leguna struck while the iron was still hot. "Also, you have an important task to tend to as well, right? The assignment of replicating the cannons was given to you per imperial decree. I'm sure you would find it hard-pressed to meet your deadline if you travel with me and waste a month or two."
"I..." She was at a loss for words. All that was on her mind after she found out was to interrogate Leguna for keeping it from her. It never occurred to her until now that her mission was just as crucial and important. Leaving Melindor at that juncture wouldn't bode well for the project.
"If you can't complete your assignment, you won't be able to serve as the principal of the new school of magic." Leguna knew that victory was in sight by the look from her face. I believe you'll help me more in the long run if you stay in Melindor."
She still kept her mouth shut, as if she was waiting for something.
Leguna thought about it even more and stopped smiling all of a sudden. "Hey, Annie!"
"I will return," he said solemnly, "I'll definitely come back unharmed. Remember my promise to you that I'll live properly? I won't disappoint you."
As he said so, he took out the gemstone around his neck and showed it to her. "Don't forget you gave this to me. If I run into trouble, you can still come to help me, right?"
"You make it sound like I'm your familiar to summon at will," she said while casting him a disdainful glare. Yet, that expression looked all too coquettish in his eyes.
"Haha, how would I dare? You can rest assured now, right?"
She hesitated for a moment before she nodded. "Alright! Don't forget what you said just now!"
"I won't!" He shot her a thumbs-up. "Even if I don't complete this mission, I will make sure to return alive. Don't you know how much I cherish this life of mine? Also, while I can't say this for other things, I'm quite confident in my ability to escape."
She relaxed considerably at his shameless antics and her expression softened into a smile. Looking at his messy collar, she stretched her hands out to right them for him. "I'll be waiting for your return. After that, we'll go to Fort Kesta together to restore Eirinn's looks."
He was quite shocked to see her acting so intimate. He realized that Annelotte was no longer so uptight whenever they were alone together, much to his delight. He couldn't help but hold her hands tight. "Alright, it's a promise!"
"Let go... let go of my hands! Or I'll..."
Two days later, Leguna's band of ambassadors left Melindor.
"Ouch..." Leguna mouthed when he rubbed his sore thigh. In a fit of anger, Annelotte failed to control her Glacial Domain and froze his whole thigh.
That was no normal freezing injury. Her Glacial Domain could theoretically reduce the temperature of something to absolute zero. Leguna's thigh muscles were destroyed by the cold in an instant. Had she not hurriedly withdrawn the cold essence from his thigh and got a priest to treat him, Leguna might still remain bedridden.
"Finally getting cold weather joint pain after spending too much time with Annie?" Arikos said, clearly reveling in Leguna's suffering.
"I'm not even twenty yet, you know!" he snapped. But he didn't doubt that if this continued, he would no doubt have more joint problems related to cold down the line.
"Own up to the pain! Don't play tough! I experienced her Glacial Domain before too, you know!" Arikos looked as if he expected history to repeat itself.
"Tch, the boar is as dark as the raven..." Leguna mocked.
"Then you can be the boar then! I'm the raven." Arikos just had to have the last word. Before Leguna could talk back, he hurried to change the subject. "Hey! Let's talk serious business. What's your plan when you get there? Assassinate from the get go?"
He pondered for a moment and shook his head. "I don't particularly hate Legg. I wouldn't feel comfortable playing dirty out of nowhere like that.
[Tch, and there I thought you'd learned something!] Gahrona snapped.
Leguna didn't bother to explain himself. He told Arikos, "That's why I chose to go there as an ambassador. It would be ideal if we can solve this with other methods."
"What if negotiations fall through? Legg is the barbarian king, you now. The best way to command influence among the tribes is to lead them against us, a common enemy. Their reputation is built upon the battles they fight, after all. If he insists on invading us, what then?"
Leguna paused for a moment before he assumed a determined look. "If he really makes that choice, I would have no choice but to go through with it."
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