Compared to two years earlier, Melindor seemed to be doing remarkably well. The capital of the empire was in a festive mood. Quite a lot of pedestrians smiled even at passing strangers. Usually, people just looked others in the eye and clutched their wallets tighter.
Apart from that, quite a number of shops held lots of events. The tempting offers made many a citizen spend more than they usually would.
It was the new year's after all, so they had to let loose a bit, right?
That was the thought that surfaced in most people's minds before they began spending more liberally.
Relaxed and happy was how most of the citizens in Melindor, and the empire by extension, felt, including Leguna, who often complained about his skyrocketing workload. Thanks to the decreased attacks, he got a few days to take a breather. In his own words, he could finally go loiter in the streets to reminisce about his childhood.
Back then, he was but a lowly thief, so his little nostalgia trip cost a lot of people their wallets. Thankfully, he understood the pains of the average citizen and made sure to target corrupt officials or those who looked like they could afford to skip a couple meals.
"Hehehe…" He looked at the table full of money pouches during the night.
He had always been a money hoarder. Having been poor for a time, the desire for money was ingrained in him. It didn't help that his wealth was culled a great deal by Angelista half a year ago. He had to work hard to replenish his coffers once more.
"Hey, are you there?" Even though he didn't see who said that, he could instantly tell it was Annelotte. He could easily tell between her, Eirinn and Innilis even if he didn't hear the subtle intricacies of their voice.
Annelotte seldom called him by name, and would never call him 'Big Brother' like Eirinn or Innilis, apart from the time she pretended to be her in the Dusk Zone. Most of the time, she only said 'hey'.
"I'm here. Come in, Annie," he hurriedly replied.
His relationship with her had developed somewhat over the last months, though he still hadn't crossed the final line like he had with Eirinn. She did come to live with him from time to time when she was free, however.
"Don't misunderstand. I'm only here because it's easier to teach Innie this way," she often said.
When she came in, she saw the table full of money pouches and didn't seem too surprised.
"Want a couple?" he asked as he motioned her to pick any she liked.
She couldn't be bothered trying to teach him proper morals anymore. She used to try, but he only took it as praise. He truly was a rotten thief to the core…
"Then, I guess it's the usual then. Half for me, and half for the poor."
He shrugged, knowing a magus couldn't be lacking money. All the money he'd stolen in his entire life wasn't even pocket change to a high-ranking magus.
He didn't feel guilty about stealing it, however, since he would be donating some of them to the poor.
The ancients had some wisdom that was relevant even in the modern day and robbing the rich for the poor was among them.
Not only could it sate the vengeful desire of the poor as a good outlet for those negative emotions, it could also close the wealth gap even a little to make a fairer society. The robber could also gain a relatively good reputation, at least among the poor. Anyone who gave them something to last through the day was just no matter what. It also helped with his guilty conscience. He could stand proud even though he was technically committing a crime. But the most important part of the whole ordeal was how it added substantially to his income even if he had to give half of it away.
That was why he admired the person who came up with such a novel concept. He jumped into it to help 'even the wealth gap' without hesitation. So far, he gained quite the reputation in Melindor and quite a number of poor folk sung his praises in the trash heaps. They even called him the Light of Night, as he symbolized a light of hope in the endlessly dark nights of the poor's lives.
Little did they know that this Light of Night was the very same Dark Requiem they cursed so often. He couldn't help but feel the irony in the whole thing, having experienced it personally.
"Do you need anything?" he asked as he toyed around with a couple coins.
"I believe you've heard both academies' first annual celebrations are going to be held on the same day, the 31st of the 12th month."
"Yes." It was something the whole of Melindor knew. How could he, the bureau head, not?
"Innie's the top-performing student of Second Magic Academy. So, she might have to give a speech."
"Oh?" He seemed rather surprised and hesitantly asked, "Innie's going to give a speech? Can she handle it?"
"Don't think she's the same as she used to be before she joined the academy," Annelotte said with some dissatisfaction, "Innie didn't just get the best grades this year. Her combat prowess and improvement are both among the best as well. There's no doubt about her taking first place. Not to mention, she founded her little society to protect Eirinn from harassment… Eirinn's Guard, I believe it was called… so she'd definitely have to give a statement as the society's chairperson. That's why your worry is unnecessary."
"Great!" he said, relieved, "So, what do you need from me?"
"I haven't read jer speech, so it's only my guess. But I believe it has something to do with you, so I hope you'll be ready to make a public statement. Don't blame me if you are embarrassed.
Stunned, he smiled awkwardly.
"What does this have to do with me?"
"Don't tell me you forgot your promise," she said with a fierce glare, like she was about to beat him up.
Leguna's face darkened. He tossed his coins away and sighed hopelessly.
"I thought… you would have forgotten about that by now…"
"How could we forget if even you remember it? There's no way Innie would forget!" she said, truly mad.
She stepped forward and pointed at him accusatorily.
"Let me ask you. Are you going to keep your word?"
Leguna didn't answer.
"No… What I really want to know is whether you still want to keep it."
"Do you want to hear the truth?"
"I'm sorry, Annie, I do."
"Why apologize to me?!"
"Because… I think this will hurt you," he said, his chin in his chest.
"So wouldn't what you're doing now hurt Innie?" she said, her anger boiling over her head. "You promised to make her as your fiancee when she turns sixteen, but her sixteenth birthday was two months ago! What have you been doing? Nothing! Innie has been waiting for you to propose! Are you blind or deaf? Probably both, but is your heart frozen as well? You haven't so much as coughed anything about proposals!"
"I want to! Eirinn hasn't stopped nagging me over it. I want to, but--"
"Stop with your fantasies! What do I have to do with what you do with other women? Why would I get angry over you proposing to a women? It's got absolutely nothing to do with me! The only thing that's made me angry all this time is how absolutely spineless you are! You're toying with Innilis' heart! That you're shameless is bad enough, that you're spineless is disgusting enough, but now you're toying with that little innocent girl like she's some rag you can throw away once you grow tired of her!"
"Are you telling the truth?"
"I don't lie, and even if I did, I wouldn't bother with a lie about this!"
"…Okay. Should I thank you?"
"Go say sorry to Innie instead! I don't need, or want, your thanks!"
Annelotte left as she spoke those last words. She slammed the door on her way out, and a thought reverberated in Leguna's head.
Such a stubborn girl…Previous Chapter Next Chapter