"Alright, that is all for the introductions," Larwin said, nodding satisfiedly, "It seems the empire has been graced with lots of talent."
"Even so, I think we're most fortunate to have Annie here," Geoffrey interjected, smiling. With Larwin's permission, he was not pursuing the girl to the fullest of his abilities.
He would naturally only do so when Marolyt was absent. He didn't dare be bold in front of the old man. Prince or not, he'd leave the room beaten black and blue.
He was determined to woo Annelotte before the old swordsaint returned. The old man could say nothing if the girl herself accepted his advances. He'd heard rumors that Marolyt feared only one thing in the world, his daughter.
"I am undeserving of your praise, Your Highness," Annelotte replied. She glanced at Leguna and saw him looking pathetic and defeated, a true dog.
"Geoffrey is right, Annie. You don't have to be humble. Alright, you should all know why I summoned you. It's time to hand out your rewards."
The contestants all expressed their thanks. Some were so moved they pledged allegiance to the emperor on the spot.
The round man waved his hand to quiet everyone.
"I am satisfied with your talents. I've decided to give the top contestants a few things extra. Besides the prize money, I will also open the imperial armory. You may take your pick of the equipment. I will decide how much you can take based on the items you pick and your performance in the tournament. But that will be explained in good time."
Everyone's heart beat in their chest. Enchanted equipment! Even the most basic was worth several hundred gold! And the imperial armory certainly didn't have just normal items! This was incredible.
"Whoah! The emperor is very generous," Kurdak smiled, delighted. He had just been thinking his two-handed sword was now inadequate. Now was the right time to get a new one. How could he not have a single enchanted weapon now that he was high order? Especially since Leguna had two! If not for the fact that they weapons didn't suit him, he would've grabbed one from Leguna long ago.
"Wow, we can take more if we fought well! I could possibly take two or three!" Leguna smiled gleefully.
"Give me two!" Kurdak demanded without hesitation.
"Buzz off! That's robbery!"
"Tch, suit yourself. What do you think will happen if you don't get something for Vera? I certainly won't stop her."
"Alright, I've arranged everything. You may pick them later. I wish to bring you attantion to something else," the emperor continued, silencing everyone.
"As you may have noticed, the empire is at war. I'll be honest, it isn't looking good."
"What do you need of us, Your Majesty?" asked a middle-aged magus.
"You must have some suspicion as to the true purpose of the tournament. It is to scout talents for the military. I hope you will join my empire and help defend it."
"Our frontlines are on the brink of collapse, we need your help," Geoffrey continued, "We have sent out the call to everyone, we even let Stokians and barbarians participate."
"You fear someone being a spy?" asked one of the contestants.
Geoffrey stood and bowed.
"I am truly sorry, but it is true. We ran extensive background checks you all, but we can't be certain. I apologize for having to suspect you."
Geoffrey bowed again after he finished. The rest expressed understanding.
"What does the empire ask of us? To prove our loyalty, I mean?" asked a warrior.
"You are all elite amongst the elite. We ask you to join the military and aid us in our fight as independent detachments. You'll be separate from our chain of command and have full access to our supply network."
"What else?" Leguna chimed in.
Geoffrey glanced at him momentarily.
"You will be officially recognized and incorporated into the army once we've determined that you are indeed loyal. Your positions will depend on your contributions."
The contestants weren't too fussed about it. They had to a few Stokians to prove their allegiance. They weren't particularly fond of killing, but they all had at least some blood on their hands. Killing a few more was hardly even worth mentioning.
"What do you think, Boss?" Leguna asked.
"We should take them up on their offer. We're wasting money in the city and have no way of making more here. We also need to get used to our new power and continue training. What better place than a battlefield?"
"Alright. Do we want to bring Gerd and Eibron along?"
"It'll be up to them. They're strong, I'm not against it."
"Alright." Leguna immediately went to discuss it with the two.
He had just a few simple conditions. When in Kurdak's party, Kurdak was the boss. Given Eirinn and Vera would naturally accompany them, so everyone had to protect them as well. And couldn't admit they were burdens.
Whilst neither had an issue with the conditions, both turned him down.
"I can't leave Melindor. I have responsibilities in the bureau," was Gerd's answer.
"I don't do well in teams, sorry. I know you'd make a good companion, but I work best alone," was Eibron's.
Leguna could only shake his head. He couldn't force the two, so he returned empty handed.
"Forget it then," Kurdak said dismissively. I just thought they could help me stave off some of Vera's anger. Seems it's just the two of us now."
Geoffrey continued once things died down again.
"If anyone's interested, please come to collect your badges. These are made by the court magi and you can recognize other badges with them. Our soldiers will also cooperate with you if you show them these."
"Let's go," Kurdak said.
Leguna followed. The two queued. A petite, violet-haired girl stood in front of them.
"Hey, are you Ley. From the top four?" asked she warmly, turning around.
Her figure was slighter than Annelotte's, but it made her much cuter. It made him want to tease her.
"Yes," Leguna answered.
"Whoa, it's really you? I saw your match against Legg. You were amazing!" the girl exclaimed, starstruck.
Leguna didn't know how to react.
"Uhh... Thank you... for the praise, I guess... I only did passably."
"Aren't you humble? Can I come to you for some pointers when you're free?"
The girl pointed at herself.
"I might not look like it, but I'm an assassin! But I'm nowhere near you. Will you give me some pointers, please?"
"Huh?!" Leguna froze again. But, seeing her hopeful expression, he couldn't bring himself to turn her down. He nodded once, forcefully. "... Okay."
"Great!" The girl stretched her hand out happily. "Pinky promise."
Leguna followed her lead.
"Haha! OH, forgive me! I should've introduced myself. Nice to meet you, Ley, I'm Latie, an 11th-stratum assassin in the top 32."
"Nice to meet you, Latie."
"We'll talk more later. We should get our badges first," she said with a mischievous smile before skipping to the staffers.
"Charmed?" Kurdak asked as he pushed the dazed Leguna.
"No," Leguna said with a shake of his head, "I just felt that something was off."
The moment Leguna finished his sentence, Latie revealed a dagger in her hand and dashed past the staff and Geoffrey at the defenseless emperor.
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