Arikos bowed to Geoffrey elegantly and walked to Annelotte.
“What did you say?” she asked.
“Nothing, really. I just said you will be cooperating with me for research on the gifted,” Arikos replied.
“You told him about me being a gifted?”
“Calm down, Lass,” the middle-aged man said with a nonchalant smile, “Emperor Larwin already knows and it’s only a matter of time before Geoffrey finds out. Now he knows, he won’t be so pestering.”
“So you did this for my sake?”
Annelotte knew Arikos made sense, but she was unhappy that he did this without her consent.
“Ah, good that you know. Don’t need to thank me,” Arikos said, waving her off magnanimously, “It’ll still be best to stay at the bureau for a day or two. Help us with the research while you’re at it.”
“You won’t learn anything worthwhile.”
“Larwin brought it up. We have to at least appear to be doing our part. Also, we really obtained some information about Stok. If those madmen at the alchemical department are smart enough, we might find something.”
Annelotte knew how good the guild’s alchemical department was.
The madmen always submerged in some sort of chemical tests and experiments were not the least bit inferior to those from the Eye. It wouldn’t hurt to go along with their research. She had been raised there anyway, so even if Marolyt asked her to leave, she wouldn’t mind helping out if she could.
“Alright, I’ll send someone for you in a few days. I’ll take my leave now.”
“Sorry, I have other things to do so I won’t join the excursion,” Annelotte said, coldly turning the contestants away.
Many were trying to form parties before they went south. The top-ranked contestants were their primary targets. According to Geoffrey, even those in service to the empire could participate.
The top four -- Annelotte, Bribahns, Bektor and Leguna -- received lots of invitations.
It went without saying that Annelotte was the most popular. Not only was she the champion, she was also disturbingly beautiful. Having such a strong beauty in the party would surely spice up life in the field.
But Annelotte stiffly refused each and every invitation.
“Are you really not going?” Kurdak asked, coming over with Leguna.
“I have other business.”
“A shame. I guess inviting you would be pointless, then,” Kurdak said sadly.
“Sorry, Boss. I can’t leave now,” Annelotte said apologetically, “It’s also better for my health to not have to deal with a monkey all day,” she added, glancing coldly at the brat next to Kurdak.
“Uhm...” Kurdak said after a dry laugh, “I hope you have a good time.”
“I’ll hope for your safe return, Boss,” Annelotte nodded.
“Wait, Annie,” Leguna interrupted when Kurdak was about to leave.
“What? Need something?” Annelotte spat.
Oh! You move fast, Ley! Annie’s talking to you now! Kurdak screamed in his head.
“I... I need your help with something.”
Hah! You even got her to help you! As expected of a man courting three women! Surely you have some techniques!
“It’s Innie. I can’t take her to a battlefield. Eirinn is a 10 strata Pyronian priest so she’s coming with us, so Innie doesn’t have anyone with whom she can stay until we come back.”
“...You think she’ll agree to stay behind?”
“This time she doesn’t have a choice. I will not let her go to the battlefield.”
“I will be at the bureau. That place is hardly any better for her.”
He had only just thought about this option. Innilis was a powerless little girl. She normally couldn’t even bare to kill a bug. Even if there was no threat to her life on the battlefield, which there certainly was, Leguna could not let her see such carnage, but he couldn’t leave her alone in Melindor. With Annelotte staying behind, however, this was the perfect solution.
“Good you told me, I would have been very angry if you took her to such a place. If I’d known beforehand I’d have demanded to keep her here myself.”
The banquet lasted four hours. The pair left late into the night and rushed back to the inn. Kurdak gave the bow to Vera, claiming it was part of his reward. The woman clutched the bow and shot a passionate kiss into the man’s cheek.
“W-We need to make our plans now,” Kurdak said seriously, his cheek still somewhat twitching, “We’ll head south. Vera and Eirinn weren’t contestants, but the emperor said that any party members that go with contestants will also be rewarded.”
“Tch, if not for that damned Nigruela, I would’ve made it!” Vera snapped.
Annelotte and Kurdak had both dealt with him, but she was still not very happy about what had happened.
“I... I don’t need a reward. I just want to help others,” Eirinn murmured timidly. The half-elf shivered nervously.
“We don’t have to worry about anything with you there. We all trust you,” Leguna encouraged.
“As for Innie,” Kurdak said, turning his gaze to the girl sitting quietly in the corner.
“No!” Innilis immediately cried out.
“Huh?!” everyone blurted out.
“You’re trying to leave me behind again, aren’t you? I won’t! I’m going with you!”
“But we’re going to war! It will be really dangerous!” Leguna pleaded.
“But you will protect me!” Innilis said, glaring at Leguna, “You said you would protect me, so everything will be fine, right?”
“I said I’d do my best, but that doesn’t mean I can do it. We’re going to a very dangerous place and I’ll need to focus all my attention on my opponents. If someone targets you and I’m distracted, I’ll be killed.”
Innilis’s body shook and a spring burst out of her eyes.
“So I’m still just a dead weight...”
“That’s not what I said! I’ve never thought of you as dead weight. I can’t take you with me because I’m not strong enough to keep you safe in such a place yet, and I won’t forgive myself if something happens to you. You’re the little sister I never had. I won’t put you at that kind of risk!”
“But... but I know I’m burden,” Innilis continued stubbornly, “Sis Annie is pretty and strong. Even you lost to her... Sis Eirinn is very soft and kind. She can understand your thoughts no matter what you’re thinking. Now she’s even a priestess and can go on adventures with you... What about me? I’m a small girl. I can’t do anything. I can’t help you!”
“Nonsense! You’re our sunshine. You’re the one that makes us smile and keeps us happy. Boss, Sis Vera, Eirinn, tell her.”
“He’s right,” the three said in unison.
“Sister... Little sister...” Innilis repeated, “Am I just a little sister to you?”
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