Annelotte knew something was up the moment she saw the crest.
She dictated a petrification spell on Leguna before he could act rashly. If she let him be, he might vanish with Shadow Blink and there was no catching him then, unless she got Marolyt to.
"Annie, what are you doing?" he asked with surprise the moment he found that he couldn't move.
"I just want you to think through this calmly. Don't be in a rush to leave and hear what I have to say. I'll undo the spell if you agree."
"Alright," he promised without a choice.
He also didn't want to lose too much face before his subordinates of the bureau. Though, Gerd didn't find the sight weird at all. He was the one who spent the most time with Leguna in the bureau and knew full well who the most terrifying among Leguna's circle of friends was.
After she undid the spell, she sighed with relief.
"Can you not be so rash all the time?"
"Well... I know better now," he said while scratching his head awkwardly.
He had truly intended to burst into the palace to settle his misgivings with Geoffrey the moment he saw the crest. But upon further consideration, he saw that his actions couldn't be more foolish.
"After dealing with the old reckless one, now you come in... Can't you guys not make me worry so much? Come with me! Let's talk about this properly." Annelotte didn't pursue the matter at seeing his change his attitude. He took Leguna to a guest room in the manor and used a silence barrier.
Even though the ones in the manor were only the servants and bureau agents, nobody could be certain whether there were spies among their ranks. Annelotte felt it would do no harm to be more careful.
"I think there are still many holes in this matter--" She pointed at the crest. "--Just look at this. Do you think Geoffrey has something to do with this?"
"Well, there's definitely something..."
But after more thought, he shook his head.
"Now that I think about it, perhaps not. No matter how stupid Geoffrey is, he wouldn't be dumb enough to let someone flash his crest around while doing his dirty work."
"[So you can figure it out yourself, after all!]" Annelotte and Gahrona said in unison.
If he was calm, his analytical abilities weren't bad at all. It was a shame that he almost automatically opts for hot-headedness all the time.
"Come on, I know my faults now..." he said while lowering his head pitifully.
"Don't forget our promise," Annelotte said solemnly, "You gave me your word that you'd live on properly. Don't lose sight of that every time you get triggered. Were you really going to get yourself killed tonight?"
"I..." Seeing how worried Annelotte was for him, he felt a warmth in his chest. But her constant nagging did annoy him a little. He felt somewhat unwilling to acknowledge his mistake and refused to meet her gaze. While he didn't talk back at her much, his act still made her feel a little disquieted. His eyes seemed to be suggesting, 'that's just how I am! What are you going to do about it?'
She took his expression as a challenge. Coldly, she grilled him down, "You don't believe it? Let me ask you then what you're going to do after barging into the palace. Kill Geoffrey? Let's put aside whether you're his match or not. Even if you are, would you really dare to kill an imperial prince? What happens after that? Barging into the palace to kill the prince is enough to get you killed. You're not happy that I said you were trying to get yourself killed?"
"Fine, I got it..." He shirked silently.
Annelotte sighed. "I know you don't want to hear that now. But I have to say that for your sake. Don't think you can call every shot just because you're the bureau head."
"I can do so in the bureau," he stubbornly said.
"Perhaps, if you're talking about the emperor. But do you think you can say the same if Wayerliss wants to get rid of you?" she calmly said.
He mulled on in silence.
"The position of bureau head does afford you quite a bit of power. But never forget that you're in Melindor, the capital of Hocke. It's the center of power for the empire," Annelotte sincerely advised, "So, you have to act rationally and keep a low profile when dealing with others."
"I will," he promised, since he could tell she was trying hard to get through to him.
[Stupid brat, you're always so stubborn when I want to tell you something, but you'll yield so easily to your little girlfriend?[ Gahrona protested.
[Teacher, you're a senior, so you should be more easygoing with these things. Don't pick bones with Annie, alright?]
[Who's picking bones with her? You're the one I have a bone to pick with!] she snapped with dissatisfaction, [Fine. Since you're listening to someone anyway, I'll just save my efforts and let Annie do the talking!]
"I believe Geoffrey's crest is just a signal," Annelotte said.
"Signal? What kind?"
She pondered in silence before saying, "Do you think they... those people who ordered the assassinations... what kind of people are they?"
"They should be Stokian assassins, right? That should be the case."
Leguna believed the officials of Hocke knew Larwin's temperament. If they really ordered something like that to be done, if any trace in Larwin's investigation led to them, they wouldn't be able to escape unscathed. Larwin wasn't just an amicable, chubby man. How could he govern a young empire without his own set of tricks?
"I agree. Then how do you think they got the crest?"
"Hmm... Maybe they stole it? Perhaps they're trying to create a rift between Geoffrey and I. Even if they didn't succeed, it would still serve the purpose of fracturing us from the inside."
"I won't dismiss that possibility. While they did a number on the lab, their attempt here was almost laughable. If someone within Hocke was up to this, they should know that they should send an assassin at least on par with you to deal with me instead of this child's play."
"I think so too," Leguna said with a complicated smile.
He wasn't certain himself the extent of Annelotte's strength. Perhaps she wasn't much weaker than the twin gifted Saron. Perhaps she seldom showed her true power off because she appreciated keeping a low profile or wanted to care for Leguna's ego. There were perhaps fewer than ten people in the empire who truly knew the extent of her power.
If they really plotted Annelotte's assassination, they wouldn't send a second-rate one that wasn't even in the high order. It seemed quite likely that the Stokians sent that assassin. If that was the case, the crest should've been stolen.
"But," Annelotte began, "did you think of the other possibility?"
"The other? You don't mean to say that someone within Hocke intentionally leaked the crest?" he said with a furrowed brow.
"Isn't it possible?"
"But... who would do such a thing?" he said with disbelief, "There are indeed two blurry factions in the empire now, but nobody seems to benefit from inciting conflict between me and Geoffrey. I already get along poorly with Geoffrey in the first place, so what point would there be to sow conflict between us? Do they want to either of us dead?"
"I think quite a lot of people will be happy with you dead. But Geoffrey's death... Who do you think would be happy with that?"
"You're saying..." he muttered in shock, before he slammed the table and stood up. "No! It can't be him! He's not even in Melindor!"
"He definitely has eyes here. Think about it! If Geoffrey really was killed by you today, he would no doubt he the biggest beneficiary. Even if you didn't manage to kill him, your rift with Geoffrey would only grow deeper. That means that you'll turn to his side. With the military and bureau backing him, ousting Geoffrey would be far too easy!"
"It can't be! He's my friend! He won't do that!"
"Perhaps you only have a few friends you can trust, like boss, Sis Vera and me! But him... I'm not too certain!" she insisted, "After all... he's also an imperial prince! While he might not wish to do so, his birthright might necessitate it! He has faced countless dangers and conspiracies since his birth!"
Leguna turned silent. Even though what Annelotte said was hard to hear, it did make some sense. Leguna suddenly recalled who the three people Kurdak asked him to watch out for in the empire before they parted.
Surprisingly, he noticed that Geoffrey wasn't on that list. Even Kurdak felt that he wasn't someone worth reckoning with. Since Geoffrey was a pushover, Kurdak didn't doubt that Leguna would be able to deal with him easily.
So, apart from Alfreid, Kurdak gave him two other surprising names. The first was the acting bureau head, Arikos, and the other was the second imperial prince, the one Leguna saw as his friend, Sacred Golden Eagle Alissanda!
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