At Moonshadow's branch in Snowrock, Marolyt carefully laid Annelotte on a bed. He looked at the expression on the girl's face and sighed inaudibly.
"It seems like you like that brat quite a lot, since you had Annie protect him," said he softly.
"No, my friend. This isn't protection. All I had her do was adventure with him," Wayerliss countered, shaking his head, "Just like you said, spending too much time in this kind of environment is bad for her development. I had her interact with this silly brat so he might inspire some change in her."
"So you've chosen him as your successor?" asked Marolyt.
He picked up the documents on the table and read them casually.
"Yes. He's actually rather decent. I'm very satisfied with his performance."
"What about Balor?"
"He will also have a chance, though I don't really favor him right now."
"A coward like this actually caught your eye?" Marolyt mused furrow-browed, "These reports paint him as a complete good-for-nothing!"
"That isn't an obstacle for him to become strong. You know that well yourself. People can unleash terrifying power when they're utterly terrified. Leguna is such a person. There's a fire hidden in his heart, and what he fears is wind. If he is used inappropriately, the fire in him will be blown out. But if he is used properly, the wind will make fuel the fire... until it engulfs the world!"
"Alright, I don't care how you plan to blow this kid. But if Annie starts having any problems, I'll come for you," interrupted Marolyt, glaring.
"Hey, I'm the one who raised Annie for the last 15 years. D'you think I don't give a single flying duck about her at all?" Wayerliss said in an annoyed fashion with a wave of his hand, "That aside, don't tell me you came all the way here on a vacation just to visit Annie."
"Of course. His Imperial Majesty requests your aid… again. It seems the situation in the south of the empire isn't looking good. Your help is crucial."
"The usual terms apply. Profit. If he can't offer anything that moves me, why should I bother sinking my feet in the mud?" replied Wayerliss expressionlessly.
"His Majesty said it can be discussed."
"Very well, I will visit Chino soon. What plans do you have?"
"I'm already sick of that place. I plan to stay here for two years. I hope you can make the arrangements."
Wayerliss gazed at his companion.
"Does this count as one of the favors His Majesty is offering?"
"Well, you can say that. Since I'm here, I'll naturally help you deal with some things. After all, the sooner the situation stabilizes, the sooner you can focus on the east," Marolyt nodded, "But don't expect me to answer your every beck and call! I will do what I please depending on my mood!"
"Understood. Do you still want to meet Annie?"
Marolyt kept silent for a moment. Finally, he sighed.
Wayerliss patted the old man's shoulders but didn't say anything.
When Annelotte woke, Wayerliss was seated quietly beside her, apparently deep in thought. She immediately recognized her surroundings and knew he was in the guild's Snowrock branch.
"You're awake?" asked Wayerliss, smiling.
"Yes... Sir, Leguna..." Annelotte was rather worried about the youth's injuries since the one who'd hurt him was Balor.
"He is stable for now."
"Is that so..." Annelotte breathed a sigh of relief.
The words Wayerliss said next, however, made her anxious again.
"It's only temporary, though. While I managed to find something to suppress the poison's effects, he's still not completely detoxified yet."
"Is there anything we can do, Sir?"
"There is one thing, but it'll require you put in some effort."
"Why?" asked she curiously.
While she had learned about poisons from Wayerliss before, her knowledge was far from Balor's, who had been tutored personally by the president himself. All she could tell was that the poison was heat-aligned, it could burn lots of energy in Leguna's body in a short time. However, she had no idea how she could detoxify him.
"The poison Balor made uses a strongly heat-aligned ingredient: the gallbladder of a flame salamander. When its essence enters the bloodstream, it will make a person's energy burn out incredibly quickly. In essence, Leguna isn't suffering from the poison, but rather the fever that the burning of his energy generates, it's incredibly serious. If his state isn't balanced soon, his body will be damaged and he'll die."
"Does Balor have the antidote?"
"Even Balor wouldn't have the antidote," Wayerliss sighed, "As long as the essence is in his bloodstream, his blood will keep boiling. While it isn't the most heat-aligned thing in the world, it's incredibly resilient. Using cold-aligned herbs to counteract it isn't a long-term solution, and he'll be burned to death if we don't do something quick. The only way to resolve this quickly… is to use the glacial essence in your body."
"My glacial essence..." repeated Annelotte expressionlessly.
"That's right. Only by using the glacial essence in your water swayer body can the flame salamander gallbladder's essence be counteracted quickly. I'm sure you're aware what price you'll pay. You'll lose four strata," explained Wayerliss as he stared at Annelotte.
"I'll do it," nodded she resolutely.
You'd swear losing four strata wasn't anything worth caring about.
Wayerliss was rather shocked. While he'd expected her to agree, he didn't think she would do it without a shred of hesitation. The president sighed helplessly.
"Dumb girl, I'm sure you know the implications of losing four strata."
"I know. I'll become a low-order magus again."
"And you know this is exactly what Balor was aiming for."
"Yes. While he looked like he was planning to assassinate Leguna, he was, in fact, working against me. While he doesn't dare to act against me personally, doing what he did would greatly decrease my abilities. I would no longer be a threat to him."
"And yet, you're willing?" asked Wayerliss with a hint of impatience.
He didn't understand how the rational and strong-willed girl would be so rash now.
"Yes, I am."
Wayerliss smacked his forehead, exasperated.
"Tell me, Annelotte, have you fallen for this kid?"
"I haven't," replied she frankly.
"Then, why are you willing to pay such a huge price for him?"
"Because, Sir, you had me stay by Leguna's side. While you didn't state it outright, it's obvious that you want me to protect him from Balor. Now that I've failed, I must make amends."
Wayerliss was flabbergasted by the unexpected rationalization Annelotte had come up with. He suspected the excuse's veracity, but seeing Annelotte's serious expression, he couldn't help but trust her.
In fact, Annelotte was completely serious. She did indeed think of it this way. As for whether there was something else behind her decision, nobody knew.
"What will you do after you become weak? Even if you want to recover, it'll take two years, more or less. Balor is growing increasingly unstable and he'll break free from my control completely soon. You'll be in great danger once that happens."
"I..." Annelotte hesitated for a moment, "I have companions. Leguna and the others will be with me. I believe they'll help me."
"Do you trust them?"
Annelotte recalled the courage and determination with which Leguna blocked the crystalback snowlizard's frost breath for her and nodded.
"Since Leguna trusts me, I will trust him as well."
"Is that so?" Wayerliss mused, "Very well, I hope he will not disappoint you. Help him detoxify then. I believe you know what to do."
Annelotte bowed to Wayerliss before she walked over to Leguna.
"Old friend, it seems Leguna here didn't just influence Annie slightly... The change was far bigger than we imagined," muttered Wayerliss quietly as he looked at Annelotte's back.
The moment the blade pierced him, Leguna felt a rush of heat invade his body through the wound and spread to every corner of his body. It felt like he was being roasted all over and the heat quickly knocked him out.
He didn't know how long it took him to wake up. All he knew was that the heat in him had already dispersed.
Someone cured me, thought he as he looked around.
Neither Kurdak, nor Vera or Annelotte were anywhere to be seen. He didn't know where he was either.
"You're awake?" asked a deep voice.
Leguna was stunned. There was a man seated behind a desk not too far from him. When he looked at the man more intently, he started again. The person was not a man, but an elf! He had a head of long, silver-blonde hair and long, pointy ears. His face also carried the same beauty seen on his brethren. However, the deep scar stretching from his left ear to the right corner of his mouth ruined everything.
"Are you the one who saved me? Thank you."
As the elves of Nightsong Forest were the ones who'd saved Kurdak, Leguna's impression of elves was rather good, so he adopted a tone far more polite than usual.
"Kid, I had no way to save you. Someone else did," the elf said, "Well, let me introduce myself. I am Wayerliss, Wayerliss Deepshadow. President of the Moonshadow Thieves."
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