Agareth saw a boy approaching him and halted. It was his old best friend, the boy with light gray hair and slit-like eyes. Agareth flinched and stared down at his feet.
“Are you going to flee once more?” Amaru held his arm up to stop him.
“What are you doing?”
“I asked you if you’re going to run away again. If you let this continue, that child, like your older brother Shimizu, will be expelled. You know that, right? Even if he’s Duke Aden von Agnus’s child.” Amaru stared at Agareth. “No matter how pathetic you are, you have a choice not to make the same mistake again. Besides, you and that kid are the only reason he had to reveal his identity early, right? You need to repay that kindness—”
“You—!” Agareth bit his lip.
“What, you don’t know?”
“Can you imagine how I felt when my older brother was expelled from the Academy for his horrible acts?” Agareth shouted angrily. “Do you realize what sacrifices I had to make for him? Me! I wanted to just run away and hide—but I can’t, because of him! Everytime I look into his eyes, I wish they were gone.”
“How many older brothers push their younger brothers to take the lead?” Amaru shook his head. “I think there are few. Our society pushes them to do it. We live in a place where we kill or die just to achieve—that’s the fucking society we live in.” He smiled bitterly. “My brother felt the same way. He saw me as a threat because I had a little talent; he didn’t hesitate to hurt me any way he could. It’s been so long that I can’t recall a single happy memory of my family.
“But you know, your brother is different. It irritated me—I was envious.”
“What are you talking about?” Have you ever been envious of someone? The Amaru bron Sten, the proud, was envious?
“You know, some people might not love you even if you’re brothers. I guess what I’m trying to say is that not everyone is like Shimizu kun Douglas. His body may be crippled, but I’m sure he’s worried about you even though he’s pushing you to keep studying. He’s worried that what happened to him will happen to you, too.” Amaru’s eyes glowed. “Having such an admirable older brother makes you an enviable man.”
Amaru slowly began to walk away.
“If you don’t want anyone to sully his image anymore, isn’t it your turn to defend him? Your friend Ash—no, Joshua von Agnus.”
“...friend.” Agareth stared at Amaru’s departing back for a long minute.
Agareth took off running with a sparkle in his eyes.
On a flat, barren plain stood six towers of the same height. At their center was an ivory tower, half again as tall as the other six, extending straight into the sky. In the top of that tower, a menacing collection of six people sat at a round table. They sat in silence, examining each other.
There should have been seven of them.
“You’re well aware that something appears to have gone wrong with Jack,” said Ian, the highest-ranked magician. He pointed to the vacant Thunderbolt seat.
All of the seats, except the Master’s seat, had fist-sized orbs atop them. These orbs, dubbed “Bio-Reaction Orbs” were one of the Magic Towers’s creations. They were linked directly to the body of each of the Seven Magicians. The Master of the Tower designed the orb to fulfill many functions, but there was one function of particular importance—a sort of safety device, allowing them to quickly respond to emergencies.
“It’s not that the lightning’s force has waned—it’s gone blank, like it’s vanished entirely. The Master is correct,” Marcus, the Earth Magician stated. Indeed, the Thunderbolt Orb was a dull gray color. “Unless he had a change of heart and did something foolish again.”
“I must say my part as well. Perhaps he mastered a skill that can overpower the Master of the Tower, but,” the Ice Magician, Elisha, shook her head, “it’s more likely he did something stupid and got himself killed.”
“There’s no way he could have surpassed the Master.” Theta, the Storm Magician, shook his head as well. “He’s weaker than me and only recently reached Sixth Class last year. I agree—he’s dead.”
“I will adjourn this meeting,” Ian declared. “For now, the Magic Tower will enact our emergency protocols. Halt all of your work and focus on finding anything regarding Jack—dead or alive.” Ian glanced around and stood. “I want to remind you that our enemy—or Jack’s enemy, at least—is still unknown. If you find out whether they’re alone or working in a group, report it immediately. Refrain from reaching beyond your means; you’ll end up like Jack if you insist on carrying your pride around.”
“Yes, My Lord.”
“First and foremost, we must consider the Avalon Empire. The Agnus duchy had to be Jack’s last destination.”
Marcus and Theta were the first to leave; eventually, there was only one person left at the top of the tower.
The one and only magician of the void’s eyes twinkled from beneath the shade of his robe.
“Duke Agnus, I had no idea you’d suggest they expel your child from school. Well, it certainly made things interesting. Everyone seemed so surprised that they could burst.” Count Sten laughed at the memory, and Duke Agnus joined him shortly.
“What were you going to do if they really did expel him? He’s the Duke’s son, but not the Duchess’s; since you’re here frequently, you can’t protect him if he goes back to the duchy—”
“He can’t return to the duchy.”
“I heard the Emperor has issued a proclamation for him to join the Knights Templar.”
“His Majesty?” Count Sten was astonished.
“He appears to be greatly talented. The Imperial Family has been chasing after that boy for quite some time now.”
“Talent isn’t everything.” Count Sten shrugged. “Although we can’t deny that it was his talent that has the Imperial Family so excited. His Majesty wouldn’t have bothered if Joshua was a useless bastard.”
“There’s more,” Duke Agnus said. “I understand His Majesty the Emperor has given us orders to travel to the Swallow Empire.”
“Will you go?” Count Sten grinned back at him. “As His Majesty’s instructions, this task is vital. However, I will not be affected even if my family’s swordsmanship is neglected and I, as head of the household, refuse to act.”
“It’s…” Duke Agnus groaned. “You…”
“Well, even if we delay, there’s still plenty of time. The Duke must have heard of the recent changes here, right?”
“Startling news from Swallow! They dispatched the haughty Master Duke Altsma and 200,000 soldiers to Thran shortly after they learned of the death of the Prince. However,” Count Sten added with a smirk, “contrary to expectations, losing their leader had not left Thran as defenseless as they thought. The Swallow Empire suffered a great setback. They were too cocky—they lost half of their soldiers and their leader, Duke Altsma, was gravely wounded.”
The Swallow Empire, one of the continent’s three major powers, had broken the peace they were enjoying. It may have been treated as a civil war because the Principality of Thran was considered a vassal of Swallow, but that was not the point.
The Swallow Empire, in all of its immense power, had been defeated. That was the only thing the other countries cared about.
“It’s commonly said that a siege requires at least three times the number of defenders. But that fortress was guarded by only 50,000 men—Swallow had four times their numbers. I had doubts that Swallow would have even bothered launching an attack.
“However, the tales are true. For the time being, His Majesty will be keeping a close eye on the situation.”
Duke Agnus grimaced. “I have no idea what he’s thinking. War is a game of numbers. It’s more interesting if Thran has good strategists and tacticians, but Swallow has Duke Altsma in command. You know how powerful a single Master can be.”
“Naturally, I’m well aware.”
“The only thing that can defeat a Master is another Master—but there’s no Master in Thran. The Swallow Empire made sure of that.” Duke Agnus grimaced even more. “Hopefully, a hidden talent has emerged—”
“That’s not the case.” Count Sten shook his head. “The one who defeated Duke Altsma is someone we know.”
“Is that true? He’s been a Master for over a decade. Are you sure he’s not from another country?”
“No. He’s from Thran.”
“Hah. Someone from Thran, close to its ruler—there’s only one person, isn’t there?”
“...Ulabis,” Duke Agnus whispered.
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