Not exactly what 'Flying Armada' was meant for...
But that was exactly what it felt like to Kaede, as she crouched low enough in her saddle to hug the insubstantial 'mane'. Her Phantom Steed galloped among over a hundred other riders. Yet aside from the blue-white Oriflamme leading the formation, she could only see glowing red orbs hanging off dark silhouettes -- as though guidance lights on the wings of modern aircraft.
In addition to his own staff, bodyguards, and Princess Sylviane's armigers, General von Manteuffel also brought along three dozen other officers to organize the operation. Given the importance of the entourage, the entire Black Lancers company of the Knights Phantom rode escort in a massive combat box formation.
Of course, Pascal had dragged Kaede in. She had packed the black pseudo-uniform in her bag as a possible overnight change of clothes, and it came in handy for blending in amongst the officers. No one had objected so far, but she earned plenty of curious stares.
Reynald, on the other hand, had returned to the academy. The General had taken advantage of his trip and sent along orders for the battalions rallying there.
In the darkness of a cloudy night, the massive squadron dashed through bone-chilling winds and a thin flurry of snow. Were it not for the magical temperature control built into her undergarments, Kaede was certain her joints would have frozen stiff by now.
Despite its availability to Hyperien magic, Teleport was not an efficient spell for long-distance travel. Amusingly enough, its developers considered 'folding space' the easier part of the spell. Target verification procedures built into the magic were far more complex and limited its operational range.
After all, maps were misleading; the world was round, and far from perfectly spherical. Finding oneself a kilopace above or below ground held deadly consequences.
Therefore, Phantom Steed remained the primary means of long-distance travel for most Hyperien mages. The spell had many forms, including the Overlay variants for creating shadowy barding for real mounts. But its basic version conjured a pseudo-physical 'horse' that held good weight and knew no fatigue.
Kaede's only problem had been that the mount and saddle looked insubstantial, as though she sat atop a sculpted cloud of dense black smoke. Given that the magical steeds galloped five stories above ground at over eighty kilopaces per hour, it easily summoned a mild case of acrophobia for those unused to such means of travel.
She had actually thanked the darkness for obscuring her view of the ground below.
"We are almost at Nordkreuz. I give it another half hour," Pascal sent over their private telepathy channel... or so Kaede thought.
"How can you tell?" she asked in the middle of a yawn.
They had been riding all night. She would be nodding off by this point, if she wasn't deathly afraid of falling. Although logically that was impossible; Pascal didn't trust her riding skills -- or lack thereof -- so he had cast a sticking spell that glued her butt to the saddle.
It had started to itch hours ago...
Nevertheless, she did not look forward to arrival. There was someone in Nordkreuz whom she must face, even if she had no clue what to say.
Her thoughts had returned to the topic again and again, only to walk away blank every time. The onset of drowsiness certainly hadn't helped her focus.
"The same beacons placed in every settlement and major location to guide teleportation can also be tapped by a Pathfinder scanning spell," Pascal went on to explain. "I know exactly where every landmark within fifteen kilopaces is in reference to myself right now."
Magical GPS, no satellite installation required...
Kaede yawned again, not that anyone was watching. The night brought many blessings, and amongst them was an end to all staring, whether it be contemptuous or curious.
"You sure you want me on this?" She inquired. "It's one thing for a commander to have an aide. Staff officers are already advisers."
"Consider yourself an assistant staff officer then," Pascal replied. "I did acquire permission from the General to bring you, if you were wondering."
"When did that happen?" She glanced over to Pascal's figure, whose own smoky mount galloped across the air no more than ten paces away. "Wonder if you at least got a raised eyebrow out of that, given he's about as expressive as a rock."
"A very ambitious rock, seeing as he brought me onto his staff because he took the opportunity to station his own protégés in the optimal command positions."
Uneasiness permeated Pascal's mental voice as he went on:
"Assuming this operation is successful and the King hands out fair promotions, von Manteuffel will be able to count two-fifth of the army's upper command structure as his former direct subordinates -- their loyalties divided between him and the King."
The greatest concern for any ruler had always been the loyalty of the army. Coup d'états overthrew far more governments than peasant rebellions or foreign aggression ever could.
Yet before Kaede could speak, it was Sylviane's tired voice that rang across her mind:
"Did you tell the King about it during your private chat?"
Hearing a voice she didn't expect inside her head was not a pleasant surprise. Kaede almost jumped in her saddle, if she wasn't glued down to it.
Who else is in my head now...?
"I am not certain it is my place to say..." Pascal answered his fiancée. "Doctrinal divisions within the army is one thing, but I do not want King Leopold to see me as an element of the political factionalism."
"If the King is serious about developing a friendly relationship like you said, then it may benefit you to tell him about it," Sylviane suggested, only to append one word in emphasis: "maybe."
"More 'maybe' than normal here," Pascal replied. His tone then switched to one of wariness: "Father once said that the King should never be taken at face value. Makes me wonder just how much he wants out of a closer relationship -- other than my link to you and Emperor Geoffroi, that being the obvious one... Kaede what did you think of him?"
"I thought he was pretty laid back, for a King... though he seemed quite capable."
A brief moment of silence gave her the sinking feeling she just flunked Pascal's latest test.
"Kaede you don't deal with nobles much do you?" Sylviane asked, more curious than condescending.
"I hadn't really dealt with any nobles before Pascal summoned me, Your Highness."
"She mostly talks to history books and prays to flying pasta," Pascal commented with enough nonchalance to accompany a shrug. "And just the three of us in this, Kaede," he noted after her formal address.
"I didn't even notice you set this network up," Kaede remarked, unhappily. "Aren't Telepathy spells suppose to give a 'ring' inside the head?"
"That is because I tied our familiar bond to the Telepathy I was talking to Sylv through," Pascal explained. "Joining individual links is the basis to forming networks. I would imagine there are quite a few among this squadron at this moment. Sylv also has a channel opened with all of her armigers, for one."
No wonder it's so quiet. Everyone is chatting away on smartphones inside their heads, Kaede thought.
Then it struck her: why Pascal hadn't said anything for several hours already.
After the last few weeks with him, Kaede wasn't used to feeling like a third wheel -- which, at this late hour, instantly prickled her mood with irritation.
"Either way Kaede, I asked the General when I sent you off to change. After all, it is normal for a mage to bring their familiar along, provided that you can keep up..."
"Not exactly a normal familiar," Kaede cut in to add.
"No. Familiars do not normally fool Imperial assassins either, and he did read my report on that. I only asked so I could tell anyone who objects that 'the General allowed it'," Pascal sent back with a thorough dipping of smugness. "As for your role? Being 'eyes and ears', I would like for you to stay with a front-line unit on the flank. It will give me better battlefield vision and save an adjutant for passing orders."
"So... pretend to be a walking pair of binoculars?"
"Learn to judge battlefield deployments yourself," Pascal added, an edge of sternness working into his voice. "We have had plenty of tactical discussions during our research, so this is as good an experience for you as it is for me. If you must do something, I can enchant First Aid onto your ring and load whatever spells you need into your runes. But I want your eyes on the field as much as possible."
"Uh.... why First Aid?" Kaede grew curious. Her martial training may be completely amateur, but even that was better than not a single drop of medical background.
"Because only basic spells can be put onto a spell activation item, and because you can perform basic healing even better than Parzifal, simply due to your nature," Pascal explained.
"For being Samaran? I did read that my blood was a healing enhancer."
"More than just enhance," he emphasized. "Ever wondered how healers could work when any mage's body that refines its own ether naturally repulses foreign ether from other casters? Healing non-mages is easy. Healing mages, however, require a special focus to compensate. Samaran blood is never rejected in a transfusion. Likewise, healing spells -- and only spells that cure or calm, for whatever reason -- cast through Samaran blood gain a limited ability to bypass ether rejection. The blood also lose potency as it is used more. So effectively, your entire body full of fresh blood is a spell focus of the highest quality."
Being called a top quality trade good wasn't exactly a very flattering comment. But then, Pascal merely stated the facts 'as is'.
At least he doesn't see me as a bag of gold.
"Yeah I remember being 'medical supplies'. But I don't remember seeing Parzifal carry vials of blood around."
"Samaran blood is not cheap, part of why you should never leave secure grounds by yourself," Pascal added, completely serious. "But ask Parzifal about his bloodquartz stasis rod next time. He keeps it stored inside his right glove."
A gryphon near the head of the formation squawked, piercing the rhythmic background of beating wings. As though a roll-call, its comrades immediately responded with similar cries, expanding around the massed formation like a ring of sound.
But this was no parade. It was a collective challenge.
The Black Lancers was the oldest of the Knight Phantom units and had an uniformed tradition: out of a full company of one-sixty, its entire combat force of one-thirty-six all rode gryphons -- muscular beasts who wore plated armor over their eagle heads and lion torsos even as they flew. Unlike most Phantoms who emphasized mobility above all, these knights specialized in frontal assaults and close-quarters aggression.
What's going on?
Before Kaede focused on the telepathy to ask, Sylviane updated them from the front:
"Skywhale. An armored one."
As though on cue, a deep, soothing mew echoed across the open skies. The overhead clouds parted just enough for some illumination by pale, 'lunar' light, revealing the creature that provoked the gryphons' senses.
The sperm whale hovered in midair a good distance away, casting a shadow that obscured an entire farmhouse barn under it. The beast was even more colossal than its Earth equivalent, and would need a clearing the size of an ice hockey rink to land. It also had tentacle-like appendages extending out from underneath the small side-flippers, and the huge, block-shaped head glistened a metallic shine.
But the most interesting detail was the steel gondola strapped beneath the belly. Behind it dangled massive cargo nets, although they were mostly empty at the moment. In the shadows of the night, Kaede thought the skywhale appeared similar to fantasy concepts of a dirigible airship.
Well, it's not sentient tofu, Kaede thought. Her logic still lay bloated with incredulity, but at least it didn't require emergency resuscitation.
She had read about them after Parzifal spoke of Reynald's familiar. Wild skywhales traveled across the northern skies in tight-knit, highly-protective groups. Adults were too powerful and intelligent to tame, therefore the only skywhales that worked with humans were those summoned as a familiar during early childhood and brought up over the course of a decade. They were easily the strongest beast of burden on Hyperion, but only for the lucky few who had one for a partner.
"Whose flags?" Pascal asked.
It took nearly a minute of continued flying before Sylviane confirmed:
"Grand Republic Merchant Alliance."
"So there are Samarans on board? Kaede's interest peaked instantly.
It was weird to be a Samaran without ever having met or known one.
"Not necessarily," Sylviane replied. "Samarans are a bare majority even within the Grand Republic. Plus many skywhale merchants immigrated there since Hyperien nations tend to commandeer and draft them during wars."
Kaede could imagine. These floating leviathans could use war elephant tusks for toothpicks.
"How do they stay afloat?"
"Magic; levitation," Pascal replied as though it was the most obvious thing in the world.
"And what do they eat?"
"Large animals, anything from sharks to mammoths," he explained this time. "Cattle and reindeer herders treat them like a roaming natural disaster, since it takes an army -- and willingness to take massive casualties -- to take down a pod of skywhales. For that reason, commandeered skywhales are usually thrown at the enemy as shock units to break battle lines. Works splendidly, except their massive size attracts so much fire that the whales are usually maimed or killed. We reimburse their owners for the loss, of course, but..."
"--Not enough to replace something invaluable to their lives." Kaede finished for him before finally peeling her eyes away. She managed to leave the rest of her thoughts unsaid: 'just like all the other husbands and sons in the army.'
The existence of magic changed many aspects of Hyperion, but it did nothing to erase the fundamental flaws of human societies. Wars were still provoked by the ambition of statesmen, while its cost was paid for by the working masses.
Yet with Sylviane in her sight, gliding through the night sky on avian wings of burning blue, Kaede did agree that Hyperion had at least one advantage:
Some rulers truly led their men here, not just provoke wars while hiding behind untarnished white houses.
Unfortunately, 'some' was not 'all', and people like Marina still paid the price.
----- * * * -----
Situated by the lake that merged three of Northern Hyperion's most important rivers, Nordkreuz was a major trading hub built into a fortified port city. The urban districts featured wide streets, huge market plazas, and large taverns raised to three stories tall, all surrounded by thick, sloping stone walls behind outer rings of wooden fortifications and earthworks. As a strategic location, the army maintained both a large garrison and considerable infrastructure here even during peacetime. Mobilization for war then added no less than three massive camps, situated just outside the walls.
With its main streets lit by ley-line-powered magical lanterns, the city was easily visible to approaches by air. A column of torchlight and glowing lamps entering the southern gates also marked the arrival of several hundred cavalry from the Landgraviate of Kostradan.
After hours of riding across the flat coastal lands of Weichsel -- a fortified frontier with few towns lighting the darkness -- Kaede finally felt her return to civilization.
The Knights Phantom escorted the officers all the way to Nordkreuz's Keep before departing for their own encampment. The cylindrical shell keep actually extended out from the city's northern fortifications by bridge, built atop a motte raised from an artificial lakeside island. The construction was quite militaristic for a Landgrave's estate, but it did offer peace and quiet from the urban quarters, as well as an excellent scenic view of the lake and countryside.
It was also Kaede's official place of residence as a member of the Landgrave's household, even if stone keeps felt as displaced from 'home' as it went.
After touching down in a small courtyard, Pascal dismissed their mounts back into thin air and lead the entire group into his home. Arriving halfway between midnight and dawn did not stop the servants from greeting their new lord. Lined up in two neat rows with a dozen maids on one side and half as many footmen in the other, they did their best to look polished and alert despite the twilight hour.
The Majordomo was an one-meter-eight (5'11") tall senior in his late fifties with large gray eyes under salt-and-pepper hair. Square-faced with drooping red cheeks, he was plump enough to reveal an obvious pot belly. He and his footmen wore uniforms similar to Victorian-era suits -- white dress shirt tucked under black jacket and trousers. Despite what seemed a perpetual frown, his insistence on formalities at such an hour revealed a clear pride in his profession.
"Welcome home, Your Grace," the Majordomo began as he led the footmen to a simultaneous bow while the maids curtsied.
"Thank you, Karsten. Although I am still the man who left for the academy months ago."
Pascal's reply came a bit sheepish, which was most unlike his usual 'rightfully noble' self. Prodigy or not, the young man simply wasn't emotionally ready to step into his father's shoes.
"Of course, Your Grace," Karsten nodded but did not reduce the formalities by a single step. He then turned to greet the Princess Sylviane and General von Manteuffel: "Your Highness, Your Grace, welcome back to Nordkreuz."
"Pleasure as always, Karsten," Sylviane beamed back without a hint of fatigue.
The Princess had yet to break the unison link with her phoenix, and her flame-feathered wings merely transformed into a billowing cape of cinders. White-blue embers cored by traces of gold drifted off her, bathing the entire courtyard in warm luminescence as twelve armigers' torchlight capes surrounded her pillar of flame. Her usual wisteria eyes were alight in bright cerulean, while her dark-plum hair burned electric blue. Even the waist-hugging steel breastplate, skirting, and lightweight spaulders that covered her battledress emanated blue flames as though freshly hammered by a sacred blacksmith.
The entire ensemble reminded Kaede of a fire burning on pure oxygen. It formed a stark contrast between radiating presence -- which the normal Sylviane rather lacked -- and the cool gentleness of her calm, appreciating smile.
Meanwhile, General von Manteuffel's face seemed even more stony than usual as he went straight into business:
"We should finish all coordination in the last few hours before our departure at dawn. Scouting priorities still need delegating, and we must confirm that all units have packed at least one month of food, feed, and abundant ammunition."
"Colonel von Konopacki and his staff are waiting in the conference room to explain their preparations, Your Grace. Please follow me," Karsten bowed again before leading the group towards the steel gates.
Most of the officers followed, although a dozen or so went the other way -- across the covered footbridge toward the town walls.
Kaede herself, however, stayed rooted in place as she observed the sight of a familiar face.
At the far end of the maids' line stood the petite Marina, Kaede's first 'friend' at the academy. She wore the classic white and black dress of a servant. A forced smile lay plastered onto her expression as she stared back through narrowed sea-green eyes.
I don't think she's forgiven me yet, Kaede determined. But then, I don't think I would have either.
She never did arrive at an answer through her entire flight.
As though Pascal had read her thoughts, his mental voice followed in the wake of her own:
"I had asked Karsten to arrange Marina as your maid during the short stay. I would recommend that you squeeze a few hours of sleep in before dawn -- you are not exactly abundant on rest to begin with. But I presume you would want to talk to her."
"Thank you... really," Kaede replied. She began to take slow steps again, her mind a confused mix between relief and apprehension.
"Make sure she helps you pack plenty of non-perishable food into that messenger bag of yours. As you heard the general, we will be campaigning away from supply lines for at least a month."
Were it not for the existence of extra-dimensional storage, there was no way a person could carry an entire month of provisions and still be expected to travel efficiently.
"Of course. What about yours?"
Kaede hated herself as soon as she sent those words. This was no time to run away.
"The other maids will take care of it. I grew up here; they know my preferences well enough," Pascal concluded just as he passed the keep's raised portcullis.
Meanwhile, Kaede came face-to-face with Marina. With her best attempt to exert a friendly smile, she greeted the young maid that looked no older than herself:
"Hello again, Marina. Could you please take me to where I am staying?"
"Of course, Milady."
The petite maid returned an elegant curtsy, but Kaede nevertheless winced as that one word stung her ears like acid.
----- * * * -----
The room Kaede received as her own had been recently furnished. Its size was modest and comparable to modern bedrooms, but the contents were opulent beyond question. A queen-sized four-poster layered in rich fabrics took the center, its sides lined by long strips of intricate rugs. Four large bookshelves and a lounge chair stayed against the wall on one side, while a massive dressing table flanked by mahogany wardrobes occupied the other. There was also a closet in the corner that camouflaged itself as a small wardrobe, but actually hid the chamber pot that she hated to be reminded of.
The bed and window curtains all came in white, which Kaede enjoyed as one of her favorite colors. They did, however, project an extreme girlishness with the overabundance of laces, ribbons, ruffles, and even pearls.
One fact laid apparent: Pascal had arranged the details for her needs, but also took the liberty to add his own tastes.
It also wasn't a refurbished guest room, but one in the same corridor as Pascal's own -- meant only for the lord's immediate family. It certainly explained the attitude of the maids, who politely addressed Kaede as 'Milady' when they met, only to whisper quietly once she was out of ordinary earshot.
She heard the word "whore" at least once.
They were partially right though: Kaede wasn't a 'lady' by any means. She had neither the upbringing nor the refinement, and certainly not the noble blood. Besides, familiars were meant to be servants for their mage masters.
She almost wished Pascal had let her stay in the servants' quarters. But even without the appeal of materialistic comforts, she didn't want to disappoint him when he had made such a warm gesture.
His summoning had ripped Kaede from her family. In exchange, he was offering her the chance to join a new one.
Moisture gathered in her eyes when she thought of it that way.
Furthermore, after everything she promised on the roof of dormitory keep, she wasn't about to leave Pascal to occupy this long corridor by himself. Unless she missed her guess, he wouldn't even want to move into the master bedroom unless the Majordomo Karsten insisted upon it.
But in the meantime, she had another concern... one that must be tackled tonight.
"Please take a seat Marina," Kaede said as she sat onto velvet bedcovers. Then, when the maid looked hesitant, her pink eyes almost pleaded: "Please."
The petite maid sat down straight on the lounge chair, and uncomfortable silence fell upon the two once again. Although Kaede did finally notice the shade of black under Marina's reddened eyes -- the maid had been crying a lot recently.
"How are they treating you here?" Kaede asked before glancing down, her words even more wispy than usual.
Marina shrugged. Her voice wasn't hateful, but neither did it contain any other emotion:
"It's a life. Karsten judges us on a purely professional basis, so he's cordial as long as my work is done proper."
"But they're forcibly keeping you here?"
Kaede felt like a block of insensitivity. Marina's life had been tossed into the abyss, and here all she could think of was ask more questions.
...Except the punishment was even more 'cruel and unusual' to her modern senses than she realized.
"Don't even need to..."
The maid's tone stayed bland even as she pulled up one sleeve and revealed tattooed black script that spelled 'law'.
"--it's a G-geas Brand," her eyes teared as she explained in a whisper, as though her dry words might set it off had they rang any louder. "It'll activate if I violate my oath of service. So you can rest assured that I can't even take any actions intended to harm you without suffering its curse."
'Rest assured' is about the last thing I feel from that...
Kaede did wonder why Pascal trusted Marina to attend her -- because there wasn't any actual 'trust' involved.
"Can it be removed?"
"They said that while any spell can be dispelled with enough power, this will detect any attempts to and activate at max intensity. So sure, it's removable; but whether I survive the attempt or not..." Marina finished with another shrug as she covered the mark once more.
"Then... how long do they expect you to stay... an indentured servant?"
Just forcing out those two words burned Kaede's tongue. It might be common in the traditional, eye-for-an-eye system of punishment, being synonymous to slavery still gave it a barbaric edge.
"For assisting the attempted murder of a high noble? Life for a life."
Then, Marina's finally unveiled her acidic disdain:
"What did your naive little head think it was going to be? Maybe I would be quietly hanged with a sack over my face?"
Both of them visibly winced. Kaede because the words had hurt, and Marina due to her intentionally barbed tongue.
The Geas spell was quite sensitive, and a trail of tears broke loose as the maid whimpered.
"I'm sorry, Marina, but please believe me... I didn't even want anything this bad for you..."
Yet as she said that, Kaede couldn't look at Marina in the eyes. It wasn't even naivety; Kaede simply didn't think about it back then. To be fair, she had been busy worrying over how to keep Pascal alive at the time. But Marina was right -- any punishment feudal law would have handed down would be far worse than this.
Kaede took a deep breath and tried again:
"You paid loyalty to a master for raising you. I can understand that. But my own life is tied to Pascal's. So just as you saw no other choice, neither did I..."
She halted before sticking another sock in her mouth. Her head really wasn't running straight this late.
"W-why should I believe you?" Marina went back to her uncaring monotone. "I mean, why are you even being nice to me then? I could have killed you in connection to him."
"Because I know you were candid in your offer," Kaede answered as her sincere gaze held onto swollen sea-green eyes. "Because if you hadn't said anything, that assassin's arrow would have shot straight through my neck..."
"Isn't that why you got my punishment to this?" the maid interrupted, although she soon fell to a whisper -- a faint sign that behind the barbed wires of pride, there was indeed a shadow of gratitude.
"Pascal won't budge any further, but I don't think this is a fair treatment for you, not for what you did," Kaede explained. "And one more reason," she appealed through bittersweet words, "it's because I don't make friends often, Marina, so I really didn't want to let go."
"Well that's impossible now," Marina's sour retort came as a matter of fact.
A brief silence returned, followed by a deep, heartfelt sigh from Kaede:
"I know... I'm occasionally idealistic, not spontaneously idiotic."
She wondered if she would ever again see the angelic smile that once cheered her mood during her gloomy initial week in the new world.
Minutes passed as Kaede pursed her cheeks in thought. Pascal's intentions for her standing did seem quite obvious, which meant she needed a servant she could rely on.
She only wished that her 'trust' wasn't founded on a penal curse.
"But... I think I can still offer you something else," Kaede softly tested the waters. "Since Pascal will probably assign me a servant, would you be willing to become my maid? I promise I'll treat you as nicely as I can, and I welcome you to voice your objections when I do misstep."
Marina's eyes enlarged with surprise. Yet within those rounded, glassy orbs also clashed a conflict between blame and suspicion. If there were any appreciation at all, they were very faint traces.
It's going to take a lonnnng time for her to trust me again, though.
"Would it help if I let you hit me?"
The maid's eyebrows went up further. Of all things, she clearly wasn't expecting that.
"I don't know if the spell works that way," she muttered. "I'm not sure if I want to find out either."
Although one point was clear: she did want to hit Kaede, or slap her, or some other medium of venting anger and frustration.
Probably a good sign, Kaede thought. The desire for direct anger was both more honest and less extreme than the alternative. Maybe there's a slim chance after all.
"You won't always have his favor like now, you know," Marina warned as she wiped her eyes. "Especially once he gets busy with work."
It was an odd way to agree, however tentative it was. But at this point Kaede simply sagged with relief to hear an opportunity.
"Then I just have to keep up," she answered, a faint smile finally returning to her expression.
It was easier said than done. But Pascal had summoned for a companion in his long journey, and Kaede promised that she would strive her best to support him.
She also didn't forget Marina's former occupation for a second.
"Although... that does lead me to a request for you, Marina," Kaede began. "Since you were an observer for an Imperial lord before this..."
Marina blinked several times, her expression blank and lost.
"I won't ask about your former master's identity," Kaede reassured with a wave. "But could you keep a tab on as many happenings within this keep as you can? Inconspicuously? And tell me if you find anything suspicious, anything at all."
After all, there was no better counterespionage than the eyes of a former spy.
"You want me to spy on the staff and visitors for you?" the maid whispered with incredulity, as if the list of surprises would never end.
"Yes, that's precisely what I'm asking," Kaede nodded slowly in fatigue. "Heaven knows that a Landgrave has his foes. I don't think Pascal underestimates most opponents, but arrogance certainly leaves chinks in the armor. And it's part of my job to watch out for his back."
"What makes this any different from my last mission then?"
Marina struck Kaede with one last hammer for the night, but the latter made almost an immediate recovery this time:
"Because you can just leave any info with me," she smiled back with droopy eyes, "and I'll handle any reckless parts this time."
It wasn't until several days later when Kaede had a chance to discuss with Pascal on making Marina her maid.
He readily agreed, even though the words that followed came with a disapproving frown:
"You are being way too easy on her."
"'In war, resolution; in defeat, defiance; in victory, magnanimity'... doubly so since she did help me," Kaede stated with a faint grin. "Besides, I still like her."
Pascal looked thoughtful for a moment, then:
"Quote from some dead man in your world?"
"Great leader," she corrected him. "But also a racist, imperialistic warmongerer. Nevertheless, kindness is universal."[ Next Chapter ]