There was no time for Layette to think. The mountain of corpses she stood on continued to pile as she fought against her unknown enemy in desperation. Black silhouettes jumped from her left and right, trying to pin down the great Phoenix of Damore. Alas, their efforts were for naught as she broke through their attempts with a burst of her power. Her enemies backed off, forming into a massive wave to consume her. Victory was uncertain, but no hero would flee from a situation like this. So, with her large, inked pen greatsword, she charged at the tidal wave with all her might.
Even the great heroine could not tame the unstoppable force. All hope was lost.
“Hey, what are you doing…? Get up… Wake up!”
Layette let out a shrieking cry, falling from her chair. Stacks of paper flew all over the place, one settling on her face. She let out a defeated sigh and shivered when hearing a loud thud of wood. A familiar voice spoke to her in a harsh tone.
“You are up. Good. Here are more contracts you have to go over for the upcoming students.”
Layette pulled the paper out of her face, seeing Aigis stare down at her. She got up and buried her head under her arms on the desk. “It is just document after document after document… Aiiiiiiggis, I want to go outside!”
“Hmpf, you neglected all such important documents until the last moment. What do you expect would happen?” Aigis said in a scolding tone.
Layette puffed her cheeks. “But they are so boring! Who would stay in here doing… this?! I can be out there, teaching everyone how a true Royal Knight should fight!”
“Really? I wonder how that turned out for you.”
“Err… You do not have to remind me.”
The door opened. A young man in a tuxedo suit was standing in the doorway with a tray of drinks in hand. It was a half-wolf, half-human breed with long black hair and silver eyes. His ears twitched as he placed the tray down on the table, and his tail was wagging in excitement. This was Makyu, and he was Layette’s other personal servant.
“Break time, ladies! Got some freshin’ cold lemonade here,” he said.
Layette reached for a cup. Aigis smacked her hand, shaking her head. “You are spoiling her, Makyu. How is she able to complete her duties?”
“Aw come on, give her some slack Ai. Heard you guys from a mile away. Was thinkin’ Laya should have a break.”
“She cannot have her break until she completes the duty bestowed upon her.”
“Duty this, duty that. So uptight. Not everyone’s as reliable and hardworkin’ as you.”
There was a faint blush on Aigis’ face. She cleared her throat and looked away, twirling her hair. “If you insist. Very well, we shall have a brief break.”
“I am reliable and hardworking! Just… not here. Anyway, I shall take pleasure upon that drink.” Layette took one cup and drank it all in two gulps. She let out a satisfying groan and raised her glass, smiling. “Thank you, Makyu. I needed that.”
“Ain’t a biggie.” Makyu scratched his ear as he gazed at one of the signed papers. “So, uh, what are them paper for’s anyway? Looks important.”
“Information regarding the upcoming candidates for the future semester. Many of the Academy’s personnel scouted the individuals out and there is a decision needed to accept them,” Aigis explained. “Normally, it would be the work of the Cabinet Members, but after Layette’s recent debacle, this was an acceptable way to punish her. The Academy’s reputation is under her hands.”
“I rather get whipped to shape than to do this…” Layette shot her arms out and yelled as loud as she could. “I hate it! Get me out!”
A whisper of wind came through the front door. Everyone turned around to see Dickus standing at the doorway.
“High Lord Hawkwood!” Makyu and Aigis chorused. The two servants bowed before his presence.
“At ease,” Dickus said. He made his way to Layette, who stood up and looked at her father with sullen eyes. “Hard at work, I see. Ah, you are only halfway from your quota!”
“S-Sorry, Father. I accept my fault here: I procrastinated until the last second. If you are here to—”
“Punish you? What do you think this was for?”
Dickus clapped twice, and his attendants surged into the room. They sorted the finished and non-finished papers on top of a metal cart. Another group came in to clean the room. The windows were opened, the room dusted, and garbage disposed of. Aigis whistled, and two more came with a chair and a round table. The two placed the furniture in front of Layette’s desk, and Dickus took the seat to his pleasure. All attendants bowed in respect and left with haste. Makyu ran out of the room and came back with a tea set. He set up Dickus’ tea and poured the drink into a teacup.
“Fresh tea for you, milord,” Makyu said.
“Ah, thank you Makyu and Aigis. Prepared as usual.”
Aigis bowed. “Your faithful servants are always ready for your arrival. I am overjoyed at hearing such compliments.”
Dickus nodded. “Please guard the front entrance. Oh, one more thing: make sure no one hears us from the outside.”
“Yes, milord. Excuse us,” Makyu and Aigis said, and left the room.
The walls rumbled when the door was shut, and a white barrier covered the windows. Layette sat on her chair and once again buried her head under her arms on the desk.
“I know this is important, Father, but I have got no rest ever since… oh my, it is already the afternoon?!”
“Rest is important, but so is this information. You-Know-Who is coming to see you again.”
Layette rolled her eyes. “You got to be kidding me. Harley Eadburt?”
“Indeed. Well, indeed as in he is coming here and… ah, I digress. I received his letter days ago about his arrival. Ever since the forest incident, he would not stop sending me letters. He is worried about you.”
Layette stood up and slammed her hands on the desk. “How many times do I have to tell him? I am not interested. Yet, he persists!”
“I am very aware of your raging feelings for him, my daughter. However, I see this as a perfect opportunity.”
“I am sure you and Aren are acquainted. For the past days, he has been struggling to gather information about the Eadburts. I believe a cooperation between you two is in need.”
Layette lowered her eyes. “Y-Yes. Oh, which reminds me, I have yet to thank him for his efforts in the Forest of Sorrows.”
She went behind her desk and placed a sword on top. “I have yet to give this back. This is my way of showing thanks. Oh, and the smiths gave me a fancy scabbard for the blade, so it is even more extra thanks for him.”
Dickus blinked several times and stared at the weapon. “Darling, may I?”
He unsheathed the weapon and examined its emerald glow. His hands were shaking in excitement, but he contained himself, giving the sword back to her. He knew the sword was the Jeweled Sky. A genuine scholar could easily determine such at first glance. Aren probably had a reason to not reveal the information to Layette, so it was best to respect his wishes.
“Did some training sessions with it. The weapon never dulls and is very exceptional. I wonder where did Aren acquire a weapon like so?”
“An elegant weapon from a civilized age, I would say. I believe he would love to accept it from your hands.” Dickus sat back down. “Anyhow, Harley is not the only one who’s coming: the other High Lords are as well.”
“T-That is… surprising. What’s the occasion?”
“To discuss upon war. The details are unimportant. What is more relevant is getting information out of Harley. And you know what that means?”
She raised her brow, staring at Dickus for an answer. The two were awkwardly silent and after some time passed, he got up and stood in front of the nearest window.
“You need to—how to put it? Play with your food? No, that is something else… Ah, there it is!” he turned around. “Flirt with him. Use your soothing words to—”
“Are. You. Serious? No, there is no way I can ‘flirt’ with that… thing!”
“One of the High Lords of Damore is considered a ‘thing’ for you? I wonder what your standards are, my dear.”
“N-No, that is not what I meant. All I am good at is fighting. It is just…” Layette sat on her chair and moved her strand of hair to the side. “As much as I do not want to admit it, he is charming, handsome, and wealthy. Any woman would gladly leap into his arms when an offer like that is given.”
“There has to be something else to the matter. What is the problem, my dear?”
“I, um. May I be frank?”
“Permission to be ‘frank’ granted.”
Layette got up again, walking around while she sputtered in a nervous tone. “Well, you know I trained in the art of combat since six, going around all of Damore defeating monsters and such. All of my life, being the best Royal Knight is what I am truly striving for. Things like makeup, dresses, and dances are not in my line of scope. Also, I have been stained by the blood of my enemies, the organs and filth and the sort. Reveling in the gore sounds displeasing, right? Who would want to touch a lady who bathes in such? Lords come and go asking for my hand, regardless. It is strange and—Father why are you laughing? Mayyoupleasetakemeseriouslyforonce?”
“No, no, of course I am. You, my daughter, are a very special person,” Dickus said. He stood up and placed his hand on her shoulder.
“I am? I am not sure that…”
“Yes, you are. You are Layette Hawkwood, Phoenix of Damore, Captain-in-training of the Royal Knights! A woman with strength unparalleled to many. A woman with beauty requiring no need of makeup or dresses. A woman with a reputable status! Who, in their right mind, will not go for such?”
Dickus smiled. “You need to be more confident, my child. Perfection is what you are, and you should wear it proudly. Do this task with this in mind and for sure, it will be done with ease because you are Layette Hawkwood! Yes?”
“Good. Now remember, you and Aren will be partners now. Go tell Aren of our plan and he will understand. I shall be off for preparations for the other High Lords. Ta-ta!”
Dickus clapped his hands again, and the white barriers surrounding the room were dispelled. The door was opened for him and he left without saying another word. Makyu and Aigis came in, seeing Layette in a distraught state. They asked what had happened between them and in response, she looked up and replied in a confident, yet insecure tone.
“Nothing. I was given a task and I must complete it. Excuse me.”
She left in a hurry, leaving her two servants alone. Makyu folded his arms and shook his head.
“Damn, somethin’ up again,” he said. “She’s pretty bad at hiding it.”
“That’s… our Layette bearing the burden alone. Like a hero would.”
“Sounds like a compliment to me, since she wantin’ to be one.”
Aigis lowered her eyes. “It is not. If only she’d be anything but a hero.”