Joshua’s heart was beating rapidly as he exited the Palace. His waiting guest was mesmerizing: waist-length, flowing light blue hair and eyes like gems plucked out of the heavens; a petite stature (less than 160 centimeters), and perfectly proportioned. Not beautiful like Charles, but charming and adorable.
Just like Joshua remembered. He hadn’t changed.
“Ah.” Icarus pulled his gaze away from the stars and smiled at Joshua. “Baron Joshua.”
“My word…” Cain gaped. “My lord! Who is that gorgeous lady over there?”
“I don’t know either—I think my mind is playing tricks on me.” Joshua shook his head, half-convinced he was hallucinating. He knew Icarus was pretty, but wasn’t this a bit much? He looked just like a woman when he grew out his hair.
Was Icarus a woman all this time? He couldn’t know for sure—Joshua had never met Icarus before he traveled back in time, only heard of his—her?—exploits. He’d always assumed that, in a country as patriarchal as Avalon, the Emperor-to-be’s strategist would be a man.
Come to think of it, there are definitely more opportunities for a man in the Empire. Maybe that’s why Icarus worked so hard even before I died.
“It’s been a long time, Baron Joshua.”
“Ah…” Icarus touched the long locks while Joshua was still struggling with his inner turmoil. “Does it look odd? I’ve been growing it out for a while now.”
“No, no… I mean, it looks good.”
Icarus’s face lit up.
“It’s just…” Joshua’s eyes lingered on Icarus’s body.
“A little too… womanly.”
“Where are you looking?” Icarus flushed, hands coming up to block Joshua’s gaze.
“My lord!” Cain was enraged. “How could you be so rude to the lady?” He stepped forward while Joshua turned away, confused. “Ah, miss Icarus. I have heard the rumors: the most brilliant strategist of the Academy and one of its top students—I never knew you would be both brilliant and stunning!”
“I’m sorry… who are you, again?”
“I am Cain, Baron Joshua’s knight.”
“So… are you really a… woman?”
“Well, is it important?” Icarus seemed oddly irate. “Do you have some hidden prejudice against women, Baron?”
“Does it look like it?” Joshua replied.
“Of course not. I wouldn’t have come this far if you did.”
“It’s an honor.” He smiled.
“I came here to fulfill my promise. Are you finally accepting me?”
“Huh? What’s this about?” Cain managed to move past the fact that Icarus had ignored him and found that the conversation was moving in a direction that could be easily misunderstood. “The master truly is a troublemaker! Aren’t the two most beautiful ladies in the Empire enough? Are you now going after the Academy’s brightest student, too? Isn’t that a little too much?”
“Most beautiful women in the Empire?” Icarus’s gaze rapidly cooled. “Baron Joshua, I believe you owe me an explanation.”
Joshua broke into a cold sweat under Icarus’s contemptful gaze.
“Stop making the conversation weird, Cain—Just calm down and listen, Icarus.”
“But I’m not making it weird—” Cain caught Joshua’s stern look and backed off with his tail tucked between his legs.
“Right… You said you came to fulfill your promise?”
“That’s right. You didn’t forget, did you?”
“Impossible.” Joshua held out his hand with a smile. “I would have gone to you if you hadn’t come. There’s no one else like you.”
Icarus’s cheeks flushed again. Of course, Joshua was referring to Icarus’s skill—no one else knew them as well as Joshua did. But the way it sounded in Icarus’s ears…
“They say a soldier has to refuse twice to find a master that knows their true worth. If I went to you, you might have had to ask three times.”
Icarus grinned and took his hand.
“Are you going to keep harassing me?”
Cain stepped in and clapped his hands on their shoulders. “Let’s do well from now on, Military advisor.”
“That’s a nice title.” Icarus gave Cain a dazzling smile.
“So… Shall we discuss our plans now?” Joshua’s eyes gleamed.
“Plans?” Cain and Icarus cocked their heads at him.
He nodded. “I’m thinking of meeting the Emperor and then leaving for Reinhardt.
“The neutral city?”
“I intend to leave the Imperial Knights, like you.”
“Will the Emperor allow it? And what about the 11th and 12th Battalions if you leave?”
“That’s why I’m meeting the Emperor—the 11th and 12th, too.” Joshua grinned. “We’ll meet again if fate wills it.”
Joshua let Cain’s words go in one ear and out the other.
“As for you two, I have a favor to ask. I’m really sorry, but—” Joshua grimaced regretfully as Icarus. “I don’t want you two to go to Reinhardt. Instead, I need you elsewhere.”
“What? What do you mean?”
“After all those years of separation, we’re going to split up right after we met? Really, my lord?”
“Please don’t get me wrong—it’s only for a few months, and I’m asking because you two are the only ones who can pull this off.”
“Well… Let’s listen first,” Icarus said after a long silence. “Where do you want us to go and what do you want us to do?”
“I want you to go…” Joshua paused. “...to the Pontier family.”
“The Pontiers?” Icarus and Cain blinked at him.
“Did you hear what I said?”
“Code Zero will be joining the Master Battle, right?”
“Right.” Ian nodded. “You will represent the Magic Tower this Battle.”
“Eh?” Theta leapt out of his chair. “Why me? There’s no benefit in playing with those kids. The Master Battle has only had a wizard in it once, hasn’t it?”
“Only the winner of the Master Battle has the privilege of facing the Nine Stars and Twelve Superhumans. And, like the ones who surrender in the middle of the Battle, you can learn something about the Masters. There’s two reasons you need to join: first, to learn more about Code Zero and locating the object; second… I’m getting old. Shouldn’t I have at least one heir?”
“Tower Master?” Theta’s eyes widened.
“Shouldn’t my successor at least have credibility? Otherwise, our Tower would be ignored.”
“What do you—”
“You already achieved the point.”
“You realized?” Theta trembled.
“Who do you think I am? I felt the subtle shift in mana around you for a long time now. In terms of pure magic, only me and Evergrant can rival you—no other wizards. Theta.”
“Yes, Tower Master.”
“Go settle Jack’s death. Remind the continent that our Tower still stands. Only you can do this. Are you up to the task?”
Theta sighed. “...I’ll try.”
“It’s settled, then.” Ian smiled contentedly.
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