“Assassination?” Robert blinked. “We skipped a lot of steps.”
Lilian gave out a heartfelt chuckle, ill-suited to the mood. “Oh my, what steps would those be?”
“I know there’s a court system in place in this city. Isn’t that what it’s for?”
“If you’re implicating an individual, then yes. But this is a whole clan, darling.”
“It doesn’t apply to clans? The books I have read say yes, though.”
“How many books have you read?”
“Not enough, apparently.”
Lilian was no longer exasperated at Robert’s character. To his amusing reply, she could only smile. “Clan Talron had been implicated for a few times. Perhaps it would be different this time but why bother with this uncertain option when we have a more defining one?”
“So, do you?”
“Assassination?” Robert tipped his head in thought. “Not specifically.”
“I have taken lives through discreet means before but never really done it as a profession.”
“Then, I’m sure you will fare well. Only difference, you will get paid this time.”
“Reassuring,” Robert muttered. “What about the others? My tails, I mean.”
Lilian shrugged but her shoulders barely moved. “Busy. Focused on chasing ghosts. Thanks to me. Now’s the best of all times for… discreet ventures.”
“Thank you, Lily.”
Lilian laughed. “You’re welcome, my dear.”
“So, regarding the details of this discreet venture?”
“It will be slowly, insidiously not tortoise pace.” Lilian twirled a lock of her hair around her finger. “Piece by piece, picking them off from the principal.”
“One by one?”
“Brick by brick.”
“We do not want to ripple the calm waves first. We will pick the ones straying by the sea and kissing the shores.”
Robert nodded slowly to her words. “The vassal clans, huh.”
“The four of his friends will be a good start. Don’t make it obvious that they are permanently unavailable. Give them… implications.”
“Anything I should know about them?”
“None of the four are elites or do they have any Specialization Magic. And their respective clans only have one or two Masters. Any more information, I’m sure Missus Yu will have them for you.”
“We’re taking every last one of them off the board?”
“We’re not taking pieces off the board here. We’re destroying the board, their board.”
Robert tilted his head as he pondered. He was staring straight at Lilian but she wasn’t in his eyes at the moment.
“Oh my, having second thoughts?” Lilian was prompt to ask by the hesitation she could perceive in his eyes.
“Do we have to kill all of them?”
“No witnesses, Robert. Or are you going to go against that rule again?”
“If a whole clan is wiped out, the peoples of Midas Valley are going to want answers.”
Lilian raised the corner of her lips. “I’m listening.”
“And we’ll give them an answer. Leave of one of the Talrons alive, preferably someone ambitious and capable, to some degree. Pin the murders on him or her.”
“My word, Robert. My word.” Lilian looked at him ghastly, but she shifted back to her demure smile on the next second. “Who do you had in mind? Asten?”
Robert chuckled without parting his lips. “No. That won’t work. Not even the most foolish of fools would believe he had the spine to go against his own shadow. Even if he does have the will, his competency would be another matter.”
“Says the one who got pummeled by him.”
“Exactly why I know of his competence— well, his incompetence. Did you know he was aiming to take my whole leg with that Magic but he missed.”
“He did?” Lilian beamed.
Robert nodded. “And he broke a few of his toes too. I think that’s why he was stomping on my fingers repeatedly. Considering I can just patch myself up before the day is done, I reckon he’s in a lot of pain more than I am, currently speaking.”
“Is that why you didn’t fought back?”
“I didn’t fought back because I didn’t know we were going to plot his assassination and the fall of his whole clan moments after. Not that I would fight back, regardless.”
“You’re right, dear. He does sound unfit to be framed for familicide. And so, who shall be the unfortunate person then?”
“His brother. The one who I cuckolded of his one-sided betrothed.”
“Oh, that’s terrible,” Lilian said monotonously. “I truly pity his fate.”
“How about it?”
“I like it. I’m sure Creed and Mister Tann would too,” Lilian said, cupping her right cheek with a widened smile.
“This woman is really enjoying this, isn’t she?” Robert sighed. While he wasn’t innocent of some of the most unsavory matters but he did prefer a more peaceful solution in such matters, not that he made any peaceful decisions in a long time.
“But you know…”
“Taking those four out won’t be easy. Their clan may not be as strong as the Talrons but they have Sentries. They aren’t something any assassins can get past easily.”
“I’m sure you’ll find a way but I propose you let them come to you.”
“I have taken care of that.” Robert smiled. “To ensure it will earnestly happen the soonest, I didn’t forget to give them the defiant gaze they love so much.”
Lilian quivered at the sudden fear that encroached her body and the veneration budding within her. She was truly frightened and impressed. “Vicious boy. You planned this all along, didn’t you?”
“And to think you were even advocating for the court system.”
“That was before you were involve. I can’t exactly bring them to court on my own accord.”
“So you decided to cull them on your own accord.”
“Nipping it in the bud. They’re harmless now, but it’s glaringly obvious that they will be a hindrance to any of my future affairs. Now, I already know I can’t touch Asten, for now, but I can touch the other four. Mister Smith wouldn’t mind.”1In case this wasn't clear, Robert had plan to kill the four lackeys regardless if Lilian propose the assassination.
“I’m sure he wouldn’t.” Lilian suppressed her inner desire to have him right on this bed and in this hall of healing. “Although, do remember, Asten must live, for now. We can’t take him out yet. How will you go about this if they all come for you, not just the five?”
“Only the four would, no else would, Asten sure wouldn’t.”
“You sound so sure.”
“I don’t think they would send any extra hands for a poor weak sheep who can’t even fight back and this poor sheep’s friend didn’t even help him when he got pummeled. As for Asten, he broke his toes, remember?”
“Yes, I do.” Lilian nodded. “How lovely.” Now, she understood Robert’s plan, although not entirely. She was sure Robert had more in his plans.
The way she understood, Asten would need a healer for his toes. He couldn’t look for one in the academy as he would need to explain what transpired. He wouldn’t go to his own family’s healer as his meagre pride wouldn’t allow him to. And if he went to an apothecary, he wouldn’t have time to join up his followers. Since Robert made himself a delicious quarry with a defiant attitude and had their tyranny shown to the eyes Lilian herself and Iora Devetra, they would not delay on disciplining him the moment they had the chance to.
“Not just a long day, it’s going to be a long night too.”
“Well, there’s that. I bid you good fortune in the endeavors to come.” Lilian stood up from the stool and extended her hand, with her middle finger adorned with a silver ring, much like Robert’s.
Robert took her hand without the slightest hesitation.
The rings on both of their fingers glowed for a split moment.
“Yes,” Lilian nodded. “Your sword is finished.”
A rare smile that bared all his teeth was shown, much to Lilian’s shock. Such smile on Robert had never cross her mind but now that she was seeing it herself, the contrast of his minimum expression felt somewhat complacent.
“But it’s a shame, I can’t go back into the Dark Zone,” Robert mused.
“You will, in due time.” Lilian assured— promised him. “And try not to get pummeled up the next time. You do not want to be on the bottom of the food chain in this place.”
“The academy just let these of kind of things happened?”
“No one’s perfect, remember? There’s only so much we can do. The students will always find a way to bend the rules, especially for those with a lot of money in their family.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“You’re allowed to fight back. Don’t forget who you’re walking in the shadows with.”
Robert arched his eyebrows. “Are you sure about me fighting back?”
“Under three conditions,” Lilian raised three of her fingers. “No killing, obviously. No injuries beyond the hope of recuperation and the injuries can be healed under two days, at most. Lastly, no high nobles.”
“Well, that’s redundant, then.”
“We can quell the adverse response from lesser nobles quite easily, but for high nobles— not to say that we can’t but it would be arduous. I have my plates full with the Faiths.”
“Oh dear, you don’t look thrilled at the prospects. Is it not good, I wonder?”
“What if they’re high nobles?”
“Best of luck, sweetheart.”
“Any other questions?”
“I have never really been in a serious fight without the intent to kill before.”
It was Lilian’s turn to arch her eyebrows.
“I had fought without the intent to kill but that was all sparring and practice. Never have I not killed anyone in a serious fight.”
“I’m sure you’ll overcome that obstacle as someone who Mister Smith trusts a lot. Do your best, like always,” saying so, Lilian moved to pat Robert on his head.
His shoulders jumped but his reasoning was quick to return. “What a witch.”
“We should be going. I believe we both have classes.” Before she turned around to leave, she gleamed her eyes at Robert. “You found some good friends.”
“Valena and a… bird, I believe it is. Its feathers are really soft and it’s… big.”
“They told you about the incident in the garden, I see.”
“I believe the bird told Valena and Valena’s familiar told me. I was surprise at the peculiar cat but then I remember your report from the sparrow.”
“Well, good for me. I should be going too but… it appears I have a visitor.” Robert nudged his head at the slightly ajar doors.
Following his hint, Lilian caught a faint figure in her sight. “Samara?” She turned to Robert with a brightened smile. “How lovely. She’s here for her prince.”
Robert laughed dryly.
Offering her usual tip of her head as a bidding, Lilian refurnished herself with her coat, glasses, and a ponytail before making her way out of the healing hall.
As soon as she passed through the doors, Robert heard a small cry from Samara who was startled by Lilian’s apparent notice of her..
“Do your best,” Robert heard Lilian’s encouragement to Samara.
“Do her best for what?”
“May I be of assistance, Sammy?” Robert asked as he walked through the doors.
“You’re all better…” Samara stared with astonishment at his absence of wounds and even scars. “H-how?”
“I will tell you but I will have to kill you too.”
His tone said sally but Samara hear candour. Her legs tripped to his undertone when she pulled a step back.
“Whoa there!” Robert moved quick to support her fall. “I was just joking.”
“You’re not,” she retorted. “You are going to kill me.”
“Well, by joking, I meant the part where I will tell you,” Robert smiled.
She knew she had been right. There was something wrong about him. She quickly broke away from his hold and cast daggers with her eyes. Her shadows stirred with a faint ripple.
“You came here just to give me those eyes?”
It was a struggle to find her composure but she did. And when she did, she let loose words that she never knew she would be saying Robert of all peoples. “Thank you. Despite our past acquaintances and your odious manner, I really need to thank you for this time.” She had her head bowed.
“I can do without the insults and those mismatched eyes but you’re welcome.”
She gave a sidelong glance at his expression. She couldn’t tell what he was thinking. Rather, she was able to but she couldn’t help to think that she was being fooled.
In all of those years being misled and scorned at, she had gotten quite good at discerning people’s expressions and their real intent. However, Robert was different. She read his emotions but parts of her mind apprised her to be doubtful. If anything, she would say Robert was honest with his expressions, much too honest to the point that it instilled fear into her who had been living among a life of lies and deceit.
“Can someone be this honest?” she had wondered. Even those who had been kind to her had underlying intentions which were often malicious.
A beast, that was what he reminded her of. Humans hid themselves behinds masks but not beasts. They showed their aggression and true intent from the first moment. Yet, it didn’t make the beasts any less dangerous. In fact, it made one feel helpless and despair against their brutal honesty.
“He’s no human,” Samara decided. “But he’s no Asten, at least.”
“I may enjoy staring at people to observe them but I don’t enjoy being stared at in return, not when those eyes seem to be full of spurn for my character.”
“Was getting belabored by Asten and his goons necessary?” Samara asked shortly after retreating from her thoughts.
Robert thought for awhile. “No, not really,” he answered.
“Then why didn’t you fight back?”
Robert tilted his head. “Given the current circumstances at that moment, that’s the best choice. There were other options but they were… not advantageous in the long run. Although, that all changed a few minutes ago.”
“Getting pummeled incessantly is the best choice?”
Robert nodded plainly. “As oppose to?”
“Fight back! I know you can fight. I’m not an idiot. I know they are nobles but at least try to fight back. Instead of retaliating, you stood there getting yourself pummeled while looking like a fool.”
“A fool? To whom? To you?”
“To yourself and everyone else.”
Robert laughed. “I certainly don’t care if I looked like a fool neither do I care about what people think of me.”
“You should. The world doesn’t revolves around you. That’s reality. You should care about being a fool.”
“Hmm. You’re confusing yourself with looking like a fool than actually being a fool. If you can’t discern these two, you’re looking at an early grave or a miserable life, especially in this kind of city.”
“You could at least dodge them.”
“Wow. You know nothing about nobles, do you?”
“I don’t but it doesn’t invalid my point.”
“It does, lesson one, nobles are petty.” Robert leaned forward. “Especially individuals like Asten Talron, you do well remember that. Lose the fight but win the war. And most important of all,” he leaned closer until he was just right beside her ear, “don’t bite off more than you can chew. Someone of your circumstances should know that the best.”
Samara had no words as a respond. It was infuriating but she sensed some truth in his words. And his last words, she knew he didn’t mean the encounter with Asten.
Robert stood back. “Now that we are on the same page, I hope we can continue this mutual beneficial relationship. Good afternoon,” he bade and began to walk away.
But Samara stopped him by his shoulder and spun him around. “Mutual?” she stared with an asking gaze.
“You do have a reason for helping me.”
“Your incertitude is right. I do have some ulterior motives but it’s nothing deprave.”
“And what would those motives be?”
“Your strength,” Robert answered in brief.
“You have something or someone you want me to punch?”
“Not just your physical strength. You mind and spirit too, they are strong.”
Samara stayed silent but stayed her questioning eyes.
“You have been through a lot and unlike most people, you came out stronger than before, body, mind, and spirit. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
She saw something in his eyes. A trace of worry and admiration but she couldn’t be sure. She had never been sure about him but it led her to one such belief and question. “Then why didn’t you let me fight?”
“Is that why you told me to say and do nothing when Asten fucked you up? Is it because of me that you let yourself get marred?”
Robert sighed. “I have many reasons for my decisions but yes, you’re one of them.”
“I can fight too.”
“No, you can’t. Normally, yes but do remember, I poked a few holes on your body, spiritually speaking. Can you beat them all up? I don’t doubt it. Will you be unscathed? I doubt it. You have a very unstable foundation for your soul vessel and Magic right now. I never know the consequences of being hit by Magic when having such an unstable foundation. I wish to know but just not with a collateral.”
“As strange as it maybe but I consider you a friend now.”
“F-friend…” Samara muttered.
“I hope you have no more questions. If you do, let it be after classes. I do not want to pile up any demerits for my academy grades. Good day.” This time, Robert walked off without being spun around by a grip stronger than a hawks. It was already starting to sore.
When he disappeared down the stairs at the end of the corridor, Samara let off all of her unease with a long sigh.
“Friend? Am I really?” she mused to herself. She had friends but they either wanted something from her or they were just setting her up for a caper. It was through those experiences she became adept at reading the under tone in people’s expressions. However, those experiences were futile for Robert. The more he asserted that he had hidden intentions, the less she believed that he had. Deep in her heart, she believed Robert did have despicable intentions in spite of his contrary claims.
After all, good or evil, right or wrong, they were relatives. He had only told her it was nothing deprave but she remembered how he reacted to her calling her a fool.
To whom? To you?
With this as the base, who was he assuring? Himself or her? Samara cerebrated.
“I’ll trust you, for now,” Samara told herself.
Her shadows rippled without her notice.