“What did you find?” Leon asked, looking at the message in Elise’s hand. She had just received a message with Heaven’s Eye’s analysis of the invisibility enchantment on the ring he took from the assassins who came for him on the galley a month ago.
‘This must be something quite serious, to get her so worked up,’ Leon thought, as he observed Elise’s towering killing intent.
“That ring,” she said, waving at the emerald ring on Leon’s hand, “was crafted and enchanted by a Heaven’s Eye enchanter for the Duke of Aurelianorum! That asshole Tiberias’ father!”
Leon’s eyes narrowed in anger, and he immediately understood Elise’s own rage. Tiberias had been trying to court Elise by sending her gifts and invitations to parties, despite Elise making it exceedingly clear that she wasn’t interested. She had even gotten a package from him in the few days since Leon returned, containing a heavy golden necklace with five huge glittering rubies, which didn’t move her heart at all; she gave the necklace back to the courier who delivered it and had it returned immediately.
“Wait a moment,” Leon said, “if this ring was for Tiberias’ father, then why would he give it to a third-tier assassin? Why wouldn’t he keep it for himself?”
“It was part of a bulk order. The Duke paid more than forty million silvers for twenty rings,” Elise answered, brandishing the message again. “He has plenty of rings to spare for assassins…”
Leon sighed and took a seat at the table he had been working at. He had a strange smile on his face, but Elise couldn’t sense a single trace of killing intent emanating from him, in stark contrast to herself.
“Do you plan to do anything about this?” Elise asked angrily. She was a little frustrated at Leon’s subdued response, as she expected the same explosive anger that she was feeling.
“Oh, I’m planning plenty,” Leon said with a vicious smile. “But, for now, I will focus on ascending to the fifth-tier. It won’t take nearly as long as the fourth-tier did, I can tell. Not a hell of a lot a single fourth-tier mage can do, is there?”
“You’re not just a single fourth-tier mage, though,” Elise said, glaring first at him, then at the paper in her hand, “you’re affiliated with Heaven’s Eye. We can do plenty to the Duke.”
“Can you destroy them outright?” Leon asked.
“No…” Elise replied. “Or at least, not without some serious repercussions…”
Leon looked at her, and for the first time, she realized just how wrathful he was; when their eyes met, she felt a tiny sliver of his killing intent, and it was like catching a glimpse of the Endless Ocean through a distant window. So great was the killing intent that she saw that for a split second, she lost herself in it and froze up completely. She regained control of herself a moment later when Leon looked away, and she immediately collected herself and restrained her own aura.
“They still attacked you, my love,” she said quietly. “They can’t just be let go… I can’t just let them go…”
Leon’s smile softened, and he rose from his seat and pulled Elise into his arms. “I understand. I’m not forgiving them, not by a long shot. There will come a day when I visit Tiberias, and he and I are going to… have some words…”
The pair stood there embracing for several silent minutes. They stewed in their anger and fury, though anyone who saw them would’ve only seen two blissful lovers enjoying each other’s presence.
Elise was the first to break that silence, saying, “There is actually a way we can act against them right now, and not have to wait around for years until we can personally strike back against them.”
Leon noted her use of the word ‘we’ when talking about personal retaliation, and he smiled wider. He asked, “What do you have in mind?”
“We don’t have to do anything overt, but there are a few things I can do as my mother’s daughter that can make their lives a living hell.” As she thought more and more about what she could do apart from simply sending Heaven’s Eye guards after Duke Decimius and Tiberias, Elise started to smile in a manner that reflected Leon’s before he stood up.
“Going after their money?” Leon asked.
“More than that, we can go after all of their assets,” Elise stated. “We can sink their vaults into a quagmire of paperwork so they can’t be accessed without significant effort, and we can remove them from our list of trusted partners—they’ll be the only high nobles in this kingdom that aren’t on it. This will probably cut profits on their products by at least a third due to lost business with our other business partners, probably more… Also, a few words whispered into the ear of the right official in the Royal Palace will see an army of accountants and lawyers invading their lands. That family will see their taxes rise sharply, and I’m sure they’ve done some shady things to build their wealth, as all noble families have done, which would be uncovered during the audit.”
“They are a powerful noble family, though, wouldn’t they be able to fight back against the audit?” Leon asked. He knew that the first two actions Elise suggested would badly mangle Tiberias’ family’s finances, but it was the audit by the Royal Family that could truly ruin them. The audit was also the only thing that House Decimius could resist with any kind of effectiveness.
“They can, and they most certainly will,” Elise said, “but it will drive a wedge between them and the Royal Family. A good relationship with the Bull King is worth more in this kingdom than just about any trade agreement with Heaven’s Eye.”
It wasn’t as viscerally satisfying as Leon thought driving his sword into Tiberias’ chest would be—and he was certainly thinking about it—but he still looked at Elise and said, “I actually like this idea.”
“Really?” she asked, arching an eyebrow. “I thought I would’ve needed a little more time to convince you before you said that.”
“There will be time enough for vengeance with a more personal touch later, when I’m a little stronger,” Leon replied.
“Don’t you mean when we’re a little stronger?” Elise asked, with a hint of steel in her voice.
Leon was silent for a moment, but then he said, “Of course I do, it’s just hard to change my mannerisms, even though I’m no longer alone in this…”
The two of them leaned forward and softly kissed, with their anger and killing intent quickly fading away in each other’s embrace.
“Speaking of hard things…” Elise whispered into Leon’s ear. Neither of them needed to say anything more, and Leon pulled off the test bracer, tossed it onto the table, and followed Elise back to her bedroom.
Emilie stared at the documents in her hand. She was in her office at the top floor of the Heaven’s Eye Tower, with Jordan, her first husband and commander of all Heaven’s Eye guards in the city, who had just brought the documents to her.
“So, what are you going to do about that?” Jordan asked her.
“Did these really come from our daughter?” Emilie asked, sounding almost impressed.
“They did,” Jordan confirmed.
“Why is she doing this? What has House Decimius done to warrant such an extreme reaction?” Emilie wondered out loud.
Jordan had an idea, as Elise’s request for more information on the invisibility enchantment had gone through his department and been brought to his attention, but he didn’t know all the details. “I guess we’re just going to have to ask her,” he said.
“We’re?” Emilie asked.
“Yes, it’s been too long since I last saw our daughter, I’d like to catch up for a while,” Jordan said with the smile of a doting father about to see his only child again.
Emilie was silent for a few moments, but before Jordan could leave, she said, “I’m not going to allow these sanctions—or at least, not yet. I want her to come to me and explain why she’s doing this. I hope this isn’t just because that young boy Tiberias is continuing to try and court her…”
“How about this,” Jordan suggested, “in exchange for these sanctions to go into effect, let’s have her introduce her boyfriend to us.”
With his suggestion, Emilie’s eyes grew wide and she almost jumped out of her chair as she enthusiastically said, “Yes! Let’s do that! I’ll have the dining hall prepared for a family dinner! The cooks will go all out!”
“Let’s slow down there, my dear,” Jordan said with a soothing tone. “I think part of the reason why she turned down your last invitation was because of the formality of it. How about instead of a feast in the dining hall, we have a small, informal, and intimate meal with our daughter, her boyfriend, and her new friend. No servants, no noble trappings. Sound good?”
A frown appeared on Emilie’s face, but she gave it serious consideration. ‘Elise has always been more open with him than with me, so he’s probably right about this. Still, I wanted to make an impression on that young man!’ she thought, her expression turning a little bitter.
“Very well,” she said out loud through clenched teeth.
“Wonderful!” Jordan exclaimed. He immediately left to make the arrangements.
After making love, Leon had to finish his enchanting work while Elise dispatched a servant to relay her orders to sanction House Decimius. Then, she went to her library to read. To her surprise, when Elise pushed open the door to her library, she found Alix already there, having come back from her afternoon in the city some time before. The two ladies smiled and nodded at each other in greeting, but as the point of going there was to quietly read, they didn’t say much.
However, Elise had barely been reading her selected book for an hour before someone else entered the room. Her eyes were immediately drawn to the newcomer, but instead of a frown of displeasure at the intrusion, she let out a cry of delight and ran straight into the arms of the man who had just walked in.
Alix was startled at Elise’s behavior, but she understood when the latter said, “It’s so good to see you again, Daddy!”
“Ahhh, it’s been far too long, Butterfly,” the man responded.
“What are you doing here?” Elise asked happily when the two separated.
“I’ve come to drag you to dinner!” her father replied with a wide smile on his face. He then turned to Alix and said, “And your two guests are invited as well!”
The smile on Elise’s face faltered a little as she asked, “Will Mother be there?”
“Of course she will,” her father answered, “but don’t you worry about anything! I’ve already spoken to her and she’ll keep things casual.”
Elise crossed her arms and cutely pouted, saying, “I don’t want to eat with her…”
“Butterfly,” her father said, “will you please come and eat with us? It’s been so long since we last sat down and spent some time as a family. So long, in fact, that you’ve gone and made our family a little bit bigger!”
Elise continued to pout, but a hint of red started to creep into her cheeks. Slowly, she lowered her arms and averted her gaze from Jordan.
Seeing her do this, Jordan put his hands on her shoulders, making her look back him. “I would love it if you were to come. We have some things we need to talk about…” His tone was gentle, and his gaze was soft, like he was looking at the person he loved most in the world—or at least, that was how it seemed to Alix, who was watching in fascination.
Of course, she wasn’t wrong, but Jordan also knew that Elise probably wasn’t going to say no. And indeed, she slowly nodded her head and said, “I’ll be there…”
“And your boyfriend?” Jordan asked.
“… I’ll invite him too,” Elise responded without the slightest hint of enthusiasm.
“I love you, Butterfly,” Jordan said, pulling his daughter into another hug. When they separated again, he turned and walked over to Alix and said, “My lady, may I request the honor of your presence at dinner tonight?”
Alix’s eyes went wide and her cheeks turned bright red at how polite and formal Jordan asked, and she was so caught off-guard at being directly asked that she could only respond with a slight head nod.
“Splendid! I’m looking forward to it!” Jordan said as he politely bowed to Alix. He then walked back to the door and opened it, saying to Elise, “I’ll see you in a few hours, Butterfly.” And then he was gone, leaving Elise to sigh in dejection and put her book back on its shelf.
“Best prepare yourself for a formal introduction and an awkward family dinner,” she said to Alix. “My mother has always been stubborn and has a tendency to ask personal questions.”
“I’ll do my best,” Alix responded with a less-than-confident smile. “What should I wear?”
“Go with something informal. In fact, what you’ve got on now is probably perfect,” Elise said, looking at Alix’s tight white blouse and frilly blue skirt. “I’m almost tempted to say you should change into training clothes, but that might be going a little overboard. Anyway, I’ll go get Leon ready, and we’ll come and find you around dinnertime. Sound like a plan?”
“See you then,” Alix said, smiling back at Elise.
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