As I approached the entrance of the Ezov, I noted a large crowd that had gathered outside the doors of the establishment. Marisa was at the entrance, apologising profusely and trying to answer the myriad of questions that were being addressed to her. As per my instructions, she was not letting anyone into the shop – I had told her not to open the shop until I had returned. However, being seen at that moment would have been troublesome – I didn’t have the time to deal with the crowd, and I wanted to keep the news of my release from prison a secret for as long as was reasonable.
I darted off into a side alley several streets away, navigating myself into a narrow corridor between two walls. Pushing myself off the walls on either side of me, I climbed up to the rooftop of the building and walked to the edge, plotting my path to reach the Ezov. Three rooftops and a foothold of solid light afterward, I was on the roof of the Ezov. I made my way to the door that led to the rest of the building and knocked on it with a unique combination of short and long knocks. I waited for several seconds, before I heard a series of knocks in return. I waited for the other person to complete the knocking sequence, then spoke.
“Crossing Fire Eloquence Honeydew.”
A pause, then I heard the sound of the lock being undone. The door opened slowly, revealing Eliza standing behind it with worry etched across her face. Her eyes widened when she saw my state.
“By the gods, what did they do to you?”
“Basic interrogation. Nothing major.”
She followed me as I walked into the office, then sat me down on my usual chair and began to prepare an ointment for my wounds. I opened my desk drawer and took a glance at my face, wincing. It was no wonder that Eliza had been taken aback – my face was covered in bruises, swollen in various places. Several long gashes on my cheek indicated where my skin had split after getting struck. I pulled open my lips to check my teeth – thankfully, I hadn’t lost any, though the inside of my mouth was bleeding from a multitude of cuts. The rusty tang of blood lingered on my tongue, but I ignored it. I had lived through worse.
Eliza finished preparing her ointment and applied it to my face. Immediately, I felt the soreness and aching recede. Whatever she had used, it was incredibly effective – too effective, even. I narrowed my eyes and concentrated, perceiving the faint throb of mana flowing through it.
“I didn’t know you could use healing magic, Eliza.”
Eliza froze in the midst of preparing a second bandage. She turned to me with a forced smile.
“E-Eh? What do you mean?”
“C’mon. No need to lie to me.”
Eliza seemed to struggle with something for several seconds, but eventually gave in and sighed.
“…Fine. You got me. Yes, I have an Affinity for Healing. But I didn’t want to flaunt it because-”
“-because you don’t want to join the army.”
“Exactly. I’m… not a fan of violence or fighting or any of that.”
I nodded, understanding her reluctance. Then I got up and walked to the door. I shut the door and locked it, turning back to face her. Her face started to colour a little. I sighed, recognising that she probably misunderstood my actions, but carried on speaking nonetheless.
“Well, it’s just us now. No need to worry about being found out. No need for the fake bandages; just heal me directly.”
I undid my buttons and draped my shirt across the chair, revealing my bruised and battered torso. Eliza’s initial reaction to my undressing was, naturally, to avert her eyes, but when she saw my wounds, her face hardened.
“I can’t believe they hurt you so much…”
“I can’t really blame them. They were just doing their jobs. Of course, I’m still more than a little annoyed. But revenge can wait. First, some healing would be nice.”
Eliza bit her lip, then nodded. She moved up to me and placed her hands on my bare skin, channeling her magic into my body, closing my wounds and healing my injuries.
When the deed was done, Eliza wobbled a little and staggered forward – she’d used too much energy and lost consciousness. I gingerly caught her and slowly carried her back to my chair, whispering my gratitude into her ear, though I was unsure of whether she was able to hear me.
I opened the closet and retrieved one of my spare sets of clothing – all my working clothes were of the same, butler-esque design. It was good for branding and eliminated the question of having to select an outfit every day, saving time. Also, I had grown rather comfortable in the getup, so that was another factor that led to my preference.
Checking that Eliza was sound asleep, I quickly changed my clothes, discarding my blood-soaked set in favour of a crisp, unworn set. We were expecting a visitor, and although she likely wouldn’t care about my appearance, I felt uncomfortable discussing business of any sort without looking the part of the confident negotiator.
A knock on the locked door prompted me to open it, finding myself face-to-face with Jasmine. Her gaze flickered behind me, where Eliza was lying passed out on my desk, and her mouth curved slightly into a smile.
“Welcome back, Mister Glint.”
“You know, I’ve been meaning to tell you this for some time, but kept forgetting: ‘Glint’ is fine.”
“Glint, then. I trust that Eliza helped heal your injuries?”
I hesitantly nodded. I was unsure of whether Eliza had told her co-workers of her ability, and so I was hesitant to say anything of the matter without her permission. But more than that, I could vaguely detect a hint of playfulness underlying Jasmine’s sentence, and suspected that her use of the word “healing” was far from innocent. I decided to change the topic.
“Anyway, if you’re here, I presume that means someone is here to see me?”
“Yes – a woman, on the rooftop. She knew the codes, but I told her to wait until I could confirm. She says you’re expecting her.”
“That’s correct, let her in. Bring her here…” I glanced backward at the peacefully sleeping Eliza. “…actually, no. Lead her to the meeting room. We’ll talk there.”
The two of us exited the room, Jasmine heading toward the rooftop door while I moved toward the meeting room. Downstairs, I heard the clamour of the crowd and briefly worried about Marisa – but decided to leave her be. If it was Marisa, there would be no issue. That woman was extremely competent in crowd control and appeasement.
After I had waited in the meeting room for several seconds, Jasmine escorted a hooded individual into the room. She wore a brown cloak, and a bandaged sword hung from her belt. I nodded to Jasmine, signalling for her to leave us. Jasmine silently shut the door on her way out, leaving just myself in the room with my tutor.
“Good to see you, Ruth.”
Ruth raised her hands to her hood and threw it back, revealing her stunning blue eyes, set against a delicate-looking face and surrounded by pure white hair that shimmered in the candlelight. She flashed me a brilliant smile.
“It’s been a while, Glint.”