After dealing with all official business, Roland returned to his room and saw Anna arranging her clothes, with a large leather suitcase at her side.
"Uh… What are you doing?"
"Can't you tell." She patted the folded clothes. "Preparing for a long journey."
"Then Neverwinter has to stop everything." Roland cracked a joke. "Is it really good that the Minister of Industry is able to leave without saying a word?"
"Don't you worry. Aside from the steam turbines, the few finished products to strengthen the piston engine, the factory is already in the production stage, and at the most, the number of qualified products will drop slightly. Also, the Society of Wondrous Crafts members you've brought back are all talented. Letting them take over for a while isn't a bad thing."
"Wait a minute…" Roland sensed something amiss. Anna had picked out all the plain and durable clothes, with not a single party dress or formal silk gown. There was not even a single skirt within them, and she did not appear to be joking. "Where are you going?"
"To the floating island, with you." She revealed a "do-you-still-need-to-ask" expression. "You're not planning to wait in Neverwinter for the outcome at the frontlines, right? I can tell that you've made that decision after conversing with the Three Chiefs of Taquila. Furthermore, traveling to the Bottomless Land from the ridge of the continent is far more convenient, so that gives you more of a reason not to come back here."
"That won't do—" Roland subconsciously denied her. "Firstly, ignoring the fact of how this final battle with the demons will turn out, no one knows what is in the Bottomless Land. And Hackzord mentioned that the land there has been overrun by Sky-sea Realm; the risks are too much, you don't even know—"
Anna extended both arms to gently slap his cheeks, then shake his head by force before caressing them. "I know. And because of that, I'm going."
Her voice was soft and gentle, but Roland knew from one look in her eyes that she was accepting no as an answer.
And in that instant, the image of her during their first encounter overlapped with her current appearance.
At that time, Anna still had a trace of her nascency. She had nothing but her ability. Even so, her resolve once she made up her mind had always been difficult to change.
Roland could only attempt one last time. "You're different from the past. As Queen, leaving Neverwinter to take on this unnecessary risk is not the mature thing—"
"If I am truly mature, I would not have agreed to let you go to the Bottomless Land without knowing anything about it at all." Anna pressed down on his shoulders, cutting him off. "As to what would eventually happen to you, be it you failing or disappearing, all of them are possible outcomes. In other words, this final attack might possibly be our last time seeing each other again. Do you think I'm willing to stay in the city? Since everyone is taking the same risk, it isn't much for me to join."
"…" Roland knew that his last attempt had failed. After all, in a flipped situation, he would never be willing to wait alone. "If we don't return…"
"Then it will be a situation so terrible that it can't get any worse right?" Anna released her hands and laughed. "But even so, I will not regret it."
Passing through the contorted black and white lines, Nightingale entered the empty office.
With it so late at night, most people had already fallen asleep, leaving only a few flickering flames in the courtyard dancing to the night breeze.
After drawing the curtains, she pulled open a drawer, taking the glowing magic stone and placing it into a light holder.
Very quickly, the room was lit with a mild light.
The broken teapot had been cleared long ago along with a replaced rug, as though the little incident had never occurred.
Nightingale walked past the telephone table and found her target—a wooden case covered up by the messy files at the table head.
In the Mist, she could distinguish objects without light. In this unique domain that felt like a completely different world, it was forever in its monochrome state. Black, white, and gray constructed the entire world even without any light source.
Except for this.
She opened the case; in it were filled with papers with scribbling written all over, and a few bright stones.
Nightingale took one stone piece and placed it in her palm, then attempted to enter the Mist. Just as the surging magic power took form, it immediately scattered, as though obstructed by something.
"As I've expected…" She sighed as she placed the stone back into the case, feeling somewhat depressed.
It was a report from the Magic Tower; if it wasn't not from Agatha or Celine, then it was from Isabella. But the possibility of it being written collectively by the three of them remained—the crisis of the Deity of Gods had just been resolved, but the Red Mist on the Hermes Plateau had not dissipated completely. The Taquila witches had to digest the findings and experiments done by the pure witches; thus, Isabella chose to temporarily live in Neverwinter. Together with the technology obtained from the demons, plenty of results were obtained, with a report due to be sent in the coming days.
Typically, Roland would complete reading the report on the same day, but this day was an exception. With the separation of North Slope Mountain and the test flight of the huge plane arranged on the same day, Roland never had the opportunity to open the case.
But Nightingale noticed the existence of the stone right from the beginning. After all, there were only two things that were not affected in the Mist, one being magic power, and the second being the pure dark cavity formed by God's Stones. According to Isabella's research, the two might even be connected.
Thus, Nightingale had long noticed the black blob of light when Roland had met with Banach Lothar, just that compared to a God's Stone, its range of influence was on a much smaller scale, obviously a result from Isabella's alterations. As it was a specimen related to the report, she did not pay much heed to it.
The small stone was the reason why Nightingale was unable to react when the teapot dropped—the black light shielded the falling teapot, and inside the Mist, her body had deemed the situation 'irreversible.'
If it were merely so, Nightingale would had attributed it as an accident. However, she had seen a line that outlined a table being ejected upon her contact, passing through the blob of black light to collide with the teapot, ultimately altering the falling trajectory of the teapot.
Distortions in the Mist could not be controlled. Even she had to be careful around unsettled lines; otherwise, she might be the one to be severed.
It was her first time witnessing such a thing.
But Nightingale was unsure if it was a coincidence, or if something had changed within her.
She attempted to manifest the ability again by touching the edge of the table in the Mist repeatedly, mimicking the situation a couple of times but to no avail.
Seems like I'm overthinking this. Nightingale awkwardly retracted her hand. Agatha's right, just because many of the Witches are able to do it, I shouldn't assume that evolving is a simple thing. Fortunately for me, I hadn't said anything, otherwise Roland would have made fun of me.
She put the glowing magic stone back into the drawer and departed the office by retracing her steps.
The room that had regained its silence suddenly produced a soft sound.
At the table side that was hidden from sight, a crack blossomed along the wood grain.
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