Elias blinked. His eyes caught an inkwell and a feather pen, papers strewn haphazardly, a pile of books and a desk lamp. Everything was arranged in a vertical position. No wonder, Elias had fallen asleep on his desk. He sat up and stretched. Bright light shone through the open windows in front of him, rendering the floating dust particles visible. Looks like it was already past nine. If he hadn’t submitted his written report at the crook of dawn, Gunther would have had another piece of his mind for him to endure.
Elias shed the rest of his uniform, his shirt and his slacks, then went for a shower. There was nothing more refreshing than a cold shower and a tasty breakfast after spending the night on a mission. Usually, orange juice and toast would suffice. But today his palate had a different request: a plate of tuna sandwich and a cup of coffee. A touch of caffeine would surely top up his energy and motivation. Unfortunately, he never had coffee for his breakfast. Including today. What awaited him on his breakfast tray was not coffee. Instead, a plate of ham sandwich and a glass of milk were mocking him, complete with an equally irritating note that read: “Grow up fast!”
Elias crumpled the note and threw it on the floor without changing his expression. This was not the first time a similar note had landed on his dining table. The person who prepared the breakfast and his childhood friend, Charles, lived next door. Every morning, Charles would prepare breakfast for him, and drop it off on his way to the restaurant. Sometimes, when Elias asked him to, Charles would prepare dinner for him as well. As a knight, Elias had irregular working hour. He tended to work away from home until late. Due to this, Elias felt lucky to have a chef as a friend. He just needed to pay a monthly fee to ensure he didn’t need to worry about what to have as breakfast. Moreover, Elias could entrust his house keys to Charles.
Taking a big bite out of his ham sandwich, Elias went through the morning paper and a couple of mails on the table. Charles was also the one who brought them in. The three mails for today were all ads. The third one caught his attention the most. The travelling magic peddler Mercer was coming to town in a few days. On the other hand, the news didn’t interest him as much besides the headline. It was broadcasting the fact that the Kingdom had founded a new division, LIMIT. It was said that LIMIT’s purpose was to supervise the magic council. The rest of the news were filled with criminal acts. Those criminals never learn. They only added work for the knights and the soldiers.
Elias finished his breakfast and put on his outfit. During daytime, they wore a white jacket. This jacket was lighter and shorter. The buttons were smaller and golden. If the night time uniform had a large belt over the coat, the morning jacket would stay neat longer because the belt was worn underneath. A sword was a must-have item for a knight, even if it was just a trip to the headquarters three-kilometres away from home. The sword was concealed as a decoration on the belt. Meanwhile, the shoulder guard was concealed as the knight’s coat-of-arms. Only when he was on a mission would Elias turn them back into their real form. Lastly, he put on his black necktie and black gloves.
“Good work!” Commander Gunther greeted Elias. A big smile decorated his face when he saw Elias entering the room. “I thought it’ll be midday before they’ll be behind bars.”
Elias moved forward. He folded his left arm on his back and bowed.
“We just finished interrogating them,” the commander continued.
“Anything interesting, Sir?” Elias asked conversationally. He already knew their motives, complete with any possible invasion plans Lobart and his cronies could think of.
“Of course! They want to barter.”
“Barter, Sir? As in a trade?” Elias could feel his brows furrowing.
Commander Gunther stood up and started to pace. His arms were folded and his thin lips were forming a frown. He came into a stop in front of Elias. When they were standing up facing each other like this, the commander was almost twice as tall and as wide as Elias. The commander leaned down and lowered his voice, “Have you heard of Imoned?”
“Imoned, the faceless magician, one of the most wanted criminals.”
The commander’s round face wobbled as he nodded. His cropped black hair rustled along his nods. “Lobart claimed that he knew where Imoned’s hideout was. They tried to strike a deal with him, but Imoned refused. Of course, that criminal already has enough money to last a lifetime.” The commander kept his voice down, “They want to be released if we succeeded in capturing Imoned.”
Elias brain worked fast. “Commander, Sir, do you trust them?”
The commander leaned back and shook his head. “Of course not. But, there’s no harm in giving this a go. If we manage to capture Imoned, the rewards are amazing.”
“You’d like to retire early, Sir?” Elias responded.
“Nah. Hahaha…” The commander laughed out loud, “But that doesn’t sound bad.”
“You’d like to capture Imoned yourself, Sir?”
The commander’s laughter stopped abruptly and was replaced by a frown. Elias managed to make the commander realize that he would rather not to act on this information. His statement just now was akin to a challenge to get the commander back in the field. As far as Elias knew, the last time the commander was out in the field was six years ago, when he was less horizontally challenged. He has no doubt that the commander’s magical power remained as strong, but his physical prowess was another story.
“It’s not certain that Imoned would still be where they last saw him, Sir.” Elias expressed his opinion.
“It’s not certain that Imoned had left either,” the commander retorted, “He was dealing with normal people with no magic. Not a threat. He wouldn’t need to move just because of them.”
Elias’ blue eyes swept around the floor, from right to left. The commander made a very good point. Besides, is it possible they had provided the royal knights with false information? There was no point to. They wanted to be released quickly, return to their business and sleep on their comfortable beds, instead of in the dirty and cold floor of the holding cells.
“Imoned usually spend his time in a tavern at the outskirts of town, Corza. When he goes there, he always wear different forms, but one feature remains the same. Golden hair with pale tips. Go there and confirm his presence.”
Elias looked at the commander in the eye. The round eyes stared back with certainty. It seemed that the commander wanted to show his confidence in Lobart’s information. And it also radiated a hidden threat. This mission had to succeed. Otherwise, someone would be in line of fire for Gunther’s fire breath.
The commander leaned back on his large desk. “Ah, one more thing. Don’t go on your own. Take twenty with you. I don’t want to lose a subordinate.”
Elias protested immediately. “Twenty!?”
The commander’s mouth were upturned, before turning into a big laugh. He smiled widely while saying, “More people, the livelier, the safer.” His eyes stared back at Elias. “If Imoned was there, you wouldn’t be able to fight him on your own. We won’t be able to catch him with just five or ten people. It may end up in a massacre. If we bring fifteen, it might be possible. But, who knows how many people will end up killed in action. On the other hand, twenty,” The commander made up the figure two and zero with his fingers. “Twenty is the magic number.”
Elias kept his mouth shut and swallowed his protests.
“You still have more complaints?” The commander asked his knight.
Elias knew even if he kept quiet, his blue eyes still radiated complaint. He believed it was a good thing. Commander Gunther understood how much he hated managing that many people. More people, the riskier, more dangerous. Somehow, his logic always went the opposite way from Gunther’s. Unfortunately, Gunther was his superior, so his logic had to bow out. Gunther usually marked his victory with a large smile. Elias thought his commander has a unique smile. The smile of a wolf whose foot was being stepped on by an elephant.
Perhaps because he was happy, the commander spoke again gently. This statement also managed to brighten Elias’ mind. He said, “Capturing Imoned would bring you closer to Sirius, don’t you think?”
The first person that came to Elias’ mind when he needed to form a squad was Ken. Ken was a mere knight. He was six years older and ranked lower than Elias. He normally worked as a guard in the watchtower with a few other colleagues. His power and skills were average. They weren’t friends and they only saw each other when Elias picked him for his team. They had never met outside working hours and never interacted socially. The usual relationship between a superior and subordinate. Despite all this, Elias liked working with Ken. He was smart, obedient, and –most importantly- not talkative. Every time Elias could form his own squad, Ken would be first on his list.
Elias went to the Northern watchtower. It wasn’t located that far from the headquarters. Only about twenty minutes by horse and a minute by flight. It took Elias forty seconds, not a second more. The watchtower, as the name suggested, was an eighty-metre tall structure made of stone. Curved windows decorated its body, sparsely, with low walls surrounding its flat top where the kingdom’s flag waved tirelessly.
As soon as they spotted him, the guards at the bottom immediately saluted. From Elias’ outfit they could recognize him as a high-ranked knight. Only a high-ranked knight wore white, a low-ranked knight were dressed in grey. Judging from his height and features, they could figure out his name, Elias. He was after all the only high-ranked knight who did not reach one hundred seventy centimetre tall. If not for his skills, Elias would have ended up a squire, or worse, working in the kitchen doing the dishes.
Elias found Ken on the third floor. He was with two other soldiers. Soldiers were different from knights. Soldiers protected the whole country. They couldn’t compare with the knights who protected the palace. But their salutes were the same. So Ken, and the two soldiers, all immediately folded their left arms on their backs and bowed. Elias nodded lightly, acknowledging the salute.
“I wish to speak with Ken.” That one statement was enough to send both soldiers out of the room. Only a man with cropped brown hair and grey uniform remained. “I have a task for you. Find me nineteen men for a hunt tonight.”
“Nineteen, Sir?” Ken repeated the figure,
Elias nodded non-energetically. This was the first time he asked Ken to find that many knights for him.
“A big target, Sir?” Ken guessed.
Elias nodded and added, “And dangerous.”
“Requesting permission to ask questions, Captain.”
Elias frowned. Ken had been on his team for too long. To the point where he ended up with a habit of calling him “Captain”. Even if Elias was not ranked Captain. Their ranks were a bit different from military ranks. Despite that, Elias gave his permission. “Go ahead.”
“Who is the target, Sir?”
“Imoned,” answered Elias. He was planning on briefing his squad tonight. However, there was no harm in telling Ken first. Besides, in Elias’ opinion, Ken asked a valid question, only the name of tonight’s target. There shouldn’t be any more questions after-
“Imoned?” Ken’s eyes widened. “We know where he is?”
“Maybe,” Elias answered the question with the most ambiguous answer.
Elias leaned back on the wall. His eyes searched the corners. His gaze fell on the scenery outside one of the windows. Not many people on the road as always. The crowded area was about a kilometre away from the watchtower. Nevertheless, it would be cakewalk for Imoned to break through their guards. He wasn’t just infamous for his transformation, but also for his guardian beasts.
Elias continued on, “Find me battle-ready men. We don’t know who we’ll find tonight.” Elias looked at a certain area in the palace grounds. A big white domed building. The royal library. “In the meantime, I will find some information on his magic and his guardian beasts.”