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26 Unexpected Gues

 TO SAY that Tilly was shocked by what she heard would be an understatement. "No, I'm not," she said when she got her composure back. "My parents are both nobles from the Royal Faction. The royal family would have killed them a long time ago if one of them turned out to have Fire Mage blood in them."

"But I can't be wrong!" Flint insisted in a frustrated voice. "The marbles you picked up the day we met weren't ordinary marbles. Only people with Fire Mage blood in them wouldn't get burnt. I carry those marbles with me to use them as weapons. But I didn't expect that they would help me find another person like me and my brother."

She let out a sigh, still finding it hard to believe what Flint was saying. "Where did you get the marbles, Flint? I'm pretty sure there are spirit stones that function the same way your marbles do. They might just be weapons with spell."

"Our parents created the marbles themselves," the boy said. "When they were still alive, they would produce fire and put them inside marbles. According to them, we can use those marbles to protect ourselves."

"What happened to your parents?"

"We were attacked by bandits when we were travelling to another town last year. My mother just gave birth to my brother and they were both sick then. So my father decided to move to another town where the health center could be easily accessed. But the night we were about to cross the border, a group of bandits attacked us. They wanted to take my little brother because of his unique hair color," he said in a sad voice. "My parents were left with no choice but to burn the bandits to death. But because they overused their power to protect me and my brother, their hearts stopped beating." He became emotional. "Grandma found me and my brother by the road and brought us here. But I couldn't tell her the truth. I didn't even have evidence because the bandits' bodies turned into ashes. And my parents told me that it wouldn't do us good if other people find out that we are descendants of Fire Mages."

Her heart hurt for the boy. She could feel the pain and bitterness in his voice. But still, she couldn't easily give in. "If you know that it's dangerous for your identity to be revealed, then why are you spreading the news about the return of the Fire Mages?"

He scowled as if he just remembered a bitter memory. "I'm just fed up of hiding. I want a world for my brother where people like us could live without being afraid for the abilities that we have. The Fire Mages weren't the villain in the story."

"They weren't the villain?" she asked curiously. "Do you know the history between the royal family and the Fire Mages?"

Flint nodded before he spoke again. "The history books in the empire say that the Fire Mages betrayed the royal family because they wanted to take over the throne. But according to my mother and father, the Fire Mages were falsely accused. There were people who were interested in the power of the Supreme Fire Mage- the one who held the strongest heart of fire among her clan. And that heart could summon the beast that the royal family feared the most."

Her forehead knotted in confusion. "But who would do that to the Fire Mages?"

"My parents didn't know either," he said. "The only thing they were certain about was someone wanted to steal the heart of the Supreme Fire Mage. Anyone who had the heart could summon the sky beast."

""Sky beast?""

"The phoenix," Flint said. "The flaming red bird."

She didn't know why but her heart thumped against her chest loudly when she heard that.

[Phoenix... the flaming red bird...]

"You're a good storyteller, young boy."

Tilly gasped in surprise when she heard the deep male voice coming from her left side.

When she turned to that direction, she was even more surprised to find a handsome man sitting on the windowsill. He had a red cloak but underneath, she could see the red and gold uniform of a knight.

[Wait... he looks familiar.]

Sharp amber eyes and orange messy hair...

[Could he be...?]

"Mikhail Denver," Tilly whispered in disbelief. "The captain of the Red Phoenix Knights."

[We are so dead.]

***

NIA was lying on the ground where her moonflowers sprouted. She had her eyes closed and her hands on her stomach. She was concentrating hard to "water" the roots of the flowers with her own Mana.

By doing so, her ability to manipulate minds could be used absorbed by the moonflowers. Anyone who had sniffed the smell of the flowers for a certain period of time would hear the message she wanted them to hear.

Ever since Lady Prescott made her society debut, she had been by her side. She would always invite her to her tea parties so that she could make her "drunk" from the smell of the moonflowers. It was supposed to be enough to control Lady Prescott's mind. That was why she was confused as to how she managed to snap out of her hypnosis the last time she tried to directly control her mind.

[Am I getting weak?]

Maybe she shouldn't underestimate Lady Prescott.

Nia opened her eyes and used her hand to shield her eyes from the harsh sunlight. "I apologize for looking down on you, Lady Prescott. From now on, I'll use everything I have to get what I want," she said to herself. "Your heart, that is."

***

"WHO are you?" Flint yelled at Captain Denver. Then, the child stood in front of Tilly as if he was trying to protect her. "How did you get in here without making a sound?!"

Tilly gulped. To be honest, she was scared right now. Captain Denver probably heard everything that Flint said. That meant the captain was now aware that the brothers were descendants of a Fire Mage.

[They could be killed...]

She gasped when Captain Denver put a hand on top of Flint's head.

"Captain, no!" Tilly pleaded in a shaky voice. "Please don't kill the child!"

Captain Denver ignored her. His amber eyes glowed while he was gazing down at Flint who seemed to be in daze while staring back at the captain. "You shall forget everything you know about the Fire Mages, including your parents' history," he said to the young boy. "You shall remember them as Fire Wielders and not Fire Mages. The only time you'd remember the truth is when I tell you to remember it."

She covered her mouth with her hands when she gasped aloud. [Is that mind manipulation?]

When the captain's eyes stopped glowing, Flint started to collapse. Thankfully, Captain Denver caught him before he hit the ground. Then, the captain carried the boy in his arms.

"And now..." Captain Denver turned to her. His eyes started to glow again. "Lady Prescott, isn't it?"

Again, she gasped when she realized what the captain was about to do. To stop him from controlling her mind, she closed her eyes and even covered them with her hands. "Captain Denver, please don't manipulate my memories!"

"Who said I would?"

"Really?"

"Really."

"Do you swear that on your honor as one of the captains of the Four Orders?"

He let out a sigh before he spoke again. "I swear on my honor as the captain of the Red Phoenix Knights that I won't manipulate your memories, Lady Prescott."

Only then did she believe him.

When she opened her eyes and removed her hands from them, she found the captain looming before her. She had to look up at him just to meet his intimidating gaze.

[He's taller than Kiho.]

But that wasn't the interesting thing that she discovered.

"Captain, manipulating memories is like mind control, right?"

"Yes."

"If you can do mind control, can you protect yourself from being mind controlled by other people?"

"Of course," he said with confidence. "Why do you ask?"

"I want to be your disciple," Tilly said eagerly. "Captain Denver, please teach me how to protect myself from being mind controlled!"

Captain Denver took a step away from her as if her enthusiasm scared him. "Uh, no," he said. "I don't want to be killed by your scary fiancé."

***

KIHO was surprised when the tip of his fountain pen suddenly snapped.

At the same time, he felt something ominous.

[Did Tilly get to her destination safely?]

He wanted to check on her but he was stuck in his temporary office in Blanca- the town near Mount Elea. He had to make a report about the group of rebels before he could leave. And unfortunately, it was still too early to think about going home.

His gaze landed on the picnic basket on the table in the lounging area of his office. The basket contained the sandwiches that Tilly packed for him. Ah, he forgot to eat lunch again. Should he take a break first?

[But why do I feel like there's something I should worry more about than a missed lunch?]

***

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