57 A Formidable Ally

 Ten minutes later, Link and Annie reached the River Cove Inn.

Because Annie was a royal Princess, they couldn't stay in the hall, as it might attract too much attention. So, they gathered on the second floor in the private sitting room of the inn's best suite. Apart from Link and Annie, the knight who had asked for Link's name earlier was there too. His name was Anderson.

In the meantime, Jacker and Gildern remained in the hall downstairs, awaiting the message from the Syndicate.

"Why did you leave before even saying goodbye earlier?" asked Annie.

Annie was clad in a light azure leather armor. She stared fixedly at Link, anticipating his reply. Her deep blue eyes were tinged with signs of anger.

When they met on the streets, she was heading to the capital on royal summons. After the carnage in Gladstone, her father and even King Leon himself had been paying close attention to the matter of the Dark Elf invasion. And because Annie was directly involved in the incident herself, she was called to the capital to report to the king.

Link sighed. He never thought that he would meet this future Legendary Assassin after having escaped so far from Gladstone. He couldn't help but be amazed at such a remarkable coincidence.

In Gladstone, the constant threat from the Dark Elf Assassins had kept Link on his toes so he was perpetually on the move, afraid to linger in one place for too long. But now he was in River Cove Town, a town in the heart of the Norton Kingdom far from any foreign threats. Plus, he had since managed to learn more higher-level spells. So all the apprehensions and anxieties he felt in Gladstone had been sloughed off.

Link pondered for a few seconds, then came up with an idea for a suitable explanation for Annie.

"I guess you're wondering how a Magician's Apprentice could use such a high-level spell as Flame Blast?" said Link, with a laugh.

Annie's attention was grabbed by these words. This was exactly what she had been curious about. Anderson's interest was similarly piqued. He'd always assumed that this young man was just another nobleman's son, or that he was just a regular Magician's Apprentice. He was surprised to find that Link was skillful enough to use such a powerful spell as a Level-4 Flame Blast!

How old is he? He doesn't look any older than 16 or 17! Shouldn't young Magician's Apprentices of this age only know some Level-0 spells? the knight wondered.

And so, under Annie's and Anderson's curious gaze, Link began his explanation that he filled with necessary half-truths.

"I was not capable of casting Flame Blast at first. In fact, the highest-level spells I knew were just some Level-2 spells. But after defeating the Magician Holmes, I went back to the Flemmings Academy and found three Flame Blast magic scrolls there. The power of those scrolls was too powerful for my level, though, so they backfired on me. My body weakened drastically after using them, even to the point where I couldn't cast any spells. You know how dangerous things were in Gladstone. I wouldn't have lasted a minute there in my weakened state. So, in the end, I had no choice but to escape south as quickly and discreetly as I could-before I had a chance to say goodbye to you," said Link, carefully going through each word.

He thought his explanation did make sense. There might have been discrepancies at some points, but Flemmings Academy had been burnt to the ground, so there was no way for anyone to invalidate him.

Annie completely bought into Link's explanation because she thought he had no reason to lie to her. Still, she couldn't help feeling unnerved by Link's actions.

"But you should've told me about it, I would've sent people to protect you and made sure you escaped safely to the South," said Annie.

Tsk, she's being frivolous, how annoying! Link was in a dilemma. Not only was Annie a Princess, she was also a friend. Link understood that she was only acting out of concern, so he couldn't just give her a cold shoulder. And so, he had no choice but to keep on explaining patiently.

"It's fine, because I had found a secret escape route. I reached Girvent Forest safely by midday on the same day," said Link.

With Celine's flying speed, it only took three hours to traverse the distance of a thousand miles between Gladstone and Girvent Forest.

Annie had no more bones to pick with Link, but she still couldn't accept the fact that Link left Gladstone without telling her first. It felt as if Link didn't even care about her feelings... wait, what a strange thought that was! Why would Link care about her feelings?

She was completely thrown off balance once she discovered the reason behind her vexation, and the anger in her heart was gone. She quickly tried to regain her composure.

"I saw you looking distressed in the streets, and your two friends looked distraught too. Has anything terrible happened?" asked Annie.

Heaven knows how ardently Link had been waiting for this question.

Annie had the power to rally up considerable strengths behind her. Link was also on fairly good terms with her, so he'd hoped that she might be willing to lend a hand in his fight against the Syndicate.

It wasn't that Link was afraid of facing the Syndicate alone, though. The trouble was the fact that the Syndicate's influence and power had spread all around the human world, so even if he managed to destroy their Girvent Forest division, he would then be faced with wave after wave of counterattacks.

There was a saying that went, 'it is possible to be a thief for a thousand days, but it is impossible to defend against the thieves for the same length of time'. You are much more likely to crumble and fail from passive defense than active offense. Link would hate having to defend himself against the Syndicate for the rest of his life.

But if he was able to get Princess Annie's help, even if the Syndicate discovered that Link had defeated one of their divisions, they would still be helpless against the strength of a nation's army, and thus be much more reluctant to retaliate.

With Annie's help, Link could shift the risks to the Syndicate instead.

And so, Link laid bare everything he'd faced in the River Cove Town for Annie to hear, starting from his meeting with the Flamingo Band of Mercenaries, to their fight against the Dark Brotherhood in pursuit of their gold coins. Then he told Annie about Viktor's hidden treasures and then the Syndicate's discovery of their possession of the hidden treasures, and finally of Lucy's kidnapping. The only thing Link left out was the matter of the Occultic Runes.

He was sure that he could keep the existence of the Occultic Runes a secret from Annie and her company. The Syndicate would never mention it because it was a forbidden item in the Realm of Light. Jacker and Gildern were both his followers, so they wouldn't reveal it either.

Once Link finished his story, Annie turned to Anderson and said, "General, the Syndicate is getting too bold. They dared to cause such trouble even in a town so near to Springs City. Things might turn as bad as it did in Gladstone if nothing is done to keep them in check. Isn't it time we cleanse the kingdom of this dirty group of thieves?"

Everybody knew that the Syndicate was a poisonous and dangerous organization. In fact, every kingdom in the Realm of Light had attempted to destroy the Syndicate, although none of the attempts had any permanent effect. But now that Princess Annie was ordering it, General Anderson was naturally fired up with enthusiasm.

"Yes, your Highness," said Anderson in a solemn voice. He placed his right hand on his heart. "I will rally up the militia in River Cove Town immediately."

"Good. You may go now. The sooner the matter is settled, the better." Annie maintained a cool and haughty facade as she talked to Anderson.

Anderson bowed one more time and walked out of the sitting room in long strides.

Once the door was closed, Annie and Link were alone in the room.

Link's mind was filled with thoughts about the Syndicate, so he felt antsy sitting still in the room doing nothing.

"Princess-" he began after a few silent minutes had passed.

"Just call me Annie, the way you did in Gladstone," Annie interjected.

"Alright, Annie, then," said Link, "The Syndicate's message could arrive anytime now, should we move to the hall and wait for it there?"

Jacker and Gildern were both in the hall, but those two had been scared stiff by the thought of facing such an opponent as the Syndicate. Link thought it best for him to be there with them.

"Alright, let's go," replied Annie.

They both stood up and headed for the door, but just as Link's hand was about to reach the doorknob, he heard Annie's soft voice coming from behind him.

"Is Lucy pretty?" she asked.

What kind of a question is that? Link wondered. He stood there in confused silence for a few seconds.

"She's alright," Link finally replied.

"Oh, prettier than me?" asked Annie again.

"You're both... uh... no, not as pretty as you are, of course," said Link. He finally caught the meaning behind the strange tone in Annie's voice. Could it be that Annie had fallen for him? But that's impossible, they've seen each other for the total of two hours, what kind of feelings could develop that fast?

To be frank, Link thought of Annie as a friend and nothing more. She might be a Princess, and a pretty one at that, but she was just not his type. He had to be careful with what he said, though, lest he hurt her feelings. He didn't want to risk that, for fear that it might influence her decision to help him fight against the Syndicate.

"Lucy is my follower," said Link, as he quickly turned around to face Annie, "We had fought together in battles, so if something happened to her, or even to Jacker or Gildern, I would do anything in my power to help them. Lucy's looks have nothing to do with any of this. It is what I must do to fulfill my obligations as their lord," explained Link in earnest.

Both lord and follower had their own responsibilities and duties to uphold. Once they were sworn to each other, the followers must be loyal to their lord, and in turn, the lord had the duty to protect his followers' interests. If a follower died fighting for him, then the lord must arrange proper funeral rites for the follower so that his other followers won't lose their faith in him.

As expected, Annie brightened up the moment she heard Link's explanation. Her footsteps quickened and she caught up behind Link. Her attitude was noticeable more positive too.

"If you have trouble entering the academy, I can write you a recommendation letter. My father has a friend who's a powerful Level-6 Magician. He's also a tutor at the East Cove Magic Academy. He will take you under his wing as soon as my father orders it. With your talents, he would be more than happy to accept you as his student. I'll let it pass this time, but you must let me help you if you're ever in trouble next time," said Annie.

"I'll remember that," replied Link.

And so Link opened the door and the two exited the room. But before they went any further, they bumped into Jacker at the stairs.

"My Lord, there was a letter from the Syndicate," he said.

"What did it say?" asked Link, his face stony.

"They demanded us to meet them at the Red Leaves Cove, south of River Cove Town, before three o'clock in the afternoon, bringing... gold coins in exchange for Lucy's safety," said Jacker. He saw Annie there and thought it unwise to mention the crystal in front of an outsider, so he changed it to 'gold coins' instead.

Annie didn't catch anything suspicious in Jacker's tone, she only frowned in anger and said, "Has the Syndicate's power grown to such an extent in the Girvent Forest? It seems that I've arrived at the right time!"

Jacker didn't quite understand what Annie meant, so he looked to Link for an explanation.

"Princess Annie will help us rescue Lucy. General Anderson has gone to town to rally up the militia on her orders," said Link.

Jacker perked up instantly. With the help of the royal family, the Syndicate's threats now appeared much less terrifying. It seemed that there was a chance that Lucy could be saved. Still, he was amazed to learn that his Lord was acquainted with a royal Princess and was on such good terms with her too!

Link turned to Annie and said, "Annie, the most important thing right now is to save Lucy, we can think of destroying the Syndicate later. We can't make too much commotion right now, lest they might uncover our plans. I'm planning to go there with Gildern and Jacker, then you and the rest can quietly follow along later-"

"No, I'll go with you now, Anderson will wait here to make further plans and follow us later. And don't try to stop me, it's too dangerous for you to fight alone. You saved my life in Gladstone once, so let me help you now," said Annie, looking resolute.

"All right." Link knew there was no point in arguing the matter, so he only nodded.

And so, Annie quickly wrote a letter, and told her servant to send it to Anderson.

"Let's get going," she said, "We'll ride my horses!"