49 – 10. Stalker vs. Stalker (4)
The sword slices through the moonlight as it plunges down, a forceful strike, an impeccable stance.
“Well done.” Ivan nods, deflecting the axe and seizing the blade of the sword.
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The axe, its edge caught, veers off course and clatters to the ground. Ivan lifts the embedded blade, inspecting its condition.
“Seems fine to me.”
“Heh, what did I say? Learning comes naturally to you, huh?”
Ivan nods and tosses the knife.
Isabel effortlessly snatches the spinning sword mid-air, chuckling to herself.
“So, in your opinion, where do I stand? Compared to my father at my age?”
“Compared to Maximilian, anyone from the continent would fall short.”
Ivan chuckles at Isabel’s cheeky remark.
Approaching the grumbling Isabel, he drapes a towel around her sweat-soaked neck and tousles her hair gently.
“Don’t get too caught up in the shadows of those who came before.”
“Oh, what a profound statement! Was that your idea?”
“No, it was something Enrique once said.”
Words spoken to the ‘lesser’ Ivan, overshadowed by the glory of the former king.
Admiring someone is natural. The world is vast, and there are many exceptional individuals.
Yet, striving to imitate each one, one by one, merely ends in clumsy imitation.
Enrique said this to Ivan, and now Ivan passes it on to the current Isabel.
“Don’t get lost in the shadows of those who came before. Step forth toward your own path.”
“Hmm. Wise words, but strangely, they don’t quite fit the image of Professor Enrique!”
“Back then, Enrique was a serious man.”
“And you? Were you the same? Just saying ‘hmm,’ ‘seems so,’ ‘no,’ ‘busy,’ like now?”
Back in those days.
Ivan strokes his chin in thought for a moment.
“Not much different, really.”
“It’s not fun! Ugh, seriously. Did sensibility die in a war trench? What on earth resides in the old man’s mind? Let me guess. An axe or a healing potion?”
Ivan chuckled, tousled Isabelle’s hair, then got up.
Since the practical terror incident, Ivan had been holding Isabelle and conducting training every night.
He needed to reassess the mentor-student relationship. Strictly speaking, it was Isabelle who had held onto Ivan and requested the training.
It was what they called “the realm of the extraordinary,” training to reach it.
“Alright, onto the next step now. Quickly, quickly.”
Isabelle settled cross-legged on the grass, took a deep breath in silence, and quietly shut her eyes.
“Quickly, place your hands now!”
“You probably don’t need to do that anymore.”
“Oh, goodness, you’re still not used to it.”
The realm of the extraordinary began with channeling magic to fortify the nervous system. It was about cultivating the sensation of projecting magic into the neural networks of the body parts. Initially, Ivan had placed his hand on her back to help with magic sensing.
By infusing his magic, he paved the way, guided the flow of magic to make it easier for her to grasp.
Of course, this was the very basic foundation. Even if she could grasp the sensation, actually maneuvering it herself was a different issue. Even if she succeeded in reinforcing it, moving her body at that pace was another story altogether.
“Close your mouth and focus on the sensation.”
“But it’s warm…”
As Ivan infused magic, Isabelle breathed out softly.
“Lately, Yuri’s been busy, and Essi, too… Even when I try to relax, I don’t have a friend to play with…”
“This isn’t a break.”
“But it is, it’s break time.”
Isabelle narrowed her eyes, looking up at Ivan.
With mischievous eyes, she smirked, teasingly.
“Aren’t you playing with me right now, sir?”
“I just want to take a break. It’s our time to play together, isn’t it?”
“We might need to reassess the training intensity.”
Ivan was somewhat taken aback. Being quite self-critical, he maintained a strict, ruthless, and demanding level of education.
Was this the extent of leisure? Is she truly Maximilian’s daughter?
Ivan nodded briefly.
Isabel, observing his demeanor, sighed after making a rather pitiful expression as if looking at something pathetic. She stretched, yawning as she stood up.
“Alright then. Ugh, another day well spent learning.”
“Oh, right. Sir, you’re still a secret agent, aren’t you? I heard something strange recently.”
“Yes! I’ll tell you. So, why is it, you know, that guy Deane saw in front of our house a few days ago.”
“Yes! He was staring at our house from behind the wall for a while, so I thought, ‘Who is this person?’ and followed him, but I lost him.”
Ivan frowned at her words.
Deane, the bodyguard assigned to her by the Tilles royal family.
That he lost someone in front of him… it didn’t mean at the level of a student or a civilian.
“Aren’t they your colleagues?”
The intelligence headquarters doesn’t operate like that.
“I’ll look into it. Don’t worry about it.”
“But… if someone is watching the house where I live, I can’t help but worry, can I?”
“That’s my concern. Students should focus on their studies.”
Sometimes, it really comes out like this.
Isabel stared at Ivan’s back as he walked away for a while, then sighed deeply.
It’s not easy. Really.
She chuckled and tightly clutched the towel around her neck.
Isabel is being watched by someone.
Certainly not the work of the intelligence headquarters. The intelligence headquarters does not operate in that way, and Isabel and the members of the warrior party are within Ivan’s jurisdiction.
Dmitri never does anything to upset him.
Ivan walked the streets at night, lost in thought.
-Someone or some group is watching the members of the warrior party.
One of Droan’s five nights had attempted a bombing at the academy.
What could be the connection between these two incidents? In the latter case, it was undoubtedly an attempt on Ecidis’s life.
If Ecidis were to die or be harmed, King Ainarr would make a move.
And Ainarr and his brothers, currently possessing the most powerful forces in Droan, would render Droan virtually defenseless if they were to act. That’s what one of the nights was targeting—the opportunity to overthrow the kingdom in Ainarr’s absence, a clever plot.
“Is Isabelle involved in this?”
It could be an overreaction. It might be an entirely different, unrelated event.
But Ivan had a nagging feeling, honed over more than 20 years of war.
“As long as Mord is around, Ecidis is safe at night.”
Mord had graduated from orphanage volunteering and returned as Ecidis’s personal bodyguard.
With him present, even if a crisis were to occur, there was enough time to stall until Ivan arrived.
Therefore, he was cautiously observing the situation after sunset.
“Watch over Ecidis during the day and Isabelle at night.”
Ivan organized his schedule and headed to his office.
He never thought it would be easy from the beginning. Finding a culprit that the intelligence headquarters couldn’t catch for two months was no simple task.
Of course, the intelligence headquarters couldn’t fully focus on this matter alone, but still, dealing with what the national institution couldn’t resolve was no easy feat.
But as always—
Can it be done or not? That question isn’t important.
To the Extinction Corps, there was only one proposition that mattered.
Should it be done or not?
If it should, there was no hesitation. Just do it.
Ivan dismantled the traps in his office one by one, returned to his seat, and turned on the magical lamp.
Late into the night, the sounds of organizing reports and handling ledgers in the office did not cease.
Ecidis crossed the correctional facility and headed towards the bench.
The bench next to the Knight Department’s outdoor training area was the hideout for Isabelle, Yuri, and her, where they always had lunch together.
Today was tiring as well. Classes were challenging, classmates were aloof, and the world was harsh.
With her lunch bag tightly in hand, Ecidis approached the bench but froze in place.
“Oh, Eci! You came a bit early today!”
“Uh, um…? What…? What’s happening right now…? I mean…?”
“Ah, hello! Starting today, we’ve decided to have lunch together for a while. Haven’t we met before? Mister!”
Isabel enthusiastically laughed and patted ‘him’ on the back.
“Anyway, it’s really hard to find someone to have a meal with, but when I suggested eating together after meeting today, he suddenly agreed. What a surprise. Thanks for the precious steps you took…”
Isabel chattered excitedly, her energy level soaring. Her voice did not reach Ecdysis’s ears.
She stared blankly at Ivan for a moment, then turned her head and looked at Yuri, who was sitting next to her.
– What’s going on here?
– I’m curious too.
A stalker is originally someone who, from a distance, unleashes clandestine desires, somewhat passive but full of malice. Why so boldly…?
She cautiously sat on the bench, took out her lunchbox, and, glancing at Ivan silently taking out his lunchbox next to Isabel, she glared.
Does he want to provoke other women when Bella likes him so much?
And, is surveillance his way of provoking…? It’s really the worst.
After attracting Ecdysis’s gaze for a while, Ivan suddenly looked up.
When their eyes met for a moment, around the time Ecdysis looked frightened and lowered her gaze.
Something rose on top of her lunchbox, containing her precious chicken sandwich.
“What is this…? What, what is it?”
Ivan took the lunchbox out of his bag, offering Isabel and Yuri different meals.
“Usually, you eat only carbohydrates and protein… bread and meat. It’s a dietary habit where the nutritional balance is easily disrupted. Make sure to eat vegetables, fruits, and nuts.”
Ivan, being delicate and considerate, explained in a way even children in this pre-modern society could understand.
He runs an orphanage. And the orphanage is, literally, a place that takes in children who have lost their parents, feeds, teaches, and raises them.
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Planning meals, managing schedules for rest and study, maximizing a child’s talents, and hobbies – these were Ivan’s ‘main job.’
Feeling a certain kind of satisfaction, Ivan also shared his lunch with Yuri and Isabel.
“Wow, awesome! Thank you, mister! If I knew this, I would have prepared something too. I’m really good at cooking. What do you think about a girl who’s good at cooking, Mister?”
“The thought of being good at cooking.”
“I really want to kill myself….”
While Isabel chattered lively, Ecdysis looked at Ivan with eyes filled with fear.
‘He was even watching what I eat every day…?’