There were many of noble blood in the vast territories of Avalon, but only five families could claim the highest seats: the five Dukes. Their unique qualities had become the focus of Avalon’s affairs in recent decades.
Firstly, it is a pleasure to introduce the Sword of the Empire, the center of the Circle, Duke Aden von Agnus.
Another Master, of the oldest family in the Empire: Duke Tremblin of the east.
Hailing from a family known for producing Prime Ministers and other high-ranking politicians, Duke Prius of the west. It was said that Duke Tremblin and Duke Agnus lead by strength of arms, but Prius leads with his nobility.
Duke Reiye of the north, known as the Empire’s military counselor, was a master of diplomacy and strategy.
Finally, in the south: Duke Pontier, who controlled half of Imperial trade.
These were the five unshakeable pillars of the Empire.
But times were changing. It seemed that one of the pillars was at risk of collapsing.
The room was ten square meters, modestly decorated.
The woman was 170cm tall, just right for her age. Her hair was tied back in a neat ponytail, like fire being bundled into a blinding sheaf; it had its benefits, though: it left her neck exposed. Ruby-like eyes twinkled underneath slightly raised eyebrows. Her reclining posture did nothing to hide her curves and cat-like beauty, which displayed the distinct features of the southern people. She was easily one of the three most attractive women in the entirety of the Avalon Empire.
“Young Lady Charles, it is time to go.”
The woman sighed deeply as she was interrupted from her reverie—Indeed, she was a woman now, having just turned eighteen.
“Cox, do we really need to go now? Can’t we just stay here?” A rude noise escaped from her bright red lips.
Time and labor had creased Cox’s face, but it was safe to say he still loves money.
“You know you can’t do that, right? If you disregard these customs, they will look down on you. That is the great nobles for you. But it’s more than that; we should consider the Duke’s heart.”
“Those motherfuckers…” Her sweet mouth blistered with curses. “Marquis Crombell.”
A lot has changed in the last five years. Duke Pontier, one of the most prominent figures in Avalon, had slowly declined. The absence of their patriarch had left the Pontiers in a worse position than expected.
They lost for the first time. It wasn’t just their financial strength, as crucial as it was. The number of knights, their quality, and the quantity of rank-and-file soldiers all fell behind Crombell.
And then, the Mercenary King. The Ax Master. Someone outside the Twelve Families and Nine Stars, someone with his own rules and no laws.
“I don’t want to rub it in,” Cox continued glumly, “but with the continual decline of the Duke’s health, I’m afraid that the Young Lady will have to take over soon.”
Charles bit her lip anxiously.
“This birthday of the First Prince is only celebrated once a year. So please, Young Lady, don’t let the Pontier name die.”
“I understand, Cox.” Charles sighed and rose from her seat with a resolute expression. There wasn’t much time left till the feast, so she had to prepare immediately.
“Do you mind going out for now, Cox? I’m afraid I’ll need to rush my preparations now.”
“Yes, Young Lady.” Cox smiled softly. “I’ll instruct the attendants to assist you.”
“Yes. Thank you.”
Cox bowed and left Charles to gaze out the window.
None of her sources were reliable anymore.
But why do I still remember the face of the boy who broke my heart? Do I miss him?
That was a time when she could be carefree, like a child.
Charles’s long sigh carried the weight of a world.
The door to the 9th Battalion captain’s office slammed open.
“Are you slacking off again?”
“Gah!” The room’s owner fell off the sofa where he was lazily napping in the warm sunlight.
“Tch.” He scratched his head. “Sir, I’m not slacking. You know, while I had my eyes closed I’ve defeated more opponents than you have. Isn’t that the most important thing?”
“You’re full of shit.” The middle-aged intruder sighed and shook his head. “Did you forget, Valmont?”
“Sir… What are you talking about?”
“This is not a joke,” Rod den Hogg, commander of the Imperial Knights, answered. “It’s the First Prince’s birthday. Do you think it’s fine for one of the captains to be sleeping in the corner while everyone needs him?”
“Isn’t that a job for the top three battalions?” Valmont pouted at him.
“It’s just in case. Don’t be so relaxed.”
“Meh. You’d have to be crazy to attack the prince while he’s surrounded by the most elite knights in the Empire.”
“Valmont!” Hogg, also known as the “Rod Night,” scowled.
“Ahh! No matter how proud the 9th Battalion is, they’re not happy! Their only job was to patrol the outskirts, like a lousy sub-battalion.”
Rod sighed again.
“Can’t you just accept it? If you do your best, no one will be able to ignore your men—I mean, isn’t it obvious when you see him? Don’t tell me you still don’t understand how he changed the 11th and 12th Battalions from chaff into some of the finest in the Knights Templar.”
“That kid is a monster.” Valmont scowled.
“So are you, in my opinion. When you were in your twenties, you and your B-Class status were equally monstrous. You might be lazy, but I know you, Valmont den Brown, are one of the most talented leaders in the Imperial Knights.”
“Well, I’m not a kid anymore,” he replied, but his lips curled into a pleased smile. “I didn’t think the commander thought so highly of me, though.” Valmont stood up, still wearing that smile.
“Now that he’s a baron, I think he might have a little too much work.” Valmont paused to think and then shrugged. “Well, not that I mind. I’m a viscount.”
He turned to his superior.
“Where is he now, by the way?”
“Unlike you, he’s out there doing his duty.”
“He must be excited because of the banquet.” Valmont grinned cruelly. “Ah, I’d better make an appearance as well.”
“Valmont.” Unlike Valmont’s twinkling silver eyes, Rod’s expression was irate.
“The difference between being the best and being a Master is enlightenment.”
Valmont stared at the Knight Commander, startled by his seriousness.
“Exploring new things and fighting stronger swordsmen are better than practicing alone. I already told you, you’re the most talented person I know; if you’ve hit a wall, it’s because you lack experience. You’re still a kid, after all.”
He knew? As expected. Valmont smiled bitterly.
Rod paused as he was about to walk through the door.
“Don’t worry, I won’t let you down. I will prove that I’m better than Joshua.”
“That’s what I thought.” The commander closed the door behind him with a soft laugh.
Valmont pondered his words.
“It’s Baron Joshua.”
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