Chapter 138

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The Emperor’s abode was awe-inspiring. Crystal chandeliers dripped from the ceiling; the floor was paved in priceless marble. The front of the castle was the pièce de résistance: a towering edifice of vibrant blue, serving as a backdrop for an eagle with its wings proudly spread.

Anyone would recognize it as the flag of one of the three great powers of Igrant: the mighty Swallow Empire.

The Imperial throne’s golden luster was hidden beneath a coat of vivid scarlet—too dark to be properly red and too red to be properly black.

A dark crimson.

Blood.

The blood of the aristocracy of Swallow had yet to cool—in fact, it boiled.

“Hehehehehehe.”

The wizened man on the throne slowly opened his eyes to look at the laughing man.

The giggling man looked to be just about thirty years old; his eyes and hair were, eerily, the same color as the blood staining the throne. He was lovely, but his beauty was sticky, almost decadent.

And he was one of the Nine Stars—someone who could challenge Duke Aden von Agnus.

His name was Archduke Lucifer, also known as the Blood Sky. He was one of the major figures ruling the Empire of Swallow.

“Lucifer, why did you do this…? And how…?” The elderly man’s eyes fell upon the scene behind Archduke Lucifer.

The bodies were piled high and blood flowed like an ocean. Each and every drop of blood came from a noble line, as the corpses’ clothing showed.

Something dropped from Lucifer’s hand: a bald man with his eyes still wide-open with surprise. Duke Albert van Momori, head of the Imperial Knights and a steadfast supporter of the throne. He’d been a Master for over ten years now.

Anyone who witnessed this would be horrified.

“You have retreated too far, Emper Verona.” The Archduke slowly mounted the steps to stand before the Emperor and gazed down at him haughtily. “So many have praised you for your kindness. They were insistent that you were the right man to be the Emperor, yet no one seemed to understand how ridiculous your pacifist stance is. All that power and nowhere for it to go—how did you think it was going to end?

“Bang!” Lucifer smirked. “It goes up like a powder keg, tearing apart everything you were fighting for. That’s how your peace ends. Haven’t you ever read a history book? We were unique, once.

“No true king would do something as asinine as plead for peace merely for the benefit of the people. If you were born a man—if you were born destined to rule a nation—you should dream to unify the continent.”

“Are you saying war serves the citizens of this nation? Hilarious. Do you know how many people this war of yours will kill? Do you think a mother will be happy knowing that her child won’t live to see tomorrow? What about those denied the chance to drink and be merry? Those are our people—the people we vowed to protect and serve!”

“It’s only right for livestock to die for our future.”

“Don’t make me laugh!” The Emperor exploded with rage. “You’re contradicting yourself! Look at what you’ve done! Use those blood-stained eyes! You’re just a bloodthirsty killer. Do you really think you’re serving the Empire?”

Archduke Lucifer eyed the puddle of blood soaking into his shoes.

“It’s not really for the Empire’s sake… I don’t know now, HAH!” Archduke Lucifer’s crimson lips smirked at Emperor Verona. “In the end, you are not my emperor. Your elder brother Demero should be sitting there.”

Hearing Demero’s name made Veron’s face darken.

“Is this why you persuaded Duke Altsma to go to the Master Battle?”

Unlike Avalon, Swallow had two commanders of the Imperial Knights. Duke Momori, commander of the 1st Knights Division, and Duke Altsma, commander of the 2nd Knights Division and also known as the commander of the North, were the two highest-ranking members of the Knights.

Swallow’s Imperial Knights had no captains; therefore, the two knight-commanders led the entire order and protected the Imperial Palace at the same time.

“Why?” Lucifer smiled creepily. “The real question is why those two worms were described with such flowered words. One of them was humiliated by that ‘Ulabis’ brat. The other one… is dead! AHAHAHAHA!”

“Is… Duke Altsma… dead?”

“There are no second chances in battle. If a commander was foolish enough to reach beyond his means and then come back, of course he would need to relinquish his pitiful existence.

“No…” Verona shook his head. “Don’t make me laugh… his injuries were severe, but he’s definitely…” The Emperor’s voice trailed off into silence and his eyes quivered.

“HEHEHEHE.”

“Gandar… Why did he—no…”

When Duke Altsma returned from battle, it was Prime Minister Gandar who certified his health, not Verona. That meant…

“He’s a clever one.” Lucifer cackled manically. “He knows how to read the flow. We’re going to be good friends after you’re dead.”

Ah… Gandar… Emperor Verona’s face became gloomier.

“This has been a long time coming. I thought the Master Alone would be insufficient, but Avalon has drawn the entire continent’s attention there. Heaven is truly on my side.”

Lucifer drew a small glass bottle from his coat. An unknown blue liquid swirled within.

“Without a son of your own, the next in line is the princess’s husband… me. You’d best rest in bed until I’ve assumed complete control of this nation.”

“Lucifer, you bastard—!” Emperor Verona glared at Archduke Lucifer with impotent fury.

Lucifer’s eyes glowed as his hand clamped around the Emperor’s chin.

“Rest well. I shall put your work to good use.”

“You… Gami—”

Lucifer regarded him for a moment and then forced the vial into Verona’s mouth until the blue liquid overflowed from his lips. Emperor Verona’s eyes bulged.

“This is my final mercy, Emperor Verona. I would never give this to anyone else on the continent, so I don’t think it’s such a terrible way to say goodbye.”

“You— you…” Emperor Verona’s rage gradually stiffened.

The concoction acted quickly. Verona’s eyes went blank.

Lucifer calmly moved the body. Suddenly, three men in blood-red armor were in front of him.

“We now begin the conquest of the Empire in earnest. The news of the Emperor being taken by a persistent illness will arrive immediately after the Master Battle concludes—aim for the period when the continent’s attention is on Reinhardt. I presume I do not need to elaborate further?”

“Yes, Archduke!”

Lucifer ignored his soldiers' salute and turned his back to them.

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend, but this is but a transient friendship. In any case, they were also our adversaries in the past. Avalon—particularly Evergrant, the head wizard—has little faith in him. His intelligence and his abilities are admirable, even to me.” He stared at the banner of Swallow hanging on the wall. “It would be fantastic if it were our skills, but it’s not, so we must eradicate it entirely. I can’t even cling to such illogical ideas… We have scant time to spread the word throughout the continent. Do it silently and without fail.”

“We hear and obey!”

Lucifer waved his hand and the soldiers vanished as swiftly as they had emerged.

Before long, an oppressive hush descended on the throne room.

The great war would come in only a few years—a violent prelude that would ultimately lead to the death of Duke Aden von Agnus.

***

Joshua stared silently.

This made no sense—the Master Battle was rapidly approaching. How could a hero be reduced to an undead?

“Duke… Altsma?” The death knight’s true identity was a lord of Swallow and the proud commander of the Imperial Knights.

And still, the instinct continued to whisper.

Take it.

It could be yours.

“If I can win this fight… this would be the first time I had a Master in my service.” Joshua’s eyes gleamed.

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