Two months passed faster than I thought. Joshua had spent them regaining his strength, as well as doing his best to convince his mother to move to the safety of Duke Agnus’s mansion. However, Lucia was loath to part from her child—the new environment let her spend time with her son without other people disturbing them. There was a fight, but Lucia ended up raising the white flag; it seems no parent can win against their child. The most likely threat to Lucia while Joshua was in the academy was from the inside, not the outside.
With only a week until he would enter the academy, Joshua was getting nervous.
“Young Master, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen you.”
The Imperial Palace Restaurant sits deep within Arcadia, with a large sign boasting, “Experience the cooking of the Imperial Palace’s chef!”
Joshua, sipping a glass of milk at a corner table, shot a glance to the side. There sat Jero of the Moon Gate.
“You… Are you Sir Cain?”
Cain flinched—he’d been on high alert since Jero appeared.
“Yes, Young Master.” Cain went back to eating without another word.
“The fact that you approached me like this—”
“Of course,” Jero interrupted with a beaming smile, “I executed your order flawlessly.” Jero pulled something from his sleeves and passed it furtively under the table, where Cain snatched it out of his hand.
“The tracking took longer than expected due to the number of people involved. However… the last location has been found.”
“How much does it cost?”
“Ah, consider it on the house.”
Joshua was taken aback.
“This is a little thing in comparison to other requests.” Jero smiled. “You advise us to go, but these seem to be completely mundane things… I’m wondering if they have some secret power we’re not aware of.”
“Stop thinking about it.”
Joshua and Jero stared each other down for a moment.
“...Was that too far from the realm of possibility?” Jero got up from his seat. “Now then, since the rest of the commission remains uncompleted, I’ll keep you updated.”
“Ah, we’ll take care of the request fee then.” Jero clapped his hands together. “This is also complimentary; our organization takes an advanced payment for every request.”
“Complimentary…” Joshua puffed up with laughter.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch. There will be a time, when the fruit is ripe, that he’ll ask for something bigger.
“I’ll be going now… I’ll be in touch now and then.” Jero bowed deeply and disappeared out the door.
Joshua swept his gaze over the inside of the restaurant. It was late afternoon, well past lunchtime, so the restaurant was quite quiet.
“Are there a lot of aristocrats on the second floor at this time of day?”
“Perhaps. Of course, because it’s regularly used by the nobility, there will be additional fees—”
Joshua was making for the stairs before Cain could finish his sentence. Cain followed him with a bemused expression, and the figures of a man and a boy vanished into the second floor.
“Oh, Young Master Villas!” A bloated man ran into the yard with no shoes on.
This plump man’s estate lied on the outskirts of town, across from the home Duke Agnus gave Joshua. As a baron, the lowest of the aristocrats, his home was far from the Imperial Palace. However, his mansion was far larger than a typical nobleman of his rank—even on Arcadia’s outskirts, that meant having money to burn. This was the residence of Baron Provalum, a well-regarded man throughout the entire Empire.
“Young Master, what brings you to this filthy place without warning?” Baron Provalum wiped his sweaty palms as he approached the young man who had just arrived.
He had pristine white skin and emerald hair. He seemed unprofessional, but his eyes were dark and steely.
“Provalum, I believe the deadline has already passed.”
“Ah, that…” Baron Provalum shook his head remorsefully. “As you are aware, Young Master, female elves of any race are quite scarce. It’s quite difficult for us to acquire such products. If you give me a little more time, I’ll be able to—”
“I’m not interested in your excuses. I believe I entrusted you to carry the task to fruition.”
“I apologize profusely, Young Master.”
“Does a week suffice?”
“Of course, of course! Can someone bring me some water?”
The young man scowled at the sweaty baron and abruptly turned away. The clatter of armor echoed around Baron Provalum’s lowered head as the young man’s retinue disappeared from sight.
“This isn’t how I want to live up to my name.” Baron Provalum flopped over where he stood. “It’s the same way every time…”
“Baron, the water is here.” The butler handed Baron Provalum a glass of water, which he downed instantly.
“I… Baron, is a week really enough? For an elf, a week—”
“I want to make it possible, even if it’s impossible.”
Baron Provalum shivered. That young man is the reason why he, a bottom-rung aristocrat, could enjoy such wealth.
I could have lost everything at a single word or doubled my wealth.
“The Villas…” Baron Provalum whimpered.
The Emperor’s confidant, the Marquis of Villas. Veron Shen Villas, the only son of Marquis Shen Villas, a powerful pro-Imperial general, had made his appearance.
Count Orbis’s family was one of the few families of noble wizards in the Avalon Empire, an oddity in a land where magic was scorned. They’d formed a pair with Count Rebrecca’s family. Despite Avalon’s knight-centric culture, Orbis had defied the stereotype that a wizard could not defeat a knight in single combat. The head of Orbis had famously cemented his place as the first battle wizard on the continent.
The incident didn’t gain much traction in Avalon, the kingdom of knights, but in Terra, the magic kingdom, the response was explosive. The monarch of Terra even went out of his way to invite the patriarch of Orbis to his kingdom.
Such was the Orbis family, a family whose passion for magic was unmatched. A passionate advocate for the rights and interests of wizards; a family that may have altered the Empire’s perception of wizards. But only a few years ago, the prosperous Orbis family had fallen completely.
Not to just anyone—they fell to the Imperial family.
When you look at the records, you can’t help but wonder if the Imperial family is eliminating nobles on purpose.
Joshua eyed the parchment Jero had delivered. It bore a single line of writing.
“Baron Accent…” Joshua scowled.
According to Moon Gate’s report, the Orbis heirloom Joshua sought was most likely owned by Barron Accent. Unfortunately, Baron Accent was quite well-known in the area.
Not famous, but notorious. Joshua smiled wickedly.
His initial plan was to buy the item with cash as soon as he could find it. Joshua hoped to capitalize on the fact that he was the only person who knew the object’s true value. Despite being the heirloom of a prominent family of wizards, it was neither an artifact of unique power nor encrusted with gemstones. In the eyes of most people, it was nothing more and nothing less than a lovely golden ring.
It’s impossible for its true value to be exposed immediately—but that’s the issue. I can’t just go out and buy it when I don’t know anything about Baron Accent’s character.
“...Colossus of the Night, Accent Provalum,” Cain mumbled.
“Do you know who he is?”
“Just a smidgen. He’s reasonably well-known. Slave trading, smuggling, drug dealing—he uses the influence of high-ranking aristocrats to engage in all sorts of nefarious activities. He’s also the younger brother of Viscount Vig.”
“His brother?” Joshua frowned.
“Yes,” Cain nodded. “It’s well-known within the Duke’s family. Not to mention he’s such a powerful character behind the scenes; everything in the black market passes through Baron Provalum’s hands.”
“Well…” Joshua sighed.
“Young Master Joshua?”
An unexpected voice drew their attention.
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