The Emperor of Swallow, Verona belle Grace, pondered quietly on his throne. He didn’t show it, but his mood was foul.
Finally, he broke the eerie silence:
“Duke Altmsa—you say he sustained major injuries?”
“His wounds didn’t appear severe. But, for many days now, he’s been staring into space and crying. As best as I can tell, he’s been psychologically traumatized.” Gandar, the sage and prime minister of Swallow, had visited Duke Altsma on behalf of the Emperor.
“I’ll visit him myself,” Emperor Veron said with a bitter smile. “I will provide our comrade the support he needs.”
“But Your Majesty! He’s just a soldier like everyone else! He lost over half of our forces in a single day and had the gall to come back alive—what kind of leader is he?!” This came from one of Duke Atlsma’s long-time rivals, his bald head winking in the sunlight.
“The Duke is right, Your Majesty! In times like this, he should be punished, not consoled. He is shameful and needs to be disciplined,” Duke Albert van Momori shouted, stepping forward. He was another of Swallow's Masters, as well as Duke Altsma’s rival.
“If he acted rationally, this could never have happened! Were it not for his pride, our Empire would not have suffered this defeat. He could have resolved it in a duel with the enemy’s commander before it devolved into a full-fledged war.”
“Or, even if he didn’t stop to think about it, our troops massively outnumbered the Principality. But he went in recklessly and lost immediately. Our men’s morale is in shambles.”
Even Emperor Verona, with his saint-like temperance, could not help but sigh. He knew their true desires.
Even when the Empire is damaged, they can’t set aside their selfishness. They just want to take down Duke Altsma. The Emperor shook his head with a sour smile. Why do I always think of him when something happens?
“Brother Demero…” Veron idly gazed out the window. Even now, you’re still the Splendor of the Empire. Charismatic or not, he was fit to be the Emperor.
“The failure of our soldiers was not Duke Atlsma’s fault,” the Emperor told his vassals. “Who could have guessed that the Principality had someone who could take on an entire army?”
“His Majesty is right.”
“Our lack of knowledge is the leading reason why we lost. We assumed that Thran did not have a Master.” The Emperor looked his vassals straight in the eyes. “I believe, in times like these, it is important for everyone to work together to find ways to win the coming wars, rather than seek methods to punish someone they think caused the failure to begin with.”
“I most definitely agree with His Majesty.” Prime Minister Gandar nodded with a smile.
“Then… I propose we should send more soldiers and at least two superior Masters with them,” the Duke said. “It will be a sure victory; if Your Majesty agrees, I will take charge.”
“That’s impossible.” The Prime Minister shook his head coldly.
“What are you saying, Prime Minister?”
“This attack was our preemptive strike, taking advantage of the chaos caused by the Prince’s death. What if we succeeded and wiped out the Principality? All eyes will be on us—we wouldn’t be able to make a move.”
“Surely,” Gandar interrupted Duke Momori, “the Duke is not thinking the same thing as Duke Altsma?” The Duke broke into a cold sweat.
“Am I wrong? Too much pride is the bane of a knight.” The Prime Minister Gandar turned away with a small smile. “Sir, it is my opinion that, for the time being, it is best to only monitor the situation. There will be other opportunities in the future.”
“If the Prime Minister thinks this way, then so be it. Does anyone object?”
There was no reply, and Emperor Verona nodded conclusively.
“How was the situation in Thran?” he asked.
The Prime Minister’s face stiffened. “They believe that our preemptive strike was unethical and disrupted the peace on the continent. This places us in a situation where we have to be wary of our neighbors.”
“And he’s also the reason for this?”
“Yes.” Gandar nodded. “He’s called Ulabis. He brought Duke Altsma to his knees without mercy. His tremendous power has earned him the title ‘Knight of the Red Flame,’ and he’s well versed in literature and martial arts.”
“I heard that when he strikes, the ground splits open and spits sparks.”
“It’s like a legendary magic swordsman, Your Majesty.”
“This bodes poorly for us.”
Abruptly, the courtroom doors slammed open. Someone ran inside and prostrated himself before the Emperor.
Gandar noticed the red flag on the messenger’s back, indicating that he carried urgent information.
“Your Majesty! Please forgive my rudeness!” The messenger took a quick breath and kept speaking. “The future Prince of Thran has been announced!”
Verona and Gandhar burst out laughing—then they realized it wasn’t a joke.
“This is insane!”
“Thran is our vassal! How dare they do this without permission!”
The court erupted into rage. By custom, the reigning Prince would travel to the Imperial Palace of Swallow to pay their respects and inform the Emperor of who would take the throne of Thran. This practice—known as the Oath of Allegiance—was a long-standing custom. It may have been dishonorable from Thran’s perspective, but Swallow saw it as the natural order.
“Maybe they did this because of their damned independence movements.”
“Who do you think it is?” Verona asked.
“Who’s to say who will take the throne?”
The messenger swallowed nervously. “The 17th Prince of Thran, succeeding Anthony de val Agreta III, to marry his daughter, is the Knight Ulabis. It is said he will take the Agreta name.”
The court was plunged into stifling silence.
Demon Lugia. In the end, Lugia hadn’t given him any more information. All he knew was that his miraculous regression was somehow linked to Lugia. But Joshua couldn’t deny it anymore—Lugia was literally the devil’s weapon.
Was it actually sleeping, or was it just pretending? Joshua eyed Lugia, strapped to his back in its iron rod form.
Demons, or evil spirits: a deity with a greater ability in combat than any other species. It was well known that the top hundred demons were enormously powerful, and could even summon dragons to aid them in battle. The eight demon kings were godlike, and could challenge an elder dragon. A demon even stronger than the demon kings would be a match for a Dragon Lord.
It’s not a god for no reason. What else but a god could explain such a miracle?
Joshua abruptly stopped. He’d arrived at his destination, but found a crowd bunched up around the Academy entrance.
“Oh, there he is!”
Joshua unconsciously stepped back as the children raced over to him.
“Agareth… and Icarus?”
“Why are you always so late? The school is in complete chaos because of you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Surely you didn’t expect this, as the son of a Duke? Do you even remember when you said ‘to my friends’?”
“That’s impossible. Young Master Joshua can’t do that.” Icarus smirked along with Agareth.
“This is rather—”
“This is what, exactly?”
“I don’t want to run away anymore,” Agareth said, looking Joshua dead in the eyes. “All the students here are assembled to protest the school’s disciplinary action against you.”
“Young Master Agareth worked hard,” Icarus added. “It didn’t take long to gather these students.”
“It’s nothing. Everyone was thinking the same thing.” Agareth grinned. “You said the Academy is a place the students make for themselves; that’s why you say they should listen to themselves as much as possible, right?”
“That’s just a flimsy excuse. In front of Duke Agnus, you wouldn’t be able to say you’re going to do whatever you want,” Icarus interjected, shaking his head.
“We’re going to file a petition opposing your disciplinary actions. There are roughly a hundred people in the opposition—those who are demanding disciplinary action. It’s impossible for them. We have far more than a few hundred people.”
Agareth cocked his head at Joshua, who had yet to speak.
“You weren’t blown away, were you?”
“Let me wipe the tears away.” Icarus patted his cheek.
Joshua finally broke into a soft smile, warm as the brilliant sun.
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