The Duchess Vanessa’s room, delicately perfumed with flowers, was one of the most private places in the Duchy. The Duchess allowed only one person unrestricted access, and that was Duke Agnus. Yet, someone else was present.
“You don’t think you look bad?” Chiffon grimaced at the Duchess, whose normal beauty had withered down to the bone.
“I gave everything for Babel in the Imperial Court—not somewhere else! I’m so mad.”
“You look terrible.”
“For him to say that, and for the Imperial Family to summon Babel so abruptly! I can’t get a good night’s sleep, because of that upstart brat!”
Chiffon watched the Duchess fret for a minute.
“I’m going to Arcadia.” He knelt before Vanessa where she sat on the bed.
“What?” The Duchess went still. “You’re going to act without his consent?”
“If this continues, as the Duchess is worried about, our long-term plans will fail, and I will struggle to survive Duke Agnus’s clutches.” He smiled softly. “Isn’t it better to be beaten half to death rather than wait for the ax to fall?”
“The Imperial Palace is a dangerous place,” Vanessa mumbled, eyeing Chiffon strangely. “Even your head may end up rolling at any moment.”
“Don’t you know that I used to be a member of the Knights Templar?” Chiffon lifted Duchess Vanessa’s hand and kissed it. “Don’t be concerned about me. Even if death comes, I would gladly meet it for you.”
“Please… Please return safely.”
Chiffon lifted his head and beamed.
Joshua flopped around on the bed in his manor on the outskirts of Arcadia.
“I always thought Count Sten was a lunatic.” I’ll never forget the sensation of the snake eyes darting over my body.
But Joshua shook it off quickly.
“More importantly…” He clutched his chin, pondering Duke Agnus’s words.
The Third Battalion, at least?
The more talented you were, the higher your rank in the Imperial Knights, and the bigger the benefits. The upper battalions—the 1st through 3rd—received particular special attention from the Emperor himself.
Titles. Ordinary knights were treated like barons, although they were not, strictly speaking, true nobles. The Emperor bestowed noble titles on those who make significant contributions to the country—which, particularly in Avalon, was as simple as plucking a star out of the sky. Even more so in times of peace.
Is he advising me to abandon the family? Or…? When the son of a prestigious family seeks a new title, rather than inheriting the family name, it has only one connotation: he was abandoning the battle for succession, and is founding a house of his own.
Joshua closed his eyes thoughtfully.
Although even if he did get his own title inheriting the duchy wasn’t impossible. All I have to do is give up the new title and then take up the Agnus name.
“How long are you going to do that?” he said to the empty ceiling. “Is this the first time you’ve visited unexpectedly?”
“I wasn’t wrong after all.” A dark figure fell from the ceiling. It was Jero, the manager of Moon Gate’s Arcadia branch. “Even knights with a decent sixth sense would struggle to detect my presence unless they understood stealth… The more I learn about you, Young Master, the more it seems I have to learn.”
“Don’t try—you might get hurt.”
Jero gave him a blank look and then burst out laughing.
“I’d like to do that,” he gasped, “but it's my job.”
“So, does your job involve sneaking in here?”
“Really now…” Jero shrugged morosely. “I am here for work, but not to scavenge for data.”
“An issue has come up with your information request.”
“What is it?”
“It appears that I will have to leave Arcadia for the time being. Some hiccups in the supply of your requested information will be inevitable because I am the only person in Arcadia who can handle the information you’re interested in—”
“I suppose you’re headed to the Principality of Thran?” Joshua laughed.
Jero flinched. “Really,” he said, tilting his head, “to infer that much from just a few sentences—”
“War is prime business for intelligence organizations like you.”
“I’m afraid I can’t refute that.”
“I’m a little disappointed. Moon Gate is throwing away its existing customers’ trust for profit.” Joshua shrugged.
“What an awful thing to say.” Jero looked truly saddened. “From our perspective, we’re making a huge gamble on the Young Master’s potential—but the conflict between Swallow and Thran will go on for a long time, and the value of information is soaring on both sides of the war.”
“Isn’t our deal already settled?” Joshua looked shocked. “But now that the cost of information is skyrocketing, you come waltzing over here to compare it with my commission? Has the Moon Gate become a bunch of gangsters?”
“Hahhh, really… I’m not falling for it. The Young Master is the bully here, not us.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“Is there anything else you want?”
“For the time being, I believe I owe the Moon Gate. However…” Joshua smiled cruelly at Jero, who looked apprehensive. “I’d like you to extend the deadline for the red coin a little longer. I know I said it would take at least three years, but I’m moving.”
The mention of the red coin made Jero’s expression harden.
“Are you saying you’re going to leave the Academy, even though you just got here?”
“It’s like I said. The Emperor ordered me to join the Imperial Knights.”
Jero was unable to hide his surprise and his eyes widened.
“...It seems we’ll need to work hard.”
“You’re not even surprised.” Joshua chuckled. “I was expecting you to ask me what happened.”
“Well, I already said—” Jero gave up on making an excuse and sighed. I always thought so, but this boy always drags me along when I talk to him. Maybe he’s actually a dragon playing around with polymorph magic… He shook his head and chuckled. “Anyway, it’s fine. You will be given a complete timeline for the red coin assignment. We don’t have time to worry about it at the moment—the entire organization is busy.”
“I appreciate it.” The boy gave Jero a satisfied grin. “Now are you going to tell me about the changes to my information request?”
“I’m looking forward to your expression when I tell you this.” Jero’s concern had faded, replaced with mirth. “Give me the look of an innocent lamb, please.”
“I’m looking forward to it as well. What in the world do you have stewing?”
“Draxia bel Grace, the War God. He’s been in contact with the Imperial Family, in some fashion.”
Jero watched Joshua’s face carefully.
“You’re not surprised at all.”
“I already knew.”
“Really? You knew he was connected to the Emperor?”
“What?” Joshua’s eyes narrowed. He remembered that Draxia had ties with Kaiser, not the Emperor.
“...No way.” The situation between the Swallow Empire and the Principality of Thran, the ties the Imperial Family of Swallow had… Is that right? Joshua was only guessing, but it was a good guess.
“Let me ask you something.”
“Yes?” Jero looked up.
“Do you really trust the information from the Moon Gate?”
“To be honest… I do believe the data is reliable.”
“And it has nothing to do with his father’s link to the Imperial Family of Swallow?”
“So you knew that too.” Jero’s eyes glowed. “Just like your father… We won’t be able to discuss this fully without Demero—Demero bel Grace.”
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