Political strife was common. The nobles divided into factions for their own interests and kept each other in check. The Seven Dukes were the same. Apart from the Sword Duke, they were all loyal to the imperial family, but they kept a close eye on each other and were vigilant. In the worst case scenario, there would be armed conflict.
It was inevitable that the dukes would fight. The dukes led millions of people, so incidents and accidents continued. Someone didn’t want to lose the inheritance gained from their ancestors, and someone else became relentless for their own ambition. Irrespective of the position and tendencies of such individuals, there was a common feature among the Seven Dukes.
It was that they had respect for each other. They might be afraid of or hostile to each other, but on the surface, they showed courtesy and goodwill to each other. It was because they didn’t want to lose their honor. This was to let people know that the ‘dukes of the empire’ deserved respect from everyone.
It was a type of image marketing. In other words—
“Don’t look at the Overgeared King with your glaring eyes.”
It meant this situation wasn’t normal, even if Duke Grenhal’s strength and authority was above that of Duke Diworth and even if their two families were fighting over the commercial rights of Saileta.
‘In front of others...’
It was far from common sense for Grenhal to show such hostility to Diworth in front of an adversary. Diworth lowered his eyes while clenching his fists. He breathed deeply as his body and mind trembled with anger. ‘I should be calmer.’
Defending the Overgeared King while undermining the value of the empire’s dukes...? The present Grenhal must be out of his mind. Grenhal was crazy enough that Diworth suspected he had already become a berserker. Diworth was once again convinced that Grid had used the pretext of Piaro to mislead the dukes.
Grid was the king who had betrayed the royal family he served and overthrown the kingdom. He was as cunning as a snake. Was it a coincidence that he took in Piaro? No, the likelihood of a coincidence was extremely low. This was calculated from the beginning.
Piaro was a special presence in the empire. Grid could make a great profit by placing Piaro by his side. As a result, he succeeded in dampening the empire’s desire to unify the continent and successfully obtained Mercedes. It was evident that the emperor sent Mercedes to the Overgeared Kingdom after learning about Piaro’s survival and took a passive stance toward the war against the Overgeared Kingdom.
‘He is too dangerous.’
Grid was too smart. His existence alone was a threat to the empire. Perhaps he was a dangerous existence beyond the Undefeated King. Madra only believed in strength and stuck to halting the empire’s advance. Meanwhile, this genius and cunning man would make the empire rot from within. In fact, the emperor and dukes were already playing in his hands.
‘For the sake of the emperor and the empire, this person must be eliminated.’
However, now wasn’t the time. Grenhal and Morse had already bitten the bait called Piaro. At the time of Piaro’s treason, they had petitioned the emperor, stating it was clear that Piaro had been framed. They pleaded that his family shouldn’t be put to the guillotine. Those who longed for Piaro would be delighted by news of Piaro’s survival. They would have complicated feelings toward Grid who misled them by saying he was caring for Piaro.
‘Piaro’s presence can’t be hidden anymore. It is a priority to inform them that Grid is using Piaro for political reasons, not caring for him out of pure benevolence.
‘Thus, let’s bow down. Let’s aim for an opportunity to ignite Grenhal’s rationality.’
Diworth would cooperate with Basara. Unlike the other dukes, she had no personal feelings or relationship with Piaro. She would be able to analyze the situation objectively. Diworth used a lot of effort to suppress his anger. He apologized to Grenhal and removed all the alcohol in his mana.
“I made a mistake. The opponent might be the leader of an enemy country, but he is also a king who leads the people. I was too excited that I lost my dignity as a duke of the empire and didn’t show him the minimal courtesy.”
Diworth’s eloquent words were subtle. He clearly declared that Grid was an enemy of the empire and that Grenhal’s act of protecting him was for noble reasons. It was also a veiled criticism of Grenhal, who was misled by Grid for personal reasons. Diworth felt that Grenhal would feel shame and regain his lost reason.
However, the result was different from what he expected. Grenhal said even crazier nonsense, “I told you to put away your hostility for your sake, not for those pretentious reasons.”
“For my sake?”
‘This lord, you must’ve suffered quite a bit during the exploration of these ruins.’
There were countless scars on Grenhal’s body under the name of ‘medals.’ He wasn’t as good as before. Grenhal had fought for the emperor and the people for 60 years, and his mind and body had become tired a long time ago. The Ruins of the War God would be a continuous suffering for him. It was hard for Diworth to guess what would be the most difficult part of exploring this place for more than a month without troops. It seemed Grenhal had gone crazy at the end of the hardship. Diworth clicked his tongue.
“Drunk Duke, you would’ve died if you continued using that impure attitude in front of King Grid,” Morse said out of nowhere and pretended to cut his neck.
“What? I will be dead? Am I hearing properly right now?” Diworth scowled.
Morse nodded. “Yes.”
“What?” Diworth’s face was as red as a jujube. He seemed drunk despite burning off all the alcohol. “Duke Morse, you might be a duke, but I can’t let those words go.”
It was Diworth’s pride. He might be weaker than them, but he wasn’t a fool to be laughed at or have his life threatened.
“You would kill me? Why? Are you afraid you won’t meet Piaro if I interfere? So you will kill me? I am a duke of the empire like you! You dare to kill His Majesty the Emperor’s servant?” Diworth was misunderstanding their words.
He accepted that those who would kill him were ‘Grenhal’ and ‘Morse.’ It was naturally a misunderstanding. No matter the situation, a duke wouldn’t harm a duke. They could only stay on the sidelines.
Morse waved his hand. “Are you crazy? Why would we kill a fellow duke?”
“Then by whose hands will I die?!!”
Morse’s words, which weren’t a clarification, only further fueled Diworth’s anger. Without knowing the seriousness of the situation, Diworth thought that Morse was a madman. He would surely tell His Majesty the Emperor the things that happened today. Then he would make them take responsibility.
A jade-like voice entered Diworth’s ears as he was making this pledge. It was the voice of Basara, who had remained silent the whole time. “You would die by the hands of the Overgeared King.”
“...?” Diworth felt that he had been struck by lightning.
He would die because of Grid...?
...To that small fellow? Was this a new type of nagging?
“...Duke Basara, I’m disappointed.”
The circumstances right now weren’t very important to Diworth. He realized that he was being ridiculed. Diworth realized how much the dukes usually ignored him and was filled with a shame that would traumatize him for life. He was gritting his teeth when Grenhal asked him, “Why does the name Piaro keep coming out?”
Piaro was dead. Grenhal had long accepted it and buried Piaro in his heart. Yet Diworth kept mentioning Piaro. Additionally, he kept tying Piaro to Grid. There must be something more to it. An unexpected feeling of anticipation started to wriggle from deep inside Grenhal’s heart.
However, it wasn’t Diworth who responded to his expectations.
“The former captain of the Red Knights, Piaro. He is currently my knight.” It was Grid who spoke.
“W-What?” The startled Basara and Morse opened their eyes wide.
Grenhal’s face stiffened, and he demanded confirmation again, “Your Majesty, are your words true?”
His eyes sent the message that he wouldn’t tolerate anyone fooling around with Piaro’s name. Was Piaro a special person to Grenhal? Grid perceived this and paid attention to Grenhal. “Yes. It was a very long time ago. I met him when I was an ordinary person, not a king.”
It was a strange fate. Piaro was a fearsome madman, and Grid had almost died to him. Yet this strange fate led to a precious relationship.
“Piaro has been with me since the moment I became a noble.”
Piaro was alive? He was even serving a foreign king...?
Grenhal had a madness that descended from generation to generation in his family. The only person who smiled warmly when everyone was afraid and shunned Grenhal for the madness imprinted in his genes had been Piaro. He had told Grenhal:
“Don’t be ashamed or afraid to reveal your madness.
“You are revealing your madness for your homeland and for the people. Thus, don’t be afraid or scared when other people point at you.”
It was a time when they were called the Nine Dukes, not Seven Dukes. Piaro was the former pillar of the Nine Dukes.
Morse helped support Grenhal, who reeled from the shock. Grenhal’s eyes were red. He was happy. It felt like he washed away some of the sadness that had been stuck in his heart like indelible burn marks. He thanked the goddess of light and was relieved that Piaro had survived safely and was serving someone worthy. Simultaneously, an enormous feeling of guilt swept over him. It was the sin of him failing to protect Piaro’s family. All types of complicated emotions swept over Grenhal and made him cry.
Piaro was a greater person than Grid had thought. When Grid saw Grenhal’s response, he thought of the time when he first heard Piaro’s story. It was a story that began with ‘Born in the best family in the empire...’
‘Maybe Piaro was also a duke.’
He would’ve lost everything overnight. How much loss and pain had he felt? Thinking about Piaro’s past, Grid felt it was such a pity. Piaro had forgiven Asmophel and was smiling every day, but he still couldn’t surrender the heart that was dreaming of revenge against the empire.
In this turbulent atmosphere, the smell of alcohol appeared. Grid shifted his gaze and saw Drunk Duke Diworth drinking from a bottle of alcohol. The liquid flowed down the clear neck of the bottle and into Diworth’s mouth.
“I have devoted my whole life to the empire and fulfilled my duties as a noble.”
Diworth emptied the bottle instantly and started to speak.
“Yet you are treating me like this for a traitor who has already left a long time ago.”
Diworth glared at Grenhal with red, bloodshot eyes. The pressure he gave off was fierce.
“A small kingdom... Treating me less than the king of an enemy kingdom? I would be killed by the Overgeared King? Kuk! Kukuk! Duke Grenhal! Now I know how funny you have found me!”
Diworth had spoken frankly when he reunited with Piaro, “I am jealous of you and envy you.”
He had a constitution that could only exercise strength when he relied on alcohol. Although he didn’t usually express it, Diworth was a person with low self-esteem. He was ashamed of himself for being unable to give up alcohol. It was no wonder why he exploded when he was treated as weaker than Grid.
“I will prove it! I’m not as ridiculous as you think!” Diworth roared and rushed toward Grid.
Now it had nothing to do with Piaro. He had to kill Grid to prove himself. The mana that contained alcohol dramatically improved Diworth’s physical abilities. Diworth was so fast that Grid couldn’t properly capture the movement, even when he reflexively wore the Slaughterer’s Eye Patch.
“I won’t allow your comfort.” Grid opened his closed eye that was under the eyepatch.
[The Castration Eye has been activated.]
[Blocking all beneficial effects of the target!]
[This effect is retained while watching the target.]
The power of the Castration Eye not only blocked the ‘possibility’ of receiving buffs but also denied the buffs already applied. It was the ultimate debuff skill that had been proven against Damian.
“...!?” Diworth’s drunk mind cooled down.
His speed, which had made him like a bullet flying at Grid, fell to the speed of an arrow. The aroma of wine disappeared.
“LInked Kill Flower Pinnacle.”
[The effect of Braham’s Enchant Weapon has been triggered.]
[Your weapon’s damage is increased by 50% while the sword dance is in progress.]
The Sword Aiming at the Gods resonated with the magic of a legend.
[The effect of Braham’s Detect Force has been triggered.]
[The target is being tracked, and the hit rate of the sword dance increased.]
The end of Grid’s sword aimed precisely at Diworth.
[The effect of Braham’s Wind Cutter has been triggered.]
The sword dance of Link was accompanied by a sharp wind.
[The effect of Braham’s Lightning has been triggered.]
The rampant blue petals emitted lightning. Was there such a splendid and beautiful skill in the world? Diworth was fascinated by Grid’s sword dance and was eventually stabbed in the chest. “Cough!”
The situation seemed like a lie. To think that a king of a small nation forcibly removed Diworth’s alcohol, exposed his weakness, and then dealt a critical blow? The seriously wounded Diworth pulled out a new bottle with shaking hands. There were still three bottles hanging from his waist.
Gulp. He brought a new bottle to his mouth.
“Summon Knight.” Grid quickly made a decision.
The effect of the Castration Eye was to randomly strip the buffs of the target, not to strip all of them. It might be all of them, but that might not be the case. Additionally, Diworth still had two-thirds of his health left despite being hit by Linked Kill Flower Pinnacle. There was the possibility of raiding Diworth if Grid cooperated with his colleagues, but it would be a messy fight. The longer the fight, the more room there was for the other dukes to intervene. He had to act quickly. Additionally, it was worth trying to maximize his affinity with Grenhal, who had a relationship with Piaro.
Grid calculated all of this… and pulled out his strongest hand.
Maybe this was Grid’s real ultimate technique. By the way, this was the middle of the Red Sea. All communication methods and teleport magic were blocked here. Would Summon Knight work?
Grid was worried but still attempted it. The reason that communication with the outside was blocked at the Ruins of the War God was to prevent the ‘weak’ from entering. On the other hand, the war god welcomed the strong. He welcomed the strong and didn’t interfere with the summoning of the strong.
[War God Zeratul will temporarily allow the application of teleportation magic.]
[Your knight ‘Piaro’ has arrived by your side.]
“I’ve been waiting, Your Majesty.”
It looked great. Piaro, who wore the armor of a knight and not dirty clothes, caught everyone’s attention. The knight’s armor was an outfit that showed the mind of Piaro, who had been waiting patiently since Grid left for the Ruins of the War God.
It was true. Their old hero was still alive. Grenhal and Morse trembled with excitement.