Joshua defended the Emperor for numerous decades since he became the Emperor's Sword. His life came under threat hundreds, if not thousands, of times; every time was unique in its own way. Pursued by the continent's finest guild of assassins, backstabbed by a trusted subordinate…
Poison was, of course, among them. Joshua was confident that few people had fallen victim to as many poisons as he had.
Joshua was never one to rely on his subordinates when he could be taking the initiative. By the time one of his subordinates had killed one person, Joshua had killed ten, or twenty, or more. His aggressiveness left his body a wreck on the inside and outside. He was always on the front lines, meeting the enemy's blows head-on.
It's gari. Joshua burst out laughing. Gari's greatest strength was its subtlety. Gari gradually drained its victims rather than melting organs like other infamous poisons. It took roughly a week for symptoms to manifest, making it very difficult to find evidence. Additionally, its properties were difficult to identify as poison.
Joshua knew a truly odorless, colorless poison would be invented by the famous alchemists of Fordran's southernmost kingdom after decades of research. However, that wouldn't happen until far in the future—at the very least, Joshua was confident it wasn't in his food right now.
But for now, Gari is worth its weight in gold, and he's put in a lot.
It's been expertly blended into the seasoning, and the plates have been carefully arranged to only target the right people.
As expected, Joshua couldn't see signs of gari in Vanessa's food. The Duchess kept smiling, as she always had.
I look forward to seeing that expression twist.
"Since this is the first time the entire family is sharing a meal, how about we all enjoy it together, elder mother?"
Vanessa's facade was already melting. Joshua's heart buzzed with excitement the more he saw.
"That… It's not always easy… I've gained a lot of weight recently, so I'm paying more attention to my diet."
"Is my elder mother afraid of something?" Joshua shot the Duchess an innocent, wide-eyed look. "Is it really worth the effort of worrying about? You're already stunning."
This brat is really—! Vanessa sighed deeply. I was almost convinced he already knew everything—No, maybe he does. Rumor has it he's intelligent enough to conceal his abilities for years…
Vanessa's uneasiness grew as the idea festered in her mind. What if this cunning boy said he wouldn't eat unless the Duchess did?
"Isn't it all over when I depart for the capital? This time, let's eat together so my mother can relax and enjoy herself."
Vanessa had an overwhelming urge to smash her fists into the boy's smug face.
"What's the matter? Is it possible the meal was poisoned?" Joshua belted out a long laugh.
"Young Master Joshua, you're overdoing it!" Chiffon stepped forward when he saw Vanessa's flustered expression.
"Such impoliteness! What kind of joke is that? This is poison we're talking about!"
"Yes, son, the Duchess took special care to prepare this dinner!" Lucia chided Joshua and turned to Vanessa. "Please accept my apologies. Joshua, what are you doing instead of apologizing?"
Lucia's urgency grew as she saw Vanessa's expression stiffen.
I had no intention of getting involved in the war of succession of a soon-to-be-destroyed family, and I certainly didn't want to make new enemies.
But these people had crossed the line.
I could put up with it if I was the only one who received their silly anger.
But these people had laid their hands on someone they never should have even looked at.
"Impolite… You were probably thinking the same thing."
"I have a question." Joshua looked Chiffon dead in the eyes. "Do you have any idea who I am?"
Chiffon stiffened. He hadn't even stopped to think about it earlier.
"I suppose your silence is an answer."
Chiffon's lips remained tightly sealed. Even if Joshua was scum born from the lowest blood, Chiffon couldn't dispute that he was directly descended from the master.
"What do you think, elder mother?"
Vanessa met Joshua's gaze and shivered.
"I was joking, but Sir Chiffon's reaction makes it seem like it's not a joke." Joshua's eyes glowed with a dangerous light.
"Did you really poison it?"
"This- this, this—!" Chiffon couldn't take it anymore and drew his blade just before Vanessa lost control. "I can't let this go any longer, no matter how much of the master's blood you have! Contempt of the Imperial family is grounds for immediate execution!"
"You dare…?" Joshua growled at Chiffon.
Am I… nervous? Chiffon received the full brunt of Joshua's laser-sharp focus. He knew the gap between a C- and B-Class Knight was insurmountable, but instinct was taking over.
"Don't mess with me!" he screeched. His mana poured out in all directions like a small bomb. Chiffon's heart felt as safe as a lie as he lashed out with the deep blue mana rising from his mana hall.
"Die," Joshua mumbled. A long iron staff blinked into existence in Joshua's hand.
Built-in subspace magic!? I thought it was something unusual, but I never imagined it would be this incredible.
That wasn't the most pressing issue, however.
Is this a C-Class skill?
Chiffon, buffeted by Joshua's energy, could not believe his eyes. The mana he felt was vast and boundless; it had to be B-Class, at minimum.
What a phenomenal rate of progress…! Chiffon was terrified at this point, but he couldn't hold back his sword now. I have no idea how much you'll grow if you leave like this. I'd much rather you die here—!
Chiffon breathed every scrap of mana he had into his sword.
The moment peaked with exquisite tension; it teetered and dallied on the edge of catastrophe.
"Tell me, what are you doing?"
The immense Imperial Palace contained a variety of palaces reserved solely for the princes. One, in particular, stood out: the furthest from the Imperial Palace.
This one was definitely shabby, unlike the other elegantly adorned palaces.
Curiously, its door was wide open today.
In the fading light of the setting sun, a knock echoed quietly in the detached palace's largest chamber.
The man seated by the window gently raised his head from his book at the sound. Or perhaps we should call him a boy rather than a man? A boy with brilliant eyes and bright blonde hair that would attract attention wherever he went: Kaiser von Britten, fourth prince of the Avalon Empire.
"This is Evergrant, Prince."
The door gently swung open to admit Evergrant, Chief Wizard of the Empire, dressed in his trademark spotless white robe.
"A letter has arrived from Agnus."
"It appears he has made up his mind." Kaiser's eyes twinkled. He'd been looking forward to this letter arriving. "Have you examined the contents?"
"I thought it would be impolite, so I brought it here as soon as it arrived at the Imperial Palace."
All mail sent to the Imperial family via the Imperial Palace's mana post was routed through Evergrant, the most senior mage.
Kaiser smiled warmly at Evergrant for his consideration.
"Will he actually take me up on my offer?"
"I believe he will accept." Evergrant responded without hesitation. "All knights dream of joining the Knights Templar. You would be an idiot to refuse this chance."
"Let's see…" Recalling the boy with the remarkable blue hair brought a smile to Kaiser's face as he skimmed through the letter.
Tak. The letter fell from his hand.
"Prince?" Evergrant cautiously leaned towards him. His fears were confirmed when Kaiser didn't respond.
"Hahahahaha…" Kaiser chuckled.
"Prince?" Kaiser's sudden outburst left Evergrant confused and embarrassed.
"Hahahahahahahaha!" The discarded letter was crushed under Kaiser's heel. His modest smile stretched into a maddened rictus, and his kind eyes glittered with a psychotic light.
"...Joshua von Agnus."
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