"Do you believe, ladies and gentlemen? Do you believe that this… boy of nineteen summers was able to halt the Calamity? Do you believe that he was able to participate in a fight with a Tier 5 beast? I don't!"
A strange drama played out in an airfield on the outskirts of the Capital. A young man addressed a crowd of curious onlookers who had gathered to see who it was that had the honour of using the Cloud Whale as their means of transportation and to welcome them to the Capital.
"Instead of his supposed feats, I am more amazed by his shamelessness at mooching on the efforts of his superiors. He came here to receive a reward for his merits. An audience with the Emperor himself. A Commendation. How can you bear to let such a travesty occur?"
As I watched the pompous ass in front of me wax eloquent, I wondered what he hoped to achieve by goading me into a duel – for that was where he was heading with this public slander.
Although I had promised Isabella that I wouldn't scry my allies, my inexperience with my mana sense made it so that even if I didn't actively use it, I would receive impressions from the people around me. And I could clearly sense the hostility this guy bedecked in silks and satins bore towards me.
How the hell had I offended him when I hadn't even set foot in the Capital before? Really bewildering.
I could also roughly estimate his magical prowess. The peak of Tier 2 at the most; Tier 2 middle stage more likely. While that was quite remarkable for a guy his age – he looked around eighteen – considering that he had spent his entire life in the cultivation paradise that was the Capital, I was understandably unimpressed. If he did get the duel, he was looking for by creating this public spectacle, it would be an embarrassingly short one.
There was a joke about the Capital which went: You can't throw a stone in the Capital without it hitting an aristocrat. Going by how well he was dressed, I didn't doubt that his family had wealth, power or both.
I really wanted to avoid getting into a conflict with this ponce. Who knew how his parents would react? If they claimed that I was an elder by dint of my magical prowess and by accepting his challenge, I was bullying the weak, they could take me to court.
Although, in that case, I could claim that I was just giving him a lesson in politeness. Still, stepping on gilded toes before my boots even touched Capital soil didn't seem wise. After all, giving lessons to sons of the influential had landed our family in hot water once before. As they say, once bitten, twice shy.
The boy continued, "And he didn't just stop there!"
Oh really? There was more?
"Hungry for merit, on the way here, he set fire to the fields of innocent farmers of Shogunate occupied Regiis. He didn't even consider their lives as all he thought of was his own benefit. Even if they are under foreign subjugation, they are still our citizens. I have on good authority that there were several casualties as the fields burned."
A ripple of discussion ran through the crowd at that. They began to move restlessly. Their attitude turned from 'people watching the fun' to 'suspicious'. It seemed that this guy had some clout in the Capital.
My brows furrowed deeply at that. A deep loathing rose up in me at this guy's twisting of facts to serve his own agenda. The heroic actions of the farmers had been talked into some abominable action of mine. And what was this about farmers dying in the fires? Was this an accident as the fires ran out of control or was it the Shogunate cracking down on them with an iron fist?
I really hoped that it was the former as I prayed for their souls. If it was the latter, then things were going to turn sour fast.
Also, did the idiot know that the Demigod had accompanied us the entire way? Of course, he didn't. Otherwise he wouldn't dare to indirectly accuse her of the death of Regiis citizens. Even the Emperor couldn't save him from the wrath of a Demigod.
Demigods weren't obligated to report their location to anyone, so it wasn't a surprise that he wasn't informed about it.
"And are we just supposed to ignore the fact that his wife is a kitsune? One of the Daimyo clans? That she is a bearer of the same bloodline as the Duchess turned Traitor that lost us our land? Her daughter?!"
Now he's gone and done it.
Really, this guy wasn't leaving me an exit, was he? Did I murder his parents, or did I steal his lover? Or was it just my pretty boy face that attracted male hatred naturally? I sighed internally. He had insulted my wife. Troublesome or not, he wasn't leaving here unscathed.
Just as I was about to step up and put him in his place, Ceres stepped up before me and said:
"I believe that public slander merits a ceremonial duel by Regiis law."
Her voice rang out in the square, silencing the rising murmurs of the crowd. Back straight, tails swinging regally, eyes flashing as she swept the crowd with her gaze; she captured all eyes, commanded all attention.
"I have fought for the Empire, bled for it, kept its borders safe from the Calamity. I have proved my innocence with merit. I refuse to be taunted for blood I do not carry in my veins. I am no daughter of the Traitor for I am a true daughter of the Empire."
She turned to the boy. "I challenge you to a duel on grounds of libellous intent. As is my right!"
She flared her mana, displaying her Tier 2 middle stage cultivation base for all to see.
Her words rang out into the shocked silence. The boy stared at her with his mouth half-open – interrupted in the middle of spewing out more of his nonsense.
Fierce! My heartbeat couldn't help but speed up as pride welled up in me. 'That's my wife!' I wanted to yell out.
But I couldn't help but worry a little about her. The boy was Tier 2 peak (since he was going to duel my wife, he was no ally of mine – I could be forgiven for a peek). He was also, in all likelihood, the scion of some noble. He had access to libraries more advanced than ours…
Wait. No, he didn't. Ceres had access to the kitsune library so at most, from the knowledge aspect he'd be on par with her. And Ceres had mastered an Aspect and was an Adept in another…
Really, why was I even worrying? He wouldn't even know what hit him.
This was an elegant solution to my dilemma. He couldn't complain if he got clobbered by someone in his own Tier – not when he was clearly in the wrong.
The boy recovered his poise quickly and narrowed his eyes at Ceres, then at me. Pointing to me, he said, "I'll accept her challenge but when she loses, I demand a duel with you."
He didn't mention any stakes. He didn't need to. The consequences if I lost were quite clear. It would mean I was lying about my prowess. And lying to the Emperor was lese majeste – an offense punishable by lifetime incarceration in the mines of the Central Province.
But did he really want to dig his grave so deep? I could feel the anger radiating off Ceres in waves. Shaming her by disregarding her publicly…
I shrugged. "Fine. I accept."
If this nameless fool wanted to court death, who was I to stop him?
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