Mikel nodded in acceptance to the man's apology while maintaining his expressionless face. Eryk's uncharacteristic display of dominance made him feel slightly unsettled. He never liked him before, especially because of his complaisant personality. He was overly amiable, the kind that made one feel pleasant without buttering them up to the heavens. In the noble circle, you wouldn't find a single person willing to mock or discredit him despite his origins.
Looking at his graceful smile and gentlemanly conduct, it was very hard to imagine that this person was, in fact, a low-born. The Hawthorn family was but a struggling merchant family forty years ago. It was said that they used to be quite well off in the past with a flourishing crafts guild, but their fortune was squandered unscrupulously by the family's later generations' neglect and self-indulgent tendencies. It was only after Eryk came of age that he took over the head seat from his elder brother, though forcefully or otherwise, that was yet to be unveiled. Either way, he proved worthy of his position and the Hawthorn family started their unhindered rise to glory.
Eryk originated from the ever famous Ivywood prefecture of the southern Nearynian region. Because their wealth and trade routes continued to expand, it drew a lot of attention. Duke Waterford, who was assigned as the governor at the Ivywood prefecture at the time, spared no effort in making things harder for the family. He wanted to seize the business for himself, and as the highest authority in the region, he thought his words were the law. Unfortunately for him, he made the mistake of underestimating Eryk whose reach and influence were already far beyond his. Eryk instigated the common folks against the tyrannical duke and a bloody battle ensued between the two sides.
The capital was alerted too late. The battle was concluded by the annihilation of the Waterford line and Eryk was conferred the title of a Barron by the King for his contribution in 'protecting the defenseless peasants' without heeding any and all objections Mikel submitted. As the chief of the Nearynian Council, Mikel investigated the matter in-depth and knew all too well that the whole thing was staged in favor of Eryk's status upgrade. Mikel met Duke Waterford on countless occasions and he could say with certainty that the man was as greedy as they come, but he wasn't stupid enough to be so openly underhanded in coveting someone else's fortune. The king's bias to the Hawthornes attested to his involvement in the matter as well.
Mikel was helpless against the king's not so discreet conspiracy. But this sort of thing wasn't as rare as one might think. Every nobility has their hands in muddy waters. Mikel's job was in fact to retain some semblance of equilibrium and stability. Seeking justice and upholding the principle of righteousness is only a pretense for the simple-minded citizens. That kind of ideal fairness cannot exist in a kingdom with this much strength. He could only do his best to protect the innocents and restrain the power-hungry bastards from harming them. This kingdom would collapse without him. His father was killed for that purpose and so will he.
Mikel sighed at how fortunate the man before him was. A wealthy low-born who paved his way to dukedom by marrying the princess, has a good relationship with most nobles and loved by the same pawns he used to get to his goal. Such a good life was really enviable.
"I did it," Mikel was suddenly brought out of his musings by the raspy voice of the redhead.
Everyone's eyes widened at her admittance of guilt.
"Valdis!" high priest Philos roared, "haha, lord Mikel, don't believe her nonsense, she's just frightened…"
"Why?" Mikel's cold voice interrupted. His eyes bored into her unseeing ones.
"Have you ever heard of wraiths?" instead of answering him, she asked.
Mikel frowned and shook his head no. Wang Shu who heard this suddenly felt uneasy, especially since Gustave's hand tightened around his. He looked over and saw the older boy's face darken while his eyes glistened with a golden hue. It was a fleeting change which would've been missed if not for his divine sense. The air around him became suffocating and an oppressive might shot straight towards the priestess who visibly stiffened.
She looked towards them, her unfocused eyes brimming with defiance. The warning didn't seem to get through as she explained: "Wraiths are soulless creatures who are able to drain the life out of a person and steal their soul to extend the years of their lifespan or manipulate time and bend the will of heavens. Whenever they steal the soul of a person, the victim is cursed to wander with them for eternity – unless of course the wraith is killed. They only feel devastating emotions like hatred, anger and despair and wish for nothing but destruction and torment. They are born of Buryaks with incompatible magical constitutions. There's barely any records of them in the kingdom which is why none of you have heard of them."
"What is your point?" Mikel asked, impatient. How is this relevant to what's going on?
"Have you ever thought why your son, who was diagnosed with the Deathbell disease, could live this far and survive self-detonation? Why was your wife the first one to die because her fetus had the disease? There's never been a case of someone passing the disease to their mothers before."
Mikel's heart shook. He looked at his quiet son at the side with fear and confusion. It couldn't be… right?
Wang Shu heard all this and blanked slightly. So according to this person, Oliver is a wraith who devoured his mother's soul to extend his life? How devious.
He let his gaze wander around the people in the hall. Everyone looked at him with suspicion, it wouldn't take much to convince them. He had to admit, this was kind of genius. If he wasn't inhabiting Oliver's body he would've suspected him all the same.
Wang Shu smiled in irony. They really don't want him to live well.
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