Chapter 69.1

The unmistakable cadence of approaching footsteps echoed through the still night, brazenly announcing their presence, much to Rezette’s chagrin. Pausing from the task of honing his blade, he cast a fleeting, sidelong glance over his shoulder.

“You’re late,” he remarked, his voice tinged with impatience.

Genovia, her pale countenance bathed in the silvery glow of the moon, allowed her hood to slip back, revealing a mischievous smirk as she came to a halt just a few paces away.

“I’m afraid there was no time for dawdling,” she replied. Her eyes fixed upon the lifeless figure sprawled at their feet, a neat incision tracing across the throat.

“Remarkably precise work, I must say. Is this the felon who dared to pilfer from Rotiara’s tribute?” she inquired.

“Sobeul, present your report to the Lady,” Rezette ordered.

The aide to the duke, a pallor overtaking his features, swiftly handed Genovia a tightly rolled parchment.

“For the past year, this individual oversaw the harvests near the Tene River. From the beginning of last autumn up to just recently, they’ve been submitting counterfeit reports and filching grains and herbs,” he explained.

The Tene River, winding along the southern boundary of Rotiara, formed a colossal, meandering ribbon encircling the expansive expanse of the Rhoten Plain. It eventually merged with the Karis Sea, serving as a crucial connection between Rotiara and the neighboring states in the alliance. The leakage of a significant portion of the tribute had been traced to this very route.

“Surely, they must have used boats to transport the stolen goods,” Genovia inquired, her eyes alight with curiosity. “Is there any information about the whereabouts of these missing items?”

“We’re currently preparing an audit and will soon dispatch an expedition to the Tene River,” Rezette revealed. “Our investigation will encompass the river’s upper reaches to its lower stretches, and all the relevant details are meticulously recorded in the report for your perusal. You must present it to the Emperor.”

“I see,” Genovia nodded, her eyes narrowing. “It appears there are rats within the Tene River eyeing Rotiara’s treasures. Very well.” With a deft movement, she concealed the report within the folds of her robe, her eyes never leaving Rezette. His attention, however, shifted to the delicate curve of her neckline. It was a seemingly inconsequential gesture, yet it concealed a weighty decision formed in the depths of his mind.

Perhaps it’s better to resolve this matter right here, he silently contemplated.

Initially, the plan had been to discreetly eliminate the Lady Irrien on the road to the capital. There had been no need for him to get personally involved, but with each passing moment, his convictions were shifting.

In response to the palpable undercurrent of lethal intent that hung in the air, Genovia emitted a strained breath. She dared to challenge him. “Wouldn’t you regret this if you kill me now?”

“Regret?” Rezette’s expression remained resolute. “Regret is for those who still have lingering ties, my lady.”

In that moment, Genovia’s thoughts drifted to the woman encased in icy stillness within her carriage. Despite the shivers coursing down her spine, a wry grin crept onto her lips.

If Rezette knew that Elise had witnessed this secret encounter, what kind of expression would grace his typically inscrutable face? It was a challenge to envision any emotion other than perhaps annoyance or bewilderment.

Rezette Kyrstan was a rare breed, a man not easily ruffled. It was more like throwing ice onto ice itself rather than trying to kindle a fire in a man impervious to the heat of a blazing torch. Cold and aloof, much like his own demeanor.

Genovia couldn’t resist a sardonic comment. “I suppose your sword has tasted its fair share of Argan soldiers, too.”

Rezette’s attention had shifted away from her, and he signaled to his waiting subordinates who held their breath. Knights like Ruben Diark sprang into action. One of them took charge of the fallen body, while another approached Genovia. She questioned, her resistance palpable, “You tore them apart with that arm of yours, didn’t you?”

“Thanks to that, Van Yela remained unscathed. As did the Lady of Norella.”

Norella, a territory under the rule of the Duke of Irrien in the north, had long suffered from northern monster incursions that brought disease and turmoil. However, ever since the emperor had brought Rezette into the picture, they had enjoyed over 15 years of uninterrupted peace.

Genovia let out a derisive snort. “You speak as if it’s some grand sacrifice, but it’s merely finding a target for slaughter.”

“I never mentioned sacrifice,” Rezette retorted, unruffled. “If we must find the appropriate word, ‘symbiosis’ could be more fitting.”

Genovia scoffed, “Don’t be absurd.”

“In reality, the term ‘parasitism’ might be even more apt, Irrien,” Rezette calmly remarked as he sheathed his sword, sending an icy shiver down Genovia’s spine.

He spoke with an unprecedented absence of formalities and respect, a stark departure from his usual manner. The veneer of icy detachment that usually shrouded him now cracked, revealing a startling inhumanity.

His gaze bore down upon her as though she were nothing more than a mere insect. His hand, marked by veins as unyielding and polished as obsidian, touched her without restraint. His cerulean eyes, flashing like a merciless bolt of lightning, pierced through her.

He let out a disapproving click of his tongue. “Norella’s undeniable reliance on you is quite evident.”

It was only her tenacious pride that prevented Genovia from slumping on the spot. Her voice quivered slightly as she countered, “How about this, then? Argan forces are amassing at Regal. It appears you failed to inform Her Highness the Princess about that?”

A deep furrow etched itself onto the man’s brow.

The fact that the Argan survivors, who had managed to escape from Ugel unscathed, were congregating in the southwest of Grandel had been anticipated from the outset. However, the confirmation of their assembly was a novel development.

These were the words of Van Yela’s informant, Norella’s daughter, so there was no room for falsehood.

“We haven’t discovered any traces of Argan’s pillars, Bellator and Conrad, either. Conrad’s trail vanished on the road from the south to the north, and Bellator’s tracks were lost in the west. You’re familiar with the lineage of Bellator and Conrad, right?”



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