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“One! Two!”

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Heave-ho!

The port workers worked together to place a large wooden box down. One of the workers went up to the supervisor and asked, “Excuse me, sir, but what is this? It’s really heavy.”

“It’s not treasures, so don’t worry about it,” the supervisor responded.

“Whew! Did I say otherwise? It’s nothing like that,” The worker quickly waved his hands with a hint of regret and surprise on his face. He had been thinking that if the box contained gold, silver, or other expensive items, he could cooperate with the port’s gangs and sneak it away.

“It’s going to the Palin Association. It’s a cargo meant for the Palin Association’s Vice Executive, so if you want to put your hands on it, do it at your own risk. However, keep in mind that it won’t simply end with having your hands severed,” the supervisor warned.

“N-No, it’s not like I was…” the worker muttered before completely giving up on any lingering attachments to the wooden box. Messing with items belonging to the Palin Association in the middle of Maren Harbor was akin to suicide. Moreover, it was even truer if it was cargo meant for Priscilla Palin, known as the “Witch of the Harbor.” She had recently risen to fame as the leader of the association’s revival.

“There they come. Hey! Right over here!” the supervisor exclaimed while waving, and employees from the Palin Association came trodding over. A young man with a tidy appearance was among the group.

“Thank you for your hard work. Is this the cargo for the vice executive?” the young man asked.

“That’s right. I was watching over it the entire time, so you don’t have to worry about any damages,” the supervisor responded. The supervisor was only responsible for controlling workers in a small area of the port, and as such, he wasn’t a person of great stature. However, the Palin Association placed more importance on the supervisor’s role rather than his status, and the young man handed over a silver coin with a smile.

“Thank you for giving extra care. I will be sure to mention it to the vice executive as well,” the young man remarked.

“Hahaha! It’s always a pleasure doing business with the Palin Association. By the way, what is your name? I will make sure to remember it,” the supervisor chuckled before asking.

The young man instructed the employees to move the box, then turned his head at the supervisor’s question. “Felid. It’s Felid Tywin.”

“…!!!” The supervisor was startled and hurriedly bowed.

“O-oh, so it was the young master of the Tywin family. I apologize. I did see you from afar the other day, but my vision is a bit dim, so…”

“That’s fine. My brother is the lord, not me. Do I have to sign here?” Felid asked.

“Yes, yes,” The supervisor held out a yellow parchment spread out on a wooden board, and the young man signed it with soft, practiced handwriting.

“Then…” The young man lightly nodded.

“Ah, yes. Yes, please take care.” Unlike the young man, the supervisor gave an extremely courteous bow as the Palin Association’s employees departed.

“Excuse me, supervisor. Who is that man, and why are you acting like that toward him? The Tywin family? Is it a famous family?” one of the workers asked with a frown. He was rather confused. If the brother of a noble family’s lord was working for a business association, it meant that the family itself wasn’t very prominent.

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The supervisor jerked his head around and gave a look of pity before responding, “Hey, you ignorant fool. You make yourself a living in Maren Harbor, right? You might not know Lord Tywin, but how could you not know of his younger brother either?”

“…?” Why was he being scolded for not knowing the younger brother of a lord? The worker simply couldn’t understand it. Moreover, even the supervisor hadn’t recognized the young man until he introduced himself, right?

“Listen carefully. Felid Tywin is Sir Jan Eugene’s aide; no, His Excellency the Duke Batla’s aide. If you treat him carelessly, you’re done for,” the supervisor gravely remarked.

“Heuk!” The worker stiffened on the spot. He first came to know of Duke Batla a few months after he had arrived in Maren. He was a legendary knight who suddenly appeared one day and conquered the areas near Maren with his power. He departed on an expedition to Brantia with the support of Maren’s mayor, as well as the guild leaders and the famous nobles of Maren. In the end, the self-made man had gone on to become a duke.

“The Palin Association’s been coming up and around since this year, and the neighboring lords are gathering their forces with Maren at its center, all because of His Excellency Batla’s successful expedition. Do you know how many mana stones and monster by-products we are receiving from Brantia?” the supervisor asked.

“O-of course. I carry those…” the worker responded. The huge amount of supplies they had been receiving from across the sea hadn’t simply resulted in an increased demand for simple workers like himself. The worker had heard rumors in a pub that thanks to the explosive growth of various related industries, the city’s tax revenue alone had more than doubled compared to the previous year.

But what if all that was due to a single person’s achievements?

“In our city, even the mayor concedes to His Excellency Batla. The Palin Association is the only business that the duke deals directly with, and Young Master Felid is his first aide,” the supervisor explained.

“I see. Um, so does that mean there are other aides? Why is Young Master Felid the only one working for the association? He could have made it big if he followed his master, right? Didn’t that mean he was basically abandoned?” the worker asked.

“Ha! You punk. How ridiculous…” the supervisor muttered while staring at the worker with disbelief. He continued, “Do you even know the identity of his second aide? Do you even know what happened? He’s the new king of Brantia. Sir Eugene had made his second aide into a king. So what do you think he has planned for his first aide?”

“What?!” the worker exclaimed in shock.

“You bastard! Stop your bullshit and work!” the supervisor thundered.

“Ahk! I-I got it!” The worker hurried away.

***

“My master’s shipment has arrived, Vice Executive,” Felid said.

“Ah! Is that… so? Is… Would… the shipment be in my office?” Priscilla responded.

“Yes. And please speak as comfortably as before. I may be Master’s aide, but I am also an employee of the Palin Association,” Felid stated.

“Ah, yes. Yes, I-I will try…” Priscilla responded. After hearing the wonderful news that Luke, who had gone from a slave to Eugene’s aide, had taken Brantia’s throne, Priscilla couldn’t bring herself to treat Felid as comfortably as before.

‘If he heads to Mungard right now, it wouldn’t be a problem for him to just take a spot, right? If he becomes Sir Eugene’s agent in Mungard…’

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Brantia was finally settling after decades of chaos and confusion. What they lacked was food, and the rich continent would provide the supplies. In exchange, Brantia exported unpurified mana stones and monster by-products to the continent. As a result, more than half of mana stones and monster by-products from around ten evil lands were being transported over to Maren.

What if Eugene’s first aid, Felid, went over to Mungard and redirected most of the volume there from here?

“H-ho! Hoho! Come to think of it, it has been a while since you started working in our association, right?” Priscilla said.

“Uh, well, I can’t say that it has been all that long…” A little flustered, Felid brushed the tip of his nose.

‘S-so cute…’

Priscilla’s nostrils bulged and she took on a face similar to a middle-aged man. Although Felid wasn’t strikingly handsome like Eugene or Lanslo, he was no longer an innocent country boy either. During the time he spent with the Palin Association, he had grown a palm taller and grew out a neat mustache. Anyone would see him as a neat, personable young man.

In fact, Felid was quite popular with the ladies because his eyes were gentle, and he gave off a calm impression. There were quite a few nobles wanting to take Felid as their son-in-law, disregarding the fact that he was Eugene’s aide.

“What do you mean? We can definitely call that a long time. Ah, so I was wondering; if I open a new branch, could you take charge of it?” Priscilla asked.

“What? Me?” Felid said with surprise.

“Of course. Who else could I trust except you, Felid? Lord Tywin’s younger brother and Sir Eugene’s aide… Anyway, I had been thinking of…” Priscilla’s words were interrupted by a loud bang.

Tung!

The two figures immediately turned their heads at the sudden noise. The source of the commotion was the large wooden box left in the middle of the office.

“W-What is it?” Priscilla said.

“Well, excuse me for a second,” Felid said while taking a stance in front of the slightly frightened Priscilla. Priscilla felt her cheeks heating up.

‘Oh my! Oh my! What is this? N-no, maybe a reliable, younger man is fine too.’

Felid stared at the box with a frown, not knowing that the vice executive was looking at his wide back with enamored eyes.

Clatter!

“Ahk!” Priscilla screamed and clung to Felid’s back when an even louder sound came from the box.

Shing.

Felid unsheathed his dagger and spoke, “Vice Executive, please go and bring some people. Even if it’s cargo from my master’s territory…”

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“If you call for anyone, the great man you call Master will be in trouble,” a voice called out.

“Hiek?!” Priscilla froze on the spot. There was someone in the box?

“Who is it?! Reveal yourself!” Felid shouted while holding up his dagger. He had received frequent training from the chatty knight, Sir Madarazika, so his posture appeared flawless.

“You seem to have a good foundation. Just what I might expect from the aide of the great one,” The ropes that bound the box broke, and the box collapsed to reveal its content.

And what appeared was…

“A-A coffin…?”

Felid and Priscilla became wide-eyed when they saw a dark, grim sarcophagus. Soon, the coffin opened and fine soil overflowed from within. Afterward, a man appeared from inside the coffin. The two people felt their hair standing on end when they saw a normal person appear from the coffin. The only silver lining was that the figure didn’t seem hostile toward them.

The man was dressed in all black. He brushed the dirt off his hat and his shirt before speaking, “The great one, or rather, His Excellency Duke Jan Eugene Batla. I am the administrator of his territory, Delmondo.”

“…!”

The two figures stood motionless with shock. They recalled a recent rumor that had suddenly started circulating in Maren.

- Duke Batla may actually be a vampire.

Apparently, it was true.

***

“…S-so, His Excellency was a real vampire?” Priscilla asked.

“You should not describe him with such a degrading term, though it is fine for me—no, you cannot…” Delmondo spoke up.

“Uh… I see.” Priscilla muttered.

Delmondo took a large sip from his glass of wine and continued, “Humans, elves, orcs, dwarves. Just like other races, we have a monarch as well. He is one of the monarchs, or perhaps he stands even above the monarchs. The fact that he is unafraid of the sun and mostly unaffected by the sacred artifacts of the church is proof.”

“Ah.” Indeed, Eugene was completely fine during the day, and he wasn’t afraid of priests or holy knights. Who could have possibly thought of him as a vampire?

“And unlike me, he does not need to feed very often. Moreover, he will drink the blood of larger monsters possessing mana stones rather than humans. That is the source of power for members of the Dark Clan,” Delmondo explained.

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“That’s the first time I heard of that…” Priscilla mumbled a response.

“Naturally. The church and priest of this kingdom are unconditionally hostile toward us, so they wouldn’t have made it known,” Delmondo said, nodding.

“And why is that?” Priscilla asked.

A sneer came to Delmondo’s pale face as he responded, “That shouldn’t be what’s important right now.

“What…?” Priscilla asked.

“The City of Maren is on very bad terms with the Caylor Kingdom’s royal family and the central church, right?” Delmondo stated.

“A-are you saying…?” Priscilla asked with surprise.

Delmondo nodded. “That’s right. A holy knight came to our territory. He called us pagans. The Archivald Marquisate has already become involved as well.”

“Those crazy bastards!” Priscilla exclaimed. Although she acted timid in front of Eugene, Priscilla was originally a woman of fierce temper. The fact that she earned her position as the association’s vice executive proved her abilities and attitude.

“I don’t know what the king and the church are thinking, but they drew their swords. In all likelihood, the City of Maren will be forced to make a choice as well. Will you stand on the side of the royal family, or with the great one and the Archivold family?” Delmondo asked.

“Hmph! There’s no need to even think about it. I and the Palin Association will stand with Sir Eugene. What has the king ever done for us?” Priscilla responded.

“Do you really think that the City of Maren will share your thoughts?” Delmondo asked.

“Naturally. Would we suddenly join the royalists? Not that it will ever happen, but even if we did, the citizens would demand the mayor’s head. We don’t even know how much tax and military funds they will demand from the city. And worst-case scenario, I will ask my father and grandfather to replace the mayor. How much profit do you think Sir Eugene has gotten us so far?” Priscilla explained before asking.

“I-I see…” Delmondo was somewhat taken aback by Priscilla’s response. She was fiercer and more temperamental than he had expected. In addition, he discovered why this woman had always maintained her relationship with Eugene.

‘Although it’s a relationship formed by money, she’s loyal.’

Felid had remained silent during the two people’s conversation, but he spoke up after a moment of silence ensued, “Excuse me, sir. I understand why you came to Maren, but who is managing the master’s territory right now?”

“I just sold it,” Delmondo responded.

“What…?”

“I have disposed of the territory to its original master, Marquis Archivold. That was the way to guarantee the greatest benefit to the great one,” Delmondo added with a mysterious smile. He was a competent official of the empire before becoming a vampire, and he had spent decades traveling and racking up experiences thereafter.

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