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    “You expect me to believe that?”

    Doel growled fiercely. Perhaps due to that reaction, the man raised his eyebrows and shrugged his shoulders, as if perplexed.

    “I told you, I didn’t expect it to turn out like this either.”

    Although his eyebrows were drooping as if he felt sorry, his mouth was still smiling, making it clear that he felt no remorse whatsoever. Doel took another step closer to the man, his eyes cold and sunken.

    Despite the sword approaching his face, the man showed no sense of threat and pressed the tip of the sword pointed at him with his index finger. Drops of blood fell from his finger, pierced by the sharp blade. The two stood facing each other, a sword between them, their eyes locked.

    How long had they been in a standoff under the eerily serene moonlight? The man, who had been smiling with an innocent expression, suddenly widened his eyes as if remembering something and spoke.

    “Ah, right! Since I feel a bit guilty, shall I step aside from this spot?”

    Doel’s mood instantly soured at those words. He furrowed his eyebrows and asked, “What?”

    “You can’t defeat me anyway.”

    It was a statement that hurt his pride, but it was true. Against someone with such mysterious and strange abilities, no matter how hard Doel tried to resist with a single sword, it seemed unlikely he would win. A slightly resentful emotion welled up, but unable to say anything, Doel kept his mouth tightly shut.

    Even as he stubbornly stood his ground, a sudden loud noise, “Squawk―” was heard from above. Looking up, a massive bird that appeared even larger than a human was circling in the sky.

    Oh no.

    Come to think of it, it was about time for the patrol soldiers to arrive. Had the lord’s men discovered his presence here? Tension made sweat bead on his hand gripping the sword.

    It was only natural, considering he had spent a long time here. Peep was injured, and he was about to have the ledger taken away. He bit his lip for acting overconfident and failing to handle the matter quietly. He felt uneasy about causing harm to the duke who had trusted and sent him. As if seeing through Doel’s thoughts, the man calmly said, “It’s not because of you, but because of me that they’re here.”

    That’s mine, that thing up there. As the man raised his hand high, the bird that had been circling above flapped its large wings and descended behind the man, landing on the ground. When it folded its wings, its size had reduced compared to before, but its menacing aura remained the same.

    The man reached out and caressed the bird’s chin, and the bird obediently closed its eyes, accepting the touch. The sight of the intimidatingly large bird perfectly submitting to him was fitting yet eerie. Without ceasing his stroking hand, the man looked at Doel and said, “It seems something has happened to the lord.”

    Someone with such extraordinary abilities was a subordinate of the lord? It was incomprehensible. In Doel’s eyes, the lord was nothing more than a person who couldn’t do anything properly, driven solely by his own self-interest, lacking in ability but abundant in greed. How could someone like this exist under such a person…? Regardless of the circumstances, this man must not reach the lord. That much had to be prevented. As Doel tensed up and gripped the sword with both hands, the man spoke.

    “I won’t go.”

    Doel widened his eyes. Why? He couldn’t understand. Seeing Doel’s expression, the man grinned and said, “He turned out to be less fun than I expected. I’ve found something new, so I’ll play with that now.”

    His red eyes, filled with curiosity and delight, were fixed on Peep. Feeling an inexplicable chill, Doel slightly moved to the side to block his gaze. As if finding Doel’s commendable effort amusing, the man chuckled.

    “I hope it stays alive. See you later.”

    He waved his hand casually in farewell, just like when they first met. Before Doel could respond, the man mounted the giant bird and flew into the sky. Although Doel didn’t know where he was going, the thought that he had disappeared from this place made him heave a sigh of relief. At the same time, his legs gave out, and he sank to the ground.

    Doel exhaled deeply and crawled over to Peep. Fortunately, Peep was still breathing faintly. The thought occurred to him that if they hurried to a physician, there might be hope for recovery. Just as he had finished wrapping the robe tightly around Peep’s body and was about to pick Peep up, a familiar voice was heard.

    “What are you doing there?”

    He quickly raised his head and looked in the direction of the voice. Duke Karhan, who should have been in his room, was standing there, looking at him with a puzzled expression.

    “Your Excellency? How did you get here…?”

    Doel had clearly asked Karhan to divert the lord’s attention, but was it already over? Was it okay for him to come here like this? There were many questions to ask, but the words wouldn’t come out properly. As if finding Doel’s dazed demeanor unusual, Karhan approached closer.

    “I handled it well. But who is that?”

    Karhan asked, lowering his gaze. In response to his question, Doel asked back with an even more perplexed expression, “Did you not know…?”

    “What are you talking about?”

    “Ah, this child… is Peep.”

    An Avian tribesman.

    🐤

    At Karhan’s summons, the lord entered the room, brimming with tension. The room was dimly lit, with only a small lantern on the table. Perhaps due to the moonlight streaming through the window, the air felt even chillier. Karhan inwardly smiled bitterly at the lord’s face, unable to conceal his nervousness. He wasn’t originally like this, but perhaps because of his position, he had completely changed. Did he even realize how loud his own heartbeat was?

    “Sit here.”

    “Yes, yes.”

    Lord Valdez stammered and sat across from Karhan. He hurriedly took out a handkerchief and wiped the sweat flowing from his forehead. The duke looked at the lord and let out a small sigh. Seeing no benefit in delaying for either of them, he immediately spread the documents he had gathered on the table.

    “Do you know what these are?”

    “I’m not sure…”

    “These are the documents I requested from you when I came here. And these beside them… are the documents you sent me before.”

    As Karhan continued speaking, the lord clenched his fists tightly. Then, glancing around furtively, he mustered up the courage to smile awkwardly. Karhan’s expression grew even colder at the lord’s disoriented gaze.

    “In your opinion, what’s the difference between these two reports?”

    “Haha, my eyes are a bit poor, so…”

    “Lord Valdez.”

    Karhan quietly called out to the lord, who kept making excuses despite knowing the truth. At the low, cold voice, the lord stopped speaking and bowed his head deeply. His trembling body might have appeared pitiful. However, Karhan knew that the trembling was not out of fear. Because his heartbeat carried a tone of anger. Without taking his eyes off the lord, Karhan spoke.

    “Even with a rough comparison, one can see in which direction the reports have been manipulated and altered.”

    …I don’t understand why you’ve suddenly changed like this. At Karhan’s quiet murmur, the lord fidgeted with his hands. As the room was filled with icy silence, the lord, who had been silent, moved his lips.

    “Haha… How did I get to this point…?”

    After staring at the floor for a while, he abruptly stood up from his seat. As if suddenly filled with courage, the lord, who couldn’t even make proper eye contact before, met Karhan’s chilly silvery-gray eyes. Then, trembling with clenched fists, he spoke.

    “An investigation between nobles requires an arrest warrant, doesn’t it? Have you contacted the imperial family? No, no. Even if you have contacted them, you wouldn’t have the arrest warrant yet. Right? If you had it, you wouldn’t be talking like this…!”

    The lord twitched the corners of his mouth. When Karhan remained silent without any response, the lord became convinced that there was no arrest warrant and chuckled, “Heh heh.” The lord thought he had won. He believed that as long as “that guy” was by his side, being caught by the duke wouldn’t be a significant problem.

    “As long as that guy is here, everything will be resolved… He’ll be here soon.”

    With unfocused eyes, the lord repeated the words “that guy” over and over. Karhan quietly observed the lord, raising one eyebrow. Even if he believed there was no arrest warrant, his attitude was too overconfident when facing a duke. It seemed he had some breakthrough. Just as Karhan thought that things might go awry if he made a mistake, someone knocked on the door. The lord abruptly raised his head and looked at the door.

    “He’s here!”

    Lord Valdez, thinking the one knocking on the door was his subordinate, brightened up and shouted for them to come in. With a click, the doorknob turned, and the tightly closed door slowly opened. The bright light from the corridor shone into the chilly room.

    Karhan carefully examined the person who entered the room. Their face was not clearly visible as they were backlit, but there was a somewhat familiar feeling. As he narrowed his eyes and stared intently, the door closed. Only then, with the light blocked, could he recognize who the other person was.

    “You are…”

    Unexpected to see this face, his tightly closed mouth slightly opened. Karhan lifted his back from the chair and straightened his posture. The woman who had entered through the door bowed at a 90-degree angle in greeting.

    “I come to report to Your Excellency, Duke Karhan. The executor has arrived.”

    At those words, the expression of the lord, who had harbored a glimmer of hope, completely vanished. The woman took out a letter from her bosom and handed it to Karhan. The letter was sealed with a seal bearing the imperial family’s emblem. Staring at it in a daze, the lord sank into the chair as if the strength had drained from his legs.

    The woman who had brought the letter stamped with the imperial seal and the lord who had sunk into his seat. Seeing the situation unfold, Karhan slightly raised the corners of his mouth.

    “Now that the arrest warrant has also arrived, I intend to legally detain you from this moment on.”

    Karhan rose from his seat. The lord, who had been staring blankly at the letter, lifted his head. The silvery-gray eyes looking down at him felt particularly piercing. Without any intention of averting his gaze, the lord opened his mouth, his expression dazed.

    “It’s okay… Everything, everything will be resolved once that guy comes…”

    The lord repeated the same words with a spaced-out expression. Just who was “that guy” that he was so desperately clinging to? Karhan didn’t know what trump card he had left, but for now, he had to quickly isolate him while he was not in his right mind.

    Karhan summoned the soldiers outside and ordered them to confine the lord in a room with minimal furnishings. The lord’s knights hesitated at the sudden order, but when Karhan spoke again, they responded with a voice full of spirit.

    The knights dragging the lord by his arms to the room showed no semblance of being knights. Karhan smiled bitterly, thinking they were as dazed as their master. He also instructed them to keep a close watch on the lord to ensure he would never come out.

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