Upon receiving the Emperor's call, Jed entered the Imperial Palace and his face immediately shifted into a look of disgust as he noticed Duke Ruirk approaching from the hallway.
There were many things that Jed didn't like, but there was only one person that he would outwardly show his disgust for.
“It’s nice to see you, Duke Heint.”
A soft smile crept onto his handsome face. With blue hair and purple eyes, his face was delicate and beautiful, as if it had been made with great care by a goddess. However, Jed looked as if he was going to vomit immediately.
“Yours is not a face that’s nice to see, so I’d like for you to clear the way, Duke Ruirk.”
“Haha, unfortunately, I can’t. It seems like we are heading in the same direction.”
As he frowned, Duke Ruirk's smile widened. His fantastic smile was so beautiful that Jed wanted to slap it right off his face.
Like water and oil, ice and fire, they were incompatible. Period. He was sure that bastard felt the same.
Jed disliked Duke Ruirk so much that the word "dislike" was not near sufficient to describe his hatred. If there was a list of things that Jed abhorred, the Duke of Ruirk would belong at the top. Because he…….
“Are you going to visit His Majesty? So am I.”
He swore under his breath. In the end, as they were both heading in the same direction, he had no choice but to go through the same hallway. There was, after all, had only one passage that led to the throne room.
"Oh, I heard you're engaged."
“I heard that your fiancée is the famous daughter of Count Aydin, the Morning Star of Yansgar. Is that true?"
"Ah, I've seen the daughter's face several times from afar, she was so beautiful that even His Majesty the Crown Prince was captivated for a brief time.”
He was mocking him, bringing up the fact that the Crown Prince abandoned the woman after playing around with her.
Jed twisted his lips. That bastard looked more like an aristocrat than a Knight, even when using a sword. Jed didn't like the elegant mockery of the Duke of Ruirk either.
"The Lady of Count Aydin surely must have been delighted to see you. It must be distressing as she has not been feeling well."
He was even touching on the rumor that his fiancée had jumped into the Imperial Palace Lake right after being desperately begging and being wretchedly rejected by the Crown Prince. Jed, who had kept silent until now, opened his mouth.
“It seems that your affection for the Crown Prince is more special than that of Count Aydin’s daughter.”
“I think anyone who hears that will misunderstand. I am the Emperor's servant."
“Sure, whatever you say.”
To describe the Duke of Ruirk’s actions as a proxy to the Crown Prince was nothing but a disgrace. Jed just laughed leisurely because he had powerful information networks, something that Ruirk was keenly aware of.
“I get much amusement hearing about the news of your efforts.”
“… … .”
“Although, they’re mostly in vain. Still, I shall tell the Emperor about your achievements.”
“Well, I can only thank you for your overt interest in me.”
Ruirk faced him and smiled.
A sly fox. Jed's reddish-brown eyes cast a chill over Duke Ruirk.
As they walked down the hallway, no words were exchanged between the two men.
Thinking of his fiancée, Jed’s mood soured.
Judging from the hierarchy of aristocrats, the daughter of Count Aydin should have welcomed him. After such a humiliating scandalous act, she would have no other choice but to get married to an old nobleman as his second wife, save for his offer of an engagement to protect her status.
He was somewhat surprised to see her well enough to offer her condolences for his father, but her cold demeanor was a mark of immaturity.
Her face had 'I couldn't marry the Crown Prince because of you' written all over it. She didn't even offer for him to sit with her as if she didn't even want to see his face.
Come to think of it, just as he detested Duke Ruirk, she also seemed to despise him in the same way. Jed wondered whether he or his family had done anything unspeakable to Count Aydin or his daughter.
However, when he had delivered the engagement notice, he had written a very courteous letter, and seeing that the Count had responded immediately, it was a sign that the Count was pleased about it.
It was the same for that suicide debacle. Although he often met Count Aydin and his daughter and they greeted each other while passing, he had no interest in them and they had no interest in him. So why give him such a deathly glare? When he kept thinking about it, he realized another strange thing. Her way of speaking was like that of a man.
He had been dumbfounded by the novelty of speaking informally, so he didn’t even think about the fact that she could parley his rough talk so naturally.
That well-groomed and beautiful face could dictate her speech like men. Besides, the tone gave him the feeling of a 'soldier.' He didn't notice it at the time because it had sounded so natural. Did she go crazy when she threw herself into the water? He would refuse a crazy wife.
Jed was not by nature a person who exaggerated unrealistically. She couldn’t be crazy, it just seemed so because she wasn’t polite.
He frowned at the thought of that unpleasant first meeting. He said he would divorce her right after marriage, but that was even more work. Thinking of the future only made him even more annoyed.
Eventually, the two men reached the Throne Room and went inside.
“Long live the Sun of Yansgar. We are at your service, Your Majesty.”
“Long live the Sun of Yansgar. We are at your service, Your Majesty."
Together they knelt and paid tribute to the Emperor of Yansgar.
The Emperor of this country, Baidu, had actively engaged in a war of conquest, and in the end he invaded and reigned over his brother's land, Ersha. From then on, he called himself 'Emperor.'
The Yansgar Kingdom became an Empire, and the Royal Palace became the Imperial Palace.
The reason as to why he started the war was simple. He just wanted to own a lot of land. So Yansgar struck its neighboring country, Bern, and Thuringen in the south.
After successfully taking the powerful country Izahill, Karajan, a tribal nation next to it full of vast plains and forests and mountains with abundant resources, also fell into his hands. Everything was done under the ruler's very simple and brutal logic, ‘I want it.’
The Emperor, who had achieved these tremendous changes, was now grimacing with a worried look.
The old man rested one hand on his forehead, representing the severity of his concern. His brow was furrowed, and there was a fit of bright blue anger in his eyes.
Jed could guess why the Emperor was so angry. Perhaps the same went for Ruirk.
The Emperor beckoned them to rise. He had no patience for formalities at the moment.
“Duke Heint, Duke Ruirk.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
The Emperor sighed before he lifted his hand from his forehead and stared at them. Jed and Ruirk also straightened their backs.
“Why are my people dying?”
“Why do you think my people are dying so horribly?”
The Emperor was talking about the issues at hand without going through the salutary formalities.
He didn’t need to explain. Recently, a series of murders had occurred within the capital fortress of Greenhill.
The killer targeted women, and the things he did to them were more horrendous than those described in mystery novels.
This was all happening in the middle of a peaceful capital.
Patrols, guards, and even the Imperial Palace Guards were dispatched to investigate, but the murders continued to take place.
It was known to be a serial murder case as the criminal used the same cruel method every time, and starting from the second murder, after killing the victim he would leave a letter written in blood: "I am the Knifeman."
The women's bodies were brutally mutilated, and their blood became the red paint used to write the word “Knifeman” on the wall. The degree of mutilation to the body was too high to label as a simple robbery – they were all young women, murders without discrimination. The streets of Greenhill, which at first thought it was a simple murder case, were suddenly placed on high alert.
“As you are the commanders of the 1st and 2nd Knights, you know what to do.”
Jed thought he was screwed. He was the commander of the 1st Knights, and Duke Ruirk was the commander of the 2nd Knights.
The position of commander of the 1st Knights was more like an honorary position for him. Unlike Ruirk, Jed's 1st Order's actual work was carried out by his deputy commander and aides.
Jed preferred to be out on the actual battlefield rather than working on imperial affairs in the capital. The Emperor had given him the post of commander, but he left the paperwork to his aides and instead roamed the battlefield.
If the Emperor had addressed them with their formal positions, it was clear that he was going to give them an assignment. And if Jed's prediction was correct…
"Three days. I will give you three days.”
The Emperor ordered them to catch and bring the killer.
“My Lady, please stop.”
At the maid's plea, Lucifella slowed her pace. She was panting, and her heart was pounding. Sweat dripped down and stuck to her body.
Anyone who saw the scene would have thought that she was acting wildly, but unfortunately for Lucifella, she had only gone twice around the garden. She wasn't even running, just walking a little faster.
To Estelle, Lucifella’s body was a great disaster. She couldn't do anything she wanted. She couldn't understand how the hell this girl even found the stamina to get dressed up and go to her parties.
Lucifella’s plan was very simple.
She wanted her to develop her stamina first. Even though she couldn't handle her body like Estelle, she tried to walk a little. If possible, she wanted to protect herself. She wondered what dangerous things could possibly happen to Lucifella, who was raised with the most outstanding care and wealth, but wanted to try.
“I will do it my way.”
“I will tell the master.”
"It's no use, though. I want to do it."
The maids quickly realized that their Lady, who had always been sharp and mean, had become somewhat stubborn but still docile. Thus, the smart ones knew that Lucifella was kind to them to some extent, or rather, instead of being kind to them she considered them cute.
Their little girl, Her Ladyship, who had lost her memory, was somehow a bit clumsy yet generous and that made her even cuter. Even as an adult, she accepted their care readily like a baby bird.
“Then I’ll hold up a parasol.”
"Why put up such a useless thing. Your arms would hurt. And I am taller than you. Your name is….?"
Oh, and the other thing was that she was friendly with her maids and made an effort to remember their names as well. Of course, the effort was ineffective as she would always mix them up.
The mansion, in which everyone used to be constantly walking on thin ice due to Her Lady's vicious personality, was somehow turning into an easy and smooth atmosphere. The bright atmosphere was full of pinks and yellows like forsythia blooming in spring.
The maids remembered the savagery of Lucifella, but they held no grudges against her. To the maids, that was just what they expected of their superiors. Also, she was too high of a person to have antagonistic feelings against.
In addition, every action she did now had made their knot of sad feelings come gently untied. When a person who always acted badly acted nicely once, that remained in their hearts.
Their Lady sometimes couldn't stand watching hard work being done by a woman. Although she was even weaker than they were, she would say 'No, how do you girls live this? Let me do it,' then the maids would get into trouble with the head butler.
The workers were convinced that Lady Lucifella was not bad by nature and that she just had only been taught the bad things.
The Count was also delighted with Lucifella's changes because she gave up her fussiness and was satisfied by going along. Everyone slowly got used to Estelle as Lucifella.
“It was a gift from the Lord. You, my Lady, asked him to buy it.”
Eventually, she had to get back to her room at the behest of her maid. When she entered the house, one of her other maids brought her a gift box, saying that the master had sent it. Opening the box, she found what she had wanted.
It was just a fancy accessory. The dagger's scabbard was thick and adorned with splendid pearls and jewels. Even the sheath was made of milky rimmed stone and was heavy, so portability was the worst.
She pulled out the dagger from its heavy, unbreakable sheath and looked at the blade.
Although it was sharp, its durability was extremely poor. It would be funny trying to defend herself with this. If anything happened, it would likely be stolen first and sold at a high price. The message was clear: that ladies should just get men to protect them.
Disappointing thoughts lingered in her mind, but at least she was able to have this much. She was able to obtain the so-called dangerous dagger due to recent disturbing rumors of violence outside, but she had been wrong in assuming that the Count would get her an actual weapon.
Hanging the dagger around her neck, Lucifella looked at it for a long time. She felt that she was similar to this dagger. A sharp silver blade hidden beneath an overly flashy and heavy scabbard. It was Estelle in Lucifella.
The evening that Jed started the investigation, another murder occurred. The woman died just as horribly as the others.
The commander of the Capital Guard and members of the Imperial Palace Guard bowed their heads down. Eventually, everyone was dispatched, from the Imperial Family to the Knights. Even though this was public, it looked as if the killer was making fun of them.
The rat bastard. Jed gritted his teeth.
The murder scene was as gruesome as ever. The road was wide enough for a wagon to pass, the woman was slashed multiple times with a knife, and the words “Fear the Knifeman” were written on the wall. It was mocking the Knights’ fear.
The victim was also a young woman like the others. She was a lady who had been working as a clerk in the large upper part of the capital, and she had been killed on her way back home.
“It looks like another stabbing,” Duke Ruirk muttered indifferently as he looked at the corpse, standing next to Jed in his dark purple uniform.
Jed knew that too. The corpse had been stabbed with a knife, literally. The military doctor refused to examine the body, stating that it was unlucky to see a female corpse.
“Alas, it is terrifying that these seven weak women have already died. Isn't it, Duke?"
“… … .”
“What did you find out?”
"Nothing at all."
The killer appeared and disappeared swiftly. As if he had no fixed residence, he easily committed murders all over the city, jumping from one area to another.
Those who found the body said they saw nothing unusual.
It was evening, the time for people to go home after work. The victims had little to no trace of defensive wounds except the first one, as after that all had been attacked from behind.
They weren't robbed or raped. In addition, the place where the victims' bodies were laid was always only one block away from a crowded area.
In addition, they were always discovered around the same time, perhaps because it was a time when there were a high number of people moving. But with so many people, why were there no witnesses?
“A prostitute, a bookstore employee, a restaurant employee, a housewife… … .”
The problem was that the victims had nothing in common other than being women of a similar age. They looked different, had different occupations, and even lived in different areas.
“Have you investigated the Intelligence Guild?”
“Yes. I, too, only know the identity of the victims and am making an analysis. The Intelligence Guild was guessing that the culprit might be a guide.”
As the scope of the murders varied, the rumors about the knife-wielding killer continued to snowball through the city.
Seven victims. East, North, West, South, East, etc... there were even rumors that the killer was a woman.
The cycle of murder was not constant. However, if there was such a thing as a 'cycle,' it got shorter and shorter with each kill. From two weeks to a week, a week to five days, five days to three days, two days to a day. One day.
"Guide. It should be a guide, right?”
“Call in the guides.”
Guides were paid a certain amount to explain to merchants and first-time travelers the best places to set up or go sightseeing in the capital.
Naturally, they knew every corner of the city, and because they always rode horses, it was easier for them to move about. So, they were primary suspects.
As the Intelligence Guild pointed out, the Imperial Palace Guard was not stupid, so they also would have finished the investigation into the guides.
While saying that, Jed was looking more closely at the woman's body. He couldn’t help but feel that something was odd about it.
One of the knights ran in.
“What’s going on?”
“There are reports that Liam Hirka has been spotted.”
Ruirk and Jed raised their heads at the same time.
Liam Hirka was one of the remnants of Ersha. On the day that the Yansgarian army destroyed the kingdom of Ersha, the king's head was cut off, but their persistent residents continued to call for the independence of Ersha.
It would have been better if they had shut up and remained still, but a few radicals continued to move for Ersha’s independence.
In particular, the most terrible act they had committed was toppling down the bell tower built by Count Bavand, a man who had strongly insisted on the subjugation of Ersha.
They hated the so-called "rebels" the most and strongly hoped for their executions. In particular, Liam Hirka was one of the most intimidating anti-Yansgar factions.
Silence enveloped them.
“Doesn’t it look like he is the culprit of the serial killings? No, I suppose he is not a serial killer then but a terrorist."
Jed watched with disgust as the smooth words came out of Ruirk's mouth.
The knights nodded their heads at Ruirk's words and whispered amongst themselves. All of the pieces came together nicely.
If Liam Hirka had come, his 'subordinates' also would have come. The words "Knifeman" engraved in blood on the wall indicated Liam's occupation as a Knight of Ersha.
The cycle of killings was shortened to gather allies while antagonizing the Emperor. Also, the murders were able to be committed in multiple districts due to there being accomplices, those who supported Ersha's independence.
They were warning Yansgar by showing off their power through the radical means of murder—execution of traitors and independence.
“The 2nd Knights are now looking for Liam Hirka’s head. Let us offer his head to His Majesty,” Ruirk said quickly. The knights of the 2nd Knights promptly ran to the horses they had set up, and the Imperial Palace Guards quickly followed.
Ruirk glanced at the dead woman then turned his steps toward his horse. Ruirk looked at Jed's eyes.
“Duke Heint, if you don’t hurry up, you may lose this mission. Our knights are pretty outstanding,” he said.
“Well then, I have high expectations.”
Jed truly hated Ruirk. ‘Is that jerk aware of what he's doing right now?’
Watching the 2nd Knights disappear on horseback, the 1st Knights looked at Jed with a puzzled expression. They, too, looked desperate, not wanting to lose.
"Duke Ruirk would take out his liver and gallbladder to catch him, so you need not try. We just need to check to see if anything is wrong and patrol the capital," Jed said.
“Commander!” the Deputy Commander called out to Jed, dissatisfied. Jed's red-brown eyes turned to him. Overwhelmed by those cold, sunken eyes, the Deputy Commander couldn't move.
Jedder Kyle Heint was the knight of all knights and a living god of war on the battlefield.
Seeing that the Deputy Commander whimpered and put his tail between his legs, Jed looked at the woman's corpse.
The woman was lying down soaked with blood. It was very repulsive to see a woman's corpse. It had been the same when he saw the fall of the Ersha Kingdom—especially seeing that woman's neck.
Jed approached the woman's corpse. The Imperial Palace would take care of things, but before that he felt compelled to compensate her family himself.
Jed's eyes narrowed as he laid his eyes on the woman who had collapsed in a crouched position. He felt like he was missing something.
What the hell was the problem? His sharp eyes scanned the woman.
Then, a bright light lit up in Jed's head. There was too little blood. He was Jed, who had run across the battlefield and seen nothing but endless corpses. He saw the words 'Knifeman' engraved on the wall. The moment he found out the source of his discomfort, the answer was so clear.
Then the guides came. It was perfect timing.