Soon enough the day of the graduation ceremony arrived. Enki was sitting amongst the other graduates within the Academy's auditorium, listening to the principal's speech. Next to him were sitting Mago and Bismark and a row further down was Ragan, whispering something to a girl next to him, causing the latter to blush.
"... and on that note, I congratulate all of you young bright minds that have been with us these last five years. It has been a pleasure to teach you and I hope to hear of your accomplishments in the future.", concluded the principal.
After that, the students were called upon one by one to receive their diplomas.
"So, feeling nervous?", asked Mago from Enki.
They were sitting in a lounge within an airship that was taking them to the Divine Empire Sargon's capital Valopolis. Several dozens of regular mages powered the airship, and it operated with the mana that the mages fed it. While the airship was the quickest way of transportation, it was not used for anything else. It was too brittle and an easy target for enemy mages during a war, and it took too many mages to operate it to make it beneficial in the longer run.
With Mago and Enki were Bismark and Ragan, who both were from the Empire as well. The four of them had left directly after the graduation ceremony, not bothering to stick around any longer than necessary.
"Not really, I'm not a defenseless child anymore. The other princes and princesses barely focus on any training or studying, just living extravagantly in the palace so they won't be holding much of a threat to me.", answered Enki.
"That might be, but they still have the backing from some of the noble houses. Besides, according to what I have heard from Violettina's letters, the first prince and second prince have become quite ambitious and restless. Two of your brothers have already been killed. Of course, there wasn't any evidence to tie them to the murders, but it's likely that they were behind them.", said Mago. He was worried about his friend. The Imperial Palace was a nest of vipers, and Enki had no allies there.
"It will be fine. Besides, I'm planning to ask the Emperor to grant me a fief to govern over. That way I don't have to stay at the capital any longer than necessary.", replied Enki. He had graduated the first of his class, so he was more than qualified to govern a small fief within the Empire.
"Why do you two always have to talk about serious matters? Just sit back and relax. We are still a few days from the Empire and free to do whatever we like in the meantime.", grunted Bismark, who was lying on a sofa next to them with his eyes closed.
"Exactly, just like the lazy bum said. We are free for now so enjoy life a little.", commented Ragan while eyeing a couple of girls drinking some tea a dozen feet away from them.
"Who are you calling a lazy bum you damn manwhore.", frowned Bismark, opening his eyes and giving Ragan a glare.
Listening to their friends' bickering, Enki and Mago both smiled at each other while deciding to stop worrying about things they had no control over.
"So the bastard prince is finally returning.", said Gaius von Imvidra, first prince of Divine Empire Sargon.
"He should arrive in a couple of days.", replied Darren von Imvidra, the second prince of the Empire.
The two of them were talking in Gaius' chambers within the Imperial Palace. While the two didn't really get along, they had decided to work together for now to decrease future competition for the throne.
Darren was the only son of the Empress and the second oldest prince and had the backing of her house, the Ducal house of Lapius. Also, being the son of the Empress, he had the strongest legitimacy claim.
Gaius was the son of the Empire's First Queen and the eldest prince of the Empire and behind him was his mother's house, the Marquess house Qaveron and he had the strongest support among the nobles.
The Emperor of Sargon had traditionally three official wives. The first wife naturally being the Empress, while the remaining two would be granted the title of Queen. This had become a tradition when it was found out that one of the previous Empresses was infertile and endangered the future survival of the imperial family.
"Did you hear he graduated as the first of his class?", asked Gaius.
"Yes, I did. What about it? It's not like it changes anything. Once he is here, he will be as powerless as before with no one to back him up. He will end up like the other two idiots that got in my way.", snorted Darren. In his eyes, the only actual competition he had for the throne was his half-sibling, Gaius.
"I guess you are right.", muttered Gaius, but he could not shake the feeling that things wouldn't be as easy as they seemed.
The Divine Empire of Sargon was the biggest country on the western continent in the world of Alleria. It had been established for close to a thousand years and was ruled by the Imperial family ever since. Along with the Imperial family, there were others who held significant power within the Empire. Among those were the Holy Church, which was founded alongside the Empire, and the six major families which consisted of three ducal houses and three marquis houses.
The airship that Mago and Enki were on had just landed in the Empire's capital, Valopolis. The Empire's capital was truly breathtaking. Tall white marble buildings rose one after the other, looking like they could reach the sky. The clean and sparkling streets which were maintained with magic looked magnificent in the sunlight. At the center of the capital, there were two buildings that outshone the others. One was a white palace adorned in gold, and it stretched out to occupy most of the central capital with its vast yards and adjoined buildings. The other one was the tallest building within the Empire, the Cathedral of Eternal Light. It was the headquarters of the Holy Church and its four main spires were hundreds of meters tall, easily trumping the other buildings in height.
The moment Enki and Mago had stepped out of the ship, there had been an envoy from the Palace waiting for them and they were both summoned to visit the Emperor.
Glancing at each other, they had shrugged and gotten inside the carriage waiting for them.
The carriage ride wasn't long. It took them only about twenty minutes before reaching the Palace entrance.
Stepping out of the carriage, Enki looked around. The Palace looked exactly like he remembered. As a child, he found it magnificent and radiant. Now it just looked foreboding and quite frankly pompous.
'Just who had such tacky taste.' thought Enki to himself while looking at the extravagant gold-coated buildings around him.
"Please step inside, the Emperor is waiting within the throne room.", said one of the Imperial Guards at the Palace's entrance.
"Please lead the way.", replied Enki to the guard and started walking, Mago tailing behind him.
Upon reaching the throne room, the guards before it gave a small bow and then opened the doors.
Within the throne room, Emperor Antheus was sitting upon the throne, with the Empress sitting beside him, and the hall was filled with nobles lined up on both sides of the room.
The throne room was like a vast hall, with a magically reinforced glass ceiling, which allowed the sunlight to shine through to the throne room during the day. It also had large white pillars decorating the hall on both sides, creating a walkway that led to the two white and gold thrones that were placed at the far end of the hall upon a podium.
'What's going on.' thought Enki, while glancing at the equally perplexed Mago. It was rare for all the nobles to be gathered together like this.
"Welcome back home, son.", beamed the Emperor while rising from his throne and further confusing Enki.
'When has that bastard shown any affection towards me.' thought Enki while bowing to the Emperor.
"I'm back, Your Imperial Majesty.", said Enki while kneeling in front of the throne. He felt uncomfortable under the hundreds of piercing gazes of the surrounding nobles.
"Please, no need to be so formal. Just call me father.", smiled the Emperor.
This caused Enki to frown and some murmurs to erupt from the nobles that filled the hall.
Ignoring the whispering nobles, the Emperor glanced at the now grown-up bastard son of his, whom he saw today for the second time in his life.
'He will do.' he thought to himself.
"I have gathered all of you here today to announce some joyous news.", declared Anatheus with a smile on his face.
"Out of all of my children, none have ever truly accomplished anything. They have just stayed within the palace, scheming behind my back while living lavishly, wasting away our Empire's citizens' hard-earned money.", thundered the Emperor.
"That is why it brings me much joy to finally have a son who has made something of himself. A blue rank Warrior who graduated the first of his class in politics and governance in Sacred Academy.", he continued.
This caused a fresh wave of whispers to erupt among the nobles. When had the Emperor ever spoken so highly of any of the princes? What was he up to?
"So after much consideration as to how to reward you and show my appreciation, and because of the constant pestering of the nobles choose a crown prince, we now bestow upon you, in front of all these nobles as witnesses, Enki von Imvidra, the title of the crown prince.", declared the Emperor causing a huge uproar inside the hall, the nobles were shouting in protest and the Empress turned towards the Emperor with a shocked expression on her face, while the faces of the other princes completely fell.
"SILENCE!", thundered the Emperor.
"ALL OF YOU! BOW TO YOUR NEW CROWN PRINCE!", he shouted.
Gritting their teeth, the nobles bowed their heads to Enki. They didn't even bother to mask the hostility on their faces.
'What is that old man up to? There is no way he is doing any of this out of the goodness of his heart or because he is proud of me.' thought Enki while feeling uneasy because of the hostile stares surrounding him.
Next to Enki was Mago, kneeling while having a deeply disturbed expression on his face. He had heard the news of the situation in the capital from his sister and reports from the people working under his father. The first and second princes were getting more and more restless and acting without restraint because they were the most likely successors and felt that they could get away with most of the things they had done. Like killing their own half-siblings.
'He is going to use Enki as a leash to restrain the other princes and making him a common target for the entire Imperial family.' thought Mago while cursing the Emperor in his head.
"Now as for the other piece of good news. Before me is another bright young man. First of his class in military affairs, scoring the highest score in all the written tests and practical exams, making a new record within the Academy, and now willing to serve the Empire.", continued the Emperor.
"Mago Barca, if your father could be here I'm sure he would agree with me when I say you have made the Empire proud.", said the Emperor while looking Mago directly in the eyes. This earned nods of approval from the surrounding nobility. Unlike the bastard prince, Mago had the backing of the Supreme Commander and only a fool would try to offend him.
"Thank you, Your Imperial Majesty.", smiled Mago, the earlier worried expression now completely erased.
"I have received your request to join the Imperial forces heading on the southern campaign in a few weeks. You applied for the role of a lieutenant, I believe?", asked the Emperor.
"Yes, Your Imperial Majesty.", answered Mago.
"I have approved of your enlistment, but I fear the rank of lieutenant is not suited for you. So I granted you the rank of Captain. Such an outstanding young talent as you need a higher platform to truly shine. You will be in charge of the fifth Brigade of Primigenia. High Commander Andremes will fill you in on the details later.", the Emperor informed.
"Thank you.", replied Mago, filled with joy. He would get to head out on the new campaign and had gained a higher rank than he thought possible. As long as he did well in the campaign, his future career would be secured.
"Sadly your brigade seems to be missing a few mages, so try to fill up the spots before heading out.", said the Emperor.
Mago smiled to himself, picturing two faces within his mind.
'Oh, how glad they will be. I'm sure they will be filled with gratitude.' thought Mago.