Mago was quite pleased with himself. It had been two weeks since he left Valopolis with the Primigenia Army. The army was marching towards the southern borders of the Empire and would arrive at the edge of the jungle soon. The Empire had decided to invade the jungle because of the many rare herbs and trees that it held as well as the exotic animals. They want to monopolize them, which would allow them to earn millions. All the alchemists around the world coveted the resources growing within the jungle.
At first, had the troops in Mago's brigade been reluctant to be led by a seventeen-year-old they still considered to be a kid. Some of the more unruly ones had directly challenged Mago's authority, so he had beaten them up in a fair fight. None of them was a match against his cyan core cultivation. Even among the other Captains was Mago easily the strongest, the others were only at the blue rank at best, some of them only at the green rank. The only ones within the army at the cyan rank or above would be the Colonels and Commanders.
After Mago had beaten some sense into his men, there were still some that were discontent but they mostly just kept shut about it and the march towards the Empire's southern border proceeded smoothly.
Also, just as Mago had predicted, Bismark and Ragan indeed attempted to get discharged. The two morons had picked a fight with another brigade's troops after getting completely hammered. Sadly for them, Mago had been waiting for it, and now both of them were stuck on night guard duty for the rest of the march. They were not happy about it. Especially the sleep-loving Bismark. It was like torture for him. This action had further improved Mago's standing with the soldiers under him.
His nickname that first was "inexperienced brat" had turned into "young tiger". At first, he had wondered why a tiger but apparently since they were heading to the jungle, and the tiger was known as the king of the jungle and a fierce and merciless beast, had the troops thought it was a fitting nickname.
Mago was sitting on his horse at the head of his brigade, clutching the pendant that Elise had gifted him. He hadn't taken it off even once after Elise had given it to him. On the morning of his departure, Elise had tried to put up a brave front and wished him good luck, but he had noticed her slight trembling and her red eyes. He had tried to assure her that he would be alright and return with news of success, but it had done little to ease her worries.
"Captain, we will arrive at the border in two more days. From there it will take one more day to reach the jungle.", reported Claude, one of the lieutenants under Mago's command. Claude was the son of a disgraced Baron that had gambled away all of the family fortunes and now his children were left with nothing and had to fend for themselves. Claude had joined the army five years ago at the age of sixteen. He had slowly but surely risen within the ranks. It had really pained him to be put under the command of a younger man than himself, but after seeing how Mago handled the troops and seeing his conduct, had the feeling slowly faded away. Now he was feeling pretty content with the young captain.
"Have the men gather once we set up camp. I want to go through a few basic rules before we set foot into the jungle.", commanded Mago. The jungle was a dangerous place. Poisonous insects, plants, and animals lived within it, and if not careful it was easy to lose one's life in there. Mago wasn't planning on letting any of his men die due to ignorance. If, after his instructions, some morons still ignored him, it wouldn't be his fault if they died because of their own stupidity.
'I wonder how many it will be' Mago thought. He was under no delusions that everyone would follow his rules. There were always fools who thought they knew better themselves and decided to simply ignore all advice given them.
'Oh, well. Not that I will need such ignorant morons, anyway. Getting rid of them early on is for the best.' concluded Mago.
Imperial Palace, Valopolis, Divine Empire Sargon.
It had been two weeks since Enki had returned to the palace. On the day of his return, he had a private audience with the Emperor. They met inside the Emperor's chambers. The chamber was unexpectedly modest. There were only some high-quality furniture and a few paintings, but that was it. There were no extravagant decorations, nor were the furniture trimmed or coated with gold.
The two of them sat at a table that was located at the back of the chamber near a window that overlooked the palace's main garden.
"Do you know why I made you the crown prince?", asked the Emperor bluntly. The sun shining from outside the window made his silver hair look dazzling, and combined with his sapphire-blue eyes he truly looked handsome, despite the wrinkles that had started to form on his face.
"I have some guesses but nothing to back them up.", answered Enki while looking at the garden outside.
"Oh? Let's hear it. I want to know what you think.", spoke the Emperor, with a slightly amused voice.
"You want to use me as a shield. I will become everyone's target while you can try to reclaim some sort of footing within the palace, because let's face it, aside from the Supreme Commander who is stuck up north, you don't have many allies within the Empire. At least not any that have much sway or power in the Imperial Court. Your own wives are plotting against you, wishing for their own sons to ascend on the seat of the Emperor. So you need time to assemble your own forces and buy you more time. Preferably enough time for Supreme Commander Barca to get back to the capital. With him here, no one would be brave enough to openly go against you.", replied Enki while turning to look at this father of his.
"I knew I was right to choose you.", smiled Emperor Anatheus. "You really are a bright kid. The Barca family did well in teaching you."
This made Enki frown. He didn't like being complimented by the man who had abandoned him as a child.
"I know you must hate me. But please understand, I couldn't do anything to help you. I'm powerless against the Empress who killed your mother. I had no choice but to stop the investigation once we had found a scapegoat. Also, it was actually my wish that Supreme Commander Barca took you and your sister in. If you had stayed within the palace, it would have only been a matter of time before both of you ended up dead.", explained the Emperor.
"Are you trying to tell me that all of this was in order to protect me? What, because you loved me and my mother secretly and had to distance yourself from us in order to prevent anyone from finding out?", sneered Enki. He wasn't buying it. He was sure that the man in front of him was trying to manipulate him.
"Nothing that glamorous, I'm afraid. I just hate the thought that the bastards trying to control my every move and undermining my authority will be the ones winning and taking over the Empire once I'm gone. You and your sister, as the only ones with no blood ties with any of the nobles. You two were the only pawns that I could use.", told the Emperor, giving a self-deprecating laugh.
Enki wasn't sure what he expected, but hearing that his father considered him nothing more than a useful pawn, still left a bitter taste in his mouth and made him feel empty inside. He had been born in order to be someone else's chess piece. Never had the Emperor seen him as a son. He was just someone the Emperor could use.
"I see. So what do you want me to do?", asked Enki with an icy voice while trying to hide the pain he was feeling.
"Nothing much, really. You just need to do well in your duties as the crown prince, which you will begin to do tomorrow. I have assigned you some people from outside of the palace that should be trustworthy but, keep your guard up around them.", the Emperor said. Naturally, the experienced old man saw the hurt in his son's eyes, but he couldn't be bothered about it. Better for the boy to temper himself. The journey ahead would be a dangerous one, filled with pain and bitterness.
"Great.", Enki spat out and rose up to leave.
"Oh, and son.", started the Emperor.
"Yes?", asked Enki while walking towards the door.
"Do stay alive. If you can survive for two years, I will truly make you the next Emperor.", said Anatheus with a slight smile that Enki couldn't see.
'He is as brazen as he was when he rushed into the throne room after his mother's death.' thought the Emperor, satisfied. While he didn't love this bastard son of his, was he truly satisfied when he had heard that Enki had graduated at the top of his class. Out of all his children, this one was making something out of himself. The others simply relied on their backers to scheme and plot, being completely helpless if left on their own.
Meanwhile, Enki was wondering, why two years? What would change after two years? Was the Emperor plotting something? Did he have a plan?
Enki didn't know the answer to these questions, and little did he also know that a lot would happen during these two years.
The next two weeks weren't that eventful. Enki quickly adapted to his new duties, which included taking care of some of the finances within the palace and the capital, organizing some events, greeting foreign diplomats, as well as overseeing some of the personnel within the castle, and if necessary making changes to it.
The northern border of the Divine Empire Sargon, Imperial forces campsite
Inside the large command tent that could easily fit a few dozen men, two men were sitting across a table.
"So, what exactly do you want from me?", asked Darius Barca, Supreme Commander of the Imperial forces of the Divine Empire Sargon from the strange that was with him inside the tent. The man had simply suddenly appeared while Darius was planning the next attack against the armies of the northern kingdom. Currently, the armies had been in a stalemate for a few months and he wished to resolve the ongoing situation.
Darius had never seen this man before, but every fiber of his being screamed that the man in front of him was dangerous and he already had an inkling of who this stranger could be.
"Become the Emperor.", simply stated the man before him.
"Please don't joke with me.", frowned Darius, hoping that it indeed was a joke.
"I wasn't joking. You could become the Emperor if you so wished.", replied the man.
Darius of course knew this. Within the Empire, he was the most powerful person. He was the head of the ducal house Barca and he was the Supreme Commander of all Imperial forces. Upon his call, all one million soldiers on active duty within the Empire would march forward. The Emperor only trusted him because he frankly had no choice. Under normal circumstances would Darius probably be falsely accused of treason or at the very least, removed from his position or his authority would be heavily restricted.
No Emperor wished to have a subject more powerful than themselves. With the power of house Barca alone, Darius was already among the top five most influential men of the Empire, and with the additional influence and power, the position of Supreme Commander gave him, his power exceeded that of the Emperors and the other major families. But Darius was a loyal man and had no intention of betraying his liege or turning the Imperial armies against the noble houses unless they started an open rebellion.
"I have no interest in being the Emperor. Besides, there is someone I hope to see sitting on that throne.", replied Darius while staring at the man in front of him, trying to see if he had any reaction.
"Who? Exactly what kind of person is the Supreme Commander endorsing?", asked the man, having his interest piqued.
"Enki von Imvidra.", simply stated Darius.
"The crown prince? While not the worst choice, he is currently powerless and his chances of survival are slim.", frowned the man.
"Let's make a bet. Should he survive for two years, you will offer him your direct support.", smiled Darius. If the man in front of him agreed, the rest would depend on Enki. It wouldn't be easy to survive within that nest of vipers for two years, but it was still within the realm of possibility. And if he managed to survive, he would gain a powerful backer. Someone of equal status with Darius himself.
This caused the strange man to pause, and an understanding suddenly hit him.
"You know who I am, don't you?", the man asked, genuinely surprised.
"Yes I do, Father Night.", Darius admitted. Just like the Church, the house of Barca had actively kept tabs on the secret organization after it was founded.
"This is turning out to be interesting. It's a deal. I hope your crown prince won't disappoint me.", agreed the monster of the Night while slowly fading away into the shadows.