While the Capital was descending into chaos, Milton was concentrating on developing his estate as usual. The estate’s development had accelerated a notch with the recruitment of Sophia, and consequently, the Forrest lands were transforming on a day-by-day basis.
In the midst of this busy but fruitful period, an unexpected guest came seeking Milton.
“Where did you say she hails from?”
“She says she is the daughter of a certain Marquis Raphael from the Florence Principality, and she wishes to invest in us after witnessing our growth potential during her travels.”
Milton nodded at Max’s report. The Florence Principality was a state that was south of the Lester Kingdom. It did seem like a good idea to start forming connections with the Principality, as it was close to the Forrest territories.
‘It would be worthwhile to meet them face-to-face.’
“I won’t be available for lunch, so formally invite them to a talk over dinner.”
With how occupied Milton was in recent times, he finally understood why mealtimes were such a handy time to meet people. Sine he was so busy that he could sense the clock ticking and time wasting away even when eating, it was better to kill two birds with one stone by meeting people over meals. As it became evening, the guest met Milton at last.
“It is my pleasure to meet you. I am Ariel Raphael.”
The guest who sought him had all the grace and elegance of a typical noble’s daughter, yet Milton felt a strange sense of familiarity.
‘What’s this feeling of déjà vu?’
“I am Count Milton Forrest. It is my pleasure to meet you as well, Lady Raphael.”
For now, Milton courteously exchanged greetings. He was silently impressed when he saw the two escort knights she brought with her.
‘They’re both Experts – and look stronger than me at that.’
Being a noble from a foreign nation, Milton did not know what sort of House the Raphael family was; but he could project their considerable power from the fact that the daughter of the family could bring two Experts as mere escorts.
The two sat down and started on their dinner. During the meal, Milton inwardly observed his guest’s demeanor. The etiquette one displayed during meals was a rough yardstick of their societal rank. From time to time, there were those among the Southern nobles that had not been properly educated on mealtime manners – though Milton himself would never point it out. But the etiquette of the woman before him was the pinnacle of perfection. Even the way in which she would lower the knife onto the plate without so much as a clink was a talent in its own right.
‘How sadistic must your etiquette teacher be to become like that?’
As Milton recalled the miserable nicety training he himself received growing up, he simply had to be impressed at her mealtime manners. After the main course, some light alcohol was brought out for closure – and with it, Milton started the conversation.
“Did the meal suit your tastes, my lady?”
“Yes, it was splendid.”
“A relief to hear. I worried it may offend your tongue since you come from beyond these parts and all.”
“Thank you for your solicitude, but everything was superbly to my taste and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Please give the chef my gratitude.”
As they amicably chatted for a while, Milton got down to business first.
“I heard that you wish to invest in our lands after seeing them. Where would you like to invest in particular?”
Milton was filled with the anticipation of a looming deal.
“What if I wish to invest in you yourself, Count Forrest?”
Milton was taken aback at her answer. The lady gently smiled. After ruminating over the meaning of her words, Milton replied.
“Invest in me, you say? Hmm… I’m afraid there’s not much I can offer in the way of returns for such an investment – what shall we do?”
“There is no need to concern yourself with that, for I am sure more than enough will come back around. As for the investment itself… will this much do?”
With that, the lady slid forward an envelope she prepared. A lady-in-waiting retrieved the envelope and handed it to Milton, who read the contents inside. His eyes widened. 100,000 gold. Inside was a promissory note for as much as 100,000 gold. A value close to double the Forrest estate’s liquid assets was being offered so nonchalantly.
‘Who is this woman?’
Milton’s expression hardened. 100,000 gold was not an amount that a run-of-the-mill noble’s daughter could put forward so lightly. Milton instantly realized that the lady before him was not some ordinary investor.
“I would like to ask some questions.”
“Please, be my guest.”
“What is your identity?”
As Milton flipped into an icy attitude, the woman replied without a touch of wavering.
“I am Ariel, hailing from the Marquess House of Raphael in the Florence Principality.”
Milton racked his brain as she introduced herself again with the same politeness as always.
‘So she’s squarely not going to let up? Fair enough.’
Milton was not so foolish as to happily accept a fortune offered by someone whose identity was a mystery, let alone their objectives.
‘At the least, if I could figure out her identity… oh!’
Milton had momentarily forgotten about his ability. Though he could not catch wind of his opponent’s goals, he may be able to discern her identity with his powers.
‘Let’s have a look, shall we?’
Milton opened up the guest’s stats.
Milton clenched his fist, almost standing up from his seat.
[Leila von Lester]
Strength – 20 Command – 90
Intelligence – 92 Politics – 91
Loyalty – 00
Special Traits – Charisma, Commerce, Survival, Conspire, Seduction
Charisma LV.7: Able to use the carrot and stick appropriately to raise the loyalty of subordinates.
Commerce LV.5: Increases one’s overall abilities in commerce and increases the general chances of generating a profit.
Survival LV.8: Find solutions for breaking through life-threatening situations. The probability of suicide is greatly reduced.
Conspire LV.7: Increases the proficiency of creating schemes to endanger hostile individuals and other entities.
Seduction LV.9 (MAX): Utilize one’s innate beauty to tempt the opposite gender and create situations that are advantageous to the user. Able to shake the opponent’s cognitive judgment.
The high stats and abilities were awe-striking, but what was truly astounding was her true name.
‘Leila von Lester? Surely not Princess Leila?’
It was a name Milton knew well – no, there was likely no one in this country who had not heard of this name. The issue was that as far as Milton knew, and as was common knowledge, she had perished 7 years ago. That person was in front of him right now in the flesh, alive and breathing.
‘Let’s – let’s think about this.’
Milton used all the leads he had to lay the groundwork of the bigger picture in his head. The fact that Princess Leila, deemed dead, was alive and well before him right now; the mountainous sum of money she offered as an investment; the recent incidents surrounding the Charlotte Merchant Company in the Capital; and finally, the mysterious third faction that Milton came to knew when he met Duke Palan during his time at the Capital... Tying it all together, Milton formed the outlines of a massive tapestry.
‘Charlotte, Ariel, and Princess Leila – all three were the same person. Then everything should click together.’
It was like a light was shone onto this tapestry, with all the puzzle pieces now put in their place.
Why did the Charlotte Merchant Company show interest in him? It was because they wanted to convert a noble from the outskirts into their side, where the Central region’s fingers could not reach.
Why was a titan like Duke Palan backing not the First or Second Princes, but a third force? It was because Princess Leila was also legitimate royalty and not only that, but she was the rightful heir to the throne in terms of the lineage sequence. Duke Palan’s willing support of her was more than possible.
Why was the Charlotte Merchant Company suddenly razed to the ground with all sorts of charges and accusations? It was likely that her true identity was discovered. The First and Second Princes tried to kill her as a result, so Princess Leila jumped ship to a new identity she had prepared in advance.
Why was Princess Leila saying such and such about ‘investing in him’ to try and drag specifically him into taking their side, offering a fortune? It was likely because what Princess Leila desired was to make the whole Southern detachment of nobles into her faction, achievable through Milton as he was taking center stage in this region.
Finally, why was she doing all this in the first place? There was only one answer.
‘This is all to get herself the crown. This princess is genuinely vying for the throne.’
All Milton had done was discover his guest’s identity, but it was sufficient to discern everything about her goals and ambitions. All the dots were connected to form the big picture.
‘How should I use this information?’
As Milton calmly looked at Princess Leila, his head was whirring with scenarios. To Princess Leila, Milton must have appeared to be hesitating about her offer.
“There’s not much to be considered so thoroughly, is there? You only need to think of this as an excellent funding opportunity.”
She gazed at the silent Milton as if pressing him to answer. Watching her, Milton sighed and grumbled.
“That’s enough. No matter which way I see it, nothing will come of hiding it.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that the play’s over.”
Instantly, the two knights standing behind Princess Leila openly exuded a killer’s intent.
Milton immediately wondered if it would have been better to keep his mouth shut. At the least, it would have been better to ensure Jerome was at his side before he said those words, but the dam had already been broken. Milton had racked his brain for a way to capitalize on this situation without revealing his opponent’s identity, but try as he may, he could not see a clear strategy forward. Rather, he had a stronger premonition that there would be no next time if he did not catch her unaware right now.
When they first met, she had been Charlotte the owner of a conglomerate, and now she was a Florence Principality noble’s daughter. There was no guarantee that she did not have other masks to play with. And so he concluded that he would see an end to this, right here and now. Milton also hoped to extract some valuable information by unsettling her.
Princess Leila was deep in thought as she drummed on the table with her fingers. What seemed like an eternity passed before she came to a conclusion, after which her first words were…
“I’ve simply got no idea.”
She looked at Milton straight in the eye and continued.
“From where did you catch wind of my identity?”
“That’s a secret.”
“What if I just had to know?”
With that, the two knights behind Princess Leila inched forward.
Milton flashed a glance at them and grimaced.
‘Shit, both of them are definitely stronger than me.’
Their Strength stats were 83 and 85 respectively. His chances would be slim enough if there was just one of them, but there was almost no hope of taking on them both. It would be a tall order to hold out until help arrived.
Instead, Milton became even more determined.
‘She would’ve killed me already if she really wanted to. I need to be even surer from here on.’
Milton had a carefree smile on his face as he stood his ground.
“What benefits will there be to reap in killing me here, Your Highness?”
“If I die, my knights would surely cause an upheaval, turning every unturned stone as they find the culprit at once. Once you have the world’s eye on you, you would need to quickly throw away this new identity that you so painstakingly arranged.”
“So what will it be? Will you still try?”
Princess Leila clicked her tongue.Previous Chapter Next Chapter