'What is this woman?'
An envoy had an obligation to communicate the will of their country. This ability was very important, as they were in charge of bringing back results for the country. Yes, it was fully understandable that the envoy was a named NPC. It wasn't strange if there was a named-grade diplomatic specific NPC.
'The empire is famous for its abundant talent and named NPCs must be common there.'
However, sword energy? Mercedes' passive skill that unleashed havoc was almost at the level of a top named class. It was a skill that bypassed the absolute resistance of a legend. It wasn't possible for anyone apart from Sword Saint Kraugel.
'I'm not sure if my memories are wrong. Kraugel was the only one to have the power that the system clearly described as 'sword energy.'
It was a power that amplified the strength of sword related skills.
'Having the sword energy power, does this meant that Mercedes is a master of the sword comparable to a Sword Saint?'
Was this person a bigshot? Grid's eyes became increasingly vigilant as he looked at Mercedes. In the ensuing silence, Mercedes was the first to open her mouth.
"You are more commendable than the rumors. The potential of a legend could be better than described in history." Mercedes honestly admired the skills and stats of Grid that she saw. "Our empire has somewhat underestimated the power of legends other than the Sword Saint. That evaluation will change in the future."
Grid frowned. Mercedes' attitude towards him was like an adult towards a child. It felt like she was looking down on him.
'If she can be so casual after looking at my stats, does that mean this woman is stronger than me?'
In fact, it was easy to infer. A representative of the Saharan Empire that dominated the West Continent. It was obvious that her level would be overwhelmingly higher than named NPCs.
"What status do you have in the empire?"
Grid sat on the throne with a calm look and asked Mercedes bluntly.
"I belong to the Red Knights. The Great Emperor gave me the number '1.' People call me the 1st knight."
Grid was surprised. The identity of the envoy was the 1st knight of the strongest empire. It was natural to be surprised. It was much bigger than he expected.
"Isn't this amazing? Why did His Majesty the Emperor dispatch a person like you to my fledgling kingdom?"
Grid didn't make any mistakes. He used the proper title for the emperor. If he made a mistake, the empire could destroy the Overgeared Kingdom at any time.
'It's only possible to become hostile to the Saharan Empire in the future.'
Grid smiled on the outside. He was doing his best to act as the king. He never forgot that he was carrying tens of thousands of people on his shoulders. Mercedes laughed.
"His Majesty the Emperor sent me as the envoy because he respects King Grid. His Majesty the Emperor highly appreciates your ability to swallow up a kingdom with your own strength. He sent the representative of the Red Knights as an envoy."
"His Majesty the Emperor always said that a leader shouldn't be stingy with praise. He has a big heart like the sea."
"I see. It is appreciated."
Grid's discomfort became greater as the conversation progressed. Grid judged that this conversation had no meaning and got straight to the point.
"In the end, what does His Majesty the Emperor want from me?"
At this moment, Mercedes' friendly smile froze on her face. The pure white skin and blue eyes gave Grid a cold feeling of pressure.
"First of all, let's discuss your sins."
"First, there is the sin of destroying the Eternal Kingdom, which offered tributes to the Saharan Empire and is its subject, without the empire's permission."
"Second, there is the sin of building a kingdom without the permission of the empire, the master of the Western Continent."
"Third, there is the sin of not making a servant's oath to His Majesty the Emperor after you became a king."
"Fourth, there is the sin of taking the Fold Kingdom from the empire."
Mercedes recited his sins in a cold voice. She thought that the Grid facing her would become angry. In fact, from the perspective of the empire, it wasn't wrong to lay such charges on Grid. But Grid wasn't satisfied from his position. He ended up being a sinner waiting for punishment.
Grid tried to keep calm and sent a whisper to Lauel.
-The four sins being discussed. What should I do?
-It's as expected.
Lauel encouraged him. He had predicted this situation and prepared countermeasures.
-From now on, recite my words carefully.
Grid delivered Lauel's message to Mercedes.
"I can't acknowledge the four sins because they all originate from misunderstandings or ignorance. For the first sin, it isn't right to say that the Eternal Kingdom was the empire's subject. The Eternal Kingdom offered a tribute to the empire just like any other kingdom, but the Eternal Kingdom was officially neutral. This has been acknowledged by the empire. The Eternal Kingdom offered a tribute to the great empire out of courtesy, not because it was the empire's subject."
"Second, a bill doesn't exist on the continent that requires seeking the empire's permission to build a kingdom. If I was a smarter person, I would've let the empire know. I am sad because my ignorance meant I couldn't think about seeking permission from the empire. This mistake stems from my ignorance. It isn't a deliberate sin. I am in deep reflection."
"Third, the Overgeared Kingdom is new and in a chaotic state. How do I dare greet His Majesty the Emperor when the kingdom is still unstable? I thought it would be too arrogant. Thus, I have been putting off my visit to the empire."
"Fourth, making the Fold Kingdom a vassal of the Overgeared Kingdom was a defense mechanism to protect the safety of the kingdom. I had to show strength because all 15 kingdoms were going to prey on the Overgeared Kingdom. I inadvertently took the Fold Kingdom as a subject in the process. Naturally, the Fold Kingdom... I was going to return it to the empire."
Grid's body shook as he talked. He was lamenting his own disgrace. Mercedes listened quietly and relaxed her hard expression.
"They are just excuses. Too scandalous. But it's okay. I know King Grid's intentions. Either way, isn't it true that the Overgeared Kingdom is loyal to the empire?"
Grid couldn't answer immediately. However, Lauel urged him to nod his head. His pride was already abandoned.
"Good. You responded as His Majesty the Emperor expected. Okay, I will now convey the will of His Majesty the Emperor. Overgeared King Grid, come down from your throne, kneel, and listen."
Kneel? Grid doubted his ears as he stared at Mercedes.
"It's an imperial order. It's natural to show courtesy. Do you dislike it?"
This was a shameful situation. But his actions would control the fate of the Overgeared members and the people who believed in him. Above all, there was the billions of won he invested in making this kingdom. He didn't yet have the strength to confront the empire, so he couldn't lose everything due to his pride.
'Calm down. My actions aren't shameful.'
Grid rose from his throne. He moved in a regal gait and knelt down in front of Mercedes. Mercedes' beautiful eyebrows furrowed.
'He doesn't feel humiliation?'
This Grid was a beast that was hard to tame. She had to be alert. The wary Mercedes pulled out a letter and read it.
"I, Juander, master of the earth and sky, order it. I accept Grid's sins with a generous heart and acknowledge the status of the Overgeared King. I won't demand the return of the Fold Kingdom. Overgeared King Grid and the Overgeared Kingdom will be thrilled and give their loyalty and grace to the empire forever. The Overgeared Kingdom must pay 72% of the tax revenue every month to the empire. In addition, once Prince Lord is 12 years old, he should be sent to study in the empire."
There were still a few years left before Lord turned 12. The problem would be resolved if the Overgeared Kingdom was strengthened before that. The immediate problem was giving 72% of the tax revenue to the empire.
"I know that the other kingdoms only give 36% of their tax revenue to the empire."
"It is the price for recognizing the Fold Kingdom as under the Overgeared Kingdom. You have to pay twice as much tribute as other kingdoms. You don't want to?"
Mercedes made a taunting expression. Now that she actually saw Grid, she acknowledged Grid and was vigilant, unlike the emperor. Thus, she decided to use her own judgment and hoped Grid would cause a disturbance. However, Lauel was behind Grid. Lauel's whispers continued to calm Grid. In addition, Grid's mental strength and patience was already not normal.
"No, I will do as His Majesty the Emperor commands. I will accept."
"...You truly aren't ordinary. I understand. I will go back now."
Mercedes nodded slightly to Grid and left the audience room. Grid's eyes were bloodshot as he was left alone.
"Be prepared. I will be the one to make you kneel the next time we meet."
Strength. More strength was needed.
Grid opened his eyes and asked Lauel.
"How long can we afford to give the tribute that the empire demands?"
"Three months. After three months, the people and soldiers will be hungry and the Overgeared Kingdom will be in debt. In four months, it will completely stop functioning as a kingdom and will perish."
"How do we fix it?"
"Piaro is currently in the Fold Kingdom and his progress with their agriculture is three times faster than expected. The number of players in the National Development Quest (Grid's Set linked quest) will increased by more than five times in two months, while the taxes from the Fold Kingdom and Siren will double. Increase the production of limited-edition potions that can be produced at the alchemy facility by seven times and donate the salary of the Overgeared members to the kingdom. If this happens, we can hold on for nine months."
"The fundamental solution?"
"Of course, it's power. Become so strong that the empire doesn't dare threaten us."
Grid was reminded of Pangea.
"I will go back to the East Continent. I'll come back with the friends I made there. And give this to Piaro."
"A golden walnut?"
"It is more precious than gold. I believe that as a legendary farmer, Piaro can grow it."