The gates came into view.
"Wait a minute!" Mercedes, who was pulled by Grid, suddenly stopped. She watched the soldiers guarding the gate and gently pulled her hand away from Grid. There was a dark flush on her white face, and the feeling of Grid's touch lingered on her fingertips.
"Why? What's going on?"
"Where are you going to take me?"
"Outside the empire, of course."
"What? I can't leave."
"What?" Grid frowned. "Was that guy called Gyuratan? From his attitude earlier, he seems to occupy a high position in the empire?"
Grid had noticed that the empire didn't know Gyuratan's identity. The demonkin were common enemies of humanity. So, if the Saharan Empire knew that Gyuratan was a great demon, they wouldn't be able to stand by. The reason Mercedes was in a crisis was due to Gyuratan's trick.
"He said that you are a traitor. Aren't you in a very dangerous situation? He will frame you like he did Piaro in the past."
"But I have an obligation to inform everyone about Gyuratan's identity."
"Do you think people will believe you?"
Mercedes smiled bitterly at Grid's question and replied, "Nobody will believe me. I can't believe it myself."
It had been 15 years since Gyuratan became the Fourth Knight. He had acted as a perfect human for many years. Even with her sharp eyes, Mercedes, as well as the famous magicians and priests, hadn't noticed for the past 15 years that Gyuratan was a great demon. Gyuratan's ability to hide his demonic power was beyond extraordinary. It was clearly the power of a great demon. Despite being weakened, his power was still enough to mock humans.
"But if I wait, I will be able to catch an opportunity. I will keep my position until that day comes. It is my duty."
Now that an unidentified great demon was about to bring the empire to chaos, the First Knight must stop him. This was a noble mission. She couldn't turn away and didn't want to turn away. Grid gave an uncertain response to Mercedes' resolute expression, "If Gyuratan tells the emperor that you and I were together today..."
She would disappear before the chance she waited for would come. However, Mercedes smiled brightly at Grid with a smile that was brighter than sunshine.
'She could smile like this?'
It didn't fit the appearance of a noble knight. Grid admired her beauty and couldn't help turning red.
Mercedes blushed at his reaction and avoided his gaze as she explained, "I will deny it. Just like how people won't believe my claims that Gyuratan is a great demon, people won't believe the claims that Gyuratan places on me. But if I run away like this, I will have no chance to deny it. So I will stay."
"In the worst case scenario, what if Gyuratan attacks you directly? Like today. What will you do then? I won't be able to help you."
"Who do you think I am?" A light shone in Mercedes' clear eyes. It was a glimpse into the pride of the First Knight of the empire. The strongest knight who made Grid bow down at their very first meeting was now here. "Today, things turned out bad in many ways. But if I fight him again next time, I can do my best."
She hadn't taken her armor because it was her detention period, and she had allowed Gyuratan's magic because she had believed he was a swordsman. Moreover, in the first place, her morale had been at the lowest point. In a situation where she hadn't known who to believe and had gotten trapped in her house, she had become restless and confused.
However, she was okay now. She knew that Gyuratan was an enemy, and there was someone she could rely on. The fog before her dissipated.
"Don't worry. I will clear the wrongful accusation of the Piaro you cherish as I promised."
Grid was well aware of the Piaro's past pain. He desperately wanted to remove Piaro's stigma and free him from the bondage of his dark past. Additionally...
"You must stay safe."
Grid also wanted Mercedes. He needed people with strength and talent, and Mercedes was a person close to what he wanted. Mercedes stiffened like she was frozen before she asked, "...Do you like me?"
It was a difficult question. Grid nodded. "It isn't just liking but coveting. I think about it every night."
Who in the world wouldn't covet a noble knight like her? However, among them, Grid was the one who knew her value best. Grid's words contained this meaning, but Mercedes accepted them differently. Her ears flushed red, and she couldn't face Grid. "You are too aggressive. Are you like this to everyone?"
Mercedes' question was basically asking if he was a womanizer. However, Grid didn't realize it. "No, I'm not like this to everyone. I also know that I shouldn't say this, but what can I do? You are special."
He knew that she was already the empire's knight, but he wanted to make her his own knight. Grid's ardent heart was distorted while it was being conveyed.
"I-Is that so?" Mercedes was wary of Grid's attitude.
'This man isn't ordinary.'
Grid must live as a playboy. He seemed like a person who would have a woman around him every day. However, Mercedes didn't hate it. Grid was Piaro's and Asmophel's benefactor. He was also the one who provided the opportunity to wash away the stigma of the old Red Knights, as well as the savior of her life. So, he no longer seemed like a bad person.
"I won't ask you why you are in Titan right now. I won't doubt my benefactor. However, please stop shaking my heart. Nothing can happen anyway."
As the empire's knight, how could she marry the king of another kingdom? That would be forsaking the empire. It was impossible. The moment that Mercedes smiled bitterly… Grid caught Mercedes' wrist in order to express his strong will. Then he declared, "I won't give up on you. Didn't you say it when you were reunited with Piaro? You will repay me even if you have to give everything to me. Don't you have to keep your promise?"
"...So, you don't want a lover or a wife but a slave."
"You are crass."
What the hell was this? Grid was embarrassed as he belatedly realized it. He was reminded of the power of his dexterity, but he had already touched Mercedes' wrist.
"It is too much harassment to caress the body of a woman with those greedy eyes. In return for saving my life, you want such things in exchange?"
The reward he got from clearing the quest clear was being misunderstood as a pervert? Grid was embarrassed and disappointed.
"...If you want that, it can't be helped," Mercedes spoke meaningfully and raised her hand to her slender neck. Grid's gaze fixed on her collarbone, and he gulped nervously. However, it wasn't the development he thought it would be. Mercedes released the pendant hanging around her neck and handed it to Grid. It was a pendant made of white silver with an elegant rose pattern.
"It is a token of my family. If you ever face an awkward situation in the empire, use this token. It will help you."
[The hidden quest has been completed!]
[Affinity with Mercedes has risen by 50.]
[You have obtained the Vaintz Family's Pendant.]
[Vaintz Family's Pendant]
-A pendant passed down through the direct line of the prestigious Vaintz family in the Saharan Empire. It can be used to prove your identity in all places of the empire. There is a high probability of receiving great respect.
Conditions of Use: The heir of the Vaintz family or someone recognized by the heir.]
"Isn't this precious?"
It was a token that symbolized Mercedes, who was the heir, or someone closely related to her. Strictly speaking, it was strange for Grid to receive it. Mercedes shook her head at his concern. "It is a trivial thing for me, king of a nation."
This item demonstrated 'status' across the Saharan Empire. It meant that Grid could move freely through the empire, no matter his appearance. It would surely come in handy.
"It is really okay? What if I abuse it and put your family at risk?"
"Didn't Piaro and Asmophel choose Your Majesty? I don't think someone like you would abuse it. Even if you do abuse it, you would have a good reason. I will accept the damages caused as my price."
"...Okay. Does this mean you will keep your word?" Grid grinned.
Mercedes' straightforward personality was a favorite for him. The more he knew, the more he trusted her.
"Thank you." Grid said a short goodbye.
Meanwhile, Mercedes went down on one knee and politely spoke, "I appreciate it, Overgeared King."
"I must achieve it, for the sake of the empire and Piaro."
Then Grid would safely meet Mercedes again.
"You came back without running away? Are you that eager to die?"
Mercedes returned to her mansion where Gyuratan was waiting. His tone and attitude were the same as always. It was as if nothing had happened a few hours ago. After confirming there was no one else around, Mercedes said mockingly, "Didn't you expect me to come back?"
"Well, I didn't want you to come back."
If Mercedes had gone with Grid, Gyuratan would've put all type of false charges against her to the emperor. It would also be possible to destroy her family by turning them into rebels. However, she hadn't run away and had eventually returned instead. Fortunately, it wasn't a big problem. It would be fine if he killed her.
"It is easy to falsify information about sins. There would be quite a backlash, but it's fine if I kill everyone just as I did with Piaro's family. Kukukuk!" Gyuratan smiled wickedly. His tone and attitude were like those of a great demon.
Why did he mention Piaro to Mercedes? Obviously, it was a taunt. There was no way Mercedes wouldn't be able to see through it.
"Such trivial provocation, it isn't suitable for a great demon."
"Well, I am nervous and can't easily control myself. If you fight me while I'm fully prepared, great turmoil can't be avoided and your identity might be revealed. Now, tell me. What do you want to do?"
Looking at Mercedes, Gyuratan realized something. "Are you trying to make a deal with me?"
Originally, making deals was the specialty of a great demon, not the contractor. Few people were able to reject the temptation of a great demon. Mercedes knew this.
Gyuratan said, "I don't want us to interfere with each other. The fact that I'm a great demon can't be revealed to the end. I am the great demon, Astaroth. Until the desire of the human who summoned me is fully achieved, my presence has to be thoroughly masked. I will use my power to oppose everything for the fulfillment of my contract."
Mercedes had overlooked one thing.
'Who is the summoner?'
Who had summoned a great demon to infiltrate the palace? Mercedes' eyes were very shaky. However, Gyuratan looked satisfied. "Kukuk! My summoner is someone you know well."
"Who is it?"
"How can I tell you? A demon's contract is based on a definite agreement. The damage that the contractor will suffer is enormous and even a great demon can't bear it. But let me give you a hint. It isn't the woman you expect."
'It isn't Marie?'
"Compared to her, they are very close to the emperor." Gyuratan smiled widely enough for the corners of his mouth to reach his ears.
Mercedes' face was turning blue. It was hard to see 'close' as a physical distance. In this case, it meant flesh and blood.
"Don't tell me it is one of the princes?"
"My hints ends here. It is obvious that the person behind me isn't easy. On the other hand, what about you? You haven't earned the trust of the emperor from the beginning and you have rejected the empress' hand. You also ruined your relationship with Sword Duke Limit, the man who trusted you. The knights that envy you? They are merely sheep. They can't help you. Mercedes, you are alone. You are thoroughly helpless. You can't threaten me."
These were whispers which caused the spirit to become helpless.
"Unfortunately, I also can't threaten you. I don't want to deal with you right now, so I also have to take a great risk."
His trump card of magic was lost. Mercedes' skills were acknowledged by a great demon. Of course, he was in a weakened state, so he had to acknowledge it.
"Therefore, I propose that we watch each other. It won't be so bad for you. Don't you need time to accumulate enough power to resist me?"
The great demon's temptation… it wasn't as sweet as the rumors said.
'I need to earn His Majesty's trust urgently.'
Mercedes nodded while in deep thought, making Gyuratan laugh.