Endless Path : Infinite Cosmos Chapter 1625
Though she hadn't been able to emerge victoriously, Theo's demonstration was more than enough to qualify her as an adult. Her performance easily put her among the strongest, not just within the Empire, but the entire magical world. This, combined with the fact she had already been performing her duties as an Imperial Ambassador, made it very difficult to argue against her qualifications, and, though there were a few who tried, the Emperor quickly shut them down.
Michael wasn't particularly enthused about the fact his daughter had seemingly become submissive to a foreign entity, but, after seeing how powerful she had become, it was too late to complain. The simple truth of the matter was that he actually expected 'something' to happen prior to sending his daughter to mediate the issues in Ariadne. It was the fact she had already received the favor of the Sage Dragon Emperor that led to her being designated as an Imperial Ambassador, and, though he never intended for this particular development, Michael had tried to take advantage of the situation to further the interests of the Empire.
Fortunately, though it was never easy, it wasn't as if Theo was his first daughter to walk down such a path. Rather, during the transition from adolescence into adulthood, all Hellasians would undergo a phase where their instincts heavily influenced their decision-making process and the adult they would develop into. All of his children had gone through the same process, and, generally speaking, it was following this phase in their life when most people were considered true adults.
By the time most Hellasians reached maturation, they would have fallen into one of three categories depending on their social status and a variety of other factors. In the case of Aristocrats, they would generally develop slightly sadistic tendencies as a result of their background and the general power disparity between Nobles and commoners. This was especially true if they attended a place like the Imperial Academy, as, with very few exceptions, they would drastically eclipse their peers in virtually all aspects related to combat.
With the exception of Theo, all of Michael's children had developed along the 'expected' route, and, at one point in time, the First Princess even had a 'collection' of various different races. A number of these former slaves had grown to become her most trusted officers and bodyguards, and, with the exception of a peculiar human boy, all of them were inordinately powerful. This had been the main purpose of her collection, as, rather than see them waste their potential away for the entertainment of others, Malina had secured them for her own 'personal' interests.
Though there were times when things got out of hand, it was generally considered a rite of passage for members of the Aristocracy to recruit their own bodyguards, confidants, and even servants. This not only gave them the opportunity to vent some of their frustrations and curiosities, allowing them to gradually mature while concurrently allowing them to develop an eye for people as they slowly filled their entourage with capable subordinates.
In many situations, especially when they were younger, an individual Noble's competency could be evaluated based on the company they kept. If they surrounded themselves with 'yes men' or simple sex slaves, they were generally looked down upon or outright disdained. The same could be said if their subordinates weren't expressly loyal to them, as, if they were able to be converted by others, it negatively reflected the quality of their leadership and overall charisma.
Under normal circumstances, the subordinates of an Aristocrat should be willing to lay down their lives for their 'Master' without a second thought. This was the main reason why it was so common for Aristocrats to develop slightly sadistic tendencies, as, without the ability to inspire reverence and instill discipline into one's subordinates, securing their status would be very difficult. For this reason, it was rare for outliers like Theo to appear, as, without considerable support, overwhelming power, and remarkable intellect, other Aristocrats would not hesitate to try and exploit them.
With the majority of Aristocrats having moderately sadistic tendencies, they would not overlook the existence of someone with a submissive or potentially masochistic nature. This was especially true when the person in question was a member of the Imperial Family, so, while very few were brazen enough to openly discuss the matter, there were numerous discussions taking place behind closed doors. There was a lot of speculation regarding who had conquered the willful Third Princess, and, as could be expected, there were also detractors disparaging the fate of their Empire should it fall into the hands of someone with a submissive personality.
Fortunately, regardless of what was said, Theo's power, competency, and birthright all but assured she would hold the title of Empress. She had more than enough power to secure the position, and, with the support of various influential figures, even openly opposing her was difficult. Doing so was the same as inviting misfortune or death upon themselves, as, if the speculation was to be believed, there was really only one person who could have tamed their Princess. This was largely hearsay, but, considering the consequences, very few were willing to ask for clarification or put the theory to the test...
Following an impromptu city-wide celebration that rocked the entire capital, Theo found herself, once again, within her father's Throne Room. This time, the only people present were close family and confidants, so, unlike her previous visit, things were a lot less formal as she happily received her father's half-hearted yet sincere congratulations.
Though she understood what was likely weighing on her father's mind, Theo wasn't going to be the first to broach the subject. Rather, even if someone tried to force her to disclose the truth, she had absolutely no obligation to answer. Her position as Crown Princess actually afforded her a variety of privileges she had never taken advantage of, and, now that she was recognized as an adult, the only person who could reasonably hold her accountable was the Emperor himself. Thus, unless he asked her about the truth in confidence, she would hold it near and dear to her heart until she eventually reached a point where she could proudly declare it to the entire world.
Seeing the unperturbed smile on his daughter's face, Michael couldn't help but repress a sigh as he forced a smile and said, "It seems you grew up the moment I took my eyes off of you. Your mother, Gods bless her, would have been proud to see the women you've grown into..."
Not expecting her father to suddenly mention her mother, Theo felt a sour sensation in her nose, but, having decided to behave more maturely, she fought back the urge to tear up. Instead, she did her best to smile even more radiantly as she answered, "Thank you, father. Though I might make a few mistakes along the way, I will do my best to lead the Empire towards an even brighter future. I will make both of you proud; I swear it."
Though it could be attributed to the naivete of youth, Michael, and everyone else present, could see the conviction in Theo's eyes. Various thoughts raced across their minds, but, ere anyone else could react, it was Vrixho Nagasha who stated, "The road you travel is bound to be wrought with various hazards and hardships. Never forget the conviction you feel at this moment, Theo. Not only will it prevent you from being led astray, but, one day, it will become the torch you pass down to guide future generations. We all believe in you."
Hearing Vrixho's statement, the atmosphere became somewhat solemn, but, more than anything, his words deeply resonated with everyone present. This included the eldest Princess, who, despite her father's insistence, intended to get to the bottom of the events leading up to Theo possessing a choker. She didn't want her beloved younger sister and Empire being manipulated by some strange dragon that seemingly came out of nowhere, but, if she really thought about it, it was almost as if Theo was returning to their roots. After all, the Empire wouldn't even exist if not for the forbidden union between Vrixho and the Hellasian woman who gave birth to the first Emperor...
Realizing the direction of her own thoughts, Malina couldn't help but frown slightly as she took a long and hard look at the choker around her sister's neck. This didn't go unnoticed by Theo, but, rather than shy away in the slightest, she raised her chin slightly as if to say, 'You can look all you like but don't even think about touching it'.
As everyone could see the brief interaction between the two sisters, the First Prince, Casimir, broke the awkward tensions by plainly asking, "What are your intentions now that you have successfully completed your Rite of Challenge? If you've no other considerations, it would greatly improve the morale of our troops if you demonstrated your power on the frontlines.
Though it was a fair question to ask, nearly everyone within the Throne Room looked toward the First Prince with a glowering expression. Even Vrixho wasn't an exception to this, stating, "This was not a war sought by Theodora. I will not prohibit her participation but it is senseless to ask her to fight when even senior members of the Aristocracy have yet to make their move. Do not treat my inheritor as a weapon for the convenience of fools who would lead the Empire to its destruction."
Contrasting his usual calm and composed demeanor, Casimir rapidly waved his hands from side to side as he hastily clarified, "You've misunderstood my intentions! I would never think about turning Theo into a weapon. I just thought it would motivate the soldiers on the frontlines if she showed off her power in another exhibition match. Theo is beloved by the people, so, if they see how hard she is working to become stronger, I thought it might motivate them to work harder..."
Seeing how almost everyone was still glaring at him, Casimir turned to one of only two people who hadn't taken offense to his words, Theo herself. She still had a vibrant smile, and, noticing his gaze, offered an even more radiant version as she unhesitantly shot down his proposal, saying, "I plan to continue serving as an Imperial Ambassador and Auditor. I'm actually against this war, and, though there is little I can do to prevent it, I plan to do everything in my power to bring it to an end. There is something fishy going on behind the scenes and I won't rest until I expose the corrupt fools who think they can treat the Empire like it is a tool to further their personal interests."
Surprised by his sister's statement, Casimir found himself at a complete loss for words. The same could be said for his sister, but, as they were better informed regarding Vahn's nature, the Emperor, Prime Minister, Vrixho, and Jack weren't particularly surprised. The latter even laughed a bit before adopting an expectant smile and saying, "I always knew the Empire was bound to be flipped on its head with a tomboy princess at the helm. I can't wait to see the expressions of those despicable old snakes when they get pulled out of their hidey-holes by the future Empress. Count me in, brat!"
Much to the chagrin of the First Princess, who had once failed to turn Jack into her subordinate, the uncouth man burst into laughter following his outburst. At the same time, Theo adopted a cheeky grin as she stood, arms akimbo, and snickered like a child who had just completed a prank. This was always something that had annoyed her, as, despite her best efforts to be a reliable older sister, the person Theo had most imprinted upon was the unrelated Jack.
Crossing her arms in a characteristically haughty display, Malina gave Jack a sidelong glare, earning the attention of the brutish individual as she said, "I believe it would be prudent if the Special Grand Martial measured his words more carefully. I have always found your influence on my younger sister to be problematic. If I find out you've been planting thoughts in her head-"
Before Malina could finish her words, the left side of Jack's smile curled up as he said, "It has been five years, Princess. I know I spanked you pretty hard but that's no reason to act butthurt every time we see each other."
If not for the thin coat of white hair covering them, everyone present would have been able to see the tips of Malina's ears turn red as she continued to glare at Jack without any noticeable change in expression. Then, after several seconds of silence, she casually raised her hand before chanting in a dull monotone, "Shatter bone. Lapis Niger...!"
Following Malina's simple chant, several black stones, each shaped like spearheads, formed out of thin air. At the same time, a series of tiny magic circles appeared, some with the function of greatly increasing speed and rotation while others enchanted the stone spears to have a homing property. Overall, this process took like than .3 seconds to complete, and, following Malina's pointing, they all fired toward Jack with several times the force of a specialized magical bullet.
Though the stones might have posed a threat to most people, Jack's only response was to hold his hand up to shield his face as the black stones smashed into his body, forearm, and palm. They had absolutely no hope of penetrating the thin layer of Ki that enveloped his body like an impenetrable wall, a truth Malina knew all too well. In fact, she was responsible for giving Jack one of his most famous aliases, calling him, 'That damn guy who you can stab with swords all you like and it won't do a thing, dammit!'
Unsurprised by the failure of her attack, Malina elected to completely ignore the brutish man as she looked back at her sister and advised, "Please don't do anything that would unnecessarily endanger your life. If you ever need help or advice, I am always willing to make time for you. Never forget that your big sister is always on your side, Theo."
Having said what she intended to say, Maline decided it would be best to leave before she caused a bigger commotion. She knew Jack wasn't shy when it came to making a scene, so, if she took things too far, the one to suffer would be her. He had actually gone as far as to spank her in the middle of an Imperial Gala after winning a bet. Though this was the result of her own hubris, her pride made it impossible to forgive him, as, following that incident, she was too embarrassed to even stay in the Capital. As a result, she became the Commander of the Southern Fleet, a post she had held for the last five years in the hopes that people forget the incident entirely...
Seeing his eldest daughter depart, Michael gave Jack a pointed look that caused the man's gaze to break away from the First Princess' backside. She was one of the most beautiful women in the entire Empire, and, though Jack tried to be 'relatively' respectful to the Imperial Family, there was a reason numerous women referred to him as a perverted gorilla. He primarily acted as such to keep people off-kilter, but, as a healthy man who had a considerable interest in strong women, even he couldn't help but admire beauties like the First Princess.
Maintaining his pointed look, Michael did his best to repress a sigh as he gazed into the eyes of the most powerful man in the Empire, stating, "Spare me from having to explain to another family why my daughter is no longer available to be wed..."
Finding the Emperor's remark rather amusing, a massive grin spread across Jack's face as he rubbed the back of his head and saying, "Gimme a break, Michael. Even my boyish good looks wouldn't last if I was assaulted every day by Miss Black Rock Shooter. Don't worry, you won't catch a mutt like me trying to mix with a member of the Imperial Family."
Though Michael wasn't fond of Jack referring to himself as a 'mutt', he still took the man's words to heart, nodding curtly as he said, "That puts my heart at ease. The Gods know I have enough trouble with my youngest running rampant..."
Seeing her father direct his attention toward her, Theo emulated Jack's action of rubbing the back of his head, smiling mischievously without showing even a hint of remorse in her crystal clear blue eyes...
(A/N: Alternate Titles: 'It's not just a phase! This is who I am!','That's a long time to be butthurt','I feel like Michael is going to be forced into early retirement...')
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