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 Rhode's poker face worked to its best after hearing Antonio's words. On the contrary, the nobles who tried to curry favors with Rhode instantly widened their eyes in disbelief.

They couldn't understand why Antonio was this brave to taunt Rhode. Anyone with a discerning eye could see that apart from the three largest families, Rhode was the only one to receive the most generous rewards. Lydia had conferred him the rank of Earl and also given him the land of Grenbell. Grenbell wasn't a richly fertile land as it was a mountainous region close to the Land of Atonement. It was deserted and could be considered as a wasteland, therefore it simply meant that Rhode's territorial control merely expanded into the narrow mountain range. However, in the Munn Kingdom, there was a rule when rewarding territories. Unless one was a noble without a territory, one would always be rewarded with a territory that was close to one's existing territory. If this happened before the Midsummer Festival, Rhode would've chosen a territory in the South. But since he had already chosen the Land of Atonement (this was considered one area in the territory), he wouldn't be able to snatch a Southern territory anymore according to the rules. Grenbell was, in fact, divided from Paphield in the Land of Atonement. This way, Rhode could be considered an official overlord with an independent territory.

Fortunately, the Land of Atonement was located by the border of Paphield and this division and merger was just a matter of formality. If Grenbell was located in the middle of Paphield or in the core areas, perhaps he would need to give up on this reward or give up his Fortress to choose another territory.

Without the Holy Cross Medal, the nobles would perhaps think that the territory was just a consolation prize for Rhode. However, the meaning was entirely different with the Holy Cross Medal because Grenbell was a T-shaped narrow mountainous range that was linked to Paphield, the Fien Plain, the Silent Field, and the Eastern Plains. Apart from Paphield, the Fien Plain and Silent Field were territories governed directly by the royal family. One with a discerning eye could see that Lydia had given him a chance to expand his territory by gifting Grenbell. If Rhode had any heroic contributions in the future, either the Fien Plain or Silent Field would be bestowed to him according to the rules. When that happened, his territory would be large enough to contend against the three largest families in Munn Kingdom. Wasn't this obvious enough?

Although Antonio performed well this time and he had also received generous rewards, he was still miles away from Rhode. So, what was the reason that made Antonio confront Rhode?

Some of the nobles were startled while others weren't surprised. This banquet had gathered everyone who had contributed heroically for the Munn Kingdom and among them were younger generations who possessed capable strength and confidence. Rhode's achievements weren't too impressive to them and they would accept the fact if Lydia had only given him the territory and the Earl rank. However, she had actually given him the Holy Cross Medal?!

That was the Holy Cross Medal!

It was something which they couldn't receive even after they had put in herculean effort and lost so much blood and sweat. How could they hold it back now that Rhode had snatched it away from them?

Antonio was one of them.

In fact, Antonio couldn't hold in his wrath anymore as soon as he witnessed the Holy Cross Medal presented to Rhode. He refused to believe that this young man was worthy of it and was stronger than everyone else here. He didn't even have his own military-trained soldiers and merely fought using his mercenaries. How powerful could a group of mercenaries be that it was worthy of Royal Highness Lydia's praises?! And what about me? I spent so much effort in bringing down the Southern Legion's attacks in the Flourishing Blossom. Without my contributions, perhaps Flourishing Blossom Fortress would have collapsed. Why am I not the one receiving the Holy Cross Medal?! Why is it that guy?!

Fortunately, the remaining trace of calmness in his mind held him back and he didn't question it before Lydia. He understood that the awarded medal had been unanimously acknowledged by the royal family and if he doubted their choice, it would mean that he was defying them. He wasn't that stupid to give up everything for the sake of vengeance. Moreover, Lydia wasn't like the previous ruler who was good-natured. She valued her authority strongly and anyone who challenged her would be dealt with seriously. Just take look at the Reformist Party...

However, Antonio didn't find trouble with Rhode over the Holy Cross Medal and his 'inability'. They were merely the ignition of his wrath. It was the fact that this bastard had actually stolen his Goddess that made him erupt in anger!

Rhode didn't know what was on Antonio's mind and he didn't care at all. His first reaction to Antonio's challenge was to look over him and gaze at Marlene. Rhode had faced a similar situation before. However, he didn't take action the previous time and Marlene didn't need him to do it for her. She wasn't anyone's possession and no one could decide her fate on her behalf. But, this time...

"Okay."

Rhode nodded without any hesitation and answered firmly to Antonio's duel request.

In fact, he had noticed that the gazes were filled with 'envy, jealousy, and hate' from the nobles after Marlene came to his side and he received the Holy Cross Medal. Rhode didn't feel that it was unusual because he had met similar incidents, but it happened in a more civilized and modern society where people wouldn't take off their gloves and issue challenges. It was more like "Hey, pretty boy, find me behind the school building after class. You're a coward if you run!"

But come to think of it, there were no differences in the situation apart from someone getting killed.

Rhode knew that many of the nobles disliked him and this man was one of them. However, he didn't mind because there was a saying in this situation where he could 'kill the chicken to scare the monkey'. He didn't need to trouble over which chicken to kill because it had presented itself to him. It would be a waste not to sacrifice it.

The nobles held their breaths. The Williams Family wasn't considered a powerful force in the King's Party, but they had been around for a long time. Antonio had always been a potential star, but his beaming popularity turned rather dull this year after being overrun by Rhode and Marlene. The crowd was anticipating that the new generations of the Munn Kingdom could work along well and unite strongly. However, they didn't expect that Rhode and Antonio actually tore into each other in such a formal occasion for a duel!

This shouldn't be the case for two gentlemen to resolve issues! Dueling in such an occasion would mean that the loser would forever be unable to lift his head in the noble circle! Pride and glory were most important for the nobles and losing the duel might mean a lifetime of vengeance!

Some of the nobles gazed at Lydia, hoping that she would put a stop to them. The Williams had intricate connections among the networks of the noble circle and on the other hand, Rhode was a rising star who was linked in countless ways with the Senia Family. What should they do if both sides fell out and erupt into an internal conflict in the King's Party? They had finally defeated the Reformist Party and was a new problem already brewing?

But it was a pity that Lydia didn't stop them as what the crowd had hoped for. Instead, she rested her chin in her hand, laid languidly on the throne and observed with curious gazes as though she were appreciating an interesting drama. The smile on her face didn't change the slightest.

Antonio stepped forward and bowed respectfully to Lydia while the latter nodded with a kind smile and spoke nothing. But even so, the crowd knew what her stand was. Antonio turned to Rhode and drew out his sword in a shimmering flash. Shing! He pointed his sword in Rhode's face.

"Come on, Sir Alander. For glory and pride, I swear in the name of Williams! We shall prove who is most qualified to match the glory of Miss Senia!"

Several of the young noble applauded instantly. They were just like Antonio-enraged that Rhode had stolen their Goddess. It was especially so when Marlene acted all high and mighty before them, but smiled so sweetly in front of him. How was it possible that such an enviable bastard hadn't been cleaved to death yet!

Rhode stood on the spot nonchalantly and looked at Antonio as though he was an idiot. Then, he let out a snort.

"Hmph."

As soon as the crowd heard his snort, their vision flashed in a dazzling, earth-shattering radiance that blossomed grandly above them like fireworks and swept toward Antonio.

Antonio was wide-eyed. Although he was prepared that Rhode would strike anytime, he didn't expect Rhode to be this decisive. Moreover, Rhode was empty-handed and in the blink of an eye, Antonio sensed an immense sword aura emanating from him. It was so intense that his cheeks hurt.

Where did his weapon appear from?!

Antonio didn't have the time to ponder on this question anymore. As one of the most outstanding young men in the Munn Kingdom, he didn't gain his reputation out of nothing. He responded swiftly. Snarling and brandishing his sword that erupted with a dazzling spiritual radiance that resisted Rhode's attack like a shield.

Cling! Cling! Cling! Cling!

A series of sword clashes echoed throughout the hall and sparks constantly dazzled the crowd. However, this lasted only for a moment. In the blink of an eye, Antonio retreated swiftly from their collision with a pale complexion. Then, he pushed himself off the wall forcefully and rebounded with his sword striking forward.

Almost simultaneously, the vast starry sky shrunk and coalesced into a single brilliant sword ray that pierced toward Antonio. He clamped his feet down to the ground and laid his sword horizontally to resist the powerful either. Then, his blade erupted in magical radiance. It seemed that his weapon wasn't ordinary too.

Clang!

When the swords crashed, the massive collision discharged a rippling blast that shook the ground and some of the weaker nobles even felt their hearts pumping violently. An unbearable and choking sensation emerged within their bodies.

I stopped him!

Antonio exclaimed inwardly. Rhode's initial attack had indeed surprised him. Although Rhode's aggression grew increasingly ferocious and the constant attacks were as though strong crashing waves, the anger in Antonio boosted his strength to resist him. And now, he had stopped Rhode's attack and opportunity only comes once! Now's the chance to counterattack!

Antonio readjusted his posture and clasped his sword hilt with both hands, thrusting forward with all his might. He sensed that he had deflected Rhode's blade and he followed through with the momentum and transformed into a violent hurricane with his sword!

"Ah-!"

At this moment, Antonio heard the sudden exclamations of the crowd and before he knew it, severe pain struck his back. He instantly stopped his movements and rolled forward to dodge Rhode's striking blade. Then, he brandished his blade and hacked into the ambushing razor-sharp blade from behind.

Clang!

Antonio realized that a pitch-black chain sword was brandished in the air like a long whip. After Antonio slashed it down, it slid away nimbly and at a single glance, it looked like a viper slithering in the air.

Wait!

Antonio came to a sudden realization.

From the side?

But, it was too late for him.

An ice-cold blade aura exploded behind him and permeated through his skin and bones mercilessly. Then, he blasted off into the air with tremendous pain on his back. His vision blurred and starlight shrouded him entirely. At the next moment, the excruciating pain was the only sensation that he felt.

Bam!

Time had as though stopped. Antonio crashed to the ground heavily and felt the coldness of the marble floor on his chest. He had lost all control over his body. He struggled to turn his body around and realized that he was covered in bloody gashes. His luxurious attire had been tattered utterly and only half his blade remained... The tremendous pain spread from his back to every part of his body. He groaned painfully and fought to lift his head. However, the only thing he saw was Rhode's expressionless face with his hands behind his back. Then, Rhode's chilly voice echoed in Antonio's ears.

"It's over, Mr. Williams."

The world around Antonio had as though dimmed as he shut his eyes and entered an endless coma.

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