Shin and Kanari sat on one side of the rectangular oak table while the handsome couple, who didn’t seem to be a day above forty, sat on the other. Cold sweat fell from the top of Shin’s cranium as he stared at the giant man that was seated directly opposite from him. The teacups on the table had remained untouched, even though Kanari and her mother were already merrily sipping through them, ready to watch the show unfold.
See, Shin wasn’t nervous meeting the Duchess of Highgarden. Based on his previous interactions with her, the youth knew that Kanari’s mother was a carefree spirit among those that she was close with and there were even a few times that the lady would joke about Shin and Kanari tying the knot. So the true fight was between Shin and Kanari’s father, who as an overprotective dad from day one.
Everyone knew of the love story behind the two. Kanari’s grandparents, the current Duchess’ parents, didn’t like that she was in a loving relationship with a lowborn child, with no sort of pedigree, that she met by coincidence in Imperius Academy. To break that union, the Duchess’ parents would arrange all kinds of marriage interviews and would even pressure Kanari’s father to break up with the Duchess, else his entire family would be relocated.
Of course, as Kanari’s grandparents would learn the hard way, the more one tried to force someone into doing something, the harder the person would push back. The current Duchess attempted to elope with Kanari’s father and even attacked a potential suitor for attempting to hold her hand. It really was a mess. Eventually, after the Duchess climbed up the ranks of the Luminaries to become a talent worthy of the role, her parents started to ease their oppositions.
The current Duke of Highgarden was no pushover either. To prove to the world that he was worthy of his wife’s devotion, the man worked hard, studying politics, agriculture, military tactics, administration… Basically, anything that would aid in developing the Highgarden Duchy, Kanari’s father would study. And his efforts paid off.
Every single plan that he proposed had advanced the Duchy tenfold and in the modern day, the Highgarden Duchy was one of the most productive and influential lands in the entire Himmel Empire. If the Duchess of Highgarden was the face of the Duchy, then her husband was the brains. The Duke may only be a Rank 68 Spirit King, but in terms of value, his presence was just as crucial as the Duchess, if not more so. Therefore, Shin still had to pay him the utmost respect.
“Your Excellency, I...!”
“Just leave it.” The Duke replied with a booming tone, forcing Shin to quiet down almost immediately. It was understandable. No father would be amused to see their cherished daughter, a product of their own flesh and blood, getting frisky with another man. It was just a few years back that Kanari was the love of his life. Remembering the days where the adorable little creature would climb on his back and he would tell stories by her bed to lull her to sleep… It was complete bliss. Yet, this black-haired bastard here thinks that he can swoop in and take Kanari all for himself? The Duke wasn’t just going to let it slide.
“Shin Iofiel… The heir of the fallen Awter Clan and a descendant of the fabled Longyu Clan. Orphaned, you worked your way up in the Frie Clan and managed to convince Venerate Seraphim to make you her disciple. Breaking all sorts of records, you became the youngest healer in history and pushed your limits by the day. At the age of fifteen, you were already condensing your Spirit Core. At eighteen, you made it into the Spirit Adept realm, merging with a Tier 8 Spirit Beast’s nail in the process. Finally, against all the odds, you skipped two ranks and passed the first barrier of mortality, becoming the second youngest Spirit Spectre in the Himmel Empire.” The Duke repeated the highlights of Shin’s life from memory, bringing a tinge of red to the young man’s face.
“On paper, you’re perhaps the most suited to date my daughter. No, you’re the only person in the younger generation who could possibly match her. Not to mention, the feelings seem mutual.”
“Hehe~.” Sticking her tongue out, Kanari teased the two uptight men, only to receive a deathly glare from her father. It wasn’t the time or the place to be comical.
“Your achievements are quite extraordinary, however...” The man folded his arms and looked straight into Shin’s azure eyes. “I don’t like you.”
“Father!” Kanari jumped to her feet and was ready to rebut, only to be halted by the Duke’s heavy hand.
“Kanari, sit down and don’t interrupt. This matter is of utmost importance.”
The fair maiden could feel the tension build up as Shin stood his ground, unfazed by the Duke’s sudden turn. Kanari cried out, “But!”
“Kanari!” The Duke raised his voice, something he rarely did in the past. Forced to drop down back on her chair, Kanari bit down on her lower lip and turned to the boy seated next to her. She had crossed so many hurdles to develop her relationship with Shin to this point. Yet, her greatest obstacle actually came from within.
“Your Excellency… May I ask why you dislike me?” Shin asked. “Is it my background? Or was it something that I’d done?”
“No, nothing of that sort.” Kanari’s father shook his head. He was a commoner himself, and a product of a touching love story that will be retold for generations to come. It would be hypocritical of him to mind his daughter’s boyfriend’s upbringing. “It isn’t something that you’ve done, but the things you haven’t done… For my daughter.”
“...” Confused, the young man slightly tilted his head.
“Kanari she… She’s a noble soul. She’s kind and gentle. Sometimes boorish, but never violent. Kanari’s also very emotional. However, because she’s the heir of Highgarden, she has to always wear a facade. High Society could be a mess for a young child after all.” Gone was the wise sage that was known to be the Duke of Highgarden. Right now, the man before Shin was a loving father who wanted nothing but the best for his child.
“So when Kanari met you, someone whom she could drop all of her shields for and be a young girl again, I was actually quite glad. All of the men that approached her were either opportunistic nobles or wealthy families, or lustful men that only sought her outer beauty. Only you treated her as a bosom friend that she could confide in. When Megumi suggested years back that she was planning to set the two of you up, I didn’t have any objections.” Looking sideways, the Duke held the Duchess’ hands. Thus far, the man’s explanations contradicted the statement that he dislikes Shin, so the duo seated opposite him had question marks floating out from their heads.
“However, your actions in the past few months have really started to get on my nerves!” Slamming his fist on the table, the Duke bellowed out. “All this while, you knew that Kanari had feelings for you and yet you pushed back. When she was going to promote to the Spirit Spectre realm, you refused to come back, forcing her to attempt the first barrier of mortality in some foreign land. Even now! You’re asking her to follow you to the Lantis Republic for five years! How selfish can you be?!” Continually spewing out his grievances, the Duke laid everything out on the table.
And it was a good thing that he did. Shin really hadn’t thought of that. In their relationship, it seemed like Kanari was the only one putting out the sacrifices. The only thing that Shin did was receive the girl’s goodwill and barely gave anything back.
“Father, I did all of those things willingly!” Kanari interjected, placing her hands over Shin’s. “I never asked for anything from Shin!”
“That’s the entire problem! You’ve done so much for him, and what has he done for you?!”
“T-That...” The maiden instantly turned tongue-tied. From an outsider’s perspective, their relationship did seem to be lopsided.
“Your Excellency...” Shin, who had been quiet all this time, finally raised his head. “I understand if you feel that I’m not worthy for your daughter. I have been foolish all this time after all. However, please. Give me a chance to make it right. In the next five years, I’ll prove that I’m a man worthy of Kanari’s devotion. I swear by it.”
Shin’s declaration brought hearts into Kanari’s pupils and took the suave man by surprise. Even the immovable Duchess of Highgarden felt like Shin was as charming as her husband. Ever since Shin reached the Spirit Spectre realm, the man seemed to have undergone a metamorphosis. Now, he wasn’t as wishy-washy as compared to the past. If Shin had something on his chest, he would voice it out.
“Actions speak louder than words. From now on, I’ll be sure to be the best possible man for Kanari. Please watch over me.” Shin bowed down in utmost respect.
“...” The Duke was speechless. He had anticipated Shin to skirt around the topic and eventually break down. Yet, Shin wasn’t about to play by his rules. “Fine… I’ll observe what happens from now on… If I ever find out that you’ve made Kanari unhappy...”
“I’ll deliver my head to you myself!” Shin once again took the initiative, stunning the dominant Duke. Kanari’s mother mused at her husband’s ineptitude in dealing with the young man. Fortunately, Shin wasn’t in an opposing faction’s camp, else the Highgarden Duchy would fail miserably.
“Alright, alright! Let’s not talk about that for now.” The Duchess of Highgarden clapped her hands as she giggled. “Let’s switch to a lighter topic! Children!”
The sudden shift instantly reddened the two youngsters’ faces. ‘How’s that a lighter topic?!’ Kanari and Shin thought. They were only twenty-years-old and were just about to reach the prime of their lives. Their bodies had fully matured and were ready to move on to the next stage of adulthood. However, due to an array of circumstances, the two of them didn’t want to cross the final step.
“I’m not sure how the arrangement in the Lantis Republic would work, but I would like your first child to be named Saniela so that we can raise him or her to inherit the Duchy.” The Duchess continued, not caring about the embarrassment that the two youths had.
“Ermmm, Your Excellency…” Shin raised his hands meekly, his eyes desperately averting Kanari’s. “We decided that we should postpone that kind of talk until the five years time limit is up. Both Kanari and I want to concentrate on our cultivations and the Black Masks.”
“Nonsense! We should be discussing this matter now!” That hesitance sparked fury in the Duchess’ heart. “Spirit Spectres who had passed the first barrier of mortality have a harder time conceiving as compared to normal humans! Because of my low fertility rate, I had Kanari when I was sixty-years-old… Do you really want to become a parent at that age? I say you start spending nights together right now when you’re both young and vigorous!”
A mother asking her daughter’s boyfriend to have sex with her daughter… How was Shin supposed to react to that?
“Please ignore her.” At this point, even the Duke couldn’t stand his wife’s shenanigans. “I’ll only tolerate you bedding Kanari on the day you consummate your marriage.”
Oh, the father was no better. They barely started their relationship, and they were already talking about marriage.
“Father! Waiting for marriage is a little too long, don’t you think? I mean… Sure, we have to take it slow… But it doesn’t have to be THAT slow right...”
And the daughter finished Shin off with her own self-detonation. Realising her folly, Kanari turned away and burrowed her face into her chest, not daring to look Shin in the eye anymore.
Then only one question remained on Shin’s mind for the rest of the session.
‘How the hell did the Highgarden Duchy survive this long?’