It’s Ko-Fi’s Supporters’ chapter (68/96), enjoy~
Chapter 4 – A World That Begins To Creak
24th January, 1024th year of the Imperial Calendar.
The southern part of the Great Grantz Empire is warm even though the season is winter.
This is because the vast expanse of the empire has resulted in a drastic shift in the sense of seasons from region to region. As a result, the temperature differs significantly from region to region, making it easy for those who are not used to traveling to get sick.
That’s why a book called “A Beginner’s Journey” is selling well in the Grantz Empire.
“Hmm, be careful of the monsters in the south… And there seem to be more bandits than in other areas. Is it because of the heat that they get impatient? I sometimes get frustrated too.”
The red-haired girl nodded her head in admiration as she read the Beginner’s Journey.
“It’s the same everywhere, isn’t it, Liz-dono?”
The woman with greenish-blue hair smiled bitterly, but she looked pale as if she wasn’t feeling well.
The silver-haired girl sitting next to her nodded in agreement, but her gaze was fixed on the book in her lap.
“It’s like Skaaha said, they’re everywhere.”
“…I guess you could say that.”
Liz closes the book with an indescribable expression and places it on the chair.
The girls were currently in a carriage. When she looked out the window, she saw a land of green and brown mixed together.
“…We’ve almost arrived at Sunspear.”
Sunspear is a large city in the south ruled by one of the five great noble families, the Muzuk family.
Among the five regions, the southern region was the hottest, with half of the land occupied by wastelands and deserts due to the arid climate. However, in the north part of the region, the land is fertile and habitable for people. Sunspear is built on the land to the north.
“Sunspear is… famous for its trade, but also for its gold, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it’s amazing. There are many specialties that come from all over the world. Even the Great Imperial Capital can’t beat it. I think Sunspear is better in terms of glamour. You would be surprised to see the palaces built with gold.”
It connects to the Great Imperial Capital in the north, the Principality of Lichtine and the Steichen Republic in the south, the Third Imperial Capital in the west, and the Iron Eagle Castle in the east. It’s also a gold-producing region, where the wealthy of the Grantz Empire are concentrated. There are many other merchants and get-rich-quick schemes in the area.
“What the Steichen Republic is targeting may be the interests in that area.”
Liz tilted her head at Skaaha’s words.
“…But there is something wrong with it. Aren’t they a little calm for that?”
When they entered the south, Liz decided not to head to the Berg fortress but to go to Sunspear in order to prioritize the meeting with the Muzuk family. That’s why she’s on her way at full speed with about thirty guards in tow. Incidentally, the rest of the soldiers are on their way to the Berg Fortress with Ghada.
However, Liz had a strange feeling. The closer she got to Sunspear, the stronger it became.
“…The atmosphere is definitely strange.”
“Do you think so too, Aura?”
“Then let’s see what’s wrong with it.”
Skaaha said in a low voice and pointed out the window.
“We have arrived at Sunspear.”
In front of the main gate, where merchants were coming and going, soldiers were checking luggage.
But the guards of Sunspear, perhaps noticing the flag that Liz’s carriage carried, saluted her. He then approached the carriage, exchanged a few words with the coachman, and peered in through the window.
“Your Highness Celia Estrella, welcome to Sunspear!”
“Yes, thank you.”
Liz responded with a smile, but her expression was tense.
Something is wrong after all ― she can’t believe the soldier’s relaxed attitude.
As soon as they get past the main gate, their doubts are confirmed.
“Aura… are you sure the Steichen Republic is invading?”
Aura, who had been asked the question, only snorted nervously and did not answer. She also looked at Skaaha, but she also crossed her arms and tilted her head.
Liz looked over the letter of intent that the head of the Muzuk family had sent. He had sent several urgent letters while Liz was on her way.
After all, no matter how many times she looked at it, she could still see the impatience of the head of the Muzuk family.
“Hmm… why? The Steichen Republic is supposed to be closing in on the city.”
The last letter said that an army of about 60,000 troops was about to surround the city. However, when they looked out the window at the city, no one looked as if war was imminent.
The streets were filled with people, just as they had been when she had visited in the past. Above all, there were people dressed in flashy clothes, probably in high spirits because of the new year. No matter who she looked at, there was a smile on their face. The atmosphere was so cheerful that it was hard to believe that we were in a time of war.
Before long, Liz was confronted by a palace built entirely of gold.
The vainglory of the Muzuk family was apparent as if they were showing off their power.
The carriage stopped, and the doors were opened, filling the interior with dazzling sunlight.
“Thank you for coming.”
As Liz set her feet on the ground, she saw a man bowing his head.
Vetu Rüger von Muzuk. He was the young head of the Muzuk family, one of the five great noble families.
He took over the position of head of the family at the young age of twenty-seven after the previous head passed away due to illness.
Over the next four years, he disposed of the corrupt nobles and contributed to the development of Sunspear by working hard to attract merchants from neighboring countries to establish trade routes.
He is a shrewd young man, but he is a man of great ability, and his entourage is also full of talented people.
“It’s a dream come true to have Your Highness Celia Estrella in my palace.”
A flashy woman was standing next to Vetu. She was dressed so lightly that her underwear showed through, perhaps to keep out the heat.
However, perhaps because of the hot climate, she did not give the impression of being indecent, and the lines of her body were clearly visible, indicating that she was a woman of artistic beauty.
“My name is Selvia Sephone von Muzuk. I’ve only met Your Highness Celia Estrella once. Do you remember me?”
Liz made a smile as she responded to Selvia’s offer of her hand with a handshake.
“Of course I remember you. I hope you are well, Madame Selvia.”
When Liz came of age, she had been the first to congratulate her. She seems to be on good terms with her sister, Rosa, and they have been exchanging letters.
“The weather has been getting colder lately, making it easier to spend the day. Oh, by the way, how is Rosa-sama? She seems to be busy, so we don’t exchange letters as much…”
“Yes, she’s doing fine. I think it would be good if my sister came here at least once.”
“It can’t be helped. She is the acting head of the Kelheit family, after all. She’s in a position where she can’t move around as easily as she used to, so when things settle down again, I’ll pay her a visit.”
“By all means, do that. I’m sure my sister will be delighted to see you.”
Liz replied with a smile.
“It’s a little early, but the meal is ready. The weather is getting colder, so let’s go inside.”
The head of the Muzuk family, Vetu, interrupted the conversation.
Aura and Skaaha, who hid her face from the public, stood near Liz as they finished their greetings.
“Oh, I don’t mean to talk too long here. Shall we go inside?”
Even as she said this, Selvia approached Aura and the others and began to greet them.
Vetu gave Liz a wry smile as they watched the scene with dismay.
“We should go inside first; the food is getting cold.”
“But first, I’d like to ask you a few questions about the Steichen Republic…”
Liz’s question was interrupted. Because of Vetu’s hand urging her to enter the palace.
“We can talk about that during the meal because you never know who might be listening in here.”
“…That’s true, too. Can you show me the way, please?”
“This way, please.”
Vetu bent at the waist in a graceful gesture and began to walk ahead of her.
Surprisingly, the entrance to the palace was a wooden door. Even so, it was made of the finest wood, and its luxury was not inferior to that of the imperial palace.
“Oh, are you surprised? Why aren’t the doors made of gold?”
“…just a little.”
Liz couldn’t help but touch her own cheek to see if it was showing on her face.
“It was heavy. When you make a door out of gold, it takes a lot more manpower and time than you think to open it. My wife discarded it as a waste of money and time.”
The reason was even more trivial than expected. And it was a reason to which she was not sure what to say in reply.
Liz smiled lovingly and decided to cover it up appropriately.
While they were having this conversation, the door opened, and the air inside was expelled outside.
Liz tried to step in but failed.
At the entrance to the hall, she found many people on their knees, bowing to her.
“When they heard that Your Highness Celia Estrella was coming, they insisted that they should greet you.”
They were all southern nobles. Liz raised her eyebrows suspiciously at the enthusiastic welcome. However, she could not get the words out of her throat as the head of the Muzuk family moved on before she had a chance to question him.
“I am very sorry, Your Highness Celia Estrella. I warned my husband to stop, but he insisted that this was the one thing he would not give up, and I could not stop him.”
In short, he was showing off his power of control to Liz. By claiming that the southern part of the country revolves around the Muzuk family, he emphasizes how important a position he holds.
If Hiro had been present, he would have said sarcastically, “Thanks for your useless actions.”
But unlike Hiro, Liz could not be ruthless. She felt that she should say a few words of gratitude to the people who had gathered for her.
As she passed by the southern nobles, she gave them a few words of appreciation.
When she had finished talking to the last one, she looked behind her with a tired expression.
“….Let’s eat quickly.”
Liz was looking at Selvia, who was smiling at her with a hand on her cheek, looking at her lovingly.
“Come on, this way.”
Liz was led to the dining room by Selvia, who pushed her back.
In the room, servants were lined up against the wall, waiting. Vetu was smiling near the long table where the food was placed.
“Your Highness Celia Estrella, please come this way.”
He turned his hand to the honorary seat. Liz gave a slight nod before taking the seat. The others followed suit and sat down in their chairs. Then Vetu raised his silver cup.
He glanced at Liz as if he was asking her to propose a toast.
(I’m not very good at… this kind of atmosphere. I guess I’ll just have to get used to it.)
Liz sighed, trying not to be noticed.
She then raised the silver cup and looked around to make sure everyone had it.
“First of all, I’d like to thank Lord Muzuk for this opportunity… and the twelve great gods of Grantz for bringing us together… Oh, and the Spirit King?”
The atmosphere was awkward. Her red eyes swam as if to ask for help ― but there was no help in sight.
Aura’s face is expressionless, and as usual, it’s hard to read what she’s thinking.
Skaaha has a motherly look and a satisfied smile on her face. Liz felt like holding her head in her hands, but she decided to raise her silver cup proudly and let it pass.
Everyone responded with a cheerful toast. It was as if they were trying to cheer Liz up. However, there was no time to be crushed by regret and reflect on the situation.
She quickly changed her mind, put the silver cup on the desk, and looked at the head of the Muzuk family.
“I have a few questions I’d like to ask you.”
The sweetness disappeared from Liz’s face, and the air changed as her expression became serious. As if sensing this sensitively, Vetu finished her drink with a sip and gave her a sharp look.
“By the way, you seemed to want to ask me something earlier.”
“Yes, I was wondering what on earth is going on here.”
“Well, what’s so strange about it? We have made all the necessary preparations to welcome Your Highness, the Princess of the Grantz Empire.”
Liz’s temper flared as she slammed a stack of papers on the desk.
“The letter repeatedly emphasized that the Steichen Republic was invading ― oh, who wrote that ― and you don’t have to dodge that. Can you just tell me?”
When Liz got up from her chair in anger, Vetu felt that it was not a good idea to deceive her, so he let out a deep breath and shrugged his shoulders.
“…As it turns out, it wasn’t my idea to deceive you.”
“What do you mean?”
Liz’s eyes grew cloudy, and she began to feel a rush of emotion. Vetu put his elbows on the table and covered his mouth with his hands, wondering if he should answer.
That’s when the sound of a crash echoed through the dining hall.
Liz turned her attention to the source of the sound.
Aura’s figure standing there jumped into view. Behind her, a chair had fallen over.
“What’s going on all of a sudden?”
Aura did not respond to Liz’s words, her face pale and trembling. Next to her, Skaaha seemed to have noticed something as well, gritting her teeth in frustration and angrily shaking her shoulders.
“Your Highness Celia Estrella. The contents of the letter are all lies.”
When Liz slowly returned her gaze to its original position, what came into view was a man with a cunning smile on his face.
“That’s just a lie. Because we have already negotiated with the Steichen Republic.”
Liz was astonished. Her eyes widened in disbelief. Her clenched hands trembled as if she was trying to suppress her murderous intent. It was as if she was telling herself to stay calm.
“I-if that’s the case, why did you send me so many letters… asking for reinforcements?”
In Liz’s mind, there was a desperate assumption that he was in cahoots with the Six Kingdoms. She summoned the Flame Emperor and prepared for battle, ready to fight at any time.
“You know that the Six Kingdoms are invading, right? You know that this is not the time to play around. This is not a joke, is it?”
“It’s not a joke, and it was a request from someone.”
“Someone? Don’t tell me it’s not the Six Kingdoms…?”
Her patience was at an end.
A clear murderous intent gushed out of Liz and pierced into Vetu. An ordinary man would be intimidated by the situation, but a man who has been through a lot of painful situations is able to handle it calmly.
“It was an order from His Highness Hiro.”
In an instant, her murderous intent and rage dissipated. Instead, what appeared was agitation.
“W-what are you talking about? Hiro’s orders? Why should he do this?”
Liz’s eyes were twisted with grief as if she was about to scream that it was a lie. She couldn’t find the words as the mystery swirled around in her head, fueling her confusion.
“No wonder you’re surprised. I was surprised, too, when His Highness Hiro asked me to write you a false letter.”
Vetu’s voice was tinged with sympathy, but his words did not reach Liz.
It wasn’t directed at Vetu, but at the image of the young man in her mind.
But Vetu took it as a reply and tried to open his mouth.
“I believe he didn’t want to put Your Highness Celia Estrella in danger.”
It was his wife, Selvia, who took the initiative.
“Yes, the current central government is dysfunctional, so there is no point in having Your Highness stay there, and it is natural to send you to the south in search of strength. But even so, he doesn’t think that the Six Kingdoms will just end up rampaging in the west. He probably wanted to evacuate you to a safe place in case of an emergency.”
“Evacuating me… won’t stop the Six Kingdoms, will it? If the central falls, they will invade the south as well. Then it is better to fight them together…”
“That’s why His Highness Hiro decided to buy you some time until you can build up your forces by using himself as bait. But he did not tell you the truth. Because you would surely have stopped him from going to his death.”
Selvia echoed Hiro’s sentiments, her long eyelashes quivering with sadness.
“Rosa-Aneesama… won’t allow that to happen. She’ll stop him even if I’m not there.”
“I don’t think so. All of us know the truth, except you.”
When Vetu turned his compassionate eyes on her, a tremor ran through the long table where the food was placed.
Liz had struck it. It was not anger but sadness.
“Then, are you trying to tell me that this is something that Rosa-Aneesama planned together with you?”
With tears in the corners of her eyes, Liz’s appearance was painful.
“As a result… but Rosa-dono also made a painful decision…”
Vetu cut off his words in the middle of the sentence and called out again to Liz, who had left her seat.
“Are you planning on going?”
“Of course. There’s no reason for me to stay here.”
“You’re not going to make it. A messenger arrived before Her Highness Celia Estrella did. By now, he will have clashed with the Six Kingdoms.”
“Then I’ll join up with the Fourth Imperial Army right away and head west.”