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Steichen Republic ― Jotunheim Territory Trillheim.
The country once prospered as the land of the “Beastman,” and the majority of the population was “Beastman” in terms of racial distribution. Jotunheim was located on the only plains in the Steichen Republic, and there was a clear horizon stretching out in all directions.
To the west, the fertile lands of Jotunheim are fertile granaries, and to the east was the fortified city of Gastropnir, which manages the largest hunting grounds in the world. There, horse breeding was being promoted to take advantage of the terrain, and the horses were exported to other countries, supporting the wealth of Jotunheim and, ultimately, the economy of the Steichen Republic.
In other words, if the “Dwarves” were masters of forging, the “Beastman” were masters of breeding.
The “Dwarves” who make the best weapons and the “Beastman” who raise the best “warhorses” coexist.
This was the reason why the Steichen Republic was able to bring stability and survive as a powerful nation.
However, that was a story of the past, and now the two sides were engaged in an ugly conflict that had come to a gruesome end.
It was in such a situation – on 17th June, the 1026th year of the imperial calendar.
Liz, the 6th princess of the Great Grantz Empire, had arrived in Trillheim, the stronghold of the Jotunheim territory.
“The stars seem so close.”
The sun has set, and the sky was blackened by a darkening ledger covering the world.
As if to show their resistance, the stars shone frantically to inform people of their whereabouts.
On the ground overlooking the stars that emphasized their presence, a banquet was being held at the palace in the city of Trillheim.
A large tree that had been incorporated into the center of the garden was burning fiercely.
Around it, people were dancing happily or enthusiastically with drinks in their hands.
Although the war was in progress, everyone smiled merrily without worrying about tomorrow.
This was a characteristic of the tribe. The “Beastman” enjoyed everything. They are happy to be on the front lines in wars, and even at funerals, they seem to send off the deceased with a smile on their faces.
They are physical people who try things out physically before thinking about difficult things.
“The white wolf is an unusual creature. I thought they only lived in the Eastern Archipelago.”
Skadi, who united the Jotunheim faction of the Steichen Republic, threw the meat on the bone to Cerberus.
Using her amazing leg strength to fly through the air, Cerberus successfully bites into the bone’s meat.
“Have you ever been to the Eastern Archipelago?”
When Liz, who was sitting next to Skadi, posed the question, she shook her head with a barley wine in her hand.
“No, I’ve never been there. The Twelve Tribes that rule the Eastern Archipelago only accept pure-bloods. I’ve heard that other tribes are driven away by force.”
“Have you ever wanted to go?”
“I thought about it in the past, but… I don’t know about now. It’s a fantasy land now, a thousand years later. No one can be sure if it really exists or not. The Southern and Eastern Archipelagos will never come back in this lifetime.”
After slurping down her barley wine, Skadi turned her reddened cheeks to Liz. Even though it was only the first glass, the look in her eyes was not that of a weak drinker. It would be better not to drink yet.
“You can ask me a question if you like, princess. But can you answer my question first?”
“Look, how did you get that white wolf?”
Skadi pointed to the Cerberus, which was chewing on a bone.
“There’s not exactly an inspiring tale that you can rejoice in. It’s just that I happened to find her washed ashore, injured and I picked her up.”
“How could it be such a coincidence?”
After raising her eyebrows dubiously but saying, “Oh, well, that’s okay,” with an air of ease, Skadi downed the rest of the barley wine from her silver cup in one gulp. She then proceeded to eat the meat dishes with great gusto. On the other hand, Liz was quietly eating a pile of vegetables. She looked at the people dancing in the center of the garden as if she would not be able to finish her vegetables if she watched Skadi any longer.
“…That’s amazing. I’ve heard it’s a cheerful country.”
Even though she doesn’t mind a noisy meal, there was no way to dance around naked.
“What’s the matter? Aren’t you having fun?”
“No, I’m having a great time. Just watching is really enough.”
Noticing Skadi’s action as she came to take her arm, Liz shifted her hips and moved away from her.
“Hmm, I guess “Human” princesses have a strong sense of shame, huh?”
“Not that it matters if you’re a princess or not, but besides, you have “Human” blood in you, too, don’t you?”
“Well, I guess. I am from a diverse family, so I have some “Long-Eared” and “Dwarves” in my blood. But my “Beastman” blood is stronger, so I tend to prioritize fun over shame.”
Tapping the horns on her own head with a steady finger, Skadi smiles.
“Well, like you, we’re happy just to watch the noise.”
Pouring more barleywine, Skadi squints and watches her subordinates dancing around the flames.
Then she casually cut to the chase as if making small talk.
“Three days from now, I’m leaving here.”
“Of course, I’m going with you. That’s why I came here.”
“This time, I intend to invade the city of Garza, the stronghold of the Nidavellir faction.”
“Are you sure this is the right place to talk about this?”
Liz looks around to see if there are any spies lurking around, but Skadi’s mouth turns up in a grimace.
“It’s all right. I’m a good reader of signs, and I have a wild intuition. Besides, if someone were to overhear us in the middle of a ruckus like this, we’d know it, wouldn’t we?”
“Then I wonder if it’s safe…”
She was so confident that Liz was strangely convinced.
Especially because the topics of conversation switched from one to another and therefore lacked a sense of urgency.
“Oh, your old man is being lifted up.”
She followed Skadi’s gaze and saw Tris soaring high into the sky, surrounded by “Beastman.” Every time the old soldier’s body floated up, a drop of tears would spray out of his eyes.
Liz couldn’t help but burst out.
“…Fu-fufu, Tris looks so happy.”
“Eh, is that what you call crying with… joy?”
“No, he’s just afraid of heights.”
Normally, she would have helped him out, but she often looked at him with a somewhat distant look in his eyes since coming to the Steichen Republic. He had become less talkative and was often seen pondering.
So, Liz had hoped for something like this to distract him somewhere along the way.
Therefore, there was no stopping him. She was willing to leave Tris alone as long as he would laugh, cry, get angry, and return to his normal, energetic self.
“He was scared and crying… He’s an old man with a big figure, but he’s got a small heart.”
Skadi tilted her silver cup and poured barley wine down her throat with Tris’s crying face as a side dish.
“He has a surprisingly small heart.”
“Hmm, have you known him long?”
“Yes, he’s served me since I was very young.”
Along with the now-deceased Dios, he served the sixth princess well, who was not expected to do so.
Even though Liz had known him for a long time, she did not know what to give him to make him happy since he was not a person who wanted money.
Seeing Liz in such a state, Skadi scratched her horns and sighed.
“…It’s fine to take care of your subordinates, but if it’s from an early age, I can well understand your desire to spoil them. But you know, no matter how strong he is, he can’t beat old age. Sometimes, like my father, you can be killed by assassins.”
Skadi continued to speak, looking up at the night sky from where she sat.
“We can’t fight together all the time. It is the duty of a superior to tell them that they are out of the war, so don’t let them make the mistake of pulling out at the wrong time. Above all, he is a loyal retainer who is irreplaceable, so you should take even better care of him.”
“Yeah, I’ll tell him eventually.”
“Well, from what I’ve seen of the old man, he’s well-trained and not likely to die.”
You never know what will happen if you stand on the battlefield. Young and old are all equally lured to death in war. The weak live and the strong die, and vice versa. Dios, a brave general, was also a strong and robust young man, but he died in battle at a young age.
“Are you talking about Dios…?”
“Hmm? Oh… well, I guess I just heard about it, and it didn’t make any sense.”
Skadi lay down on the spot and looked into the torchlight, biting back a sore throat.
“I have five brothers and sisters, all half-siblings. Among us, only Brother Dios has a “Human” mother. So there is a difference in power between us. He felt quite small in the family.”
Naturally, all living creatures, regardless of race, instinctively have a sense of self-respect.
However, his self-esteem was shattered by the fact that he was born as a “Human” in this country.
“Jotunheim is a region where there is less discrimination compared to Nidavellir, but it is different when you are the legitimate son of the chief of the “Beastman.” Everyone was expecting Brother Dios to be a member of the Beastman. But when they found out that his physical abilities were mediocre, they were selfishly disappointed. But Brother Dios was still competitive, so he tried his best… but the natural differences are not easy to fill. The expectations and pressures of those around him crushed him.”
It was a common story,something that happened everywhere.
A boy born into a prominent family with a strong sense of responsibility could not bear the weight of that responsibility.
That’s all there is to it.
“He didn’t get along with our father, and he ran away from home and disappeared soon after. Our men tried to look for him, but my father told them to leave the family’s disgrace alone. Well, my father was assassinated three years ago, and my brothers and I got involved. Since Brother Dios is no longer with us, we have taken over Jotunheim.”
Liz was surprised to learn that Dios was in a similar situation to her. Could it be that Dios reached out to Liz because he saw his childhood self in her? No matter how much she thought about it, no clear answer would come to her. The living can’t know the thoughts of the deceased.
“Hey, princess, did you just compare your situation to his?”
Liz’s shoulders jumped in surprise when her mind was read. But then, she remembered that she had said earlier that she was good at that kind of thing.
“I wonder if it’s also called wild intuition?”
When Skadi geot up, she waved her hand in front of her face and smiled.
“No, no, no, the princess’s circumstances are well known. I just know it well.”
Skadi stuck her index finger up Liz’s nose.
“So again, Brother Dios ran away, but the princess didn’t. It’s totally different, so don’t ever compare yourself with him. You’re amazing enough that you didn’t run away.”
Then Skadi, who let out a deep sigh of sorrow, looked at Liz with a sideways glance.
“That’s why I want to ask you… Ran away, ran away, ran away, and where he ran away, Brother Dios――”
Serious eyes turn to Liz. Her wolfish eyes gleamed in the moonlight.
“――Has he gone as a warrior without running away?”
A gust of wind blows. A gentle breeze seemed to take away the tears from Skadi’s grief-stricken eyes.
It caressed Liz’s hair, stroked Skaasi’s head, and blew past into the night sky.
Liz looked up to follow it and noticed that the loud singing around her had become distant.
The stars scattered over the night sky shone stronger than before and seemed so close that they were dancing down to the ground.
Liz let out a smile and turned to Skadi with a serious face once again.
“Yes, an honorable end for a warrior.”
Not to be missed, Liz said forcefully, without being drowned out by the clamor around her.
Perhaps her sincere words were understood, and Skadi’s mouth was tearing into a smile of happiness from the bottom of her heart.
“I see ― a warrior, huh?”
Shaking her back, Skadi raised the silver cup vigorously into the night sky as if exploding with unbearable joy.
“Then I have nothing more to say. For the Beastman, there is no greater pride than to die as a warrior.”
“Is that right…? It was my fault he――”
Liz could not get the last word out.
Skadi grabbed her by the chin.
“You’re not my enemy or anything. It doesn’t matter if I hate you or not.”
“What I wanted to ask from the beginning was whether or not Brother Dios was able to die as a warrior. Don’t take it so seriously.”
Skadi’s words were rough, but her voice was packed with gentleness.
“Nod if you understand, or I’ll crush you in my grip like this.”
She had serious eyes that could not be taken as a joke. Liz’s confused jaw creaked as if to scream.
She may have been drunk, and she must have been mistaken about the degree of her intoxication.
Puzzled, Liz nodded, and her jaw finally released.
As Liz checked to see if the bones were intact, Skadi gave her a gentle look.
“A man died a warrior, so you send him off with a smile on your face. You may not understand it, princess, but that is the custom in Jotunheim.”
Then she thrust the silver cup into the night sky with renewed vigor.
“That’s a very instinctive and animalistic way of thinking.”
With that, Skadi stood up and began to undress.
“Now, let’s dance too. Only today is special. We have to celebrate my brother Dios.”
The clothes were so uncomfortable to wear that they easily covered up the healthy, toned skin ― just in front of the skin.
Liz pulled up a cloth from the desk and tossed it to Skadi.
“You are a woman; you should be modest.”
Liz uttered the same line that someone, somewhere, had said.
Steichen Republic ― Garza, Nidavellir territory.
It was after midnight, and the streets were completely empty of people. The chirping of insects was very noisy at this time of night.
In the midst of the buzzing night air, the town was quiet as if it were a vigil.
In contrast, Garza’s palace was glamorous and bright as day with flickering torch flames.
In such a palace, Hiro and his group were killing time in a room that had been prepared for them.
Hiro was sitting on his bunk. In front of him, Ghada was sitting cross-legged.
Luca was by the window, sitting in the moonlight, with a blanket over her head in a triangular position, looking at Hiro.
“Where are Munin and Hugin?”
Hiro asks Ghada.
“Hugin was in touch with the spies that have infiltrated into this city. As for Munin, you gave him a leave of absence, didn’t you? He’s probably drinking at one of the illegal bars in town right now.”
Ghada, arms crossed, looked up at Hiro, who was sitting on the bunk.
“Have you been able to be more certain than that?”
“I don’t know because I haven’t seen it in my hand. But I think that necklace belonged to the first emperor.”
“Then does that mean he really is a descendant?”
And at Ghada’s question, Hiro tilted his head and groaned.
He was a man who had a lot of colorful affairs to the extent that he would make a move on the queens and princesses of the countries he invaded.
It would not be surprising if he had a “Dwarf” partner.
“What would you do if he’s telling the truth about the lineage of the first emperor?”
“Hugin asked me the same thing, but as for me, I’m not going to help him. But if he is a descendant of the first emperor, there is still a possibility that he could live as one of the pawns.”
“What are you going to do if it goes wrong?”
“Then, of course, he will get what he deserves.”
“Then we can only hope that Hugin will return with some information.”
If you don’t have any doubts, there’s no problem. Then, as if to say so, Ghada shrugs his shoulders and changes the subject.
“I have just received a report that the little girl has joined up with the Jotunheim camp. Furthermore, I hear that soldiers are gathering one after another from all over the country in Jotunheim headquarters, Trillheim.”
“Then let’s just sit tight until things get moving. We can do nothing if Utgarde doesn’t make a move.”
After hearing Hiro’s words, Ghada nodded and stood up to go out of the room.
“Where are you going?”
“I thought I’d have a drink with my men who are camped out. We should give them a little extra care, and we can’t give special treatment to Munin alone.”
“Then you can spend your war funds as you wish and serve the soldiers their drinks.”
“I understand. I’ll be on my way then, but call me right away if you need anything else.”
As Ghada put his hand on the room door, Hiro threw a word that he had forgotten to say to him.
“Yes, yes, just be prepared, please. No more changes to the plan.”
And then Ghada announced and left the room, and Hiro, who had seen him off, lay down on his bunk.
He was deep in thought. How do they connect, how do they connect, and how do they relate to reaching their goal?
Before that, an essential thing came to mind.
(If Utgarde was not a descendant of Altius, I wonder who was behind him and… how the first emperor’s necklace was obtained and handed to him.)
A relic of the first emperor was not an easy thing to obtain.
It was possible that the crime was committed by someone related to the Grantz family ― or even one of the five great nobles.
Also, two years ago, on the day that A deadly blade killed prime Minister Gils ― he had heard that intruders had appeared at the emperor’s gravesite at that time as well. So what was stolen on that day would be known only to Liz, the next emperor, and Rosa, the newly appointed prime minister?
(Is there a possibility of Black Death Village…?)
Thanks to the concerted efforts, some information on the “Black Death Village” has been gathered.
Above all, it was a great success that they were able to sense the presence of “him.” If not, Hiro’s faking his death in the battle against the Six Kingdoms would have been in vain.
(He still went into hiding underground again, but… he’s good at hiding at all. So I’ll find him, and next time I’ll use my hands…).
Hiro brought his own hand in front of his face and removed the mask before touching his right eye.
(Altius… what you left me has helped me a lot.)
The candlestick fire had somehow gone out.
The small, faint light illuminating Hiro’s face came from a candle on a stand beside his bunk.
Only his golden eyes, which shone brightly in the dark night, continued to flicker in the darkness with the air of a king.
“Do you not sleep?”
A low, icy voice was heard. Its source was under Hiro’s feet.
“Can’t you sleep?”
Moving awkwardly, like a broken mechanical doll, the one-armed Luca was crawling up Hiro’s body.
“I’ll think about it a bit before I go to bed. But, then, you can sleep too.”
Luca, covered with a blanket, stops moving. She turned her eyes, which were darker than darkness and filled with the abyss, toward Hiro.
“There’s no point in me going to bed before you.”
“That’s true, too. Or else you can’t kill me…”
Hiro smiles bitterly. Seeing him, Luca tilted her head with a blank expression on her face.
“I don’t know how to kill you.”
“Is that so…”
Hiro’s speech became weak.
Perhaps he was more tired than he had thought, or perhaps he was rapidly becoming drowsy.
He couldn’t help but laugh at how carefree he was, even though his life was in danger.
“What’s so funny?”
“No… I just think it’s a really strange situation…”
“Don’t you have it coming? You created this situation?”
“Sure… Ah, yes, Luca… that question you just asked.”
Hiro smiled to himself and replied,
“I don’t… know how I, too, can die…”
Slowly he sank into the darkness.