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There was not a single cloud that day.
There was no sign of rain, but the world was moist and sticky.
On a normal day, it would be a night of twinkling stars.
On a normal day, it would be a night of silence.
But on that particular day, the usual night never came.
The stars were mercilessly obscured by the black smoke rising from the ground.
In stark contrast to the somber sky, the ground was red, red, red, and engulfed in unrelenting flames.
Angry shouts and screams ― voices of anger, sorrow, and cries for help pierced the night air endlessly.
A storm of sword fights erupted, and the smell of blood permeated the air.
The unstoppable malice laid waste to the city ― to the innocent people.
To sum it up in one word: heartless. It was a devil’s deed. But there was no other choice but to accept it.
“Hope comes to those who know despair.”
A young man wearing a mask muttered to himself as he gazed at the red-burning city.
His voice is too flat to be an eyewitness to the horrific scene unfolding before his eyes.
There was no emotion in his words. Emotions did not exist “there.”
Was it because of the mask that made it difficult to grasp the subtleties of his emotions?
“…I won’t ask for forgiveness. You can hate me to your heart’s content.”
The young man stroked his mask with his right hand, and the burning city flashed in his eyes.
The night wind made his cloak flutter, simultaneously snatching away the atmosphere the young man wore.
“…This will end the stalemate that has lasted so long.”
The young man tried to reach out to the people who were calling out for help――,
――He stopped the helping hand.
Then, abandoning all emotion, the young man turned himself around and opened his arms.
“Now ― let the war begin.”
Chapter 1 – Before The Storm
On the 13th day of August in the 1026th year of the imperial calendar.
The great imperial capital, Cladius, the capital of the Great Grantz Empire.
It was one of the most ancient capitals and the ideal home of the “human race” that flourished on the central continent.
The imperial capital was also famous as the city that never sleeps, and the central street was where most people gathered.
The streets were lined on both sides with stalls opened by merchants from all over the world. The smell of appetizing food filled the streets. The sound of merry voices echoed out every day without ceasing.
Children running around in the square with toys in their hands and their parents watching them with peaceful expressions on their faces.
This was the world-famous imperial capital, but the place where people usually never stop coming was enveloped in a strange atmosphere.
The sun had set.
The clouds had assimilated into darkness, and the stars twinkled in the gaps between them. Instead of the intense sun, a gentle moon appeared and illuminated the ground.
Yet, although the place was crowded with stalls at night, it is now dominated by silence, as if it were a ruin. The night air was so still, that even the drop of a needle could be heard.
Just as in a sanctuary that no one could invade, there was an air of alienation that flowed through this place.
Therefore, it was not a popular place.
The streets, which had lost all traffic, were enveloped in a somber atmosphere. The statues of the Twelve Great Gods of Grantz, which stood in a row on either side of the street, solemnly stood guard over the street.
“The First God.”
“The God of War.”
“The Goddess of Beauty.”
“The God of Forge.”
“The God of Protection.”
“The God of Wisdom.”
“The God of Fortune.”
“The God of Commerce.”
“The God of Military Arts.”
“The Goddess of Medicine.”
“The God of Sound.”
“The God of Water.”
Of the twelve, ten were great emperors who brought development and prosperity to the Great Grantz Empire.
The other two were goddesses who were not emperors, but were deified for their great achievements.
All of the statues were elaborately crafted, but there were some small chips, indicating that they have been aged. Even so, their dignity remained intact.
The moon, which had been illuminating the ground, disappeared behind the clouds, and the statues melted into the darkness.
Just then ― footsteps broke the silence and rang through the streets.
The figure was the only one allowed to set foot in this place in the Great Grantz Empire.
Despite the darkness, her flame-red hair shone brightly, radiating a presence that could not be hidden.
She stopped in front of “Goddess of Beauty” with a high click of her heels.
The sixth princess of the Great Grantz Empire and the first in the line of succession to the throne, she currently reigned at the top of the nation as acting emperor.
She was Celia Estrella Elizabeth von Grantz.
“The elder sister of the first Emperor Altius and the first Princess Shrine Maiden who led the People of the Beginning…”
She was a brave woman who stood up together with her brother Altius to liberate the “human race” that had been oppressed by the “demon race” and played a role in refining the Five Emperors of the Spirit Sword.
In other words, she was one of the key figures who led the Great Grantz Empire to victory, and her achievements were no less than those of the “God of War,” for which she left behind many legends as the “Goddess of Beauty.”
“Celia Rey Symmora von Grantz…”
She was favored by the “Spirit King,” and she was able to mediate between the “human race” and the “long-eared race,” and even the “demon race,” which had been hostile to her; she treated them without distinction.
She was loved by all races but died young of an epidemic, at which time everyone, regardless of race, shed tears for her, according to the literature.
Historians believe that she also accomplished other things that were not mentioned in the literature. Liz believed this to be true. Otherwise, she, who was not an emperor, would not have been deified as one of the Twelve Great Gods of Grantz.
“But… why did you appear in my dreams?”
Two years ago, when Liz felt discouraged by the loss of Hiro, a woman spoke to her gently.
It was when she returned to the imperial capital and saw the bronze statue of “Goddess of Beauty” that she learned the true nature of the strange feeling she got then. However, to the point of making her laugh, the statue and the real person were nothing alike.
The one Liz met in her dream was much more beautiful than that of the statue, to the point of making her jealous.
“I wanted to ask you so many questions…”
Will she ever appear again? Liz would like to talk with her about a lot of things.
She wanted to hear the young man’s story.
A story she didn’t know ― the great accomplishment of a young man named Hiro a thousand years ago.
What he gained, what he learned, and what he lost…
She wanted to know why he had reappeared in this world after a thousand years.
However, Liz did not have the courage to ask Hiro directly. She was afraid of losing him if she asked him.
So she learned of his true identity from the memory of the first emperor, the former holder of the “Flame Emperor,” and she arrived at this conclusion by combining fragmentary information.
“I was skeptical, suspicious, and refused to believe… No, I was afraid. I was afraid, and my weak heart kept me from seeing the truth.”
Liz put her fist on her own chest and let out a small sigh.
He was a man who has left behind many legends. Just by being there, an overwhelming presence could be felt.
The air of mystery that he exuded was something that could not be hidden.
But, afraid to accept the truth, Liz continued to pretend not to notice.
She had been running away from him, the “God of War,” whom she had longed to meet.
“Not anymore. I have decided to be strong.”
She wanted to know what it was that drove him.
“You know what it is, don’t you?”
Liz continued to speak to the Goddess of Beauty. Knowing that she would never get an answer, Liz kept her eyes fixed on the statue, waiting for her to appear.
But even after all that waiting, the only thing that arrived was a warm, summery night breeze.
Liz smiled bitterly and shook her head in resignation.
“I was hoping something would happen when I got here…”
Liz was about to turn on her heel, regretfully, when she suddenly felt… the presence of someone.
The sound of light footsteps echoed from the darkness, where no moonlight could reach.
Liz threw a sharp look at the person, but the strange presence showed no hostility, and the tension drained from her stiffened body. As soon as the alertness completely disappeared from Liz, the abruptly appearing one approached, revealing a soft expression in the moonlight.
“Liz-sama… a woman alone at this late hour of the night――”
The person was about to make a complaint, but closed her mouth, looked around, and then nodded with an air of satisfaction.
“I see. They seem to be excellent people. They are watching over you from a distance where they can help you at any time, even though they cannot be seen.”
Liz turned a surprised expression on the smiling figure and looked around as well.
There are several presences lurking in the darkness. There was a slight tension but no hostility at all.
“How could you tell? They are among the most selective of the elite guard.”
“Even if they eliminate their presence, they would be no match for my eyes.”
The person was proud of herself, yet her tone was not pompous, and there was a hint of humility mixed in. So Liz let out a smile that was a mixture of a wry smile and admiration.
“As one would expect from the “Clairvoyant” Princess Shrine Maiden.”
Liz praised her sincerely and looked at the person who appeared ― the Princess Shrine Maiden.
Her long-eared physical features indicate that she was a member of the long-eared race.
Her age was unknown, and her appearance was that of a young teenage girl.
However, most of the long-eared people stop aging at a certain age. Therefore, when you treat them as if they are your age, you may be surprised to find that some of them have cunning personalities.
The princess shrine maiden, who was also of such a special race, had blue eyes that shone darker than the sky, as a sign that she had been chosen by the Spirit King. They were so clear that you felt as if you could see everything through them.
“So why are you here?”
The Princess Shrine Maiden, who never left the small country of Baum, was currently staying in the Great Grantz Empire due to a special circumstance.
Liz, who was also the acting emperor, knew the complicated situation, so she was not asking why she was in this country but why she appeared at this place.
But The Princess Shrine Maiden said nothing, and as she approached, she looked up at the bronze statue “Goddess of Beauty” that Liz had seen earlier.
“It’s just like Liz-sama. If it weren’t for an opportunity like this, I wouldn’t be able to meet the first princess shrine maiden.”
Liz was convinced by those words and looked around her.
The central street, usually crowded with stalls and people, was empty except for Liz and the others.
This was because the “Black Dragon King,” the king of the small country of Baum, would be visiting the Great Grantz Empire in the near future, and the streets were blocked off. In order to prepare for his arrival, the princess shrine maiden had left the small country of Baum and was staying in the Great Grantz Empire ahead of the others ― that was why she was here.
“It has been a long time since I visited the “Goddess of Beauty” like this… although I never dreamed that I would be seeing her together with Princess Shrine Maiden.”
For the first time in a thousand years, a king was born in the small country of Baum, and it was a bolt out of the blue not only for the Great Grantz Empire but also for the neighboring countries.
The Great Grantz Empire objected to the accession of the “Black Dragon King,” but it was only a formal protest, fearing that it would increase the friction between the two countries. The heat was still on when the princess shrine maiden left the small country of Baum to visit the imperial capital, and the Great Grantz Empire was on high alert.
“I must thank His Majesty the “Black Dragon King. I was able to meet the first princess shrine maiden together with Liz-sama.”
“Yes, indeed. I was able to see the unusual faces of my subordinates, so I really got a lot out of it.”
The last few days at the imperial palace were as noisy as if a bee had been poked in a hive.
The high-ranking officials, who were supposed to be accustomed to inviting kings and other important figures from around the world, became so restless that it was almost laughable.
Perhaps they had enjoyed the peace for too long, but just as with the invasion of the bandits two years earlier, they were slow to react to the situation on the spur of the moment. The pride that has taken root among the high-ranking officials seemed to be unable to be removed even after repeated raids. It was a headache, but it was a problem that could not be left unaddressed. How to successfully bring the chaos under control would be a major issue in the future.
The princess shrine maiden, who was watching Liz’s contemplative profile, opened her mouth.
“Liz-sama, do you know that the graveyard of the first Princess Shrine Maiden-sama does not exist?”
“Yes… it is, of course, a well-known story.”
Liz was puzzled by the change of topic but quickly changed her mind and answered.
“The most popular theory is that… The “God of War” established the small country of Baum in the land that the first princess shrine maiden loved ― to the east of the Grantz, and turned it into a graveyard of its own existence.
Like the “God of War,” the first princess shrine maiden remains a mystery. The “God of War” had a vivid history but disappeared from the public eye after a certain point in time. He reappeared only when he took the throne of the second emperor. He died a year later, but the cause of his death was not recorded in the literature. It was only noted that the first princess shrine maiden also disappeared from the public stage at a similarly early age and died suddenly of illness. Perhaps it is precisely because these two remain such a mystery that people were so intrigued by them.
Even today, numerous historians were still actively searching through the documents.
“Because of this ambiguity, the people of Baum visit the great imperial capital where the statue of the “Goddess of Beauty” is located. Many people come to see what kind of person she was, if only to catch a glimpse of her.”
The Baum people must have mixed feelings about the fact that the first princess shrine maiden has become a god of another country. Because of this, they cannot erect a statue of the “Goddess of Beauty” in their own country. If they did, they would be accepting the gods of other countries. For those who worship the Spirit King, this was a problem that could not be overlooked.