In the center of Natua, the only city in the small country of Baum, there was a box-shaped temple called the “Spirit King Temple,” where the “Spirit King” resides.
It was one of the oldest buildings in the world, with a history comparable to that of the imperial palace of the Great Grantz Empire, which was built by the “God of War” a thousand years ago when he founded the small country of Baum.
Although Baum was a small country, its influence extends to the Great Grantz Empire, and the kings and nobles of neighboring countries often pay courtesy visits to the princess shrine maiden. However, with the accession of a new king in the small country of Baum, this role has now been taken over by the “Black Dragon King” – Hiro.
“The princess shrine maiden is amazing. She was able to handle that many visitors all by herself.”
Hiro muttered as he gazed at the moon from the window of his room.
On the office desk behind him, a large number of documents and books were piled up, and Hiro was sitting with his chair facing the opposite direction as if afraid to look directly at them.
“It’s not in vain. Not useless. It is important, but it’s a waste of time to get bogged down in things that have a lower priority.”
“So you look out, and you’re escaping reality? You keep coming up with excuses, and I can’t help but think that’s actually a waste of time.”
The harsh words were uttered from Hiro’s bed.
A woman covered with a futon was alone. A sharp, animal-like gaze flashed from the darkness.
An average person would have been put off by this, but Hiro took one look at her and shrugged his shoulders.
“It’s not that I’m trying to escape reality. It’s just that it’s a bother, that’s all. I have to spend every waking moment directing my enthusiasm toward something that doesn’t produce any profit.”
Holding up one of the papers that had fallen at his feet, Hiro smiled wryly.
If this were a petition from the people of Baum, it would probably generate enthusiasm to find a solution, but this was a letter from a nobleman from a neighboring country ― the Principality of Lichtine.
The letter’s content was simple and clear: a request for his daughter to be Hiro’s wife, with a portrait of her added to the document. There was also an offer of marriage from the Grand Duchy of Dral. No matter how many times he refused, they kept sending them. Thanks to these people who never gave up, it seemed that the small country of Baum would have no trouble with paper for the foreseeable future. The paper also conveyed the despicable spirit of taking advantage of the small country of Baum, such as the request to hand over the spirit stone.
“In a time of peace, this would be fun, but now the fires of war are smoldering everywhere. What we should be thinking about is how things will be in the future, not how we live in the present.”
“…..I see. Then, why don’t you just leave it to that little wooden figure, who has been given the role of assistant to the king, after all?”
The king’s assistant ― It’s entrusted to the purple-skinned “demon.”
A diligent and loyal subordinate, Ghada Meteor, was like Hiro’s right-hand man.
Without him, the management of the state would not be possible. That was how much he relied on Ghada. Recently, he seems to have gained the people’s trust, and when he walked the streets, he was even offered food by the people.
“Ghada refused me a while ago. He said, “I have more work than you, so you’ll have to take care of that yourself.””
“…If that’s the case, why don’t you leave it to your two wings? They’ll be happy to help you out, don’t you think?”
Munin and Hugin, the “human” siblings who work for Hiro along with Ghada.
They were also irreplaceable to Hiro.
They were mainly entrusted with infiltration and research in various countries, and Hiro was proud that their intelligence unit was even better than that of the Great Grantz Empire, although it may be family favoritism. Although the two of them were slightly tense, their cheerful and open attitude had saved his life on many occasions.
The innocent smiles of the two of them in his mind relaxed Hiro’s mouth slightly.
“Hugin is currently infiltrating another country, and I have given Munin another job. Above all, if I entrusted the running of the country to those two, it would fall apart in three days.”
The only other person he could entrust with the job would be the woman sitting in Hiro’s bunk.
“…I definitely wouldn’t like that.”
The woman was not coming out of the futon and continued to watch for our opening from the darkness.
The former princess of the country of Urpeth, one of the Six Kingdoms ― Luca Mammon de Urpeth.
She was a woman who had been living under Hiro’s care since her defeat by Liz in the previous battle.
She has always been after Hiro’s life whenever she has the chance. This has been her daily routine for the past two years. So it was obvious what would happen if he entrusted politics to her.
“If I leave it to you, there will be a war tomorrow, and I can’t think of anything more dangerous than that. So you can rest assured of that.”
Luca clicked her tongue grimly and went to lie down and hid under the futon.
Hiro decided to give up on the help of others.
He was about to return to his paperwork, thinking about how to refuse the offers of other countries.
At that moment, the door to his room made a heavy sound.
“I’m coming in.”
Without waiting for a reply, a huge man wearing heavy equipment entered the room.
It was the rumored “demon” Ghada.
After having just gotten motivated, Hiro was frustrated at the prospect of being caught off-guard.
As he stared silently at him, the approaching Ghada stopped in his tracks, looking doubtful.
“What is it? If you have something to say, take off your mask.”
“No, I have nothing to say. What do you want from me?”
Hiro adjusted his mask and looked at Ghada again.
Ghada then held up two sheets of parchment in one hand.
“I received regular reports from Hugin and Munin. There’s both good news and bad news. Which would you like to hear first?”
“Which do you want to start with?”
“Let’s start with the good ones.”
As Ghada spoke, Luca’s eyes gleamed in the darkness through the gap in the futon.
The gaze was so intense that it almost haunted him, but he did not care and unfolded the parchment.
“It seems that Hugin has successfully infiltrated the Anguis army stationed in Felzen. Moreover, it seems that she has been assigned to Queen Lucia’s side.”
“…How did she get into such a position?”
It’s something that would normally be unthinkable.
“Felzen has been in the line of fire so many times that many people have lost their jobs. Of course, they must have lost their manpower as well. That’s why they are offering jobs to Felzen’s people, giving preference to women. It’s a very effective method, even if it’s a bit calculating.”
Stabilization of public order and normalization of the national situation are all inseparable from the feelings of the people.
Perhaps they are trying to win the hearts and minds of the people by giving jobs to women on a priority basis.
It was a long-term approach, but it was not wrong if it was to accomplish something definite.
For the people living in a worn-out country, whether they think something was right or not, if you gave them food, clothing, and shelter, then you were a good person.
“Then it’s going to be difficult for the Grantz to retake Felzen, isn’t it?”
Hiro rested his elbows on the desk, folded his hands, rested his chin on them, and let out a troubled sigh.
Even if Skaaha is a survivor of the Felzen royal family, her cause will be blown away in the face of the people’s emotions. Even if she could regain Felzen, it would be very difficult to rule if the people did not accept her. Who would welcome a royal family that would provoke another war? No matter how much affection they may have for the royal family, no people would be so strange as to accept someone who would take their family away from them.
And there are other concerns as well――,
“She may have gotten too close to Lucia. Conversely, Hugin is stuck in a situation where she cannot move.”
It was difficult to decide whether to see this as an opportunity or a crisis. It’s the same for the other side: if they are suspicious of Hugin, they will be in for a world of pain if they don’t take careful measures.
As a result, if Lucia decided to keep Hugin by her side, she would not act rashly by letting her emotions get the better of her. If it were Hiro ― he would consider taking full advantage of the situation. Considering Felzen’s current situation and the future… it’s not clear that Lucia had the strength to do so.
“There must have been others who infiltrated the company. We will let them gather information. Tell Hugin to do her job and to be very careful.”
Poor instruction would be counterproductive. He should give priority to winning Lucia’s trust and ensuring Hugin’s safety.
“I understand. Then I’ll change the means of communication with Hugin.”
Ghada put his hand on his chin and nodded deeply as if he was thinking.
But, although it was not good news, from another point of view, it could be said that they had gained a trump card. But if this was good news, what was the bad news?
“And what about the bad news?”
“From Munin, who is running an intelligence operation in the north.”
Ghada, his voice lowered, gave him a cold stare.
A cold wind was blowing behind his eyes as if to say, “Prepare yourself.”
“The northern nobility, brought together by the House of Sharm, has completely collapsed. I hear that the House of Bromell, one of the great northern nobles, has wrested real power from the House of Sharms.”
Ghada cut off his words there and looked at Hiro, waiting for him to speak.
It was something that had been known for some time, and there was no need for him to tell Ghada the answer.
“The Sharm family’s power has been severely diminished due to the loss of their backbone, Prime Minister Gils…”
Yet, there was still the second prince Selene.
Although he was defeated and wounded by the bandits, he was still in second place to Liz in terms of the order of succession to the throne.
“It’s too soon to give up on him…”
“In the North, rumors are circulating that the next in line for the throne will be Her Highness Celia Estrella. In such a situation, the main position has been taken by the Kelheit and Muzuk families. This must have caused the dissatisfaction of the northerners to explode.”
The second prince always said he was not interested in the throne. He had a strong sense of patriotism as long as the northern part of the country was safe. This may have backfired.
The northern nobles probably could not overlook the fact that their power in the country had begun to waver with the loss of Prime Minister Gils.
“Before that, what do you know about the Bromell family?”
While in Grantz, Hiro had heard about them many times. They were one of the most prestigious families in Grantz, with the same status as the Sharm family. But that was all; there was nothing special about it.
“For the past two years, I’ve been keeping a close eye on developments in the North, but the Bromell family has remained silent. It is only recently that they have begun to move.”
“Were they being lifted up by those around them as a portable shrine, or have they been pulling strings behind the scenes from the beginning?”
“I’d say it’s the latter. They are too conspicuous to be just a decoration.”
Hiro nodded deeply in agreement with Ghada’s words.
“Now, what are you going to do… do you want to use all your strength or have a dialogue?”
“The war so far has been quiet, and the North is close to intact. I don’t think it’ll resort to lukewarm measures such as dialogue ― but at the very least, it will certainly put pressure on the heart of the Grantz.”
Hiro’s face went down, and his thoughts went through the air.
The current center of the Grantz was focused on the Felzen region.
The main force was away, and they must avoid a situation in which the Imperial capital falls.
(What in the world is the second prince Selene doing… to think that the North would fall apart so quickly?)
Hiro removed his mask and, perhaps tired, fingered his brow and let out a small breath.
“I’ll take care of it for now. I’ll take this opportunity to see how good she is once again.”
“Is that okay? You weren’t supposed to use that trick yet, were you?”
“I don’t think we can afford to be so extravagant. I would have liked to have had a little more time regarding the North, but if Grantz collapses, there’s nothing I can do.”
Leaning back in his chair, Hiro looked up at the ceiling.
(Not everything goes as planned. Human movement is not something that can be predicted. There’s bound to be a breakdown somewhere.)
Hiro changed his mind and smiled at Ghada.
“This is an opportunity. I might even modify the plan a little if I wanted to.”
“Then… can we leave this matter in your hands, One-Eyed Dragon?”
Hiro smiled at Ghada as he reminded him.
“Yeah, let’s keep this between us. I will handle the matter of the North from now on.”
“Then what about Munin? Do you want him to continue his investigation?”
“Let’s leave the investigation of the northern nobility to someone else, mainly around the Bromell family. I want Munin to head directly for the Spirit Wall.”
The “Spirit Wall” was built in the west of the North.
Beyond the wall, it is said that three monster races ― the barbarians, the flesh-eaters, and the marked tribe ― inhabit the land.
Five hundred years ago, a new tribe called the flesh-eaters and the marked tribe appeared. Their extraordinary appearance plunged the northern region into a state of terror. The 22nd emperor of the time, the “God of Military Arts,” who was one of the Twelve Great Gods of the Grantz, took a serious look at the situation, defeated the flesh-eaters and the marked tribe, and with the help of the spirits, drove them to the edge of the North.
Since then, the area beyond the “Spirit Wall” has been called “unexplored territory,” and even today, a thick wall continues to protect the northern part of Grantz.
Currently, one of the Five Great Generals was defending the area, and although there have been several invasions over the past 500 years, the wall has never been overcome due to the efforts of the Five Great Generals of the past.
This was only according to the Grantz’s announcement…
“I would like to know more about the current situation. Now that the North is unstable, I am concerned about the impact on the “Spirit Wall.” Above all, there is the possibility that the northern nobles in the vicinity are having second thoughts.”
The situation surrounding the Great Grantz Empire was complicated.
There were enemies both inside and outside.
Hiro, who knew the situation from within, could see it clearly from the outsider’s perspective ― from the small country of Baum.
“There is certainly no harm in being overly concerned.., and I’ll be sure to carefully select the best people for the job. Is there anything else I need to tell Munin?”
“Tell him to come back immediately if he feels endangered. This goes for the others as well. I’ve been feeling uncomfortable about this for a while now, but it seems that the North is a very suspicious place…”
Hiro said seriously, and Ghada nodded deeply in agreement.
“The problems are piling up. Just like your desk, One-Eyed Dragon.”
Ghada’s mouth twitched up in a sarcastic and unfunny joke.
Hiro smiled back and then suddenly mentioned another matter.
“Is everything ready for our departure the day after tomorrow?”
“We will send out 2,000 guards from the Raven Army. I would have sent more men, but there are no spirit knights left in Baum. Two thousand was the limit, including the maintenance of security and the movements of other countries.”
The princess shrine maiden went to the Great Grantz Empire ahead of the others to greet Hiro. All the spirit knights and shrine maiden knights who were in the small country of Baum were accompanying her as her escort.
Although they numbered less than 1,500, they all possessed spirit weapons, and no half-hearted force would be able to compete with them. It may seem excessive, but for the most famous and influential woman on the central continent, it was probably still not enough.
“I’ll leave the rest to you. As soon as I arrive in the Empire, I will ask Princess Shrine Maiden to return home. The people of Baum will be worried, after all.”
When Hiro said this, Ghada was about to open his mouth.
But Luca interrupted him from the side, speaking in a languid voice.
“If the “demons” were to take the place of the princess shrine maiden, the people of Baum would turn into wild mobs. Tomorrow morning, the head of that wooden figure will be lying on the square in Natua.” [T/n: I don’t know why Luca called Ghada a wooden figure, though.]
Luca, who had remained silent up to this point, spat out her venom.
Hearing this, Ghada chuckled and looked at Hiro, giving Luca a thumbs up.
“One-Eyed Dragon… Do you really intend to take that chick with you? Not only will they find out who she is, but that foul mouth of hers could cause diplomatic problems.”
“I don’t have a choice. Even if I leave her behind, she’s going to come after me soon enough.”
She would always try to kill Hiro whenever she had the chance. Recently, the frequency of such attempts seemed to be increasing.
She may be anxious about the impending war between the Grantz and the Six Kingdoms and was probably out for blood.
There was certainly a fear of taking her to Grantz under such circumstances.
However, if Hiro forcibly left her in Baum, there is no telling what kind of moves Luca might make. It would be fine if she just stormed off to her room, but they don’t want to risk a situation where people die.
“…If you leave me here, the head of that little wooden head of yours will be lying in the square of Natua tomorrow.”
Luca’s emphasis on Natua’s plaza was not clear to Hiro, who sensed the seriousness of her words and gave an empty laugh before telling Ghada.
“I don’t want the beautiful square to be stained with blood. It looks like we have no choice but to take her with us.”
“I guess so. You can take that stubborn tomboy with you. I don’t want to get blood all over this room either.”
It’s not worth the trouble. Hiro could sense this from the anguished look on Ghada’s face.
“If that is the case, I will leave the rest of the work to you. Until then, I’ll finish my own work.”
Looking at the piles of documents and portraits on the desk, Hiro let out a depressing sigh. If he did not reduce them as much as possible, they would swell many times over when he returned.
“I understand. Then I’ll leave you here. If anything happens, I’ll let you know right away.”
Ghada turned on his heel and left the room with a hand wave behind his back.
Hiro, who had seen him off, got up from his chair and took one look at the bed. Luca had disappeared into the darkness created by the futon.
Turning his gaze away from the bed, Hiro moved closer to the window to look at the stars in the night sky. Today again, no matter how rough it was on the ground, the sky was unaffected, forming a sea of stars as beautiful as ever.
“It is only in the darkness that the light can shine. It is because of the stars that the moon is more beautiful than anything else.”
It was an inseparable relationship.
They had been cohabiting for years, decades, and perhaps… thousands of years in eternity.
“Yet they will never meet. The moon can only sit in the sky for a short time, eventually ceding its dominion to the sun.”
Opening the window, a summer breeze caresses his cheeks and stirs the fighting spirit that smolders deep in his chest.
“There is one ruler of the earth… and they are as incompatible as the sun and the moon.”
It could not have reached them a thousand years ago. Even today, it can only be viewed from far away.
But that too will end.
“I will keep stretching out my arm until I reach those stars. I will keep reaching out my hand until I catch the moon.”
No matter how much effort is put forth, darkness cannot overcome the light.
“When dawn breaks, the sun will burn you to a crisp.”
No matter how much one yearns for it, the moon can never become the sun.
“Liz… you must become stronger than anyone else. Slaughter even the gods and make all one――”
The only sun that cannot be grasped by the hand, scorching when it approaches, dazzling when it leaves.
“――The world does not need five kings.”