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In the northern region of the Great Grantz Empire, there are many famous families.
The oldest of them were the Sharm family, the Heimdall family, and the Bromell family ― these were the three noble families that have been closely connected to the Grantz imperial family since the empress was born to them.
The Heimdall family had long guarded the “Spirit Wall,” the vital point in the North, and the current head of the family, Hermes von Heimdall, was one of the fifth generation of generals, although, in recent years, they were overshadowed by the prosperity of the Sharm family. Their children supported the Sharm family as the twins of the second prince Selene and were proudly showing off their family name.
The remaining Bromell family was in turmoil after the death of the previous head of the family two years ago, but thanks to the skills of the heir apparent, the Bromell family was now more powerful than the Sharm family.
The headquarters of the Bromell family was located one hundred cells (300 km) east of “White Silver Castle.”
The name was Log ― one of the great cities of the North, and it was prosperous. However, the recent prosperity of the Levering Kingdom had attracted merchants, and the city of Log was filled with a somber, gloomy atmosphere.
In the center of the city, the “Himinbjörg Castle” stands proudly.
Many soldiers were training on the grounds, and the atmosphere was so staid that it could be mistaken wartime. Inside the castle, as outside, heavily armed soldiers constantly patrolled the grounds.
The most heavily guarded area of all was in front of the Bromell family head’s room, where the soldiers guarding the room looked somewhat stunned, and their eyes had lost their light as if they were dead.
In the room they were guarding, an unknown group of people had gathered.
The light from the candlestick on the desk swayed even though there was no wind. A number of shadows appeared on the surrounding walls. There were seven of them, all wearing hoods so that no one could see their true faces.
“Our King, our Lord, our Father… how are you feeling?”
A shadow shook and uttered a voice.
It was addressed to a man sipping wine in a chair, who did not even glance at those gathered in the room but seemed to be staring out the window at the moonlight, but with a somewhat distant look in his eyes. He was looking far away.
His name is Tupoeus von Bromell ― he received his title at the age of sixty-seven due to the longevity of the previous head of the family. He was famous as a late-blooming duke, but even so, he has a youthful appearance that could be mistaken for someone around 30, and his blond hair and golden eyes exude dignity, giving him majestic air. The air in the room was rigorously tightened by his majestic atmosphere as if he were a lion.
“I’m good ― but perhaps I should prepare something else.”
“Shall we try the leftovers, then?”
“No, that one has too many curses. I don’t know how it survives even when I feel pain.”
Strangely enough, there was no inflection in Tupaeus’ voice.
His manner was as cold as ice but not cold-blooded: there was no trace of joy, anger, or sorrow in his voice. He was talking to the hooded figures in an indifferent manner as if talking to himself.
Moreover, he accepted the others as if it were a matter of course.
“I guess they were so threatened at that time that they had to accept such a curse.”
“But always, it was only a threat, never a fatal one. We always had to be patient, timely, and determined to keep on tormenting them.”
Despite his words, there was still nothing in Tupaeus’ voice.
In contrast, the men in the hoods exude hatred. Perhaps it was the years of accumulated resentment, but there was a terrible heat emanating from them, so much so that it distorted the space.
“Yes, yes, yes, but we are done enduring!”
The hooded figure began to speak with exaggerated gestures, as if in a vaudeville performance.
But still, Tupaeus did not pay any attention to him but only listened to his subordinate’s monologue.
“The “Spirit King” has already lost his power and is missing, and the “Fairy King” is also a senile old geezer, so it’s only a matter of time!”
The hooded figure’s tone is rough, and his lips are twisted into a ferocious, animal-like line of hatred.
“The “Black Dragon King” who stood shoulder to shoulder with our “Father” has been defeated by a man from nowhere, and all that remains is the “Iron and Steel King” who is standing by in the northern continent.”
The men, forgetting even to breathe and shouting maniacal words, shut their mouths, and Tupoeus waved his hand as if to ward off disgust. Then he quietly looked around at the people in the room.
“It is sad to see our brothers and sisters fall. But now the world is finally united. The ancient struggle is over.”
Tupoeus kicked the wine on the table to the floor and followed the unbroken bottle as it rolled across the floor with his gaze alone.
Tupaeus continued to watch the spilling purple liquid with emotionless eyes.
“There is no need to look at the center now. It will collapse on its own. We can destroy the “human race” when they are fully ripe.”
Tupoeus held up his hand, and the wine spilled on the floor stirred to form a world map.
“Don’t get distracted, but pursue your prey at an unhurried pace.”
Rising from his chair, Tupoeus kicked the bottle with his toe and stepped on the northern continent drawn on the floor with great force. He stomped on the floor hatefully, not caring about the splashing wine.
“First, the northern continent ― the ‘Iron and Steel King’ must be defeated.”
The hooded figures bowed their heads in a solemn yet enthusiastic gesture.
Their lips were raised in amusement as they looked at each other with a mixture of anticipation and delight.
“Ha, we are already prepared for you. That place has built up its own culture. It took a little work, but it’s almost finished.”
“Very well, then, go and show the little ones who is the king.”
“As you wish.”
Four of them disappeared without a sound, and Tupaeus turned to the remaining three.
“You have a mission. Nemea, go to the Levering Kingdom, Chimera to the Six Kingdoms, and Hydra to Felzen, and inflict as much damage as you can on all three.”
“May I intervene in the battle of Felzen?”
The man called Hydra stepped forward.
“Do as you please. Enjoy it to your heart’s content.”
“…..As you command.”
“Do not trouble me as you did with the second prince.”
“I will. And one more thing, are you sure we don’t need to send anyone to the small country of Baum?”
“Don’t mind… let them do as they please for now, and I will give them some peace for a short time.”
With that, the remaining three disappeared from the room.
Silence fell. No one was left ― no, only one more person remained in the room.
“Ladon… my curse is growing stronger.”
Tupaeus sat back in his chair, crossed his legs, and looked down at the floor.
Just then, there was a resounding pop. The bottle shattered. But the bottle immediately began to regenerate, mixing with the liquid that had splattered around it ― the wine ― and returning to its original form.
But it was not perfect. Tupoeus grabbed the end of the bottle and lifted it up, and the contents were illuminated by the light of the candelabra. The wine contained many impurities.
“Death, life, and impurity are mingled together and are about to be transformed into something bad. The impostor is about to surpass the king.
“What should I do?”
“It is better not to touch it. If you try to control one, two, three, or four aspects of a scene, there will be a breakdown somewhere. I will not make the same mistake I made a thousand years ago.”
“Then I will only intensify my surveillance. There are a few people of interest to me, so I will continue to investigate them as well.”
“Good. And you will select those who are worthy of my power.”
“Do you want me to go… and retrieve that mongrel?”
“No matter, he will return to me in due course. Above all, their strength is well known. Let them have their fun for now; we don’t want them to be fooled later.”
“As our king wills.”
With these words, the last person also disappeared.
Tupaeus, who remained behind, continued to stare at the bottle filled with wine.
“The Black Dragon King, the God of War, the Dark Emperor, the Hero King of the Twin Blacks. The one who bears many names. At last, I will be able to crush your head with my own hands.”
With no one left, Tupaeus’ emotions exploded.
Unable to withstand his intimidation, the bottle in his hand also shattered, and the sound of exploding air continued to echo eerily in the room. Finally, he showed a human-like ― and more than human ― hatred.
It is the feeling of having been humiliated in the past ― vindictiveness that would not disappear even after a thousand years.
He had survived until this moment to make amends for his humiliating past.
“I will get your head for sure.”
Tupaeus laughed as he stroked his own neck insistently.
August 14th, 1026th year of the imperial calendar.
The northern section of the “Spirit King’s Temple” in Natoa, the small country of Baum, was silent.
There were no soldiers to be seen in the chalk-white corridor, which would normally be heavily guarded.
This was because the elite of the small country of Baum ― the spirit knights ― were on their way to Grantz to escort Princess Shrine Maiden. Therefore, once the spirit knights were gone, this place, where ordinary soldiers could not enter, would become an empty shell and be ruled by silence like a quiet corner of the world. But there were no intruders. This was because the most troublesome and strongest man was guarding the “Spirit King’s Temple.”
He was the second king of the small country of Baum, “Black Dragon King” ― Hiro.
He was currently walking down the corridor with his trusted advisor, Ghada.
The sound of his shoes breaking the silence was drowned out by the creaking and scraping of Ghada’s armor.
The two were moving silently down the corridor when they stopped at a certain point.
The first to speak was Ghada, who let out a sigh of admiration.
“I didn’t know there was such a place. It is a beautiful place as if we had wandered into another world.”
“This is the place where the Spirit King used to live. Only certain people are allowed to enter.”
“Oh… you can’t allow demons into such a sanctuary, can you?”
When a wide-eyed Ghada muttered this, Hiro opened his arms and smiled mischievously,
“The princess shrine maiden would be angry if she were here, but she is now in the Great Grantz Empire.”
Hiro glanced to the side and saw Luca sitting at the base of a tree. Her eyes fell to the ground, and she was mumbling to herself as she diligently dug up the ground with the branches of the tree. It was eerie, but it happened all the time, so Hiro turned his gaze back to Ghada, who looked dour.
“After all, no one can hear what we’re saying here.”
“…Are there enemy spies lurking in this ‘Spirit King Temple’?”
Somewhat alarmed, Ghada began to probe the surrounding atmosphere.
Hiro shrugged his shoulders, then sat down in the chair that Claudia and Princess Shrine Maiden had used before ― with his back to the entrance.
“I don’t know whether it’s a spy or not… but I’m sure there’s something malicious out there.”
Perhaps because of Hiro’s strange calmness, Ghada sat opposite him, unable to shake off his bewilderment.
“…So what’s the reason you brought me to this place?”
When Garda lowered his voice and brought his face close to Hiro’s, Hiro closed his eyes and put his hands over his ears.
“There are many spirits living here. Can you hear their voices… or see their appearances?”
“I don’t think I can see them. But I can clearly feel that my magic power is being canceled out.”
There were forces at work here that were at odds with magic. This was especially true for Ghada, who was a “demon.” Even though he was not using his power, he felt as if he was being forcibly dragged out of the place.
“There is only one place like this in the world.”
Hiro took off his mask and revealed his true face.
As if pressured, Ghada gulped and arched his back.
Hiro’s right eye glowed gold, and his left eye emitted an eerie light with an abyss darker than darkness. And two different eyes with a serious light in them seized Ghada and did not let go.
“The name of that place is the Unfang Forest.”
It was the place where Hiro was once re-summoned and where Liz used to bathe.
In other words ― it was the place where they met.
When Hiro silently pointed behind Ghada, he got up from his chair and turned around.
Ahead of Ghada’s gaze stood two statues of the Twelve Great Gods of the Grantz – the “First God” and the “God of War.” A shining sphere floated between the two statues. Below it was a small but clear spring.
“This was a sanctuary that only certain people were allowed to enter.”
Ghada, who turned his body toward Hiro again, could not finish his sentence.
The reason is that it was intercepted by a hand that Hiro had thrust out.
“You may find this hard to believe, but we are in the Great Grantz Empire.
The time had come.
A faint smile appeared on Hiro’s lips as if to say so.
“You’re a smart guy, and you must have guessed it at least a little bit. What am I hiding? What am I looking for?”
As if in penitence, as if disgusted with himself, Hiro’s eyes were dominated by wailing.
If anyone heard what he had to say, they would have to walk with him until the end of their lives.
Perhaps feeling this way, Ghada opened his mind as if to brace himself, and his expression was tense and strong. However, he did not run away but continued to gaze at only one point ― at Hiro.
“It’s a long… long… a really long time ago.”
Sensing Ghada’s resolve, Hiro began to recount the old story in a plodding way, seemingly to express his gratitude.