Boisterous noise dominated the Imperial Palace Venetian of the Great Grantz Empire. The vast grounds were covered with the heraldic banners of Steichen and Lichtine.
It was divided into west and east, with the rose garden at its center.
At the entrance to the western section, lined with the mansions of influential aristocrats, Steichen’s soldiers ― the Beastman ― could be seen chatting and laughing without forming ranks.
To the east were the residences and training grounds of the elite “Order of the Golden Lion” of the First Imperial Army, and at the entrance to these residences, Lichtine’s soldiers were quietly forming a line with a tense look on their faces.
To the north was the Imperial Palace Venetian, the center of the Empire, and the entrance to the palace was guarded by soldiers from the Grantz Soldiers, who kept a close watch on both Lichtine and Steichen for any suspicious activity. A group of soldiers from various countries were also waiting in various places, and the palace was dominated by a tense atmosphere.
Their master was in a spacious square conference room inside the Imperial Palace Venetian.
It was a simple room with only a circular desk and chairs.
“When is His Majesty the Black Dragon King coming?”
“The head of the beastman and supreme chairman of the Steichen Republic bared her teeth.
Skadi Vestra Michael.
She was so frustrated that she looked as if she was about to lash out at any moment. Turning a blind eye to her fearsome appearance, she was a woman of total beauty. She wore ethnic clothes that revealed a lot of skin, and the jewelry shining on her gave her a stunning elegance. Unfortunately, however, the smoked meat hanging from her waist and her coarse tone of voice brought her wildness to the fore.
“W-who knows… what’s the matter, though? Hahaha.”
The man with the affable smile was the young Prince Karl of the Principality of Lichtine. His complexion was pale as if he were sickly, and his cheeks were chapped, perhaps because he had not recovered from the fatigue of his travels. Perhaps displeased with Karl’s weak attitude, Skadi clicked her tongue.
“Tch, why are you so scared all this time?”
“N-no… I’m just nervous.”
“Hmm. Do you want some smoked meat?”
Skadi pulled out a dagger and quickly cut off a piece of smoked meat.
She pointed it at Karl, leaving the cut end on the edge of the blade.
“Eh, I’ll pass… Yes. Sorry, I’m not hungry…”
Karl, who had been watching with a pale face, looked at Skadi, who boldly put the tip of the blade into her mouth and chewed on the smoked meat, and then looked at the other woman and asked her for help.
Miste Calliara Rosa von Kelheit.
She was the former third princess of the Great Grantz Empire ― the acting head of the Kelheit family and the Prime Minister of the Great Grantz Empire.
Her radiant beauty was well-known throughout the rest of the country. Her arrogant, noble bearing was scented with a coquettish charm, and her charming gestures stimulated the brain to a tremendous degree. She was even more refined in her devilishness than two years ago.
When Karl’s eyes meet Rosa’s, he immediately averted his gaze out of embarrassment. It was a pity for Karl to be sandwiched between two different beauties, but they were unknowingly fascinating to the people around them.
Rosa opened her mouth, wondering about Karl, who had fallen flat on his face.
“Just now, I heard cheers from the direction of the central street… the “Black Dragon King,” it seems that he has arrived, but there are a lot of preparations to be made. It will be a while before he comes here.”
Countries with long histories, like Grantz and Baum, tend to be obsessed with formality, no matter what their intentions may be. The subjects complain that they need to be prepared in order not to undermine the authority built up by their ancestors.
Rosa, too, was sometimes bothered by this, but if she was going to another country as a representative of her country, she would do so formally, no matter how much time she had to spare unless there was a problem.
“…Why do you need to welcome him in the first place?”
Skadi’s lips twitched with a resentful expression.
“I understand that the small country of Baum is the Grantz Empire’s most important ally. But I don’t see the point of welcoming them by blocking the central street.”
When Skadi visited Grantz, she was only looked at with interest by the people, but she did not feel welcomed. The king of a small country in the far east was greeted with cheers that could be heard all the way to the imperial palace. Beastman liked to stand out, even in times of war or peace. Therefore, the “Black Dragon King,” who was more conspicuous than themselves, added to Skadi’s irritation.
“Well… compared to the Principality of Lichtine, it might be better.”
Skadi turned a sympathetic eye toward Karl.
The people of Grantz dislike the Principality of Lichtine, and they are constantly cursing at them.
It was not a compliment to the people living in a great country, but it was not hard to understand their feelings.
It is said that all the wars up to now started with the Lichtine.
The people of Grantz believe that if they had not provoked the neighboring countries by starting a war with Grantz three years ago, the situation would not be the same as it was today.
“Haha… it’s a good thing they didn’t throw stones at us.”
Karl replied, wiping sweat from his pitiful face. The look on his face said that he wanted to go back to his homeland right now. It was hard to imagine how traumatic it must have been for him, even with no stones thrown at him.
“You’re pathetic, don’t be restrained just because you’re a citizen of another country. Don’t hesitate to beat up those narrow-minded people who shout abuse at you!”
Skadi shouted at Karl, who was scared to death. The result is to make Karl even more deflated.
Sighing deeply at his pathetic behavior, Skadi slapped Karl hard on the shoulder and lifted the corner of his mouth.
“Well, if you do that, I guess you’ll have to start a war with the Grantz, won’t you?”
The blood drained from Karl’s face as Skadi laughed loudly.
“No, I’m sorry for the disrespect my people have shown you. They are anxious about the war, which could end at any moment. Please forgive them.”
“Oh, no, you don’t have to apologize… I understand how they feel.”
Karl’s face grew whiter as he panicked at Rosa’s apology.
As she watched them, Skadi put her arm around her head and whistled.
“By the way, I’d like to ask the Prime Minister a question.”
“What is it?”
The two of them were now in the same room, and the two of them were talking to each other. It was true that Skadi was a woman who did not know how to be polite, but her seemingly back-and-forth personality did not give off a sarcastic impression, and on the contrary, Rosa liked her very much. Perhaps it was because she had heard the story from Liz, though.
“I heard that the princess was headed to Felzen. Is there enough strength in Grantz?”
The reason for the question was unclear, but Rosa, the prime minister, would not divulge such information.
“…Hmm, I’m sorry, but I can’t answer a question that falls under our country’s confidentiality.”
“I see. Then, instead of asking questions, why don’t I offer suggestions?”
Rosa tilted her head at Skadi, who kept changing the subject.
Liz had told her that Skadi was impatient, which is quite a feat.
“This time, we came to Grantz with 5,000 soldiers. If Grantz wants our help, Steichen will do everything in our power to help.”
There was no better feeling than being told that someone is straight up and ready to lend a hand at any time.
It’s just a pity, though, that it’s in the wrong order.
“Steichen will be in a dead heat with Lichtine, won’t you? How can you say that when you might have a war, depending on this round of talks?”
Rosa’s point was a perfectly valid one. Hearing this, Karl also looked at Skadi with a surprised face. But Skadi nodded with a face tinged with glee.
“Oh, I don’t care if we start a war. I made a promise to the princess. The beastman would never go back on their word.”
Skadi slammed her fist on the desk and looked at Karl with narrowed eyes as if she were aiming at prey.
“First, we will send an army of five thousand to Felzen. In the meantime, we will destroy Lichtine and then head for Felzen.”
“W-wait a minute. We had not even begun to discuss such a matter…”
Karl was completely overwhelmed by Skadi’s confident words.
“You see, the beastman… are only in their element when they are cornered.”
At Skadi’s tone of voice, which seemed to assume that the matter had already been decided, Karl lifted his back from his seat with the expression of a condemned criminal.
“We decided to discuss this matter because you occupied the fort without harming our people. We decided there was room for discussion. If you had burned villages and towns, I would have killed you, regardless of the effects of the civil war, without any excuse for not having enough soldiers or enough food.”
Karl could not stop breaking out in a cold sweat as Skadi, with a ferocious smile on her face, directed an intense heat of murderous intent at him. Without even a chance to speak, he was left with no choice but to wait for her pronouncement.
“Now it’s all thanks to the small country of Baum behind the Principality of Lichtine, isn’t it?”
Karl gulped with bated breath, but his head was surprisingly calm, and he didn’t look away and remained silent. Choose wisely ― if he chose his words incorrectly, the negotiations would break down before they could take place.
With a mixture of threats and real intentions, Skadi was clearly testing Karl. Rosa could see that she was trying to estimate his capabilities on this occasion. However, Rosa decided to let the situation slide, even though she should have warned Skadi severely for her behavior, which could have resulted in bloodshed if a mistake were to be made.
“I would like to ask you, Skadi-dono… is your decision not to destroy the Principality of Lichtine based on the possibility that Baum may be connected to the Grantz?”
“No, I don’t think that Baum and Grantz would join forces to help Lichtine. So I don’t really care about that; I’m mostly concerned about Baum’s king calling himself the Black Dragon King.”
Skadi’s use of the term “Black Dragon King” had a cautious tone to it.
Rosa could not fully grasp her feelings, but she was beginning to get an inkling of what she thought when she joined the talks.
“As I recall, the Beastman worships the Black Dragon King as a god.”
In short, she was curious about the identity of the person who claimed to be the god of her country.
If the person was not up to her expectations, the “Black Dragon King” may be cut down right here and now. It was hard to believe that a person in charge of a country would take such rash action, but the behavior of the beastman, which was famous for its belligerence, was unknown, including in the current situation.
“Yeah, he called himself a god. I’d like to see him at least at first sight.”
The door to the room opened with a bang as Rosa nodded once more deeply.
The soldier who entered the room was standing guard at the room entrance.
“Excuse me! His Majesty the Black Dragon King has arrived!”
With a nervous expression and a hoarse voice, the soldier spoke.
Rosa noticed the presence of “him” mixed in with the wind coming in through the open door. It was easy to tell, even without hiding it. There were only a few people in the world who could radiate such tremendous high energy.
It was no wonder that the well-trained soldier was nervous. No wonder Karl’s face turned pale. Even Skadi was tightening her expression and emitting a roar characteristic of the beastman as if she were on guard.
However, for some reason, Rosa was not nervous, but rather she couldn’t help but smile.
The reason was obvious.
She had noticed a very relaxed atmosphere in the air.
Knowing him, she could sense that calmness, that gentleness.
“Permission to enter. Let him through at once.”
The soldier turned on his heel and called out to the figure on the opposite side of the door.
“Apologies for keeping you waiting.”
A masked man in a white cloak appeared, pounding on the floor. He gave the impression of being fragile yet somehow powerful waves vibrating in the air.
His presence was as elusive as a cloud, but the disastrous black sword at his waist radiated a strange atmosphere that gave others a strange sense of intimidation.
“I am the second king of the small country of Baum, the Black Dragon King. Pleased to meet you.”
A strong pressure fell on the two people in the room.
Skadi was the first to notice the mysterious force that had begun to invade the room.
The hairs on her body stood on end as her instincts sent out a danger signal.
“――Are you trying to pick a fight?”
Skadi growled menacingly and attached to her hand the claw that was hanging from her waist.
Karl was surprised by her sudden belligerence.
In contrast, the “Black Dragon King” looked at Skadi with a brilliant smile on his face. Skadi’s mouth twitched at the provocative gesture, and she exploded in anger.
A moment later, Skadi’s figure disappeared.
It was not even a blink of an eye.
The match was a split-second affair, and a strong wind blew into the room, even though the window was not even open.
The sound of the blade, almost like an explosion, echoed in the room, and all eyes in the room were drawn to the “Black Dragon King.”
“Is that all you got…? Don’t let me down.”
A huge dark black sword caught the transparent claws.
Everyone looked surprised, but the most astonished person was probably Skadi, who had launched the attack. She was blindingly staring at the “Black Dragon King” with a stunned expression on her face.
“Wha- ―― my attack!”
Skadi immediately took a distance from him. However, she did not launch a second attack. She just stared at the “Black Dragon King. Then a low voice escaped from “The Black Dragon King’s” throat.
“Are you done?”
A chill ran down her spine, and the tension in the room heightened.
“Then it’s my turn――”
While no one could move a finger, the endlessly deep darkness released by Hiro――,
The one who shouted was Rosa. She had stepped in between the two without regard for the risks involved.
As if in protest of Rosa’s action, Hiro took one look at her, then shrugged his shoulders and sheathed his black sword. The taut-killing atmosphere that had been present earlier instantly fizzled out, and what came rushing in was silence. Rosa sent a cold look at Skadi and opened her mouth.
“Skadi-dono, it’s your fault. What were you thinking, suddenly launching an attack?”
“The first one to provoke me was――…”
Skadi was about to argue with Rosa, but she raised her hands in the air when she saw Rosa’s strong gaze.
“I know. The first one to make a move is the one who is to blame.”
As if in honest acknowledgment, Skadi curved her lips in disapproval and glared at Hiro.
“Tch, but I don’t like it. You look like you know everything, and you look down on people ― that’s what I don’t like about your eyes.”
“I apologize if I offended you.”
Hiro listened to Skadi’s protests and said in a hushed voice before taking a seat.
“Now, why don’t you go back to your seat too, Skadi-dono?”
Rosa pushed Skadi back and urged her to sit down.
She then returned to her own seat and cleared her throat to change the strange atmosphere.
“Now that everyone is here. Let’s begin the quadrilateral talks.”
Rosa looked at each of the three rulers.
Rosa let out a tired sigh at the three different attitudes of the three rulers: Skadi, who nodded her head with a sharp snort; Karl, whose eyes were swimming suspiciously; and Hiro, who crossed his arms with calm and composed air.
“Fuh… well then, the topic of discussion, the terms of the truce between the two countries, Steichen and Lichtine――”
A dull thud rang through the room, crushing Rosa’s words.
Skadi, who had slammed her heel down on the desk, flashed a sharp look at Karl. She was filled with tremendous spirit as if the fight with Hiro from earlier was still fresh in her mind.
“It’s obvious that the Lichtine forces that remain in Steichen are to leave our country immediately.”
Immeasurable pressure ― Karl’s body was shaking as if he were being hit by a blizzard.
Still, he stared back at Skadi, perhaps with a sense of responsibility for the nation or maybe feeling defeated.
“…I-I would like the area around Fort Burg to be under the joint control of Lichtine and Steichen, with the Zahle River as common territory.”
“What are you talking about? I said we would not dam the Zahle river; what’s wrong with that? Is that not good enough for you?”
“That would leave Lichtine’s heart in your hands. We can’t continue with that uncertainty and make promises we don’t know what the future holds.”
“You have no trust in me, huh…? No, how can there be――”
After a self-mocking smile, Skadi snorted as she scratched her horns.
“The Nidavelirs were the ones who dammed the Zahle river. We would never do such a cowardly thing, though?”
“Even if it was the Nidavellir who dammed the river, it was still the Steichen Republic.”
“That’s true, but that doesn’t mean that if you continue the occupation, the people at Fort Burg will starve to death sooner or later. We are in a position to retake the fortress at any time.”
The current barrier on the border between Steichen and Lichtine was occupied by the Principality of Lichtine, which was strong against outside forces but weak against forces from within. The soldiers of Lichtine, who were suffering from famine, did not have the strength left to defend it. Karl was not bullish on the situation, and he bit his teeth.
“I’m saying this out of the goodness of my heart. You disagree with me?”
“Lichtine had no time to spare to be convinced. It’s only natural that the river has finally been freed from its dam. The people are happy, but if we tell Steichen that we are returning the Fort Burg, there will be a revolt.”
Karl began to speak of Lichtine’s internal situation with shame. He probably intends to show his firm determination not to give in, even if he was caught flat-footed. However, there was no way that showing weakness to the other party would induce sympathy. Karl knew this, but even so, he did not stop talking.
“We were able to ease the dissatisfaction of the nobles, albeit slightly. If the river is dammed again, Lichtine will surely perish this time. So we must prevent a situation in which the river is dammed again.”
“That’s why I said I wouldn’t dam the river.”
“We cannot believe such promises. The dwarves were greedy and untrustworthy, but the beastman was also insatiable and cannot be trusted.”
The two sides of the argument were now on a collision course. It seems that both sides were unable to come to an agreement. Rosa, who had taken on the role of mediator, also seemed to be having difficulty in coming to an agreement.
Then Hiro raised his hand.
“I have a proposal for you…”
Everyone’s eyes were on him at once.
But he spun his words without any agitation.
“I want you to destroy Fort Burg, which was built under the guise of managing the Zahle River.”
“What’s this all about all of a sudden?”
The reason why Skadi’s eyebrows furrowed in suspicion was because he suddenly spoke up and suggested destroying Fort Burg, which was the point of the conversation. Rosa also looked at Hiro with a bit of surprise. However, Hiro did not care about such stares and calmly revealed his mind.
“It is only necessary for the river’s defense, and there should be no problem even if it is torn down.”
“It is true that it was built by the Nidavellir faction for the purpose of harassment, so it is something I would like to tear down in order to cut down on unnecessary military spending.”
“Let the people of Lichtine, who have lost their jobs in the fields, do that.”
Skadi, perhaps realizing what Hiro was trying to do, raised her eyebrows in a grumpy manner.
“What’s in it for us? There are many people in Steichen who have lost their jobs due to the civil war. You know what will happen if we hire people from other countries, don’t you?”
Hiro nodded his head in agreement with Skadi, then held up a finger.
“We will accept some of those who lost their jobs in Steichen ― the dwarves who were Nidavellir’s faction ― in our country. I have a few conditions.”
Skadi waved her chin as if to urge him to go on as if she intended to listen to Hiro’s story in silence.
“There are other villages and towns destroyed by famine in the Principality of Lichtine. We can send the dwarves there to earn foreign currency. The civil war may be over, but that doesn’t mean that the feud between the beastman and the dwarves is over, does it?”
“Honestly speaking, you’re not wrong.”
“Then why don’t we create some distance between the two races, the beastman and the dwarves, and allow for a cooling-off period?”
It was not a bad idea. Many people in both Lichtine and Steichen had lost their jobs. They were still in the prime of their careers. It would be a shame to leave them idle. If that was the case, it would be more profitable to send them to other countries to work.
“I think that’s a good deal… Are you okay with that?”
Skadi took one look at Karl and nodded without hesitation.
“I agree with the Black Dragon King.”
Karl, who had been so afraid of Skadi, now said without hesitation.
With a strange feeling of discomfort, Skadi narrowed her eyes and looked at Karl, but Karl kept his face down.
“…I see, then there is no reason for us to object.”
“Then the Lichtine Army will withdraw from the Steichen Republic in the coming days. Is that correct?”
Rosa confirmed this to Karl, who immediately nodded vigorously.
“That’s fine. But I would like your assurance that the Zahle River will not be dammed even after Fort Burg is destroyed.”
Seeing Karl’s imposing appearance, Skadi glared at him with a grim, twisted face, but it had little effect.
“That, of course, is true. If the Steichen Republic makes a mistake in the future ― as long as the agreement is still in place ― then Grantz and Baum will be responsible for supporting Lichtine. Is that alright with Steichen?”
“That’s fine. The beastman will never take back their words. I will not be so cowardly as to dam the river, even if I have to deal with Lichtine.”
By damming the Zahle river, Lichtine would have the help of Baum and Grantz.
Conversely, if the Zahle River was not dammed, Grantz and Baum would not move.
It was not a bad deal for both Lichtine and Steichen, but Skadi was not amused by the way they had been led to this point.
“Well, now that we have a firm policy, let’s boil the conversation down.”
While Rosa was trying to move the conversation forward, Skadi kept her eyes fixed on Hiro.