Chapter 3 – Creeping Darkness
The Heimdall family, one of the three great northern families, was a noble family with a vast territory in the western part of the northern part of Grantz. They had been serving the Scharm family, the top northern noble family, for many years and had developed into one of the three northern noble families as a result of sharing their hardships and joys together. However, that was not the only thing that made their family name famous.
The Heimdall family’s name was well known on the central continent for their role as guardians of the “Spirit Wall” that lay between the “unexplored territories” in the northern part of the Grantz.
In recent years, the Heimdall family had long since been overshadowed by the prosperity of the Scharm family and had lost to the momentum of the Bromel family, but many northerners were still grateful to the Heimdall family for maintaining the stability of the north.
The home of the Heimdall family was Mellaren.
The city was located right next to the “Spirit Wall” so that reinforcements could be sent at any time. It was a medium-sized city with the sixth largest population in the north. The city was not exactly prosperous due to the threat of the barbarians on the other side of the “Spirit Wall,” but it was filled with a cheerful atmosphere.
Because of the climate, many people liked to drink, and there were many bars in Mellaren, so much so that the city was also known as the “alcohol terminal,” where alcoholic beverages from all over the world were gathered.
Because of these various characteristics, there were people who drank in the middle of the day, and there were also people who drank excessively and got into trouble.
The head of the Heimdall family, who governed Mellaren, was Hermes von Heimdall, one of the five great generals and also known as a heavy drinker.
He resided not in his own mansion but in his own room built inside the “Spirit Wall.”
In Hermes’ room, a man was currently barely standing on the floor.
He was Munin, a direct subordinate of the “Black Dragon King” from the small country of Baum.
Munin’s mouth was agape.
He was sitting on his knees, and there were many bottles of alcohol lying around him.
Munin was being watched by one person, an old man named Hermes, who was exposing his well-trained upper body.
“What are you surprised about, brother?”
“No, because, old man―no, General Hermes, this is…”
Munin was ready to die when his identity as a spy was revealed, but Hermes did not take him prisoner but brought him to his room and began to drink heavily. Munin was stunned as he looked at the empty bottle.
“Drink. Your body will be cold.”
He was forced to hold a silver cup in his hand, and Hermes began to pour an overflowing cup of booze into it.
“No, sir, what’s going to happen to me?”
“No problem, just drink and get the hell out of here… but you can’t go home until you see what’s going on at the Spirit Wall, right…?”
Hermes said as he drank his drink vigorously.
Munin, not knowing what to say, tilted his head as he drank his drink.
“Is that okay?”
“You don’t seem like a bad guy, brother. I don’t care.”
Unable to understand what Hermes was thinking, Munin pinched his brow with his finger as if he had a headache. Then, seeing him, Hermes smirked.
“If you see the Spirit Wall, you’ll understand what I’m saying, including what I think. Well, let’s have a drink and go, shall we?”
As soon as he said this, Hermes got up from his seat, bottle in hand, and headed for the exit.
Munin hurriedly followed behind him.
“This Spirit Wall was built about five hundred years ago.”
Munin knew this well. This was because it was an event that he was sure to remember if he unraveled the history of the Grantz. The “Spirit Wall” was built by the 22nd emperor when he drove out the barbarian tribes.
“According to one theory, it was formed by the gathering of spirits. Up close, the wall looks like ice, but it is as transparent as a ‘spirit stone.'”
When Munin touched the wall, he felt the coldness, but it did not seem colder than ice. It felt like chilled stone, but…
“Look, watch me.”
Hermes pulled out the sword at his waist and slammed it against the wall.
The blade broke from the base and slid across the floor with a tremendous sound.
“Its strength must be frightening. Even if you slash at it with all your might, you won’t be able to scratch it. If you were using a spirit weapon, you might be able to get a scratch or two, but if you’re not careful, you could break your arm.”
He was so surprised by Hermes’ sudden outburst that he gave a curt response.
Meanwhile, Hermes threw down his broken sword and began walking down the hallway.
Munin was curious to know what kind of technology was used to remodel such a space, which even a spirit weapon could only scratch into a place where people could move around and create a living space, but Hermes growled with difficulty.
“Well, I don’t know. It was five hundred years ago. According to the literature, it was done with the help of the “dwarves” from the northern continent. But it doesn’t say what kind of techniques or methods they used.”
“I see… maybe the technology of 500 years ago was more advanced than that of today.”
Munin intended to make a joke, but Hermes never laughed and nodded with a serious face.
“It’s a very good point. It is true that a lot of technology has been lost in the past 500 years. Do you know about the assassination of the emperor three hundred years ago?”
“If you are talking about the assassination of the emperor at that time by the Black Death Village, it is a little easier to understand.”
Thanks to Hiro, he knew a little bit of the history.
Three hundred years ago, there was the biggest famine in the Great Grantz Empire at that time.
The nobles and lords forced the people to pay heavy taxes, provoked revolts, and invaded other territories, and in addition, the emperor was assassinated.
In the history of the Great Grantz Empire, this was the only time ever that an emperor was assassinated. The name “Black Death Village” became widely known.
“It was an era called ‘the turmoil period.’ It is said that because of the many quarrels that broke out during that time, the intellectuals were lost, as well as the technology.”
Munin and Hermes continued to climb the stairs until they came to a door.
“So it is not surprising that the technology of five hundred years ago was more advanced than that of today. More importantly, I am sure that the existence of spirits was much more familiar to people from back then than it is today.”
Hermes grabbed the handle and vigorously opened the iron door.
Snowflakes were pouring inside with a piercingly cold wind. Munin clenched his teeth and hugged himself against the cold.
“Come on, go outside.”
Munin was too cold to move even though he was told to. He felt as if he had been stripped naked and thrown outside, even though he was wearing winter clothes.
However, under the pressure of Hermes, Munin took a step forward to get closer to the door.
“Leave the silver cups behind. If you take it outside in this cold weather, it will stick to your hands, and you will have to peel the skin off.”
Munin hurriedly placed the silver cup on the ground.
Hermes also noticed that the empty bottle was lying on the ground, wondering when it had been consumed.
“I have one thing to warn you about for now.”
Munin cleared his throat under the seriousness of Hermes’ gaze and waited for Hermes to speak.
“Never let your guard down.”
He felt a strange sense of pressure, even though he was concerned for his safety. It made him lose his train of though to wonder why he shouldn’t relax.
The next thing he knew, Hermes was just about to walk out the door. Feeling the extremely cold wind on his skin, Munin also stepped outside―and when he saw the scene spread out in front of him, he forgot about the cold, and his mouth fell half open in dismay.
“Everyone is amazed when they come here.”
You’re not the only one―as if to say so, Hermes puts his hand on Munin’s shoulder, shook his chin, and urged him to look at the view again.
“…Are you in the middle of training?”
Soldiers were firing arrows from the breastworks into the “unexplored territory.”
Their shouts were deafening, heavier than the wind, and the arrows flew through the darkness, defying the storm. The bonfires were kept burning to keep warm, and the soldiers continued to shoot their bows single-mindedly, cajoling their numb hands.
The soldiers were so powerful and so determined, as if they were in a real battle, that they showed no signs of composure.
Munin stood there speechless, but then he saw Hermes’ stern face as he felt the force of a thick hand on his shoulder.
“No, this is not an exercise; this is a battlefield.”
He let out a dumb voice.
A huge fist was right in front of him, right up to his nose.
“I told you not to let your guard down.”
In Hermes’ hand was an arrow, which he snapped off with the force of his fist. Then he grabbed Munin by the head and forced him to walk in the shadow of the breast wall.
“You will understand better if you see it than if I explain it to you.”
He pushed his face into the gap in the breast wall, where he could look down below.
Munin’s eyes widened.
It was late at night, and the blizzard obscured the moonlight, but he could feel something moving below him.
“Either the “flesh eaters” or the “marked tribe,” I guess.”
“Are they really real?”
“Of course they are. What do you think we’re protecting you from?”
“No, that’s true, but… That’s why I didn’t think you could see them so easily.”
He never expected to see them so close to him. The reason was that Munin had imagined that they were living quietly in a village deep in the “unexplored territory.”
“Hah, If you live here, you will see them. After living here for decades, they are more familiar to you than the monsters.”
Finally, Munin understood. He had thought that the soldiers were practicing a practical exercise, but they were not. They were fighting against the “flesh eaters” and “marked tribe” that had gathered under the “spirit wall.”
“You can’t think of them as “humans.” If there is a small foothold, they will easily climb over the wall. I have even crossed blades with them many times in the past.”
Hermes suddenly began shoveling the snow.
What emerged was a reddish-black discoloration of the hard ground created by the spirits. He did not need to ask what this was.
Blood―not just any blood. It had been coated over and over again, sticking to the ground and turning black.
“Many people have lost their lives because they were conceited by the high walls. We can’t afford to be complacent here, not even for a moment.”
They were desperate. There was no leeway on the faces of the soldiers. They were firing arrows at the moving shadows with poor visibility.
If a battle were to break out on the breast wall, there would probably be many casualties. That was why they were trying so hard to finish them off.
“There are not many “flesh eaters” and the “marked tribe.” So we manage to defend the “spirit wall,” but sometimes they try to destroy it with “monsters” in tow. They are even more troublesome because they have the ability to speak and are as intelligent as human beings.”
That was why the five generals were on the defensive. In case the barbarians overcame the wall, one of the best forces of the Great Grantz Empire had been placed on the “Spirit Wall,” considering the possibility that ordinary soldiers would not be able to protect it when they cross blades.
“The home country has also provided spirit weapons, but the number is limited, and they may disappear into the darkness if they are not handed over to someone with the right skills. They are precious commodities… so we cannot afford to distribute them to all of our soldiers.”
Hermes grabbed Munin by the shoulders as he said this.
“Please tell your master that we need as many spirit weapons as possible.”
“…Even if you suddenly tell me――”
Munin was puzzled by the sudden request, but Hermes put a lot of strength into his hand that grasped Munin’s shoulder.
“You don’t have to hide anything. You are a spy of the small country of Baum, aren’t you?”
He was about to deny it, but the look in Hermes’ eyes made him think better of it.
They carried an earnest color. The color of anxiety was a characteristic of those who had been cornered.
Even someone regarded as the top of the Great Grantz Empire―the Five Great Generals―was being cornered.
It was shameful. Munin understood that the situation was more critical than he thought.
Munin pondered. He thought desperately with his poor mind.
The answer he chose was.
“How did you know?”
He decided to reveal himself. Munin had thought hard about the various risks involved.
If he lied, he would be imprisoned and would not be able to bring back any information. He had come this far and did not want to fail in his mission.
More than that, it can be said that he was struck by Hermes’ sincerity.
Knowing that he was a spy from another country, he didn’t tie him up with a rope but instead gave him a bottle of wine and guided him through the “Spirit Wall,” which was a state secret. Of course, he probably had ulterior motives, but Munin believed that his kindness was the root of his actions.
Above all, he forcibly convinced himself that his mission was to live and bring back the information and that he should leave the rest of the decision-making to Hiro.
Munin smiled bitterly, thinking that he was not suited to be a spy, including in this manner. Hermes removed his hand from Munin’s shoulder, and his expression softened as if he was relieved.
Seeing this, Munin thought comfortably that he had made the right decision.
“I guess it’s the smell. After all, this is a special place where all kinds of people come to visit. They become more discerning. You can tell who is suspicious, generally speaking.”
That was probably why he did not try to capture Munin but allowed him to see what was happening at the “Spirit Wall.”
It is easy to imagine how hard it is to keep fighting in the cold. Nevertheless, he was reminded that imagining it and experiencing it are two very different things.
“If it were me, I’d be running away from it.”
“Running away. They run away every day… But they are usually from the outside―people who don’t have family in the western part of the north.”
Once the barbarians got over the wall, there would undoubtedly be many casualties. If they were to come to the city, the damage would be enormous. In order to protect their hometowns and families, the soldiers belonging to the “Spirit Wall” had been fighting without running away. If it weren’t for them, their morale would have been drained long ago.
“Unfortunately, the “marked tribe” and the “flesh eaters” have become more active recently. The shifts are getting shorter and shorter, and all the soldiers are getting tired. Every time this happens, we ask for help from other families to take care of the soldiers and replenish the ranks, but this has no effect other than to increase the number of deserters.”
The white-tinted air was instantly drowned out as Hermes exhaled in distress, rubbing his beard, which was frozen by the snowstorm.
“But if there were more spirit weapons, there would be fewer deserters. Well, it would be a shame to give them away, so I’m going to be selective.”
“Do you want to tell the truth about what’s going on?”
“We are asking for your cooperation, so we will not hide anything from you. I will answer truthfully if asked.”
Hermes nodded his head as if it was natural, but there was no sense of lying.
If this is the case, the situation in the north may be more serious than Hiro, the master of Munin, thought.
“The Scharm family has been in turmoil recently. Some of them have begun to be reluctant to send out their troops. It may be that they have reached their limits, that they can no longer continue to fight solely for the sake of the North and the country.”
That was why, if there were precious spirit weapons, the existing army could have a sense of freedom.
Heimdall was trying to say so, but as Munin, he couldn’t help but have a question mark in his mind.
No matter how many spirit weapons they had, it was too harsh to continue fighting in this land.
Heimdall, perhaps sensing Munin’s feelings, smiled to himself.
“If you have spiritual support, people will change. It is better to have it than not to have it. That’s what I’ve learned over the years of fighting here.”
For now, he would have to tell Hiro the truth. He did not know what kind of decision he would make, but either way, Munin would just have to follow Hiro’s decision.
“I understand. I will inform His Majesty of the situation as it is.”
“Please do so. All we can do now is to pray that the Scharm family, the second prince Selene, will be able to stand up.”
Hermes’ worries were endless.
Even if one was able to obtain a spirit weapon, it was no good if there was no one who could handle it.
And there was only one person who could solve the shortage of personnel for the “Spirit Wall,” and that was the second prince Selene, who was recuperating from an injury.