Here’s the chapter, enjoy~
At the same time when Hiro slipped out of the encampment of the “Raven Army.”
There were more soldiers than usual patrolling the campsite of the Great Grantz Empire.
They were on the lookout for a night attack due to the proximity of Licht, the capital of the country of Azel.
Even if a night raid were to actually take place, they were fully prepared. However, knowing when an attack would or would not occur was impossible. That was why they could not afford to let their guard down.
Everyone on guard tonight was on the lookout with tense expressions on their faces.
Among them, there is one place that is the most heavily guarded. It was the central tent called the command center.
This was the place where the most important person of the Great Grantz Empire―the sixth Princess Celia Estrella―was staying.
Only Liz and Aura were in the tent.
A few moments ago, the staff members were also there, making a lot of noise, but after they finished the war council, everyone went back to their respective tents in preparation for tomorrow’s march.
In the quietened command center, Liz and Aura are sipping tea and talking across the desk.
“Any movement north and south of Grantz?”
Liz said, and Aura shook her head.
“Nothing has been reported from counterintelligence. In other words, no results. What about Prime Minister Rosa?”
“The same here. I hope nothing will happen.”
“…..I’d say the chances are slim to none.”
The main force of the Grantz was on the move, and this was the perfect opportunity.
Those with ulterior motives must think of this as an opportunity. But it was also true that they could not easily decide on how to move. They may be stuck in a situation where each side was reading too much into the other’s moves and were searching for developments in the other country.
Who would be the first to put their hand in the lion’s mouth? Would they be bitten off, or would they escape unscathed without fangs? In short, the surrounding countries were in a state of searching for sacrifices.
If the situation was as predicted, this could be considered an opportunity for this side as well. This would give them much more time for the battle against Azel.
However, in a situation where anything was completely unknown, optimism was a recipe for danger, and they must carefully observe their surroundings while dealing with Azel―if they do not respond flexibly and with flexible thinking, they would fall off the cliff in a single bound.
“It’s no use worrying only about what other countries are doing.”
Putting the other countries to the back of her mind for the time being, Liz decided to focus on the problem at hand.
“Has the country of Azel said anything to us?”
“I believe we have informed them, but I have not heard anything back yet.”
The Grantz prepared a negotiating table against the country of Azel. The reply had not yet come, as Aura said. The Grantz are already closing in on Azel’s capital, Licht. They would be surrounded in the coming days.
Looking at the map spread out on the desk, Liz tilted her head while placing her index finger on her chin.
“…Do you think there are any prospects for reinforcements from other countries?”
“The scouts report no suspicious shadows near the border.”
Aura traced the border between Urpeth and Azel on the map with her finger, then moved two pieces to Greif and Anguis.
“According to our spy, the countries of Greif and Anguis are fortifying their own defenses.”
“They really are going to abandon them like this…”
“Seeing Azel’s impatience, if we were to judge at this stage, it would be safe to say that the other countries have cut them off.”
Sending out fast horses to each country and also to the nobles in the vicinity, Azel called up soldiers.
They also recruited young men in towns and villages, and some responded to them, but all were discovered early by a detachment of Grantz and were destroyed.
Given the current situation, the only way for Azel to survive was to surrender.
“After laying siege to the capital, Licht, I will once again try to persuade the queen to sit down for negotiations, and if that does not work, we will have no choice but to drop her.”
“Well, I’ll leave that decision up to you, Aura. I would not want to drop her if possible…”
The Grantz did not want to destroy Azel.
The Grantz side wanted to use Azel as a buffer zone and work for reconstruction by blocking the entrance to Felzen. Above all, they could not keep the main force of Grantz glued to Azel for a long period of time. Now that they are concerned about the movements of other countries, they wanted to quickly get them to the negotiating table and return to Grantz.
“We just have to wait for Skaaha to wake up, don’t we?”
“Yeah, otherwise, the meaning of recapturing Felzen will be lost.”
The operation to recapture Felzen was carried out with Skaaha as the leader.
The Great Grantz Empire suffered the crisis of the destruction of their first army, but they were able to win a series of local battles and capture the new royal capital of Sandinal.
There were still some troublesome remnants of the Six Kingdoms in Felzen, but if they could make the Azel a buffer zone, they would lose morale and start on the road to self-destruction.
After that, they must have Skaaha declare success in recapturing Felzen.
However, the current situation was extremely difficult.
This was because Skaaha, who was seriously wounded in the battle with Stobel, had not woken up. This had not been communicated to the Felzen Liberation Army. This was out of fear of incurring their wrath.
That Skaaha was currently being brought to Azel.
They wanted her to recover in Sandinal if possible, but they felt uneasy about leaving her in the custody of Rozl, who was the confidant of Vetu, the head of the Muzuk family, one of the five great nobles.
Besides, it was necessary to ensure her safety from those who held grudges against her since Skaaha was now unable to protect herself as well.
“But that doesn’t mean we are safe here either.”
There are few people they can trust, and few of them are good enough to be trusted.
Since the reign of Emperor Greyheit, the Grantz had lost many of their best generals in the many wars that followed, and the long-standing corruption of the nobility had nipped many talented people in the bud.
Grantz, which was once said to be a treasure trove of human resources, has been unable to halt the decline of their military strength.
“We can’t just mourn. We’ll just have to make it through with the strength we have now.”
Liz gulped down her tea, which had gone cold, in one gulp, forcibly lifting her depressed mood. After that, she suddenly recalled the case she had talked about with Aura before.
“Speaking of which, I wonder if you found out what’s bothering you?”
“Hmm? What’s bothering me?”
“You said you were bothered about Tigris, Urpeth, and Scorpius.”
Aura nodded and got up from her chair. With her long sleeves flapping, Aura returns from her desk with a report in her hand.
“I want you to read this. Maybe, just maybe, I’m right.”
Liz looked over the report handed to her.
As she read through the contents, her brow wrinkled.
“Certainly… with this… it makes sense why Urpeth and Scorpius are not moving.”
Knowing once again the depth of intelligence and intrigue that Aura possesses, Liz is deeply moved.
It’s a minor discomfort―a blind spot that was overlooked because the invasion was going so well that it’s impossible to miss it.
From the beginning, Aura said they would win this war with minimal damage.
So she must have verified this again and again. The answer that she arrived at after much deliberation and concern was this report. That was why she knew a part of her passionate thoughts.
She knew that Aura was also desperately trying to overtake Hiro.
“I intend to continue my investigation, but if possible, I want to make moves with this operation in mind.”
Extraordinary confidence filled the air from Aura. However, she immediately tapped her own forehead repeatedly as if to cool her head and shook her head.
“Please rest assured. I have no intention of sticking to this strategy. Nothing is more dangerous than a plan with absolute confidence, so I am prepared to abandon it at any time.”
“All right. Let’s adopt Aura’s strategy. Shall we gather the staff members tomorrow morning and discuss the strategy?”
“Yes, I’ll let them know.”
Liz couldn’t help but want to pat Aura’s head as she nodded happily, but she decided to hold back.
If she treated Aura like a child, Aura would get unhappy. She thought it’s cute in that way, but Aura herself wanted to be treated like a beautiful older sister. At the moment, looking at Aura’s appearance, that dream was not likely to come true.
At any rate, since the hand that she unintentionally extended had nowhere to go, Liz stood up with her hands on the desk to cover up the mistake.
“Shall we go and see how Skaaha is doing? She is surely waiting for us.”
“Yes, I have the Black Book with me, so it’ll be fine.”
Aura proudly held out the Black Book.
“I-I see… I’m sure Skaaha will be very pleased.”
Liz put her hand on the entrance of the tent with her cheeks twitching.
The soldiers on guard salute her when she goes outside with Aura.
The encampment was brightly lit by a large number of bonfires. However, since it was late at night, there was silence in the air.
However, the air was bleak.
Many of the soldiers were in a state of excitement because of the many battles they had fought recently. If there was a concern about the battle for Azel’s capital, Licht, it might be a matter of feelings. They could not afford to get more distracted than necessary, but being too preoccupied would also mean that they were weakened in the chain of command. It made it difficult to hear their voices. Too much focus on the front and only the feelings would get ahead of themselves.
The only way around this was to switch units and adjust well.
Tomorrow morning, they would discuss the situation with the staff members and formulate a plan to the extent that it would not interfere with the battle for Licht.
As they walked, their minds were wandering. They soon arrived at the tent where Skaaha was recuperating.
The reason was that it was located next to the command center. Next to it, Liz’s tent was also built.
Liz tilted her head at the strange sight. Aura, next to her, also noticed and looked up at Liz.
There were women standing at the entrance to the tent of Skaaha, blowing air into their hands.
They were the maidservants who had accompanied Liz on this march and whom she had asked to watch over her during the war council.
“What are you… doing here?”
The maids bowed their heads immediately when Liz spoke to them.
“Eh, Her Highness Celia Estrella, thank you for your hard work.”
As soon as she bowed, Liz ran up to one of the maidservants and grabbed her by the shoulder.
“Don’t bother greeting me. I told you to keep an eye on Skaaha, didn’t I?”
“Um, His Majesty the Black Dragon King was here just now, and he asked to be left alone with Skaaha-sama, so――”
Without hearing the last word from the maid, Liz immediately entered the tent.
The space was full of a peculiar smell. Yet, it was kept so clean that there was not a speck of dirt to be found anywhere.
There was no one in the tent.
For a moment, Liz thought that Skaaha had been taken away and hurriedly approached the bed, but she was asleep, letting out a quiet breath.
“Thank goodness… you’re safe… really――!”
Liz let out a sigh of relief, but halfway through, she realized the shocking truth and stopped breathing.
Then Aura and the maids entered the tent with panicked looks on their faces.
Aura called out to Liz’s back, but there was no response.
With a frown, Aura approached Liz and peeked into the bed from behind her.
Her words trailed off. She, like Liz, was wide-eyed in surprise.
As if to replace the stiffening Aura, Liz regained her composure and turned on her heel first.
Her feet point toward the maid. When she got close enough, she grabbed the shoulder of one of the maids who was trying to run away and stopped her there.
“Do you know what happened here?”
“Eh? Um… Her Highness Celia Estrella? Did I do something?”
The maid, perhaps unable to comprehend the situation, swept her gaze and revealed her confusion.
Liz tried her best not to frighten her and spoke softly to her.
“Why didn’t you inform me when the Black Dragon King came?”
“That is… because… eh, I properly stopped him… Huh? Why is that?”
The maid was confused as if she didn’t understand it herself. She was ruffling her hair and groaning with her hand on her forehead, but no answer was forthcoming, and a large amount of greasy sweat was breaking out on her forehead.
It was a strange story. Even though he was the Black Dragon King―Hiro, no one gave him permission to roam around the Grantz’s camp as much as he wanted to. And if he showed up late at night, he would surely be stopped by the soldiers.
Even if he were lucky enough not to be found, he would have run into the maidservants who were taking care of Skaaha. In fact, the maidservants have said that they met the Black Dragon King. At that time, they must have been wary of him.
However, the maids not only invited the Black Dragon King into the tent without Liz’s permission but also made the mistake of leaving them alone together. There was a possibility that it was an assassin plotting using the Black Dragon King’s name.
It was a rule for the maidservants to always ask Liz for permission. Above all, it was unthinkable that a longtime employee of the imperial palace, let alone a newcomer, would make a selfish decision.
“Um… what will happen to us…?”
Perhaps realizing the gravity of what they had done, the maidservants’ faces turned pale.
However, judging from the reactions of the maidservants, it was hard to believe that they willingly invited him in.
It would be strangely more convincing to think that Hiro had done something to them.
Liz decided to take a deep breath and calm herself down, away from the frightened maids.
The girls had no bad intentions. It was obvious to Liz, even from her own eyes.
“It’s okay. Skaaha is safe and sound, so I’ll let the matter drop this time.”
There is one thing she is wondering about. Why didn’t she sense any sign of Hiro?
Until now, wherever Hiro was, she could sense his presence. Incidentally, she still knew where he was even now.
But she couldn’t find the answer as to why she didn’t know… only when he visited here.
For now, Liz smiled as she patted the shoulder of the still frightened maid.
“But next time, let me know.”
The maids looked at her with enraptured eyes. Her cheeks were flushed red, and a faint but hot breath was coming out of her lips. Liz looked around at the maidservants around her and then opened her mouth.
“You can take the rest of the day off now. If I need you again, I will call you.”
“Understood. We are truly sorry.”
After seeing the maids leave the tent with dejected looks on their faces, Liz walked over to Skaaha’s bed once again.
She looked into the face of Aura, who was standing next to her, and saw that she had not yet gotten over her astonishment, and she spun her voice while covering her mouth with her hand to keep her trembling lips pressed.
“Liz… what does this… mean?”
Perhaps because she couldn’t organize her thoughts properly, Aura’s voice was unusually slurred. Above all, she opened and closed her mouth several times because she couldn’t find the right words.
“Yes, I’m curious about what happened, too…”
Liz, who saw the still sleeping Skaaha, did not know what emotion to express.
She didn’t know if she should be happy or worried, or both, and at the same time, she didn’t know what Hiro wanted from Skaaha, and it just felt eerie to her.
“But maybe we can rest easy for a moment.”
Despite being seriously wounded to the point of near death, strangely enough, there was not a single scratch on Skaaha’s body now. Her face, which had been unbearably swollen, was glowing as if the blood flow had improved. Her broken arms may be connected again. Her breathing, which had been wild and unsteady, now seems to have calmed down.
“Anyway, I’m going to call the military doctor.”
Aura was about to leave the tent when Liz shouted a little louder.
“Aura, I have a favor to ask――”
With her eyes fixed on Skaaha, Liz opened her mouth with a somewhat determined look.
The country of Azel―the capital city of Licht―has a gloomy atmosphere in the city due to the approaching Grantz army.
The streets are deserted, and everyone is holed up in their homes, afraid of the coming of the Grantz.
Above all, many people have begun to flee to other countries, and the population, which was already small, has visibly decreased.
And the soldiers patrolling the city walls showed no signs of courage at all.
Protecting their families, their country, and their queen. There were some who were full of such spirit, but they were only a small part of the population. Most of them had resigned looks on their faces, and the chain of command has completely collapsed, with deserters appearing every day.
Their protectors, the rulers, were holding discussions in the throne room.
“I hear the Grantz are taking down the forts one after the other.”
“Will the other countries not come to reinforce us!”
“We keep sending fast horses, but there is no reply.”
“What is Her Majesty Queen Azel doing in this emergency?”
“As usual, she is in her room.”
The old minister’s words caused the nobles to drop their shoulders in disappointment.
The royal family of Azel has a quiet disposition that does not lend itself to conflict.
Successive kings had always looked at other people’s faces. In the midst of the growing tension between the Great Grantz Empire and the Kingdom of Felzen, they once took advantage of their good nature and offered Princess Skaaha in their care.
However, when Felzen was destroyed, they succumbed to the pressure of the Grantz and tried to capture her, but Princess Skaaha, sensing the danger, disappeared.
Because of this weak attitude, they had little voice in the Six Kingdoms and were always forced to play a role that is detrimental to them.
However, compared to the kings of the past, the current queen stood out above the rest.
“There is still time. Let’s continue to call on other countries for reinforcements.”
“I understand. Until then, get Her Majesty Queen Azel out of the room.”
The nobles, with somber faces, were growing anxious in the face of the uncertain situation.
Only those with strong leadership skills would be able to remove them.
Queen Gilbe Augra de Azel, however, had no such qualities. She did not participate in the military meetings that are held every day but instead stayed in her room.
When she heard of the invasion of the Grantz, she was too frightened to leave her room.
“U-um, are there any prospects for reinforcements from other countries? Have you heard anything back from Lucia-aneesama yet?”
As Gilbe murmured with her face buried in the pillow on the bed, a hooded figure standing by her side spoke up.
“We have sent many quick horses to other countries, including to Her Majesty Queen Lucia, but we have not yet received a reply.”
He has continued to serve Gilbe as a caretaker since the days of the previous king.
He was introduced to Gilbe by Nameless, the prime minister of Greif, but Gilbe’s father, struck by his excellence, hired him as a caretaker for his daughter.
He was always there for her, no matter what, and for that, Gilbe was indebted to him. Because of him, Gilbe was able to manage the affairs of the state as queen, albeit minimally.
“…Then, r-right. Let’s surrender to the Great Grantz Empire! We’ve been asked to surrender, too!”
“If we choose such a course, our country will be put under siege and destroyed by the other countries.”
The power of Azel was too weak. It was because of its status as one of the Six Kingdoms that Azel had been able to survive.
There was no way for a weak country like Azel to survive if it deviated from that framework.
Coming under the aegis of the Great Grantz Empire―a very attractive proposition, but it was very risky in terms of what comes after.
All they really wanted was Felzen. They would not even look at the unattractive land of Azel.
After they surrendered, they would just be left to pay reparations.
If they were invaded by another country, they would give aid, but only to the extent that they did not perish―so that there would be no impact on Felzen.
The Grantz were looking for Azel to serve as a buffer zone, and whether the security situation worsened or the people starved, they would remain unaware of it.
“B-but if things continue as they are, the country will be destroyed by the Grantz.”
If they did not surrender, the Grantz would attack and destroy them. Even if they surrendered, they would be destroyed by the Grantz, even if not directly.
Either way, destruction awaited them.
If that is the case――,
“Let’s wait. We wait until the limit… until reinforcements arrive. Then we can choose whether to surrender to the Grantz or not.”
“But we have already ignored the Grantz’s request many times. They must be angry. They may not accept our surrender.”
“No, on the contrary. It is not their intention to attack and destroy Azel.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes, all they want is the Azel, the wall that protects Felzen. It would be meaningless if it were to crumble.”
Although nodding her head, Gilbe tilted her head as if she didn’t understand.
The hooded man who patted her head smiled at her.
“Anyway, it is not advisable to appear before the nobles until the time comes.”
“Then what should I do?”
“Let’s pretend that you are ill for a little while. Then they won’t complain if you lock yourself up in your room. I will take care of the rest.”
The hooded man held out his hand. On top of it was a candy ball.
Gilbe tilted her head and looked up at the man. His expression was invisible. The hood covered everything but his mouth in darkness.
“What is this?”
“I brought it in on short notice because Her Majesty Queen Gilbe had been having trouble sleeping recently.”
“Heh~, it looks sweet, but it’s medicine, isn’t it?”
“It is a medicine that is rumored to help people sleep better. It is said to have been made in a far eastern country, and there were once fights over it, so I am sure it is very effective.”
“Is it all right for me to receive such a precious thing?”
“No problem. Let me get you some water.”
Turning his back to Gilbe, who accepted the candy-like object without question, the hooded man poured water into a silver cup with a smile on his face.
After receiving the silver cup, Gilbe, with a curious look on her face, put the candy ball in her mouth and swallowed it down her throat, letting it slide down her throat with the water.
“Now, I am sure you will have a good night’s sleep today.”
“Thank you very much. I feel that way, too!”
At his urging, Gilbe lay down on her bed, and the hooded man patted her head until she drifted off to sleep.
“The next time you wake up―you won’t have to worry about anything else, you know.”
Deeper and deeper, she fell.
“Yes… good night―Lord Hydra.”
Gilbe sank into the darkness, feeling a certain warmth in the air.
“Good night, my livestock.”