Chapter 3 – Footsteps of Destruction
2 November, 1026th year of the imperial calendar.
The stars were twinkling in the black sky as night fell.
The voices of animals responding to the moonlight cut through the night air, insects played a chorus, and the laughter of grass and flowers wafted by the wind. It was an ordinary night time routine, but there was one part of it that was unusual. A large number of bonfires were lit on the ground, making the place noisy as if it were a kind of festival. There, several tents could be seen set up. Heavily armed soldiers could be seen everywhere. This was Azel, the Six Kingdoms, and the Grantz encampment was built in the vicinity of the capital city.
A large number of soldiers greeted a woman.
The soldiers who had been blocking the entrance and exit were now on both sides of the road as if breaking in waves. Walking between the two, looking majestic and without tension, was the sixth princess of the Great Grantz Empire. Celia Estrella Elizabeth von Grants, who was expected to become the next emperor. At the end of the soldier’s wall, Aura, the chief of general staff in charge of Grantz’s main army, was waiting for her.
“You did a great job while I was gone, didn’t you? Thank you for your hard work, Aura.”
“You’ve really added a lot of trouble to my workload. Do you know how hard it was for me? Starting today, you will have to go through the same suffering.”
“…..Ahaha, I’m just tired from riding my horse at full speed, you know? I thought I might want to take the day off.”
Liz smiled and tried to walk away but stopped immediately when she saw a person standing in front of her. The woman who lightly bowed to her while scratching her cheeks in embarrassment was Skaaha, a former princess of the Felsen Kingdom and also Liz’s friend. She had not woken up for a long time and had been asleep when Liz left the main force of the Grantz army. Perhaps that was why she felt as if she had not seen Skaaha for a really long time. Even though she must have seen her many times when she was asleep, it made her feel terribly nostalgic. She felt like opening her arms and hugging her, but Liz thought better of it. She was concerned about the soldiers’ eyes on her. Many soldiers died during the Licht siege. Many were injured. If she were to rejoice with all hands in the wake of Skaaha’s awakening, there would surely be some soldiers who would grumble.
“I am glad you woke up safely, Skaaha.”
She only said in a small voice. It would be after the soldiers’ eyes were gone that they would rejoice to see each other again. Perhaps sensing Liz’s feelings, Skaaha gave a wry smile.
“Aura-dono has told me what has happened up to this point. I’m really sorry to cause you trouble――”
“We’ll talk about it later; I think I have a general idea of what’s going on, but I’d like to hear the details, and there are some things I’d like Aura and Skaaha to hear about now.”
After interrupting Skaaha’s words, Liz looked at Aura, who was walking next to her.
“Understood. I also have a question. Why is the place where the coalition of the three countries had built their camp burning?”
Aura pointed to the east, where it was bright as day despite the night. It was as if heaven and earth had been reversed―so intense were the flames burning in the darkness. Screams and shouts could be heard from as far away as here.
“Right. But first of all, could you tell the commanders that everything is fine so that the soldiers don’t feel uneasy?”
“I’ll take care of that. I’ve already taken steps in advance… I just don’t know why.”
As expected, Aura seemed to have an inkling of what was going on. What could that fire mean? But she was likely increasing the number of guards in case she was wrong in her judgment. That was why Liz was greeted by such a large number of soldiers.
“Yes, there are a lot of things we need to talk about.”
“Then, we’re about to have a war council meeting, so we can do it afterward…”
“No, that won’t be necessary. The battle here is over. We have limited time. Let’s talk about the future soon.”
Liz stepped forward to the tent, and Aura followed her back without question. Then, the encampment of the three-nation coalition to the east was engulfed in flames more intense than before.
Hearing the screams of the three nations, they turned around together, and Liz opened her mouth with a grim expression on her face.
“We have signed a truce with the Six Kingdoms. I’ll tell you the details later, but I think it’s a ‘present’ from the new leader, Queen Lucia, to the Great Grantz Empire.”
Aura listened to Liz’s story in silence. She seemed to know what she was talking about, judging by the look of satisfaction on her face. She must have arrived at the answer to what Liz had been doing in her pursuit of Hiro with her exceptional wisdom. Even so, it was dangerous to jump to conclusions. If she didn’t put it into words, it wouldn’t be understood. Liz spoke in a calm and clear tone of voice, and she said words that were concise and easy to understand.
“The Vanir Three Kingdoms have made a move.”
At that single sentence, Aura’s eyes shook slightly, and she nodded sincerely as if to show her resolve.
“I will explain it to Skaaha as well. Will you come?”
“Yeah, I’d be happy if you could also tell me about the Black Dragon King.”
Liz pushed their backs, and together they entered the tent.
It was a hellish scene. Folded bodies lay on top of each other, burning.
Countless arrows pierced the soldiers who were struggling, scratching themselves, screaming in pain, and rolling around on the ground. Still, they were not allowed to die, and with bloodshot eyes, they stared at those who tried to kill them.
Why was Greif attacking―!?”
An arrow pierced the brow of the soldier, trembling with astonishment. Around him, those who were still breathing were doused in oil and engulfed in fire. No other words, except massacre, could describe the scene. Even those who had indicated their surrender, even those who did not resist, were being struck down with unrelenting blades. The soldiers of the Triple Alliance were being dragged across the ground, ropes tied around their necks, and played with, like toys.
“It’s a sight to behold.”
There was one woman looking at this hell scene with a calm face, Lucia, the queen of Anguis.
Two men were brought before her. Both had been beaten, their faces swollen, and their clothes torn and covered in blood. Lucia’s mouth hung open at the sight of the familiar faces.
“So it is the king of Scorpius and the prime minister of Tigris, is it not?”
“Queen Lucia, what is the meaning of this? How dare you attack your own allies?”
King Scorpius shouted, and Lucia’s men kicked him in the face to silence him.
“His Majesty the Unified King is dead.
King Scorpius, who had been grimacing from the intense pain, looks astonished as if he had forgotten the pain. With a pleasant smile on her face, Lucia fanned herself with her fan and brought her face close to King Scorpius.
“You have fallen into the trap of the long-eared race.”
“Nonsense… who would believe it?”
“Now, the fact that Greif is attacking you and that they are going to defeat the rebels is the truth.”
“…What does that mean?”
“The Grantz and the Six Kingdoms have signed a truce. Nevertheless, despite repeated ceasefire orders, you continued to attack and seriously undermined the credibility and dignity of our Six Kingdoms. This is an unforgivable outrage, and the punishment for it is the situation you are in now.”
King Scorpius looked stunned as Lucia covered her eyes with her hand and lamented.
“To receive such an order… No, you… No way…”
“Too bad. The more hard-headed the long-eared people, the slower they are to understand.”
“Screw you! Don’t think you’ll be forgiven!”
“The Vanir Three Kingdoms are behind all of this, aren’t they? They initiated this war on their own initiative, and they must be held accountable in one way or another.”
“Are you trying to make enemies of the long-eared people?”
“They were the enemy, to begin with, so what are you talking about now?”
When she silenced him by striking him in the cheek with a folded fan, the prime minister of Tigris, who had remained silent up to this point, turned a resentful gaze on her.
“You will regret it. The Vanir Three Kingdoms will surely destroy the Grantz. After that, without us in the Six Kingdoms, they will surely regard you as enemies.”
“Maybe. But it is also not worth destroying the Six Kingdoms for the sake of an uncertain future.”
Lucia stomped on Prime Minister Tigris’s head and looked down at him reproachfully.
“I’m tired of hearing your arguments. You will die in peace.”
“This hatred will surely come upon you as a curse!”
“I look forward to it. Cut off his head and shut him up.”
Under Lucia’s instruction, the soldiers subdued the two men and cut off their heads. However, perhaps because they were not hit properly and were not severed completely, the two men were struggling violently. The blood that spurted out in the process slightly splashed on her cheeks, and Lucia wiped them with disgust.
“Seleucus! How is Licht?”
Lucia called his name, and her cocky but loyal subordinate came from among the soldiers.
“The gates seemed to have been destroyed, but thanks to the appearance of that monster or whatever it was, the Grantz were not able to get their hands on it. However, it seems that some of the people were looting during the chaos, and we need to dispatch a security force as soon as possible.”
“Then organize a force and take Licht within our grasp. How are the leaders of Azel doing?”
“Reports are coming in that the interior of the palace is a wretched mess, there are no survivors, and it looks like a rampage of predators starving for food. Whether the palace was looted during the riots or by something else remains to be seen.”
“No sign of Gilbe?”
“Yes. Is there anything you want me to do?”
“Never mind, let’s leave Licht as it is under my direct control. After the chaos is over, I will hand over control to a blood relative of the royal family of Azel.”
“Then I will find someone who is easy to manipulate and finalize the plan… Oh, and there is one piece of information that concerns me, the spy reported that Grantz is in a very critical condition.”
“Hmm… do you think the truce is too early?”
“Are you worried?”
“No, I would rather go through all this than live to regret it.”
In a battlefield haunted by madness, the light of the burning and decaying tent cast a shadow over Lucia’s face.
I will make the Six Kingdoms even greater in the years to come. In a year, no, if it were me, I would be able to further expand our territory in half a year.”
“I am looking forward to it.”
“Seleucus, we will be busy. From here on, it will be a race against time.”
“…I guess you could call it as planned.”
Hiro muttered as he gazed at the intensely burning encampment of the three-nation coalition. Hugin, with subordinates in tow, arrives from behind him.
“Wise Brother, welcome back.”
He patted Hugin on the head and continued to speak.
“How are the preparations going?”
“We’re ready to leave.”
Hiro had sent a letter before coming here, but it seemed that it had arrived safely. When he was relieved, Hugin held out a letter to him.
“I have a letter from Big Brother Ghada.”
“Ghada, huh…? It seems he is safe.”
Hugin tilted her head curiously at Hiro, who breathed a sigh of relief. However, she swallowed her doubts and did not pursue anything, only staring at Hiro as he read the letter.
“Yeah, everything seems fine.”
“How are Munin and Luca doing?”
At the mention of their names, which he could not find, Hugin pointed behind him.
“He is running around the camp giving orders to subordinates. Luca-neesan is behind him.”
When Hiro turned around, he saw a woman standing in the darkness, her eyes still as dark as ever. Above all, she has gotten better at hiding her presence. If only she didn’t have such a flashy weapon, she’d be a good assassin. After receiving an unflattering review from Hiro, Luca glared at him reproachfully.
“It was quite a late return, wasn’t it…? You, what have you been playing about?”
“There was a lot going on. Well, I was mostly taken advantage of, but I did achieve some of my goals.”
“I see. That’s good to hear. By the way, you didn’t even let them camp out; you had us waiting for a moment so you could show us what you’ve been up to?”
Luca pointed behind Hiro, to the burning camp of the Triple Alliance.
“The Urpeth that tormented you is gone. You should be happy about that, right?”
“But that doesn’t mean I’ll return to the royal family.”
“Do you know what happened, Wise Brother?”
“Yes, it was a night attack by Greif’s army, led by Queen Lucia of the Six Kingdoms.”
“The reigning unified king was assassinated by the Nameless. Lucia became the acting unified king, and the three allies were punished for not heeding her order of ceasefire and continuing the battle.”
“That’s also… An extreme punishment.”
When Hugin said this with a look of dismay, Hiro shrugged his shoulders.
“The reason can be anything. As long as there is no one to resist, no one will raise an objection.”
“In other words, the Six Kingdoms are now completely under the control of Her Majesty Queen Lucia?”
Hiro shook his head at Luca’s words.
“It will not be that simple. There is no doubt that this incident will have a lasting impact. It’s easy to imagine how at least the three-nation alliance―their home countries―would react if they knew about this.”
“Unless they take any measures, right? Queen Lucia must have thought about this.”
“I agree. I think that by now, Tigris, Urpeth, and Scorpius are in open rebellion against Lucia’s wishes.”
“I think Queen Lucia is up to something. So, are we just going to sit here and watch?”
“No way… I won’t go the way she wants. And the only reason I didn’t let the Raven Army camp here is because we are leaving tonight.”
Hugin responded, and Hiro nodded.
“Yes, we are going to join up with Ghada. Hugin, will you inform Munin?”
“I will go inform my brother immediately!”
As Hugin’s back moved away, he looked at Luca, who was looking up at the night sky.
“Is there something on your mind?”
“Have you met the girl?”
“If you’re referring to Liz, I did meet her, but… What’s wrong with that?”
“No, you didn’t seem to change a thing.”
“If you don’t know, that’s okay.”
She uttered something strange.
“Rather than that――”
She turned her eyes on him, not the usual dark eyes, but thinner, more fragile, and somehow distant.
“――Are you going to corrupt the heavens?”
“Of course, nothing will change my mind.”
That is why he came this far.
The central continent was once ruled by the gods, a thousand years have passed, and nothing has changed.
“I must fulfill my promise.”
He has a responsibility. He was responsible for the great sin that had thrown the wheels of this world out of gear.
“I must become a god and create the world that they wanted.”
The stars were the same today. But change was coming to each and every one of them.
They were invisible from the ground, but the gods could “see” them.
He reached out to them many times. But he could not hold it in his hand.
“I’ll let you see. The birth of a new beautiful world.”
The day was approaching, the ideal world he had held in his heart so long ago.