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Chapter 2, Episode 22: Bloodlust
Not a single thing obstructs the sunlight pouring down from the now clear blue sky.
Heat spreads all throughout the surface like a network of roots, draining away the vitality of all the living creatures.
The earth looks like an endless stretch of sand— You can tell anything resembling a cool breeze is nonexistent here.
This is the Lichtein Dukedom— a country dominated by a scorching hot desert.
We’re yet to know what will be said of this place by future generations, but for now, it is the location of a nameless battlefield— a place where a war is about to come to an end.
There are soldiers in orderly lines with faces full of vitality. They are wearing armor tempered by the special techniques of craftsmen, and have swords and spears in hand, kept well maintained for the sole purpose of killing.
They are warriors born for battle. They are an elite group who train day in and day out for that one purpose— They are the protectors of the southern region of the Grantz Grant Empire, the Fourth Imperial Army.
At their center— At a heavily guarded headquarters was the commanding officer, Liz, and her staff officer, Hiro.
Liz lifted her hand to shade her eyes from the overwhelming glare of the sun. Her gaze was pointed at a group of flags with crests on them.
「The crest of the Kelheit house… Is that my sister? But why is she here?」
Her confusion is understandable. It would take the eastern nobles a considerable number of days to come here passing through the territory of the southern nobles. And with this number of soldiers, all the more so.
Hiro approached the bewildered Liz to answer her, but she noticed his presence and spoke up first.
「Hiro, my sister’s here.」
「Is that how it looks to you too, Liz?」
「Well, yeah. There are so many flags of the eastern nobles…」
「Hehe, that’s true. There really are a lot of the eastern nobles’ flags.」
Liz looked at Hiro, but…
「… What’s with that face?」
Seeing the young boy holding back a laughter, she knit her neatly trimmed eyebrows in response.
Hiro places his hand over his mouth to hold back his laughter.
His action only irritated Liz even more, and she puffed her cheeks a bit.
After apologizing, Hiro asked her a question.
「By the way, can you tell how many there are?」
「… Umm—, I think about 3,000.」
He seemed disappointed, but he answered her while thinking how adorable she was for replying honestly.
「Actually, there are 500.」
「What do you mean?」
「It just looks like a large army. And the reinforcements aren’t the eastern nobles. They’re the private soldiers of Margrave Grinda who I had lie in ambush beforehand.」
「They’re Uncle’s private soldiers?」
「But those coats of arms belong to the eastern nobles.」
「I asked them to just send us their flags ahead of time.」
「So, just the flags belong to the eastern nobles, and the soldiers there are from Uncle’s private army?」
「Yup. I think it went well for an improvised plahh!」
His cheeks are suddenly pinched and the end of his sentence comes out funny.
「So you were grinning like a fool while you saw I was confused, is that right?」
「And were you satisfied?」
While he was searching for the right words, Liz spoke quickly.
「I’m very hurt. I request an apology.」
「Very well. Buy me something as an apology, okay?」
After poking his cheeks, she quickly removed her hands.
「If it’s not too expensive…」
「Eh, don’t you have a lot of money, Hiro?」
「That’s… something I have to save for later.」
He has to save the money he received from the widow of the Kelheit house for the future.
First of all, he has to secure a private army, and he has to be sure not to spend his money rashly so he can pay their wages. He parted with a considerable sum of money for this operation, but he plans to seek its repayment from the Lichtein Dukedom. He has to refrain from any unnecessary expenses.
「You don’t have to worry. I don’t think it was too expensive.」
There’s no telling what 『too expensive』 means to an Imperial family member.
So there’s no harm in having a safetynet. With the mental state of a deadbeat husband, Hiro muttered.
「If it’s not some sort of jewel…」
「No, no. Jewels don’t look good on me anyway.」
Liz laughed and waved her hand side to side.
Hiro asks,「are you sure?」, and tilts his head as he observes Liz.
Although she still has a childish youth about her, her cheerful smile reminds you of a flower in full bloom, and surely anyone would sigh in admiration at her well proportioned body. There’s no doubt that if she weren’t in the military, every man in the world would be trying to draw her interest.
(Thinking about it… I guess only certain jewels would look good on her.)
There’s no need to dress her up— Anyone would agree with that point.
If she wore it, even a pebble from the fireplace would probably look like a jewel.
「Then, should we go to Links once things have settled down?」
「It’s a promise. I’ll make you swallow 「Laevateinn」if you’re lying.」
「Haha… That would kill me.」
「It’s okay, you’ll just end up with some heartburn.」
There was someone watching these two as they have their friendly conversation— Second grade enlisted officer Doryx.
「Watching them from afar like this, they look like a normal boy and girl…」
One of them is a young girl who was chosen by one of the Five Imperial Spirit Swords, and the other is a descendant of the Second Emperor.
Do those two understand what that means exactly?
「At the very least, the world would probably praise this as the second coming of 「Kerukeion」」
TL note: Kanji is twin star kings. The reading might be the Greek word for caduceus, a staff carried by Hermes.
A nickname which extols both First Emperor Altius and Second Emperor Schwartz.
After a long period of a 1,000 years, these two bloodlines are about to come together once more.
After acquiring a wise man by the name of Schwartz, First Emperor Altius was able to gain supremacy.
Not only does Sixth Imperial Princess Liz have her own unique form of ingenuity as well, but she’s also added a noble descendant of the Second Emperor to her ranks.
Doryx thinks to himself about how things have gotten interesting.
The fact that that First Imperial Prince added an elf to his ranks is still fresh in mind, and after the Third Imperial Prince acquired the talented woman known as the second coming of 「Mars」, he began to gain many achievements.
「Will this lead to prosperity or decline…? I suppose it will depend on his Majesty the Emperor’s direction.」
The struggle for succession will likely intensify hereafter. If he deals with it poorly, it could turn into the embers of a large uprising, which will mean division for the great empire.
He turned around and saw a messenger kneeling.
「What is it?」
「We have captured both the Lichtein Dukedom’s commander, Count Karl, and General Ranquil.」
「Well done. Be sure they are treated with care.」
After waiting for the messenger to take off, Doryx approaches Hiro and kneels.
「Your Highness Hiro, it seems we have captured the commander of the Lichtein Dukedom.」
「Let’s begin negotiations right away. Please prepare a tent.」
「Understood. I will prepare one right away.」
Doryx bowed once more, turned around, and began preparations.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
When he sat in his chair, Ranquil was at the height of confusion. Karl, sitting next to him, is probably feeling the same way. He wears an inexplicable expression, but it seems he’s uncomfortable.
It’s only natural. No matter the time or place, being treated as a prisoner of war is obviously a miserable experience.
However, they were not abused, nor were they treated violently.
While their weapons were confiscated, they were not bound up. They were escorted like honored guests and brought to a tent that was cool, despite being in a desert that felt like it was in the middle of summer.
「Please wait a moment.」
Said the two soldiers who brought them there as they politely left.
With the presence of the enemies gone in the tent, Karl opened his mouth to speak.
「What do you think is the meaning of this?」
「I believe it’s best to assume they are plotting something.」
Is what he said, but Ranquil rubbed his chin and groaned.
He was unable to solve this baffling mystery.
To begin with, the enemy has no need to plot anything. Because if they erase these two, the Lichtein Dukedom would collapse. Many of the nobles would betray their nation, inviting chaos to their country. That would cause thieves and bandits to rampage about, and eventually, they would be overrun with monsters.
「I wonder if they want our territory?」
「They’ll probably demand it, but that isn’t enough of a reason for this.」
Ranquil dismisses his assumption.
If they wanted territory, all they would need to do is kill Ranquil and Karl, and just take the places that they wanted. It’s sad to say, but once Ranquil is gone, there would be no nobles left with any backbone to recapture stolen territory. In fact, they probably wouldn’t put up an ounce of resistance and choose a path of surrender.
「Even if we are defeated, there is no need to become servile. If they make any unreasonable demands, I don’t mind if you refuse.」
Karl lowered his face and his expression was twisted in anguish. He’s probably afraid of displeasing the enemy and receiving judgement. Ranquil realized this, but there was no reason to point it out.
There is the fact that he feels responsibility for their loss, but for the sake of the future, he wants Karl to grow through various experiences. Because there are still many storms to be weathered for the country, both internally and from outside forces, when he’s pressed to make an important decision, Ranquil may not be there. While it may be difficult to call this situation fortuitous, it should be a perfect chance for him grow and help him become a leader who won’t be cajoled by the nobles around him.*
「I will leave everything to you. I will abide by your decisions.」
Though hesitant, Karl nodded at Ranquil, whose eyes were burning with a powerful light.
It’s uncertain how much time has passed after it fell silent, but the water placed before them was now lukewarm. He tried holding the water in their mouth before drinking it to test it for poison, but there was no smell or any reactions.
He never thought there was poison in there to begin with, but because of threats like assassinations throughout many years, this has become an ingrained habit and he has grown suspicious of many things.
Right as a bitter smile forms on his face— the sound of nimble footsteps shook his eardrums.
The first to enter the tent was a young girl in a Grantz Grand Empire military uniform and a formal coat.
It was his first time seeing her, but because she was as beautiful as the rumors portrayed her to be, he knew she was the new commanding officer of the Fourth Imperial army, the Sixth Imperial Princess.
But that’s not why Ranquil knits his brows. It was because he saw the crimson sword hanging from her waist.
(An Imperial Spirit Sword, is it… It’s my first time actually seeing one, but I see. I sense an extraordinary presence.)
Then, he looked back and forth between the Imperial princess and the crimson sword, and he understood the feeling of those that praised her as 「Valdite」.
Most of all, as expected of one who was chosen by a spirit weapon, she wears an aura of a ruler unnatural for her age.
People like this are fearsome because they begin to change without notice. But her flames are still weak, and it doesn’t seem like her gifts have bloomed yet.
And so, Ranquil comes to the conclusion that she is not the one who drove him into a corner.
After seeing the young boy who entered the tent next, Ranquil was at a loss for words.
Over a set of an old Grantz Grand Empire military uniform, he wears a black cloth with dragon designs on the shoulders.
He is a young boy with an eyepatch covering half his face. One of his eyes is hidden, but…
It is one of the world’s three great hidden eyes, and it is also called 「Baldick」. It is a physical characteristic of those from legends, and can also be considered an attribute of heroes.
Ranquil is a given, but there isn’t a single person in this world who does not know of this.
There is only one in this world with the attribute of twin black. Or to put it accurately, there was only one.
Even if one does not know the name of this emperor of the Grantz Grant Empire, they would know the name of 「Mars」.
It is his first time seeing 「Baldick」, which only remained in folktales.
(There’s no end to these surprises… To think that a descendant truly existed.)
Setting Ranquil’s confusion aside, the young girl walked towards the table and smiled courteously.
「I am the commanding officer of the Fourth Imperial Army of the Grantz Grant Empire, Sixth Imperial Princess Celia Estreya Elizabeth von Grantz.」
The young girl stated her name and sat in a chair.
「I am a staff officer of the Fourth Imperial Army of the Grantz Grand Empire. My name is Hiro Schwartz von Grantz, the Fourth Imperial Prince.」
Ranquil gets the sense he’s not being given a chance to speak. Although he is smiling, it’s like he’s observing them from deep within his eye, and an eerie presence comes flying out from it. His dark eye, which was encroaching on every corner of his heart, was an abyss which seemed to suggest that any form of speculation was pointless.
Karl and Ranquil also quickly introduce themselves and look away to escape Hiro’s sharp, discerning eye. Ranquil comes to the realization that 「Uranus」 is more troublesome than he had heard it to be.
The third person to enter, a staff officer— one who introduced himself as Second grade enlisted officer Doryx, handed them two pieces of parchment paper.
「Once you’ve looked this over, we’d like your signatures.」
The parchment paper read as follows—
The Lichtein Dukedom cedes their northern region to the Grantz Grand Empire.
Furthermore, the Lichtein Dukedom will take responsibility for the cost of munitions and other expenditures of the Grantz Grand Empire during this war.
Both the Lichtein Dukedom and Grantz Grand Empire agree to a three year pact of nonaggression hereafter.
Should any event arise which threatens the safety of the Grantz Grand Empire, the Lichtein Dukedom gives the Grantz Grand Empire the right to occupy any of their territory.
(It’s not bad… There is little we reap from the northern region, and we’ll lose one oasis city, but it isn’t a great loss. It’s troublesome that the Grantz Grand Empire is intervening under the pretext of worsening public order, but there are ways we can use this to our advantage. The reparations… we can probably sell the previous duke’s personal belongings which he’s accumulated to pay for that.)
After wrapping up his thoughts, Ranquil exchanges looks with Karl.
Karls nods, as if he was thinking the same thing, and is about to open his mouth to speak, but…
「In addition to that…」
The black haired young boy— Hiro placed his hand on the table and tapped his finger.
「This will be a verbal promise, but if the Schteizen Republic tries to invade the Lichtein Dukedom after this, it would be possible for us to send you reinforcements if you take care of the military expenses.」
「… Is that true?」
Karl rises halfway to his feet from his chair and asks.
Like they say, things are easier said than done— Matters like these are not so simple.
Because if the Schteizen Republic really did come to attack them, and if the Grantz Grand Empire sent reinforcements, it may open hostilities between the two countries. But it should be true that the Grantz Grand Empire wants to avoid any troublesome affairs before Ferzen is able to regain stability.
「Yes, if you so wish.」
But the Fourth Imperial Prince of the Grantz Grand Empire is saying it’s possible.
「But don’t you have your hands full with Ferzen? Even if it is a verbal agreement, is it okay for you to make such promises at your own discretion?」
「It’s okay. The Grantz Grand Empire will not waver due to such trivial matters.」
Hiro smiled at Karl, sending a chill down Ranquil’s spine.
He can tell he’s plotting something. But his thoughts are hidden in darkness, making it difficult to probe them.
「If you agree, can we have you sign?」
Hiro’s extended hand points to the parchment.
There isn’t enough time to search for this man’s intentions. If he tries to buy time, no doubt he’ll make an unreasonable demand.
After seeing Karl grab the pen in his peripherals, Ranquil let out a small sigh and signed. As they extend the parchment after signing them, Hiro takes them and verifies the signatures. Then, after exchanging a few words with the Sixth Imperial Princess, he hands the parchment to the staff officer waiting beside them.
A brief moment of silence descends upon them, but Ranquil’s voice breaks that silence.
「Do you mind if I ask you something?」
Hiro’s eye points towards Ranquil.
「I don’t mind. Is something bothering you?」
「Your siege battle which defeated us was magnificent. If I’m not mistaken, that was the same plan I tried to use on the Fourth Imperial Army.」
Ranquil’s plan was to first avoid the Fourth Imperial Army by making them think they were making a steady advance using lightly guarded forts as bait, and draw them deep into their territory. Then he was going to pit them against the slave liberation army, and surround them once they were exhausted.
In contrast, Hiro’s plan was to dangle supply trains as bait, make them think they were in an advantageous position, and create a situation from which they could not escape before surrounding the exhausted Lichtein Dukedom’s army.
The more he thought about it, while the conditions were different, it was the same in nature to Ranquil’s plan.
「And that’s when I started to question it, whether it was a plan you prepared beforehand… or if you decided to use this same plan to show me the difference in our abilities. I would like to learn from you for future reference.」
After pretending to think about it, Hiro opened his mouth.
「I’m sorry if you take offense to this, but once I heard the reports regarding the activities of the Lichtein Dukedom’s army, I knew the plan you would employ. The moment I decided to apply the same plan— was after I joined with the Fourth Imperial Army.」
「After you joined…? Was that when General Kielo was still the commanding officer?」
「Exactly. Because I didn’t know the condition of the Fourth Imperial Army, I didn’t know what sort of plan would be necessary.」
The young boy avoided saying it outloud, but it was probably both. It was one of the plans he prepared in advance, and no doubt he also decided to use the same plan to force Ranquil to surrender.
Looking at the silent Ranquil, Hiro spoke.
「Now then, a messenger will be dispatched from the department of military affairs later. If you have any questions, you can express them then.」
Hiro and the Sixth Imperial Princess stand from their seats. The Sixth Imperial Princes goes outside first, and Hiro is about to leave as well.
In a flustered voice, Ranquil called out to him.
「May I ask why you kept me alive? It may be odd for me to say this myself, but… despite my current situation, I am called the 「Wild Eagle of Change」 and am feared by the surrounding countries.」
This man praised as a hero— Ranquil swears revenge, and attacks the Grantz Grand Empire after rebuilding his country. There’s no way this wise young boy doesn’t realize this to be a possibility.
「I did lose this time, but there is a desire in me to fight you again to regain my pride. Putting that into consideration… I think you should kill me to prevent any future problems.」
Ranquil is a clever man, but at the same time, he isn’t so sensible a man as to just kneel to anyone. At this point, it may be no different from the cries of a sore loser, but even if he is to be scorned, he has to hear the reason why.
「Will you answer my question?」
Ranquil puts pressure on the throbbing wound on his face as he stares at the young boy’s back.
With a pale face, Karl rebukes him quietly.
If they offend this young boy, both their heads would immediately go flying. It’s likely that he is trying to tell him not to take this second chance at life for granted. In fact, Second grade enlisted officer Doryx was staring at them displeased. If he were in the young boy’s position, he might have announced Ranquil’s death on the spot, but it seems the Twin Black Prince was not such a small man.
「You’re a smart man. I’m sure you know what you should do.」
Hiro points at his own cheek and leaves. Second grade enlisted officer Doryx followed him silently.
Karl strokes his chest relieved and looks at Ranquil.
「General Ranquil, why would you say something like that all of a—… What’s the matter? You’re sweating so much.」
He knows even without being told. He is sweating profusely from all over his body.
The moment Hiro looked back at him, he was prepared to face death. That’s how intense his bloodlust was.
He looks at Karl, who is watching him concerned, and thinks.
(… So there’s only one path for the Lichtein Dukedom to survive.)
Karl is no match for Hiro. There are likely only a handful of people who can withstand that domineering aura of his.
(If he decides we’re of no use…)
He’s unable to forget the madness he saw through a gap in the young boy’s eye.
(That boy may come to kill us.)
Ranquil traces the wound on his cheek with a shaky finger.
This is a warning— a declaration that they can be killed at any time.
It was a warning and a curse. Not for the present, but for the future.