<A Message from the translator:> Woah, haven’t worked on this novel in a while. It’s almost been a whole year since the last chapter was released, but it’s back! I’m pretty sure everyone forgot whatever happened before, but luckily we’re introduced to a new scene and new characters here, so it’s not too jarring. But, if a summary of what previously happened is needed, I’ll write on in the comments.
1-5. At the Center of the Imperial Capital
The sound of orderly footsteps echoed through the clear, stone palace. The pace belonged to a military man, but he was wearing sandals instead of the usual military wear. His steady steps were brisk yet contained no hints of impatience or irritation.
The black-haired man sitting at the emperor’s desk heard these sounds and smiled to himself. His eyes the color of burnt umber glinted in excited anticipation for the guest as he thought, “Here he comes. Here he comes.” As he had expected, the guards at the entrance saluted the owner of the footsteps before this man briskly entered the room. This young man had dark blond hair, and his well-featured face contained a serene beauty.
The black-haired man looked at the young man with an amused face before performing an exaggerated bow.
“I’ve been waiting for you, my friend. Thanks for coming.”
Even to those welcoming words, the young man responded with just a frown. After the two silently stared at each other, the seated man shrugged in resignation and stood up. The young man sat in the opened seat and said frankly with neither a critical nor sarcastic tone.
“If you were going to sit here, you might as well help me finish up my work.”
The black-haired man leaned against the backside of the chair and let out a sarcastic laugh.
“Then, would you do my job for me instead? Of course, looking at the job scopes, the emperor should be able to handle both his role and that of the commander. But if that happens, the imperial capital will fall in a day.”
“One day is harsh.”
“Fine. Half a day?”
The blond emperor furrowed his brow at this ridicule, but he wasn’t angry and let out a small sigh. The commander’s tone turned into sincere as he apologized.
“It’s a wonder, Valis. You’re smart and have spent time in the army corps. Yet, I can’t understand why you’re clueless when it comes to military affairs.”
“A general had once said, ‘The reality behind combat is not theory but intuition.’ If you cannot obtain it through effort, then there are no other means. That’s why I leave it to you, General Grause.”
The way he ended by addressing the black-haired man felt slightly formal. The man, sensing what this meant, put on a serious face.
“Yes, I’ll fulfill my duty well. Leave it to me. …I have some news—there appears to be some movement in the north.”
“In the Vitia Providence? Is it the 8th Army Corps?”
“Yeah. The commander is Dirgius. They are reorganizing, training, and gathering massive amounts of supplies.”
“He intends to head south, huh.”
Valis muttered, and Grause nodded. Even for the suppression of internal conflicts within the providence, there would be no need for that much. He was most likely preparing to cross the mountains.
The issue was what will happen afterward. Would he head west or east? Depending on the direction, the scales will greatly tip.
“We must bring him to our side.”
Valis quietly said, causing Grause’s face to turn salty. The general didn’t really respond, so the emperor turned his umber eyes towards the man. And with it a slight hint of amusement.
After a short silence, Grause let out a sigh of resignation.
“I don’t like it, but now is not the time to be picky.”
Although he agreed, he asked a question housing a glimmer of hope.
“Just to be sure, but is there really no hope for Elecia?”
“She’s unapproachable. Compromise has long been out of reach. Though even I can see how much easier it’ll be to concentrate and fight the enemy with a beauty providing support.”
The emperor had rarely told jokes, but Grause shook his head.
“Valis… this isn’t a laughing matter. After working under Dirgius for a year when he was in the main country, I can say that I cannot be at ease with him as an ally. He has no outstanding talent or popularity; he is merely a mass of ambition. The best he could do is go head first and buy us some time. Oh, have you found Cenate yet?”
After that short response, the two fell silent.
Cenate Aedius Nenais—the name of the adopted son of the previous emperor Fedoras and the current successor to the throne.
The best thing that could happen would be if they found the corpse of this boy. If they did, they could silence the Dragon Lord Cenate Austra who had been demanding for his grandson to assume the imperial throne. And if he was alive, they would need to secure him and regrettably use him as a bargaining chip.
However, why haven’t they discovered any signs of the boy even after the whole year had passed since the change in emperors?
“Did he fly through the sky or burrow into the ground? Sigh, how vexing.”
“I highly doubt a single child could survive in hiding by himself. There should be someone guiding and sheltering him.”
Grause looked up while Valis glared at the top of his desk and groaned. However, even if they say all of this, it wasn’t like Cenate would just appear in front of them. Grause recollected himself and resumed speaking.
“Leaving the matter of Cenate’s whereabouts to the soldiers, what shall we do about Dirgius? Do we send a messenger or wait for movement from his side? We probably have until next spring to make a decision. I doubt that he will cross the mountains before winter. This means that while it might be easier for him to head south to wait for winter, he might not be able to procure supplies without first procuring allies. Knowing Dirgius, he would be unable to put up with this inconvenience and unwilling to gamble.”
“Yeah. In that case, shall we first send an official letter and dangle some bait in front of him? We’re still keeping an eye out to the east and west, but if they move, it’ll be simultaneously. Let’s increase our forces at Costom at the south of the mountain range as well as keep an eye out for any attacks from Nackte and movements from Dirgius. I’ll leave the details to you.”
“Everything as your heart desires, Your Majesty.”
Grause performed an exaggerated bow. After taking note of the emperor’s frown, he continued to be dramatic and raised a finger.
“I have something else I would like to address to you.”
“A dragon has appeared to the north.”
Grause had said as apathetic as throwing out some beans as he opened both arms. Although Valis raised an eyebrow, he wasn’t taken aback, only nodding in acknowledgment.
“That is within my expectations. Dirgius had been quite blatant with his desire to raise his own country, so such a rumor is to be expected.”
“No, it’s not Dirgius.”
“I don’t know. According to the rumors, a dragon had rescued a soldier out from a predicament. But, no one has actually seen the place or the dragon. While it is believable that it may be an embellished tale, at the very least, it doesn’t say that Dirgius is the Dragon Lord.”
Valis was silent as the tale was told to him and slightly shook his head after a while.
“What do you mean?”
“I had expected after rumors of Elecia have been spread, other people would be claiming they’ve seen dragons or they’re Dragon Lords in various regions. Dirgius must have missed the opportunity to call himself a Dragon Lord before the rest of the citizen’s rumor spread. Now that the empire’s reputation had been dragged through the mud, using the power of a dragon is more effective than the emperor’s name.”
The emperor said as his mouth twisted in self-mockery, so Grause looked down on him and said with a conflicted look.
“Then, would you like to try calling yourself a Dragon Lord instead of the emperor?”
“How ridiculous,” Valis promptly rejected. “Such thinking will lead to everyone raising their own Dragon Lord nation around the land. We’ll regress to the Dark Ages. My father Genas understood this danger. That was why he placated the Dragon Lords and aristocrats to diminish their power. But, it was clear that his methods were wrong and his eyes and reason were clouded.”
“If the will and reason why my ancestor decided to call himself the emperor rather than a Dragon Lord were to be revived in this day and age, the empire shall fall. Have you realized it, Grause? While we’re preoccupied with internal strife, we’ll be oblivious to the situation to the north, east, west, and even remote areas of the land. Only vague and unreliable rumors will reach our ears. Think of it as being ignorant to having your limbs ripped off while your heart is the only thing that remains pulsating, and the day that heart stops pumping isn’t too far from now.”
Valis’ voice was gloomy yet frank in this prediction. His shoulders were clearly weighed down by this burden.
But, Grause suddenly smiled and placed his hand on the emperor’s shoulders as if to take up that burden.
“That’s why we’re here to prevent that, right?”
The emperor slowly nodded and the corner of his mouth finally rose into a smile. He recollected himself, quickly organized the documents on his desk, and filled and signed them as he read them. When he finished them, he stood up from his seat.
“Now, we just need to face off against those annoying folks. It’s unfortunate that I cannot have you take my place in that battle.”
“All my battle feats are yours, Your Majesty.”
Grause performed a dramatic bow and sarcastically laughed. Although the Council of Dragon Lords was abolished back during Genas’ reign, a council consisting of aristocrats who weren’t Dragon Lords and representatives for the citizens continued. Currently, it was the only place for political deliberation in the country.
“If the cost for war increases, we’ll have to resort to raising taxes and reducing budgets. This year’s theater festival has already been downsized, but storekeepers are continually grumbling about profit margins. And there’ll be even more as council members present will fan those flames.”
“While that may be true, but I don’t think that implies that you should be so frugal.”
Grause sympathized but still added a jab as he touched the long cloth covering the emperor. While it was clean, it was also obviously worn as seen from the ragged edges.
Valis also looked down and silently shrugged his shoulders.
“People need a visual example, Grause. The sight of the emperor wearing cheap clothes should be enough. I need to be prepared for this level of discomfort if I am to provide for the people’s voices. Then, I’ll leave the matter of the north to you.”
The emperor said that and left the room alone. His steps were flowing and steady as usual.
Grause watched the man’s back disappear before leaving the room to face with his own foes.
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