The Swallow Empire was one of the three big powers on the Igrant continent; its broad plains gave rise to its world-renowned horsemanship.
Lately, the Swallow Empire had been having an issue. Discussions were held daily inside the Imperial Palace in Svenu, the capital of the Swallow Empire. A middle-aged man sat on the throne before the arrayed nobility; his thick golden beard and droopy eyes gave off a pleasant, tranquil-as-could-be atmosphere. In contrast to Emperor Marcus, known as a despot and a tyrant, the emperor of Swallow was renowned as the greatest sage of all time.
“Your Majesty, now is the time to make a decision!” Duke Altsma, the commander of the north, had a sharply angled chin and gave off a striking impression.
“Your Majesty, Duke Altsma is correct.” A man in full plate armor stepped forward. “There’s a good chance that if we monitor our neighbors like this, things will turn out the way they want.”
Many of the nobles raised their voices when Duke Baxter, the man in armor, spoke up.
“Thran has been a vassal for a long time. There’s no need to calculate every move!”
“I’m worried that we’re going to give them a new reason to fight!”
“Give me the order, Your Majesty! I’ll go right now and take the reactionaries’ heads off!”
In the freezing north of the continent, the Swallow Empire was known for its aggressive inhabitants, in contrast to its unflinchingly pacifist emperor.
“Well…” The Emperor looked confused. “What does the Prime Minister think about this?”
A white-bearded old man approached to answer the Emperor. The Prime Minister was known as the sage of Swallow, and he had a keen sense for the country’s undercurrents.
“It’s only my personal opinion, sire, but we cannot remain insensitive to the activity of our neighboring countries—”
“Prime Minister! What are you trying to say? Are you implying we should just stay silent about those sly foxes?”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I said, Duke Altsma.” The Prime Minister rolled his eyes and sighed. “And please refrain from calling them ‘foxes.’ We are all aware of just how much power those two countries hold, just as we are aware of how much power we have.”
Duke Altsma’s face flushed red.
“Let me ask you: do you think you can defeat every kingdom on the continent, including Avalon and Hubalt, when you start a war?”
“Yes!” Duke Altsma’s reply was immediate—joyful, even. “Even if a million armies stood in my way, I know I can defeat them. Just grant me permission, Your Majesty.
“Even the Nine Stars—their standards are so low it’s not even funny! Those so-called ‘Absolutes’! ‘Titan of Avalon,’ Duke Aden von Agnus; ‘Knight of the Gods,’ Crysler Jean Sebastian. I don’t know who gave them those nicknames, but they’re awfully tacky.”
“Do you think Duke has a chance to beat them?”
Duke Altsma rolled his eyes and slapped his chest.
“Prime Minister! Just leave it to me,” he said with a confident nod. “Tomorrow, I’ll bring you their heads!”
The Prime Minister gave him a slight shake of his head. “You seem to be forgetting something: He and Grand Duke Lucifer are both part of the Nine Stars.”
“So? I’m talking about the other Nine Stars! Please don’t compare them.”
The Prime Minister could only shut his mouth and sigh. Apparently, words wouldn’t work. If the Duke didn’t want to see reason, there was nothing the Prime Minister could do about it. At the very least, they both wanted the best for the Empire.
“Enough… We all know how good the Duke of Altsma is.”
“Your Majesty?” Duke Altsma stared blankly at the Emperor.
“Tigers do their best even when catching rabbits because they know their prey—but didn’t you say it yourself? You’ve never met one of the Nine Stars.”
“I…” Duke Altsma’s face scrunched.
“Let’s say you’re confident enough to win, even if you don’t know your opponent,” the Emperor continued with a calm expression. “You do know that’s not called ‘confidence?’ That’s called ‘arrogance.’ You might be stronger than them, but so what? Even small animals can have tricks up their sleeves.
“Nor is it just the Duke’s problem if he loses. It will be a major national issue, as well as a serious setback for the Empire as a whole.”
“I apologize, Your Majesty. My thoughts were shallow.”
The Emperor just nodded as Duke Altsma back down.
“Prime Minister, I would like to hear your thoughts.”
“Yes, Your Majesty. I understand.” The Prime Minister cleared his throat and resumed speaking as if nothing had happened. “The other two kingdoms won’t be able to move quickly—that much is certain. Everything is under control, so we don’t need to worry about them for now.”
“On the other hand, the two empires can mobilize very quickly. We need special precautions for that. Hubalt, however, is occupied with tending to the new pope of the Holy Empire.”
The Emperor nodded thoughtfully. “Has it already taken place?”
Uniquely, the Holy Empire Hubalt had two rulers: the Emperor, who held absolute power, and the Pope, who had no particular powers but was symbolically significant. Hubalt had adopted this system in an effort to stand out, emulating the empires of old. Essentially, it was a grand play to gain popularity.
Every five years, the Hubalt Empire elects a new pope; this year happened to be that year.
“It allows us to concentrate a little more on Thran, but the issue is… Avalon.”
The Emperor sighed. Everyone knew it before the Prime Minister said anything.
It’s always like this… Like a mountain beyond a mountain again.
After a moment’s deliberation, the Emperor rose from his seat.
“We shall not make hasty actions so long as Thran has not made their move yet. Lords, be prepared for battle at any moment.”
The nobility voiced their agreement. With that, the meeting was adjourned. The Emperor was left alone with one person.
“Marco. Is it true that He is a major character in Thran?”
“Yes. He hasn’t shown up recently, but everyone acknowledges that he’s Thran’s ally in spirit.”
“Ulabis…” The Emperor stared out the window and shook his head disbelievingly. “Is it such a poor notion to wish for peace and happiness for the entire continent?”
“It takes a lot of strength to safeguard happiness.”
The Emperor’s forlorn eyes stared into space.
He was the greatest sage in the history of the Swallow Empire, revered by all of its people. His name was Veron belle Grace, 21st emperor of Swallow.
Is he connected to Icarus? Joshua grit his teeth angrily.
After Icarus left the room, an unwelcome visitor arrived and preached to Joshua.
“You have no idea what Raksha is like! If you think they’re just a bunch of kids playing pretend, you’re dead wrong! Their circle is not as simple as you think!” Agareth massages his temples— his typical dumb expression was nowhere to be found. “Do you think they’ll stop at just your academy life? No! You and your family will be in jeopardy if you keep this up. Even if you flee, they’ll hunt you down and torment you!
“I told you to be patient, Joshua. If you keep being stubborn, you’ll never make it out alive!” Agareth turned around, hands visibly shaking. “Do as I say, this time. Really, I’m trying to help you.”
Joshua burst out laughing. “What’s the matter with you?”
“I was asking if you were worried because something similar happened to your brother.”
“You—” Agareth bit his lip.
“You can run away if you’re scared; no one will judge you.”
Agareth stepped forward threateningly, mumbling curses under his breath.
“What do you know—”
“But!” Joshua met Agareth’s advance, causing the other boy to pause as Joshua approached. “The first time is difficult. Then, you get used to it. Then, you get bored. Then, it just becomes like clockwork.”
Joshua pressed in close to Agareth’s face, his words stabbing at him like a dagger to the heart.
“They’ll make you sorry,” Agareth shouted as Joshua walked out the door. “Their leader is Veron shen Villas—one of the Twelve Families!”
Joshua howled with laughter.
“What?” Agareth stared blankly at him.
“I said, it’s good that it’s Veron.”
The door shut firmly behind Joshua, leaving Agareth to stare blankly at the wall.
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