Richard nodded at Apeiron’s question, his attention brought back to a menu placed on the table in front of her. Dozens of dishes were written on it, a single page not enough to list them all, but it looked rather old. He recalled a rumour that the Emperor didn’t change the menu for years at a time during his rule.
“I haven’t looked around yet. Keep me company, the two of you,” the Empress said as she stood up. Pale gold light shining in from the window behind her, the silhouette of her face looked quite graceful and rather frail.
While Richard and even Julian himself were surprised, the former bowed slightly with perfect etiquette to acquiesce. Of course, the latter’s obedience was never in question; Julian would follow her anywhere across the endless void without hesitation.
The royal palace was enormous with hundreds of rooms of varying sizes, but Apeiron made sure to look at every single corner. Sometimes she hurried through the maze-like corridors, while other times she stood still without moving for minutes on end. She didn’t seem to have any appreciation for the rare artefacts, instead spending ages fiddling around with rusty iron helmets and weapons. It took some time, but Richard finally realised that she was stopping at all the bloody spoils of war that should have been placed by Emperor Philip; she was lingering around wherever he had stopped.
They continued to walk around throughout the day, only done when it was almost dinner. Apeiron ambled into Philip’s favourite dining hall to find dishes already laid out on the table, with the maids and a minister lying in wait. Taking a look around, she sized up the hall. Richard’s own gaze fell to the familiar food; this was the exact same meal the late Emperor had treated him to as a reward; the nearly raw dragon rib was a specialty he would never forget.
The Empress eyed up the minister, who flashed a charming smile and bent so low it seemed like his back would break, “Please eat, Your Majesty; the soup will turn cold soon. If you do not like the flavours, I will have things changed promptly! If you will it, I can cook myself so long as you don’t mind me being out of touch.”
“How many years have you been with Philip?” Apeiron asked softly, “I seem to remember you being in the palace even before I left.”
The minister froze, a hint of sadness flashing across his face that was quickly hidden away, “I had the fortune of being His Majesty’s aide for 29 years, Your Majesty.”
“29 years? That’s quite a long time. I heard Philip granted you an earldom, why are you still here?”
“His Majesty was injured soon after the land was conferred to me,” the minister explained, “I was afraid a new hire would not be attend to his tastes well.”
Apeiron nodded, “Then you’re a Marquess now, you’ll get more land from the imperial territories. You can retire after tonight.”
The minister immediately froze up once more, his head hanging low before he answered in a cracked voice, “Thank you… Your Majesty.”
“You’ll be taking his place,” Apeiron turned to Julian.
“It will be my honour!” Julian immediately puffed out his chest, seeming truly elated at being assigned the role of an aide.
The Empress sat at the head of the table and waved Richard over, “Take a seat, let’s eat together! This might be the last time we share a meal.”
Richard sat calmly and asked, “May I know the reason?”
Apeiron smiled, “This will be the only day I’m normal. By daybreak tomorrow, I’ll be back to how I was before.”
He didn’t press further. If she were willing to explain, she would. He was already on guard from her actions the day before, and this day of normality wouldn’t lull him into carelessness. He immersed himself in eating just like her, knowing that every dish here was amazing. Even now, one of these meals would be a considerable boost to his physique.
It was as though Apeiron hadn’t eaten in several lifetimes. The food disappeared down her mouth, the raw meat stuffed in so fast that she almost compared to Philip himself. The minister didn’t find this strange at all, while Julian stood solemnly by the side. Although his eyes glowed with desire for the dragon meat, he stood there without moving like a dog waiting for his master to throw him a bone.
The Empress ate and ate, but at some point her movements suddenly slowed down. In only a few minutes, she was staring blankly with a large helping of dragon meat in her mouth. The minister glanced at her from the side and saw a slight shimmer at the corner of her eyes, immediately ducking his head while afraid to look again.
Richard obviously noticed it as well, but he decided to pretend to not notice the tear as well. He continued to engross himself in eating, eyes focused on the steak as though the raw flesh was the prettiest of paintings. Apeiron eventually started eating again, but she had trouble ingesting the meat in her mouth. She chewed and chewed but was unable to swallow, eventually resorting to stuffing it down with her fork.
Richard continued to play ignorant to it all.
Having dealt with the food, Apeiron placed her fork and knife down and sat up, “Call all the concubines and the children back to the islands. No matter where they are now, they should be back by daylight tomorrow.”
“As you wish,” Julian bowed.
She then looked at Richard who was still eating with all his might, “Enough, stop pretending. You can’t eat anymore, can you? Just let it be.”
Richard sighed and put his cutlery down, looking back up to see Apeiron looking him in the eye, “You’re afraid of me?”
“Of course,” he answered honestly.
The Empress sighed, “You should be. Those who don’t know fear can’t tell the opponent’s true strength. So much stronger than Philip’s children, and a runemaster too, right? Who taught you?”
“Her Excellency Sharon,” he said briefly.
“Sharon?” Apeiron was surprised, “She hasn’t left the Deepblue yet? How is she?”
Before Richard could answer, Julian took a step forward and whispered something in her ear. He had clearly put in hard work to learn the current situation in the Sacred Alliance; while he was violent and acted like a dog, he was still useful for more than fighting.
The Empress listened to everything before looking back at Richard, her dark purple eyes suddenly lighting up as her expression changed, “You really are her student. Less than thirty, but you’ve already pushed the Deepblue Dream so far. You’re much stronger than that Voidbones or whatever he was.”
Richard’s gaze immediately turned cold, “You’ve met Voidbones?”
She nodded, “He lived in the Outlands for a while. He was quite the brat when he got there, but a few beatings brought him in line. It’s just that there aren’t many humans there, or even humanoids; I didn’t want to kill him. Julian’s been drooling over him for ages.”
“It’s common to starve for months at a time in the Outlands. Anything with meat is considered a delicacy,” Julian supplemented, expression not changing at all. It sounded rather trivial, but between the two Richard gained some understanding of the harsh conditions in the Outlands.
“You have a feud with him?” Apeiron suddenly asked.
“Yes,” Richard answered.
“Then you’re in trouble. He just reached Norland and is currently in the Deepblue. Apparently, Sharon is hibernating?”
Richard shot up, but then he calmly bowed, “Many thanks for the warning, Your Majesty. I will never forget this favour. Forgive me for being unable to accompany you; I need to head over immediately. Since he wants to die, I need to oblige him.”
The Empress actually smiled rather sweetly, “You’d be in trouble. He didn’t come alone, and judging from the aura the person that came with him would cause me trouble as well. You’re no match.”
“I appreciate your intentions, Your Majesty,” Richard said with a nod, “However, I need to leave regardless.”
“Then I won’t keep you,” she stated.
Richard immediately charged out of the palace and opened a short-distance portal, flashing over to the Archeron island and tapping Waterflower on the shoulder as he ran into his room. He didn’t have the time to explain the situation to his followers, so he immediately sounded the war horns.
Less than half an hour later, all hundred rune knights had assembled in full equipment. However, Richard was currently at the basement of the castle trying his best to get the portal to work. After countless failed attempts, he eventually had to conclude that the other end in the Deepblue was either destroyed or blocked. Turning around, he left the teleportation hall and told the guards, “Prepare wyverns, immediately! I want nine of the fastest ones in fifteen minutes!
“Waterflower, Nasia, you’re joining me!”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Translated By: Ying
Edited By: Theo
TLC'ed By: OMA