“Huh? What do you mean by that? The two of them were the only people who were left unchecked. Fine, but what does that have to do with divine punishment?”
Killian expressed his puzzlement with widened eyes. Vincent answered in an even quieter voice.
“Do you not find it weird? The phenomenon continued to head towards our duchy until just a few days ago. Even the Seyrod territory, which is located adjacent to our territory, was afflicted with it. But it disappeared like a lie. Exactly after Miss Reiner and the 7th regiment knight entered our duchy.”
It certainly was quite strange.
But Killian had his doubts.
“I understand what you want to say. But we have not heard anything about the divine punishment appearing in any of the villages in our duchy, right?”
“That is correct.”
Vincent replied with a nod. Killian went off on Vincent's confirmation.
“According to your words, the divine punishment should have affected Lowpool as well. But…”
“There is one thing you are forgetting about, Sir Killian.”
“What do you mean by that?”
Killian asked with a frown, and Vincent answered after shifting his gaze to the side.
“Our Pendragon Duchy is protected by a certain presence. Even a god would find it hard to create trouble here.”
Killian’s eyes slowly grew with understanding as he turned his gaze towards where Vincent was looking - The seat located at the head of the hall, or more precisely, behind the throne where only the monarch could sit. There hung a large military flag embroidered with the symbol of a dragon.
Killian uttered in a low voice, and Vincent nodded in response.
“That is correct. Our duchy is being protected by Lord Soldrake. As such, all the evil creatures and monsters went into hiding in the deep valleys and caves after the lord succeeded in establishing a contract with Lord Soldrake.”
“The same is true with the phenomenon we call the divine punishment. It is not a god’s will to make people sick and bring death without a reason. Even if it is, the god must be an evil one. However, even if they are an evil god, it will be difficult for them to fully exert their power in the land of Soldrake, an olden brother of the gods and Queen of All Dragons. That is why our duchy has managed to avoid the divine punishment.”
“Hmm, I see what you mean. But I think your words are still questionable. If what you say is true, there must be a connection between the divine punishment and Miss Reiner. But there is no conclusive evidence, right?
Vincent nodded with a grim expression in response to Killian’s words.
“That is correct. That is why I am telling Sir Killian to keep a close eye on Miss Reiner. She is not ordinary by any means.”
Killian’s gaze headed towards Serin, who was seated at the head table.
Two people he acknowledged - Vincent and Argos - said similar things on the same day regarding the same person. He certainly could not pass it off as a coincidence. However, he could not just openly monitor or arrest Serin Reiner.
She was the companion of Elkin Isla after all.
“I will let the Royal Guards know for now. I will make sure to keep an eye on the 7th regiment knight that accompanied her here whenever I have the chance.”
“All right. I will ask the intelligence team to closely examine her and the 7th regiment knight’s track record. We might discover something new.”
Killian turned around after nodding. He crossed the hall and spoke to a few Royal Guards. Then, several of them moved towards a spot where they could clearly observe the head table.
After confirming their movement, Vincent turned around and fixated his gaze upon Serin. She was seated beside Elena with a strange expression. It was impossible to tell what she was thinking.
‘Who you really are… and why you came to the duchy… I will definitely find out.’
The advisor of the Pendragon Duchy did not take his eyes off Serin Reiner. His eyes blazed with determination and tension.
“It is blazing today as well.”
A farmer wiped off his sweat on a small cart pulled by a mule.
He grabbed the reins of the creature and recoiled as the cart rattled on the rough road. The road was a complete mess due to the recent downpour. About two weeks ago, it had rained nonstop for three entire days.
Although the water had drained, the ground was still dangerous due to the various bumps and holes. Passage through the road had been forbidden until yesterday due to the unstable conditions. In addition, not many people traveled through this road, so even though the blockade was lifted, it had been left in a messy condition.
As it slowly neared dusk, the road became even spookier. The village located at the foot of the mountain was only a short distance away, but the farmer felt a bit anxious.
“I should hurry. Come on, giddy up!”
After traveling on the same road for more than a decade, he knew there were no bandits nearby. However, he pulled the reins due to an unknown sense of anxiety. However, the old mule ignored its master’s commands and leisurely clopped forward while shaking its butt.
“Phew, it’s not like I can sell this old animal anywhere… Hmm?”
The farmer complained about the mule, then became surprised. In the far distance, he could see the back of someone walking along the meandering road.
Although it was a shortcut, not many people used this path very often. Rather, they used the official road below the mountain. In addition, the farmer had never seen anyone tread the path on their feet rather than riding on horses or carriages in over a decade. It would take four or more days to pass through this mountainous path on foot.
He licked his lips and carefully observed the figure’s back as the distance narrowed.
But there was something strange.
The lone passerby was walking much too slow. Moreover, they were walking in a weird fashion, struggling like a drunk or a sick person.
“Oh my! Oof!”
In the end, the figure collapsed to the ground. The farmer exclaimed before pulling on the reins of the donkey once more.
“You stinky animal! Hurry!”
Finally, the mule neighed before picking up a little speed. After a short while, the farmer finally arrived before the passerby. The figure was struggling to get back on their feet, and the farmer hurriedly jumped out of his cart.
“Hey! Are you all right?”
The farmer leaned down to help the figure, then widened his eyes in shock.
“Huh! W, what is this…?”
He wasn’t shocked at the torn clothes and the mud and grass that decorated the figure’s attire. Instead, he was shocked at the numerous wounds that decorated the person’s body. It would not be strange if the figure died immediately.
“H, hey. Stand up first and… Heuk!”
The farmer attempted to help up the incredibly light figure, then froze on the spot. As the figure struggled to turn their head towards him, the farmer realized that their ears were twice as long as ordinary humans and had pointed ends.
Although he lived out his entire life in the countryside, he wasn’t completely oblivious to the world. He recognized the identity of the injured figure.
The farmer fumbled with shock, and the elf slowly opened her dry lips.
“To the Pendragon… Duchy…”
After struggling to speak a single phrase, the elf’s head drooped lifelessly.
“H, hey! Get a hold of yourself!”
The farmer shook the elf’s limp body, not knowing what to do. He had seen an elf for the first time in his life, and it was a dying one to boot.
But Eltuan, the warrior of Red Moon Valley, had been walking with all her might for nearly fifteen days. She could not wake up.
Everyone bowed their heads after moving to the side of the road as a group of knights passed through the imperial road. Although they were not holding flags, all of them were similarly armed and had extraordinary gazes. In addition, they were near the capital. Nobles frequently passed through, and if they happened to catch the eyes of high-ranking nobles in the wrong way, they could be in a lot of trouble.
The dozen-or-so riders passed by the people at a speed that was neither fast nor slow. Once the dust settled, the passersby raised their heads, put on their hats, then began murmuring among themselves.
“Don’t you think a lot of knights are heading to the capital these days?”
“I know, right? The lords and nobles of the nearby areas seem busier than usual for some reason as well.”
“Ah, it’s all because His Highness is going back to the imperial castle after a long time.”
One peddler stepped up and spoke knowingly.
“That is right. He is heading to the imperial castle after punishing the traitors in the South along with His Excellency Duke Pendragon.”
“What a great thing. If something went wrong, we might have been caught up in a huge war as well.”
Some people voice their consent while nodding. Someone spoke out in a cautious voice.
“But the Duke of Arangis died, did he not? In Leus to boot.”
The rumor of Duke Arangis’ death had already circulated among the common people as well. Of course, what happened in the world of nobles was none of their concern, but the death of an imperial duke was significant enough to be the topic of discussion.
“I heard that Duke Pendragon and His Highness are in a very precarious position because of it… I hear some of the high lords are openly criticizing them.”
“So is that why the number of nobles heading to the capital increased…?”
The passersby nodded their heads.
“Hmph! What does it matter? We have nothing to do with the high-ranking officials anyways! I just hope we can eat well and live well this year as well!”
“That’s true. Hoho!”
The crowd grinned and nodded at the words of a man. Then they resumed walking while talking about this and that.
But they did not know.
The group of knights that passed by them was none other than Duke Pendragon and Prince Ian, and their fate, or rather, the fate of the entire empire, rested in the palm of the two men…
“How much longer?”
Raven asked. Ian, who was riding his horse right next to Raven, replied.
“Three days. If we speed up a bit more and change horses at the next stop, perhaps a day and a half. But I wonder if there is any purpose in going faster than we are now.”
Raven nodded as he observed the surroundings with cold, sunken eyes. After a direct confrontation with Jamie Roxan and the other high lords in the Great Territory of Miles, the group revised their plan to meet all the nobles of the great territories on their way to the imperial castle.
Since they had an unscheduled meeting with Jamie Roxan, who was the representative of those who opposed Raven and Ian, there was no purpose in meeting with the others. Unless he was a fool, Jamie Roxan would have contacted the lords close to him and called for a unified front.
In the end, Raven and Ian had nothing to gain from meeting the other lords. It would only be awkward. But not every great territory was against them, so Raven and Ian wrote letters to several high lords, including High Lord Count Bresia of Sisak and a few others who were favorable towards them.
In particular, Prince Ian sent a handwritten letter to Count Bresia to offer congratulatory remarks and to celebrate the relationship between his daughter, Sophia, and Leo. In addition, he declared his intention to give full support to the Great Territory of Sisak in the letter as well.
The letter was then stamped with the seal of a ring only given to the direct lineage of the royal family. Although it was a pity they could not journey together until the end, Leo and Sophia could not hide their joy as they headed to Sisak.
With a handwritten letter from a royal prince and the support of Duke Pendragon, the two could be united even if the sky collapsed.
“By the way, I heard there are suspicious movements from the Great Territory of Alice.”
“That they are rallying their troops? Hmm…”
A glimmer flashed in Raven’s eyes.