༺ Lake Granice (1) ༻
On the outskirts of Lake Granice.
A man stood at the bow of a cruise ship where about a dozen people were bustling about.
His golden hair and golden eyes were shining like the sun.
The heavily adorned knight’s uniform he wore, along with the red and black sword at his waist, clearly indicated his extraordinary status.
Was there a need to say more?
That person was Albrecht de Freich, the Second Prince of the Empire.
It was none other than him.
“Is that it?”
Albrecht’s golden eyes dimmed.
‘I don’t feel anything.’
Far off in the distance, there was a blurry flagpole at the edge of his sight.
Other than the fact that it was unusually standing alone in the middle of the lake, the flag didn’t seem particularly notable.
Albrecht felt puzzled by it.
‘Is it blocking the flow of magic?’
According to reports, a fortress larger than the Imperial Palace should be submerged beneath it.
And there should be an unknown enemy in that fortress.
The fastest way to confirm would have been to dive, but…
‘…there’s no need to take unnecessary risks.’
Albrecht soon gave up the idea.
What was most likely down there was Alaysia, one of the Ancient Species that had existed since the beginning and was aiming to destroy the continent.
As confident as Albrecht was in his abilities, he couldn’t afford to be careless when facing such an enemy.
“Has there been no other movement?”
“Yes, y-yes… It’s been the same for days. All we can see is that flagpole, and there’s been no changes, like the castle rising.”
The captain of the cruise ship explained while stammering, and he inwardly hoped.
Hoping that the Second Prince would quickly complete his business and return.
The captain wished to get away from this ominous place.
However, his wish was not fulfilled.
Albrecht was a knight.
Moreover, he was someone who loved himself as such.
The reason he came here was to identify the nature of the fortress, and since nothing had been clarified yet, there was no reason for Albrecht to retreat.
Albrecht stepped down from the bow of the ship and caught his breath.
‘Surely, they said that castle is alive.’
He recalled the details of the report he had received and continued to think.
‘If it’s alive, then there must be a Providence that makes it happen, especially if it’s a monster in the shape of a castle.’
Albrecht had a way to reveal its identity.
“Turn the ship around and move away from that flag.”
“The distance is… Yes, we should move about 300 meters away from our current position.”
The captain’s face, which had brightened after hearing the command to turn the ship, crumpled once again.
It couldn’t be helped.
The one issuing the command was the Second Prince of the Empire, and the captain was just a commoner. There was only one thing the captain could do.
“Turn the ship around!”
With the captain’s strong cry, the ship moved away from the flagpole.
Albrecht placed his hand on his sword and took a deep breath.
Then, he closed his eyes.
He recalled the trigger that overlaid his world upon this land.
Albrecht’s aura calmly surged.
His sword responded and began to resonate.
The Sword of the Emperor.
The Ruler of All Flows.
The Purest Bloodline.
The sword, with its many names, became etched in his mind with a single flow to its rightful owner.
Albrecht imbued his aura into the flow enveloping him.
Slowly, he opened his eyes.
Above his line of sight, there was an overlapping world.
It was the world of Providence that made up this land, and a realm only those who have reached a certain level could access.
‘I still can’t see it.’
Even through the realm of Intention, the lake remained calm.
A calm lake, the flagpole rising above it, and the wind.
‘…Even the flow of mana is calm.’
If the reports were accurate, the visible world should have shown some sign of disturbance.
Albrecht’s world expanded.
It was a desperate attempt to catch even the smallest disturbance.
He peered into the world beneath the lake.
Below the calm surface, the bottom of the lake still didn’t reveal anything.
As his Intention continued to expand…
Albrecht’s body trembled.
It wasn’t for any other reason.
He belatedly realized something.
It was a fact so obvious that he had overlooked it.
He hadn’t realized it before because he hadn’t fully assimilated into the realm of Intention.
‘The spirits are gone. Both the spirits of the lake and the spirits of the wind…’
Something that should exist in every natural element of this land was missing from beneath this lake.
This was a serious matter.
All of nature in this land could be sustained through the protection of spirits.
Since the will of the manifested spirits became natural elements, nature would wither and die if the spirits were gone.
‘Are they hiding? No, they’re not. They literally vanished.’
Albrecht’s eyes moved busily.
His mind expanded as he tried to make sense of the strange phenomenon of having nature exist without the spirits.
‘Where’s the records of the lake? The memory of the spirits? No, their traces…’
There was nothing.
The only thing that existed was a fortress firmly standing in the flow of his Intention.
He combined the clues he had gathered, the report he had heard, and the phenomenon unfolding before his eyes to find an answer.
‘…Nature cannot exist without spirits.’
He thought of the main premise.
‘Yet nature exists, and within it, there’s an unexplained structure.’
After that, he considered the likely cause of this anomaly.
His rapidly connecting thoughts were getting closer to an answer.
Albrecht narrowed his eyes and stared at the solid castle, which he couldn’t fully explore even with his Intention.
Then, he arrived at a conclusion.
‘They did not disappear. That means they’re inside it…’
If the spirits were trapped within that castle…
— I heard laughter.
If that laughter was from the spirits.
“Let’s return. As fast as you can.”
Albrecht’s expression hardened.
If someone had deliberately manipulated the spirits within the natural world, it was far more serious than he had thought.
“I will be heading straight to the capital. Captain, please inform my lieutenant to summon the elementalists, wizards, and sorcerers.”
Albrecht was certain.
She was the only one capable of doing something like this.
A procession of dozens of carriages and their accompanying knights filled the street. Every knight was clad in white armor. The same went for the carriages and horses, and even the flags they carried.
This was none other than the army of Elia.
“This is so grand.”
Vera said from inside one of the carriages, then Vargo responded.
“Well, should we move modestly when all the Apostles are going out?”
“What about the budget? Just a few swings of my fist and it’ll all come back as offerings.”
That’s not an offering, that’s robbery.
Vera thought, quickly dismissing the idea and turning his head away.
Outside the window, he saw the twins dozing off on horseback.
Vera’s brow furrowed.
“Those two, even here…”
“Leave them be. They do their jobs well enough.”
Vargo’s chuckle irritated Vera.
“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”
“Of course, I am. It’s so refreshing to think that all I have to do is swing my fists.”
Vera let out a sigh.
It was for no other reason.
All the preparations and subsequent arrangements for this expedition had fallen on his shoulders.
Although there was still a mountain of tasks to do, Vera had already been feeling a deep fatigue ever since they had just left Elia with their newly formed army.
Of course, he had complaints as well.
Vera thought that it would be much more efficient to travel with a minimal number of men and roll the armies of other nations given the formation of the army, the supplies needed for the expedition, and others. Bringing a full army like this was bound to make Vera dissatisfied.
He had tried to talk them out of it until the end, but the reason the decision was made this way was simple.
“The weather is nice.”
Vargo, the final decision maker, wanted this.
And he had dumped all the minor tasks on Vera and simply ordered for ’the whole army to advance.’
Naturally, Vera’s expression could only be gruff, which pleased Vargo more than anything.
“Vera, are you okay?”
Her expression was troubled, and her outstretched hand seemed to offer comfort to Vera’s hand.
Vera nodded slightly, feeling a warmth inside his chest.
“We’re already on our way, so there’s no turning back. We’ll have to make do.”
“Cheer up. If there’s anything I can do to help, please tell me.”
Vargo’s expression crumpled at the warm atmosphere.
The grumpy old man averted his gaze from the scene unfolding before him, recalling that his disciple’s smiling face couldn’t be so cold.
The march lasted for almost ten days.
They had arrived at Lake Granice.
Vera got off the carriage and walked alongside Renee, reciting the sights before him.
“We seem to be the last to arrive. The barracks of the other nations are already set up, and it seems that the wizards are having a meeting by the lake. Next to them are the sorcerers and… it looks like there are also elementalists.”
“Are they investigating the lake?”
“Yes, according to the last communication, they haven’t had much success yet. Ah, looks like Miller has started arguing with the wizards. No wonder there’s no progress.”
Annoyance was evident in Vera’s voice.
Renee chuckled in response.
“Still the same, I see. But I don’t think that’s the reason for the lack of progress. Sir Miller is also a reasonable person, after all.”
Could one match the word ‘reasonable’ with the sight of Miller shaking an old wizard by the collar?
Vera pondered about it for a moment, then shook his head and sighed.
“We should send Trevor to that side. I’ll leave the barracks to Theresa… For now, we should go to the conference hall.”
“Yes, where is the conference hall?”
“Someone will be here soon to guide us. Ah, he’s coming now.”
The words were uttered as a familiar figure approached them.
Then, a clear voice rang out.
“Sir Vera, Saint! It’s been a long time!”
Albrecht greeted them with a bright expression.
Recognizing his voice, Renee responded warmly.
“Second Prince! It’s been a while!”
Albrecht’s expression brightened even more.
Of course, this was understandable.
For him, this was the first time that he had received such a warm welcome from them, so it would have been strange for him not to feel touched.
A wave of emotion rose over Albrecht’s face.
As Vera’s expression began to darken, Renee tightly squeezed his hand.
Only then did Vera remember Renee’s request.
— Be welcoming this time. Vera is always so grumpy, so he’s always cautious around us. With a big fight coming up, we can’t have the Prince making mistakes because he’s being conscious.
It was a convincing argument.
Suppressing his irritation, Vera greeted him with a face as unfurrowed as possible.
“It’s been a while.”
It was an inexplicable rejection.
He briefly pondered why Albrecht, who was looking at him with twinkling eyes, was so annoying. Then, he shook off the thought and asked.
“What’s the situation?”
“Ah! The civilians around the lake have been evacuated. We have ships patrolling the fortress in three shifts, and the elementalists are leading the investigation of the lake. Well, without much success.”
“How’s the atmosphere?”
Suddenly, Albrecht’s expression became grave.
“Well, it’s not bad, but there is tension since people from different cultures are gathering. Especially from the Federation…”
A sigh escaped from Vera.
The Federation had always been torn by civil war.
Now, two among the Five Kingdoms have been destroyed, one by themselves and one by Gorgan, and had turned into a no man’s land.
Thus, the chaotic situation was to be expected. The remaining Three Kingdoms continued their power struggles even in this situation.
But what followed was a series of stories that made even Vera uncomfortable.
“Also, now that the elves have come out, there are soldiers who are causing problems because of their curiosity. Oben’s soldiers are wandering around shirtless, causing complaints, and Chellen and Vien, who were already on bad terms… are fighting quite a bit.”
It was more than just chaos.
Vera grimaced as he listened to Albrecht.
The situation report was over, and only then did Albrecht finally notice Vera’s worsening expression.
He was obviously angry.
As Albrecht swallowed nervously, Vera replied.
“Show me the way.”
At his stern tone, Albrecht thought.
‘Uh, did I…’
He wondered if he had made a mistake by saying something he shouldn’t have due to his excitement.