༺ Lake Granice (2) ༻
The atmosphere in the conference hall was cold.
No, it would be more accurate to say that someone had made it cold.
Naturally, the man sitting at the head of the table was responsible for it.
It was a man with black hair and ashen eyes.
“I’ve heard the news. There have been continuous incidents in the barracks.”
The words, spoken in a subdued voice, were a blatant reprimand.
The military officers in the room could not raise their heads.
They just lowered their heads, much like children being scolded by their parents or like criminals caught in a shameful act.
No one could argue back in this atmosphere.
The first reason was because of Vera’s menacing atmosphere, and the second was because they themselves felt ashamed of their own behavior.
They had gathered here for nothing less than the fate of the continent.
A place where they had to forget their past grudges and join forces against a single enemy.
Yet, what was the current situation in such a place?
Everyone present understood.
The reason why Vera was there.
Even if he scolded them like this, they had no excuses to make.
Vera opened his mouth.
“So, are you here on a sightseeing trip?”
The words were tinged with sarcasm, and at the same time, they contained explicit anger.
However, it wasn’t necessarily an accurate reflection of Vera’s true emotions.
Contrary to his seemingly furious exterior, Vera was calm inside.
‘I need to take control.’
He was a clever man.
He could figure out which path was the most effective and at the same time, knew what it would take to get there.
This was one of the few skills that even his grumpy mentor, Vargo, acknowledged, and it was also something Vera was proud of.
He reassessed his own position.
An Apostle of the Nine Gods.
The next Holy Emperor of Elia.
A faithful servant who had stepped forward to save the continent from an irresistible threat.
The meaning of these titles was clear.
It meant that in this gathering he had a more just cause than anyone else. This added credibility to his claim of ’doing it for the greater good’.
As Vera was imprinting this into his mind, he suddenly remembered what Vargo had told him.
— The impression a nation gives is important, especially to the commoners who aren’t leaders. If you ever have to attend an official event, remember what happened today. Those who live in the name of God should exude righteousness.
The words Vargo had uttered while clicking his tongue carried a different meaning now that the situation had unfolded as it did.
It was a remarkably effective weapon for gaining political advantage.
‘…That shitty old man.’
While he was displeased, Vera had to admit.
His master indeed had a sharp eye for politics.
Although a chuckle threatened to escape, he held it back.
Vera maintained a firm expression and let out a long sigh.
“First, the Archduke.”
“I heard complaints that Oben’s soldiers are walking around with their tops off. Would you like to explain the reason for not stopping them?”
A look of discomfort briefly crossed Hegrion’s face.
It was the discomfort of being the first target.
Even so, he sensed Vera’s intentions.
‘Is he trying to take control?’
This was a signal for indirect assistance.
He was likely asking Hegrion to go along with the flow and set the tone.
Hegrion’s dilemma didn’t last long.
He had zero interest in leading from the start, and he calculated that it would be better for Elia to have the command than another nasty army.
Hegrion slightly bowed his head.
“…It appears the warmer weather compared to Oben has caused discomfort to the soldiers. I apologize. I will educate them properly.”
“I hope there will be no more issues like this in the future.”
Satisfaction rose within Vera.
He thought that the diversion had done a pretty good job.
Shortly after, Vera’s gaze shifted to Albrecht, who nodded slightly.
‘He seems to have gotten the gist of it.’
It seemed that he had sensed he was the next target.
This was very fortunate news for Vera.
His main goal was ultimately with him.
Aside from Hegrion’s personal force, Oben’s power was not enough to solidify the situation.
Therefore, in order to secure this atmosphere, he needed to have the Imperial Army on his side.
Considering that Albrecht’s cluelessness had led them on this roundabout path, the result was positive.
“Second Prince, I’ve heard that the Imperial Army has been ogling the elves.”
“I’ll have them retrained. I apologize.”
As Albrecht bowed his head, collective gasps echoed throughout the conference hall.
Vera smiled inwardly.
‘The board is set.’
Even though it was a fight he couldn’t possibly lose, things were falling into place quite easily.
‘Now is the time to solidify it.’
Once an atmosphere had been formed, it didn’t change easily unless there was a significant event.
In other words, seizing command now would likely mean holding onto it unless a major incident occurred.
Vera stood up.
“It’s disappointing. I might have expected too much from you. Such thoughts crossed my mind.”
His ashen eyes, filled with anger, swept across the room.
His words carried a chilling edge.
“At the meeting in Elia, I saw potential. Though I had to resort to forceful means, I felt grateful for your willing cooperation. But what is this?”
Vera’s eyes focused on the Commanders of the remaining Three Kingdoms of the Federation.
“Is obtaining a bit more land more important than the future of your people?”
His gaze then shifted to the Generals of Chellen and Vien.
“I acknowledge your grudge. However, did it need to be resolved right now?”
Lastly, he turned towards the wizards of the Magic Tower and the Archaeology Department of the Academy.
“Did you enjoy the battle of pride? Does saving face make you feel better?”
The words were directed at the groups who had caused trouble.
They lowered their heads even more.
It was an unmistakable expression of surrender.
After confirming everyone’s reaction, Vera spoke with a stern voice.
“Do not forget. We are here to protect the continent from the threats that loom over this land. Our only focus is that single objective.”
Renee, who had been listening from the sidelines, suppressed her laughter.
Knowing very well what Vera must be thinking inside while speaking as if he were an agent of justice, holding back her laughter was no easy task.
“I am here as a servant of the Lord, and not to mediate between your issues. I am here to protect this land built by my Parent.”
Vera’s following words gave himself legitimacy and explicitly expressed his superiority over them.
“Do not disappoint me.”
As the lengthy speech came to an end, the conference hall was enveloped in silence.
Vera deliberately sighed.
Then, with a hint of fatigue in his voice, he glanced around the room one last time and added.
“…This atmosphere doesn’t seem ideal for continuing the meeting at the moment. Let’s all gather our thoughts and reconvene in two hours. I will listen to the reports then. Saint.”
Renee stood up from her seat.
Vera took her hand and turned away.
Unbeknownst to them, the two had smiles on their faces as they walked away with the sound of the cane.
“You con artist.”
Back in Elia’s barracks.
Vera chuckled at Renee’s comment.
“It was necessary.”
“That’s very heroic of you.”
“It’s not entirely incorrect, is it? If someone has to be called a hero at this point, it’s probably me.”
“Doesn’t saying that make you feel embarrassed?”
“It’s a fact. For a leader, there’s nothing more important than knowing one’s place.”
In the unfinished corner of the barracks.
The conversation ended as they watched the paladins work.
Renee playfully tickled Vera’s palm, which she had been holding, and spoke.
“You really have a way with words. Is it because you’re the King of the Slums?”
“How could I possibly compare to Miss ‘I’m not Saint’? It’s far too early for me to reach the level of self-control that Miss ‘I’m not Saint’ has attained.”
Though she tried to tease him somehow, her weak defense reminded her that she still had a long way to go.
“…Just wait and see.”
Vera’s head turned to Renee’s ear.
What followed was a whisper of provocation.
“The one who should wait and see is you, especially at night.”
Renee’s body stiffened.
Her face flushed deeply, and her clenched fist began to lightly hit Vera’s forearm.
“Are you crazy? What are you talking about in public?!”
“I’m not sure what you mean, but if you keep raising your voice like this, the rumors you’re worried about will definitely spread like a wildfire.”
Renee covered her mouth with her hand.
Even while doing so, her furrowed brows clearly displayed her anger.
“Just wait and see. Really…!”
Vera laughed lightly at her muttered words.
Then, he looked at her, feeling more comfortable now.
He liked this ridiculous banter.
Vera was pleased with this childish fight that washed away all the unpleasant disputes and head-throbbing political issues.
“Yes, I’m looking forward to it.”
They closed the distance.
Renee, puckering her lips, warned Vera with folded arms.
“If you keep behaving badly, the Lord will punish you.”
“I should pray to Lushan then. I am his Apostle, after all. He’ll stop the Lord’s punishment at least once.”
“Isn’t the Lord stronger? So that wouldn’t work.”
“What kind of childlike logic is that?”
Renee chuckled and then continued speaking.
“At least I made you feel better, didn’t I?”
“Were you comforting me?”
“Then, do you think I was arguing with you?”
Indeed, it was a moment when their hearts connected.
The trivial argument that came from Vera, who was troubled, and Renee, who wanted to comfort him.
The both of them burst into laughter at the same moment, and the twins and Rohan, who were setting up the tents, saw it all.
“What the hell are they doing? Hey twins, what’s Vera doing instead of helping here, huh?”
“Rohan is disgraceful. Love is a blessing.”
“True. Marek blesses them. He is a great person. Rohan doesn’t bless, so he’s a petty person.”
Rohan’s expression crumbled.
Ignoring Rohan’s response, the twins continued to set up the pillars of the tents.
“Marek is good at setting up pillars. Impressive.”
“Yes, Marek sets up pillars well. The top ones, and the bottom ones.”
“If you set up the pillar well, you’re the older brother. Marek is the older brother.”
“Yes, Marek is the older brother.”
Rohan felt like tearing his ears off.
He didn’t want to hear any of it. Neither of the incessant nonsense from the twins nor the laughter from Renee and Vera in the distance.
“Go to hell…!”
The pillar was driven straight into the ground.
“Rohan also sets up pillars well. He’s full of youth.”
“Yes, Rohan is a lonely youth…”
A loud shout of frustration echoed through the barracks.
It undoubtedly belonged to a lonely middle-aged man who was drowning in his sorrows.