Amidst a landscape stained by the dark blood of demons, a solitary figure stood unwavering. A knight, armed with a sword, found himself pausing as he beheld the obsidian pool of black blood. In that moment, his grip on the weapon seemed to loosen, as if it were rendered unnecessary.
That right arm…
This arm, a relic of a draconic past immortalized in ancient sketches, had been cruelly severed and grafted onto a human form. With this arm, he swung with deadly precision, severing the life force of all that dared approach. His countenance, though handsome, was an eerie mask of emotionlessness that sent shivers through those who looked upon him. Yet, it was his eyes that commanded attention.
Rihan could never erase the memory of those madly gleaming blue eyes from his mind. They held an unsettling brilliance, reminiscent of a time when the Great Dragon Sameshita had laid waste to half the continent. The likeness was uncanny, as if the spirit of the Great Dragon had returned in this enigmatic form.
“Is it wise to ambush such a being?” Rihan pondered aloud, his voice carrying the weight of doubt. “In the end, have we not only sown the seeds of Van Yela’s hatred?”
The missive that bore the seal of the Northern Confederation lay crumpled in Rihan’s hand. Their assault upon the imperial territory within Van Yela’s boundaries was a provocation that could not be ignored. The emperor’s anger was well-founded.
Abandoning the Ugel was not an option. At least not until they captured the Emperor of Argan and obtained the magic.
Rihan sat down with a heavy heart to draft his reply to the Confederation’s message. He expressed profound remorse for his brother’s unilateral actions, acknowledging the messiness of the process. Nevertheless, he noted that his brother’s endeavors had ultimately met with success. Despite the perilous situations that had arisen, his brother had managed to narrowly escape harm’s way, and the duke’s safe return to his domain had lent an appearance of seamlessness to the entire affair. Rihan aspired to soothe the brewing anger, though as his hand clutched the quill, it trembled, betraying his inner turmoil.
“Damn it!” Rihan exclaimed, his frustration boiling over. “If only we had managed to capture either the Emperor or the Princess, this predicament…”
His curses echoed in the confines of the room, masking his genuine desire to locate Elizabeth Aseica. She was the pivotal bait that could lead them to the elusive Emperor. The individual who had collaborated with Argan, lending support to the Ugel Kingdom during this time of war, had disclosed this crucial piece of information.
“Our sovereign holds an unswerving commitment to fulfilling the Princess’s wishes,” the accomplice had revealed. “His Majesty is willing to do anything for the Princess’s request. He treats her as if she were his own child. He even ensures she eats properly at least thrice a day. At times, he lingers in the observatory till the late hours, and there are nights when he remains in her chamber until dawn. He will once again prioritize her safety. This is our chance.”
Hanan, immersed in contemplation, put forth his thoughts. “How about spreading false rumors, my lord?”
Rihan arched an eyebrow, intrigued. “Do you think it would work? After all, it’s common knowledge that she vanished into the domain of Rezette Kyrstan.”
The news of the sham union within the walls of the Van Yela Palace had swiftly cascaded down southward, propagated by word of mouth.
Had the whispers about the princess of Argan, the last living descendant of Gallian’s lineage, tying the knot with the formidable warlord actually reached the Emperor’s ears? The thought of the emperor journeying to Rotiara in search of his sister, only to be ensnared by Rezette Kyrstan, added yet another layer of concern.
“Yet, surrender ain’t an option,” Rihan declared with determination. “Barely anyone’s an eyewitness to the wedding itself. So, let’s set the story in motion down south. We’ll tell them that the Duke never spirited the princess off to Rotiara; it was the Ugel who abducted her en route. We’ll spin the tale that we’re harboring her in secrecy.”
Hanan’s voice brimmed with fervor. “Andrei’s likely not playing hide-and-seek. Rezette’s still on good terms with Argan, so he’s likely holed up there. The boundary between Van Yela and Grandel is where they converge. We can traverse that span to ascertain the princess’s fate.”
Rihan’s brows furrowed in thought, conceding to Hanan’s logical reasoning. “Unless he’s grown wings and learned to soar continents in a day, we’re left with no choice but to sow unfounded rumors.”
“Agreed. But mere idle chatter won’t cut it. The young pup’s sharp enough to see through fluff. We need something more convincing.”
“What about a whisper that the princess wields magic? Something’s undeniably concealed from her.”
“Magic, you say…”
“That noble from Argan kept harping on it. Claimed the Emperor treasures his sister so fiercely, he’d ignore any slander. My guess is she might truly hold magical prowess.”
“They’re twins, aren’t they?”
“Exactly! Thus, let’s spread the word that the Princess commands magic. After her union with the Duke, with her life hanging in the balance, she pulled off an escape using magic. And then, she fell into my clutches.”
Hanan’s enthusiasm was palpable as he unveiled his stratagem, each piece falling into place with fervent resolve.
“We can cultivate the notion that even a Princess wielding magic finds herself powerless in the clutches of Ugel. Don’t you agree? Isn’t it a tale that could hold water?” Hanan’s proposal lingered in the air, waiting for validation.
It was, without a doubt, a plausible course of action. Rihan’s head bobbed in swift affirmation. If the emperor were to be ensnared by their web of fabricated tales, he would inevitably gravitate toward Ugel. Could he truly ignore the truth that his own flesh and blood, his sister for whom he had braved peril, now languished under the dominion of savages?