The changing of seasons was uneventful around the Ampere Seale Port and the gradually thickening first began to cover the hills in the verdant forest. Even the excavation around the port couldn’t completely overshadow the news. Ever since the Craft Mages from Buga left, the rumors about the Azure Lance spread.
“What a turbulent time.”
Wood rubbed at his eyes and stared at the single-paged letter on the redwood table. The page was blank and was a special item from the northern part of Kirrlutz, which bordered the Wild Four-Leaf Clover Forest. A faint scent of something burning still clung to a corner of the letter, that’s the special mark unique to flame magic. The mark, before it was covered out, should have been four pairs of eagles with their wings spread out, representing the Holy Cathedral of Fire -- more specifically, this was a document of the highest classification from the Kirrlutz Empire.
He lifted his head and sat by the redwood table for a while longer. Under his bushy eyebrows, the eyes staring at the opposite wall seemed to turn ethereal for just a moment. And then a ball of golden flame lit up the previous Archbishop of the Holy Cathedral’s palm. He gently shook his hand and the burnt letter immediately turned to ash.
Wood carefully cleaned up the remaining ash on the table before standing up and straightening his golden sacrificial robes. The information on the classified letter proved the rumor floating around the port in the last several days. Actually, he had already gotten all the relevant information from the young Count of Trentheim before this.
The Aouinian hadn’t intended on hiding anything, or at least he hadn’t intended on covering up anything so obvious -- the Azure Lance was indeed within Ampere Seale. But it was meaningful because the Bugas had already transported it away.
Wood’s expression shifted as his mind went over all the information about this event. He didn’t know whether this happened because the little Aouinian princess had been decisive, or whether the young Count had been clever. But they had already received many clear favors from the Bugas in return for the Azure Lance.
The couldn’t help but cast his gaze out of the window. Out there he could see the pale waves of roofs from the Ampere Seale port and the green vines draping down cut the sunlight spilling over the redwood table into weird and interesting shapes.
This was such a lively city, but it no longer belonged to the Holy Cathedral of Fire.
Wood didn’t have any feelings on this matter. The Holy Cathedral had made a mistake and therefore, had to pay the price. More importantly, at least this kingdom was still following the Way of the Golden Flames. The people haven’t deviated from their respect and awe towards the Holy Cathedral of Fire. As for the vulgar concerns of the material world, Wood never thought much about them.
What really worried him was how the people of the Holy Cathedral - or rather, how the upper echelons of the Empire coveted the Azure Lance. Greed will deceive a person’s soul, and this was especially true for those nobles. Even he himself suffered because of greed.
But from the words on the letter, even the Emperor himself had designs on it. After all, it was the Azure Lance, the most famous weapon in the entire Pale Poem. At this stage, it wasn’t something he could change. Previously, as the Archbishop he might have been able to come up with something, but this was no longer any of his worries. He could only hope that those in power within the Holy Cathedral of Fire would have the sense to really understand the true meaning of the Flame King’s teachings.
He sighed, took down the cap of the Archbishop, and placed it on his head. Then he opened the door. The knights loyal to the Holy Cathedral were already waiting outside. His second-in-command was no longer Monk Gyuey. Ever since he became the messenger between the Holy Cathedral of Fire and the Aouinian royal family, his second-in-command had been replaced by a sharper-looking commander. That person must have come from the key diplomatic agency from the core of the Empire. Wood only had to look at the details in his habits to understand that - this person was named Peter, and he was extremely slick. As soon as he saw Wood, he lowered his head and revealed his shy bald head. He said with clear deference, “Archbishop, is this about the Flaming Blade Oderfeiss?”
Wood glanced at him as if wanting to see through the guy, then he said calmly, “That is the secret of the Holy Cathedral. If you need to know, I’ll tell you.”
“I understand,” Peter replied with a smile.
Wood turned around. The shard of the Flaming Blade Oderfeiss that William lost during the Battle for Ampere Seale wasn’t important by itself. The Holy Cathedral had agreed to use a new protective ship to trade it back from Brendel; what was important was the Flaming Blade’s will and soul.
That Trentheim Count identity was special and there seemed to be hints of the Silver Elf and the Dragons supporting him. That made things complicated for those in power in the Holy Cathedral. Additionally, the Count didn’t seem to have an inclination of joining the Empire and so there was no consensus among the upper echelons. One side wanted to follow the choice of the Flame King, but the other side was much more forceful.
Too many years in power have turned the Holy Cathedral of Fire prideful and perhaps distant when it comes to things beyond it. Some of the elders have even suggested assassination. Putting aside the ridiculous matter of assassinating a noble under the rule of the Holy Cathedral of Fire, what really made Wood furious was the fact these people seem to have forgotten the teachings of all the previous wise men.
A hundred years ago, the Empire and the church’s teachings weren’t in conflict. But ever since the revolt of Kirrlutz, though the Empire’s unity was increasing, the authority of the crown was also increasing bit by bit, and it’s starting to threaten the very existence of Kirrlutz.
Laughably, some people haven’t even realized this problem.
Today, Wood was once again out to meet with the representative of the northern nobles still within the Port of Ampere Seale. Though matters behind-the-scenes were becoming more and more complicated, those were tasks that still needed to get done while they were in Aouine.
As for the war against the Golden Mane Lion Beastsmen, Wood didn’t know whether the Crown Prince had prepared for every scenario. Though he had sworn an oath, House Seifer had suffered greatly in this war. Besides, he was a puppet himself and how much authority he still had was unknown.
The Holy Cathedral would never expend much energy on a bet it was guaranteed to lose. Wood only hoped that the Crown Prince would understand this. Fortunately, he was an intelligent person and therefore, would not be too naive.
As he walked out with his second-in-command, a servant bowed in front of him and said, “Sir Archbishop, there’s a special visitor.”
“A special visitor?”
Balding Peter has already walked forward in order to chase him off. “You, can’t you see that the Archbishop is busy? What visitor, as long as it’s not a guest from the Empire, then let them wait --”
Wood interrupted him and held up a band to stop the guy, “Is this a guest from the Empire?”
Peter immediately froze.
“Yes,” the servant answered dutifully.
“Please have him wait a moment, I’ll be right there.” Wood thought for a moment and then replied with a frown.
But before he finished his sentence, a stern female voice sounded, “No need, Archbishop Wood. You know my habit. We are already here.”
Wood paused momentarily when he heard the voice. He lifted his head and saw, as he had expected, that woman famous throughout the Empire --
She had actually come.
Differently from the sunny weather around Ampere Seale, once you cross the vast stretch of the Frada Forest to the north and enter into Pedalsson, the country weather became rainy and dark. Days of continuous rainstorms have caused the Maji River to overflow and flood the roads around Majidan, turning them into mires of mud.
In the torrential rain, a pitch black horse carriage jolted its way through the forest. A corner of its curtains lifted to reveal an eye as white as dead fish eyes staring out from the pitch-black interior at the shadowy scenery outside.
The dark clouds twisted in the skies above the forest like layers of corpse shrouds. Even though it was only noon, the sky was already depressingly dark.
“What is the Azure Skies Squad Leader doing going to Ampere Seale? Declaring war on the Aouinians?” A hoarse voice asked. And then it laughed coldly as if this was an interesting joke.
The cold laughter from the carriage made one shiver even though it wasn’t cold. After a long moment, another voice responded with, “Probably has to do with the war to the north.”
“If that’s what you think, then you’re not far from being executed. Kirrlutz has no need to be distracted by something as tiny as the Lion Beastmen. They suffered during the Battle for Ampere Seale and would never risk giving the Buga’s something to lord over them.” A third voice stated. That voice was deep and serious, filled with authority.
Once he opened his mouth, the rest of the carriage fell silent.
“The Holy Cathedral of Fire lost everything at Ampere Seale. On the surface, they didn’t get anything from us, but in reality, the last victor was neither them nor us.” The voice paused and then continued, “Aouine has a wise royal princess.”
“Sir Duke,” only now did someone dare to ask, “Are you saying that we’ve gotten the attention of the Holy Cathedral of Fire?”
“Very possible. It’s impossible that Kirrlutz didn’t realize anything. Did you really think you could leave no trace?” The authoritative voice answered.
“Then what should we do?”
Nobody answered and silence fell in the carriage, broken only by the squeaking noise of the carriage being jolted. After a long time, the first hoarse voice spoke up, “If only we could delay --”
“And that’s why we’re here.”
Now the carriage finally stopped on its journey. A black castle appeared in the rain and though the soldiers on top of the city wall called out for them to stop, the voice couldn’t get through the downpour. Finally, the carriage door opened and a caped swordsman jumped down from it.
The swordsman lifted his head. The bearded face underneath the hood looked as if it belonged to a wandering knight from Arreck or from the north, but if Brendel was here he’d know the swordsman’s name.
Devard the Hawk.
“Open the city doors, this is an honored guest of your Baron.” He called out.
“Who are you?” The soldiers from the top of the castle wall questioned.
“We are the allies he most wants to see. Go tell him that if he does not wish to hang by the wishes of Her Royal Highness, he needs to immediately open the doors and let us in!” Devard answered proudly.
This answer and call could be considered extremely rude. But just as the soldier was about to make a fuss, Devard the hawk tossed a thing from afar onto the city wall. He watched as the item cut a beautiful arc through the rain as it fell into the city and then he called out:
“Give this to Radner and he’ll understand!”
“Go, you fool!”