Plod, plod. Pitter, patter.
Even the sound of someone’s footsteps could be so different.
The short rainy season that had come to Nerman was a temperamental thing. Every time the sky seemed to be on the verge of clearing up, thick clouds would roll in again and another bout of torrential rain would fall in sheets before disappearing. The sky was acting like churlish children playing pranks.
I went to the temple and asked for Aramis, who was immersed in prayer. Then, the two of us walked through the garden with a large enspelled waterproof umbrella over our heads. Thanks to the precise architectural planning of the dwarves, the garden didn’t flood no matter how much it rained. As we walked over the stone path glistening with water, one side of my shoulder became damp.
‘It’s been a while since I’ve felt like this.’
I suddenly thought of a certain scene from back when I was in Korea. That day had also been a rainy day. Back then, I had walked silently through the rainy campus with Yerin under one umbrella.
‘I hope they’re all doing well.’
It’d been one busy thing after another, so I had momentarily forgotten about them. As I listened to the gentle rainfall, I thought of Joong-hyun, Yerin, and all the others who had loved me.
"It’s raining a lot, isn’t it…"
We reached the artificial fountain in the middle of the garden. Even as the rain fell, it gushed out arcs of water, and those currents mixed with the rain before scattering into all directions.
"The rainy season this year seems more intense than the ones before."
Aramis craned her neck to gaze at the sky beyond the umbrella. At her quiet voice, I leaned the umbrella away a touch to look at the sky.
Drip drip drip.
I only moved it a little, but the raindrops came down mercilessly, and I covered our heads again with the umbrella.
"I hear a lot of rain is falling on the Continent as well… there could be flooding."
"Yes, there probably will be."
I was unconsciously careful when interacting with Aramis. There were times when I spoke casually with her on a whim, but whenever she was worrying about other people like now, I, for whatever reason, always spoke politely.
"I hope not too much rain falls…"
Aramis, a woman who could only feel appeased by shouldering the pain of everyone in the world, expressed her regret regarding the pain of all those who would suffer because of the torrential rain. Those people didn’t give one whit as to who she was, but Aramis still embraced the world on her own.
"I’m sure the gods will do something."
It wasn’t as if I had an answer for her. What I did know was that thanks to the great mountains encircling us, Nerman had never suffered flooding. Moreover, we had repaired the banks of the Lovent River just in case.
"Sometimes… there are times when the gods feel fear, too. Though they are capable of always being merciful and benevolent, the gods feel joy, sorrow, anger, and pleasure, like humans. It’s just that… they see all things clearly, so they demand the price for cause and effect."
There was a time when I lectured Aramis about god’s love, but thinking about it now, that was really a terribly courageous thing to do. It was like a guy who didn’t even know their ABCs mouthing off an American professor of literature. Aramis knew the god’s love and sincerity in a way I could never even hope to understand. I quietly appreciated her words of wisdom.
‘I might not know much, but there’s one thing I do know for sure. That the gods… won’t let me live a very easy life.’
On rainy days, the farmers also rested at home. Even the monsters restricted their activity unless they were rather hungry.
But I didn’t find the current break enjoyable. A bad feeling was creeping down my spine. Last night as well, I suffered for a long time at the hands of a rare nightmare.
"The rain will stop soon, right?"
As if to answer Aramis’ query, intense rain continued to shower down nonstop from the furious sky.
"When the time comes."
It wasn’t like I was working at the National Weather Agency, so how could I possibly know the capricious changes of the sky?
‘Damn rain, you sure are coming down hard.’
It was already the tenth day of this shower. We were getting frequent reports that even the wide Lovent River was fairly high.
Turning away from the rain, Aramis buried her face in my embrace. Paladins were watching, keeping a stoic guard under the rain, but she lowered her head into me without embarrassment.
Drip drip drip drip.
Tears were falling from her eyes. I couldn’t tell whether they were from sadness or happiness.
I was unable to say a thing. I simply embraced her quietly.
There were times when one wanted not their shoulder to be dampened, but their chest…
* * *
"Haha. You have come a long way."
The Emperor laughed heartily. Emperor Hadveria of the Laviter Empire, who had gathered the cardinals no one had ever dared to move against in all of history, laughed in a very bright manner out of line with his reputation as a violent, inscrutable emperor.
The cardinals of each temple were unable to mount a response to his hearty reception. Not just one cardinal, but all the highest authorities of the twelve temples of the Great God, other than Kerma, had come. To add insult to injury, they were standing in the Imperial Throne Room, where the Emperor looked down on them from above.
"Your Majesty, this does not look very good. The authority of all emperors and kings has been vested by the gods may be a noble and pure truth everyone is aware of, but… this is…"
Unable to hold back, Cardinal Torphon of the Goddess of Mercy, Neran, spoke tersely to the Emperor. It might be different in other temples, in the Temple of Neran, he held authority on par with any emperor, so it was unsurprising that he would be displeased by the sight of the Emperor sitting arrogantly in a seat that allowed him to look down on his vassals. Even sitting at the same level of the cardinals would merit an accusation of blasphemy, but Emperor Hadveria dared to fearlessly gaze down on them from his throne. The other cardinals were as unhappy as Cardinal Torphon.
"Is that so? I think of this as a matter of fact, but you all think differently, I see…" His smile disappearing, the Emperor trailed off, all pretense of politeness dropping away from his speech.
"When Your Majesty the Emperor ascended to the throne, Your Majesty made a vow, is that not so? A vow to offer all your faith to the gods who have permitted your noble imperial power. I trust that you have not already forgotten? It was my hand that placed the crown upon Your Majesty’s head."
Cardinal Avekior’s frosty words held an implied criticism of the Emperor. He had forced himself to come here for the sake of the relationship between the empire and the temples, but even after the cardinals arrived, the Emperor did not call them right away and made them wait in their respective temples in the Imperial Capital. Normally, even the emperor should drop whatever they were doing to greet them, but Emperor Hadveria showed none of that hospitality. Only after the cardinals of all the temples had arrived did the Emperor finally invite them to the palace.
That wasn’t all. Normally, when the cardinals made an appearance, it was customary to have the people line the streets with flowers and hold a grand welcoming ceremony. The cardinals rarely left their temples, so their outings were treated on the same level as an emperor. But there was zero welcome from the people. All of the cardinals arrived riding behind temple Skyknights in order to respond to the Emperor’s summons as soon as possible, but instead of a welcoming crowd, they were forced to move to the palace under the stern watch of the Capital Guard. This might be the Imperial Capital, but the Emperor’s actions showed he was clearly ill-treating them. Of course the cardinals, who had never experienced such a reception before, had no cause to be happy.
"Ah! Come to think of it, something like that did happen, didn’t it," exclaimed the Emperor, as if remembering something from a long time ago. "My memory’s been spotty lately, so I often forget even important things. Hahaha."
Hadveria burst out in laughter, as if to say he had completely forgotten about his own enthronement. However, no one laughed alongside him.
"D-Does Your Majesty not know that your current actions… are approaching the sacrilege of insulting the cardinals, the agents of the gods themselves?!"
Cardinal Harkedia of the God of Justice and Truth, Siportyne, mentioned sacrilege, unable to endure the Emperor’s actions and words no longer.
"Did you just say sacrilege to Us?" asked the Emperor, looking astonished.
"That’s right! If these actions are not meant to insult the gods, then how can you show such insulting mannerisms to the agents of the gods, the cardinals?!"
As the emperor representing the Laviter Empire and the cardinals symbolizing each temple clashed, a savage atmosphere surged in the throne room.
Hadveria burst out in laughter. The expressions of the cardinals instantly stiffened in outrage. Within his booming laughter so loud it shook the throne room, was a dominating energy. No god-fearing man could ever make such a laugh.
"You dare to utter the dirty accusation that We have insulted God?! As if you bastards have not just one life, but two!" thundered the Emperor.
The cardinals groaned in shock at the Emperor’s extreme words, their bodies shaking in rage. He might be the emperor of the Laviter Empire, but even he could not insult the cardinals to this degree. If a heresy inquisition was declared, the people would turn their backs on their ruler, and afterwards, the nobles and knights could follow suit and raise a rebellion. Not only that, but it was possible that the neighboring kingdoms would invade the Empire, fearing that the accusations of heresy would spread to them. Protecting an emperor with an heresy inquisition leveled against him could result in being accused of heresy themselves, so the nobles and all the others would have to toss aside the Emperor.
But in spite of all that, Hadveria roared at the agents of the gods, the cardinals, and even cursed them as bastards.
"Listen well. I never betrayed God. It is merely that the God I serve is not the God you bastards serve."
The moment the Emperor’s words rang out, a man revealed himself from behind the Emperor. In his hands was a relic shrouded in a black aura—a black sickle deeply embedded in a crimson heart that looked as if it would move at any moment.
"T-The Relic of Kerma!"
"Oh, Gods above…"
Upon seeing the Relic of Kerma, an object vilified everywhere on the Continent, the cardinals were plunged into yet another type of shock. The Emperor’s declaration just now held a tremendous meaning. It was a declaration of true heresy, a declaration that among the children of the Great God, he would worship Kerma, abandoning the good gods.
Now, there was no going back. The temples and the Laviter Imperial Family were enemies.
"As one who is infected by evil, you shall receive the judgment of the religious law! You dare to worship the Evil God, Kerma?!"
His voice shaking, Cardinal Avekior stabbed a trembling finger at the Emperor.
"Le-Let us return."
"There is no reason to stay here."
Shocked by the Emperor’s declaration of conversion to Kerma, the cardinals hastily turned to leave.
The moment they did so, they heard the resounding thud of the throne room’s doors slamming shut in the distance.
"Huhuhu… Where do you think you’re going? The only place you bastards are going is the hell of Lord Kerma, who shall take very good care of you corrupt fools."
The evil laugh of Cardinal Lukardion snaked over the Relic of Kerma in his hands and echoed in the throne room.
"Kuku. By now, the high level priests and paladins who accompanied you from each of the temples should be returning to God while bleeding out. And when today is over, all of the temples within the Empire will be destroyed for the crime of treason. Kuhahahahahahaha!"
"Puhahahahahahahahaha!" guffawed Lukardion, mirroring Emperor Hadveria’s mirth.
"Oh… Gods above."
Consumed by their fear of their impending deaths, the cardinals slumped to the ground, closing their eyes and seeking their gods.
Imperial Knights with unsheathed swords approached. Not as humans, but as Death Knights plastered from head to toe with the stench of death…
* * *
Discord Link: /p> * * *
* * *
"I apologize for having taken so long to come see you, Your Lordship."
"Haha. Such things can happen in life, think nothing of it."
Jamir had come, leading the Rubis Merchants, who hadn’t been able to enter the territory due to Laviter’s threats.
"I did pray earnestly to the gods for the sake of Your Lordship and Nerman from afar."
I could feel his sincerity. Jamir might be a businessman, but he and I weren’t just passing acquaintances.
"It is my belief that the territory is safe thanks to you. I ask that you take good care of us in the future as well."
"Nonsense, Your Lordship. That is something I should be saying, but you beat me to the chase."
"Is that so? Haha. Then go ahead and say it. I’ll take good care of you."
"I shall do my utmost to aid Nerman and Your Lordship."
Jamir bowed, saying he would aid me despite being far from a knight. His form of aid was simple. I would be grateful enough if he could just earn a ton of money for me.
"But is that rumor true? The rumor that the Laviter Emperor is imprisoning the cardinals and the high level priests of all the temples in the Imperial Palace."
Before Jamir’s arrival, we heard a shocking piece of news through the merchants. The black information merchant Saker, who had been feeding me rather useful information, had disappeared without any word of his departure. He left as silently as he came, like the wind. Because of that, I was hungry for reliable news.
"Astonishingly, it is true. And not just that. All temples within the Empire have been destroyed."
‘Holy moly! That means this situation is now out of control.’
The Laviter Emperor had brought about an impressive feat even I could not resolve myself to do. He sure was doing some crazy shit that Poltviran couldn’t even hope to come close to. I, at least, held the Goddess of Mercy, Neran, in high regard. I wasn’t one to put much faith in gods, but I had full respect for the goddess Aramis believed in. But this Emperor dove straight into the fire, blowing anything I’d ever done completely out of the water.
‘His name was Hadveria, right? I’d like to meet him once.’
I had the feeling we would meet one day. I felt something akin to awe for him as I watched Jamir speak.
"I think no one has any clue what the Emperor is thinking. He is indeed an Emperor with great charisma and many secrets, but that he would go so far out of bounds like this is way beyond anyone’s expectation."
‘Out of bounds, you say? Well, that can happen if things go haywire.’
I myself didn’t have much love for the priests of the temples, so I could understand the Emperor’s feelings a little. The priests who gleefully exchanged the mercy spoken by the gods into money and benefits were just asking to get their pointy noses smashed in.
"Is there anything else of note?"
"What do you mean by ‘of note’…?"
"I mean things like incidents happening without much fanfare in the Laviter Empire."
Rubis was a massive merchant group that did business all over the world. I wanted to find out all the details I could about the Empire, which kept bothering my nerves.
"There aren’t any real incidents of note, other than the fact that many of the Imperial Knights guarding the palace have been replaced and that the Yukane and Baerkain Kingdoms have dispatched Skyknights."
‘The Imperial Knights were replaced?’
It might not be a very important matter, but the words suddenly really bothered me.
"When it comes to the Imperial Knights, aren’t they primarily the scions of noble families? So what do you mean by ‘they were replaced’?"
"Well, I’m not clear on the details myself, but it’s said the Imperial Knights of the capital went on some sort of mission, after which contact was lost with at least half of them. The Emperor is known to use the Imperial Knights for many of his plans, so this incident didn’t make a big splash. Does Your Lordship think it’s an issue?"
It wasn’t really an issue, per say. They weren’t even my knights, so whether the man stir fried or boiled them, he could do however he pleased.
‘Did he make a special squadron or something?’ I wondered if Hadveria was maybe making something like a special forces unit to pull some sort of master plan. ‘That shouldn’t be able to do anything to Nerman though. Haah, Laviter really is like a wisdom tooth.’
When I started high school, I had my wisdom teeth removed early. One night, I found myself wracked with extreme wisdom tooth pain. The teeth hidden deep inside my gums had emerged early, and because I was stressed from the high school entrance exams happening at the same time, I got an infection so bad I could hardly sleep at night from the pain. The pain would sometimes disappear, making me feel like I could live again, but then the wisdom teeth would strike again with a vengeance.
The Laviter Empire was exactly the same. I really wanted to pluck out this damned Emperor Hadveria who apparently liked to nurse a grudge.
"Other than that… I’m sure Your Lordship already knows. A great number of the Laviter Empire’s forces are lining up at the Havis Kingdom borders, where they can advance on Nerman right away."
Even without the reminder, I was all too aware of the assembly of imperial troops. If it were the idiotic and brainless Poltviran, I wouldn’t be so worried. The Laviter Empire troops were slotting into place in a perfect array, steadily tightening their vice on Nerman’s neck as if truly possessed with anger. Their battle preparations were so unbelievably perfect that they could invade us this very day.
"Haha. It’s not our first time facing this sort of thing. I imagine they’ll also give up when they tire."
"Your Lordship is amazing. I doubt there’s anyone in any of the empires or kingdoms of the Continent who have nerves of steel like yours."
‘That’s just because…’
I was just trying to make a living, and things turned out like this. Was there anyone who really wanted to fight to the death every day? Thanks to all those feeble-minded people who couldn’t bear to see me living a quiet life, there wasn’t a single easy day in my life. It was because I lived fighting tooth and nail that my nerves became as sturdy as steel.
"That aside, what are the goods the Rubis Merchants require this time?"
Give and take was the basic principle behind a smooth life. There was no way Jamir had come all this way because he was bored and had nothing else to do.
"The way Your Lordship puts it sometimes makes me feel like I’m a brazen-faced merchant who only cares about money. Ahem."
"Isn’t that the case?"
"Hahaha. It was a joke. The Rubis Merchants, or rather, Executive Jamir and I are like brothers, are we not."
Jamir went from looking startled to having a warm expression at my mention of brothers.
"This is why I cannot help but respect Your Lordship. Your skill in freezing and melting a merchant’s heart is truly exceptional. It’s not too late even now. If you would like to devote yourself to the business world, I will give you a big push."
‘Push me? Where? Off a cliff?’
The mighty Kang Hyuk couldn’t bow his head to a few coppers. Even if it was a small territory, I wanted to live as the main character, where I could act freely as I wished.
"That you’ll need salt is a given, and you’ll also need the dwarven goods… What else do you need?"
"There’s that thing, isn’t there? The glass on the windows of your castle. Is it possible for Your Lordship to sell that to us?"
‘Glass? Of course.’
"But hm, it’s a bit of an expensive product. Our glass is a work of art set entirely apart from shoddy glass made elsewhere, you see…"
Jamir had told me before that an average sheet of glass cost 10 Gold. The glass we made was fortified glass resistant to most impacts, as well as clear colored glass with dyes mixed in. They weren’t things you could buy with money on the Continent.
"I know. As a product made by the esteemed dwarves, I can only imagine how impressive the glass must be. As such, if you would give our merchant group the chance, we will do our best to turn it into a continent-wide luxury item."
Jamir spoke enthusiastically, his eyes sparkling.
‘I’ll take you up on that!’
Despite my hemming and hawing, I had already decided to make an exclusive contract with the Rubis Merchants the moment Jamir brought it up. In truth, the materials that went into glass were as cheap as they came. Even though glass and salt had similar production costs, glass was a high-value product that fetched a far higher price.
"Seeing as Executive Jamir is so enthusiastic, I will entrust this matter to you once again."
"Thank you, Your Lordship!"
The goods were just sitting around anyway. He was volunteering to sell a new specialty product of the territory, so I was happy enough to give him a bonus. However, I never exposed my feelings outwardly. No matter how close we were, a merchant was a merchant.
"Also, Your Lordship…"
"What, do you have another request?"
"…This is to some extent just my intuition, but I believe the Continent will soon be struck with a famine."
‘What’s this all about now?’
I snapped to attention at the mention of a famine.
"According to the reports coming from our branch offices, the grain regions have become considerably waterlogged because of the rain coming down at the moment. In addition, there are signs of plague outbreak all over the Continent."
‘Holy shit, plague…’
The living environment of Kallian’s people was undoubtedly poor compared to the 21st century. But because of magic and holy power that could not be explained by modern medicine, the control of diseases bordered on excellence. So to hear about plagues, and from the prudent Jamir, no less, was shocking.
"We are investigating it in detail, but I believe there is some kind of plot afoot. There have only been a few cases in history where infectious diseases of different types have appeared simultaneously across the Continent in not just one place, but many. Whenever that has happened, it was accompanied by a tremendous famine, causing countless people to suffer."
‘Wait a sec, something like this has happened before?’ I thought, then hurriedly asked, "When are the other times that this has happened?"
"We-Well…" Jamir’s expression grew dark. "Such things have occurred when the priests of the Evil God, Kerma, spread their curses."
"The priests of Kerma?"
‘Wait, were those guys that much of a problem?’
Even I had heard about the priests of the Evil God. Kerma, who ruled the 12th month of the 12 months, was a necessary evil, the only one of the Great God’s children in charge of darkness, curses, and evil. Just hearing his name gave me chills and lowered my mood.
"In the past, when the priests of the Evil God Kerma stirred, the temples would systematically take care of them. But now, the temples are entirely unable to do so. Hahh… I think things will blow up big time very soon. A plague is something that will cause immeasurable damage if it isn’t controlled from the outset…"
Unable to continue, Jamir trailed off, looking regretful.
‘Looking at Jamir’s expression, he’s not joking.’
It sounded like a real conundrum to my ears as well. It didn’t matter to Nerman and me, since we had the beloved favorite of the gods, the Saintess Aramis, but the situation in other places would be very different. And seeing as the rain was still coming down in sheets, chaos was clearly about to erupt all over the Continent.
‘It must all be karma.’
The suffering that was descending on the innocent people… wasn’t something I could do anything about. My first and foremost duty was to protect my territory and my people.
"I recommend that you stockpile as much food as possible. If famine and plague grow rampant, Nerman will have to play an important role."
Those were not words spoken for profit as a merchant, but true feelings from his exposed heart as a human. Everyone knew that unlike other merchant groups, the Rubis Merchants weren’t completely blinded by profit.
"I fully understand."
"Thank you, Your Lordship."
I’d always thought this way, but as important as money was, it was also just as important to know how to use it. Rather than living like a scrooge, refusing to let a single coin leave their claws even in death, it was better to work as hard as you could and use your earned money in style. That was how I intended on living.
"If there’s anything else you need, discuss it with Sir Derval."
‘It seems that the gods are well and truly angry.’
This was definitely not because of the gods, but because of the corrupt priests who served the gods. It wasn’t as if the transcendental beings that were the gods would have changes of heart. All of this was certainly the self-incurred wrath caused by humans who prioritized their own interpretation of god’s love.
‘Aramis will cry a ton if she hears.’
Even now, Aramis cried buckets for the matters of others. She would definitely cry without being able to sleep if she found out that famine and plague were breaking out.
‘The Kerma priests. I’ve got to put them on my caution list as well.’
However it might be for other places, they would never be able to step foot on my territory. The only places permitted for foreigners were the Nerman Road and Denfors. The entire territory was patrolled by Skyknights every day, and suspicious individuals were immediately reported to the guard soldiers.
Lead by example, and others will follow.
There’s different, and then there’s Nerman different.