Vega stared intently at the crystal case nestled in Fey’s arms. Having worked at the O’Bellie’s Mansion for a while, he knew well what the family heirloom looked like.
‘Did he catch me trying to sell it?’
Nervously, Vega tightened his grip on the crystal case, inadvertently exerting force on Fey’s arm. However, as he looked into her ambiguous eyes, his tense expression soon softened, and Vega smiled.
“So, you don’t want to forget your lineage.”
“Huh? Oh, yes.”
He didn’t catch her. Well, it’s not like she was doing anything wrong by bringing it along. While Fey sighed in relief, Vega effortlessly placed the leather bag he had received on the horse’s back and then reached out his hand to her again.
“Please, climb up. I will lift you.”
As Fey made a gesture, Vega wrapped his arms around her waist and carefully placed her in the saddle. Afterward, he mounted the horse from behind Fey, checked a few things, and soon held the reins properly.
“We will depart, Lady Fey. We need to pick up the pace since we have to arrive on the day the train departs. Please hold onto my waist.”
Hoping that her trembling heartbeat wouldn’t be noticeable, Fey slowly embraced Vega’s waist.
“Yes. Then, please lead the way.” Finally, Vega tightened the reins and, with a flick, started their journey, and Fey Le O’Bellie’s journey began.
* * *
Asterio III, the 42nd Emperor of the Brimfe Empire, was dying. He was currently afflicted with an inexplicable disease that was causing him to wither away day by day.
People called the highly contagious disease the plague, or sometimes they referred to it as the demonic curse. Many groups of scholars had debated tirelessly on the name of the disease, but within the imperial palace, no one cared about the name of the disease.
The only thing that mattered to them was the fear that their lord could lose his life overnight. That was the single most important thing to them. In the Emperor’s chamber, adorned with countless golden threads, only three maids-in-waiting stood guard.
Although the chamber was enveloped in protective spells to prevent the disease from spreading, no one dared to approach the man who was fading away like a winter tree, even if he was the ruler of a nation.
All that remained of the beloved ‘Beautiful King Asterio’ that everyone adored was now gone. His once vibrant complexion had turned pale, and his golden hair, once flowing with luster, had become completely white.
The well-toned muscles that had been built through rigorous training and hunting now resembled deflated balloons, leaving only frail bones. The only thing left in this world was a grotesque old man whose skin seemed like it could be peeled off at any moment.
The praised and respected ruler of Brimfe was nowhere to be found. There were not many days left for him. Asterio himself was well aware of that fact. Yet, in order to open his eyes tomorrow, he reluctantly swallowed useless pills and forced them down his throat. Meanwhile, outside the chamber, a peculiar commotion could be heard.
“What’s happening?” The Emperor put down his spoon and asked in a raspy voice.
Immediately, one of the maids standing by the door hurriedly approached after confirming the situation.
“Your Majesty, Marquis Vellot wishes to see you.”
Viscount Bellot, there was no one other than Kyle Vellot, the Emperor’s loyal vassal.
“Let him in.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
The Emperor was secretly pleased that the momentary distraction had arrived. At the same time, he couldn’t help but think that there must be a weighty matter for Marquis Vellot to urgently visit him at this late hour.
“May the trinity of the divine guide you, Lord Vellot of Brimfe has come to visit. Your Majesty, are you in good health?” The man who entered the room after the door opened was a young and handsome redhead, a nobleman of Brimfe, who seemed unbelievable for the position of an imperial counselor.
“You’ve come at an inconvenient time.”
The Emperor made a dismissive gesture, and the tray with his medication was pushed aside. As the maid removed the Emperor’s medication tray, Kyle Vellot rose from his knees.
“I apologize for disturbing you late at night. Something important has come up that I must report.”
“What is it? Wasn’t it to accompany me in my leisure?”
“My apologies.” Kyle Vellot didn’t hide his disappointment, as he looked at the Emperor.
“Well, anyway. Coming to see me at this hour, it seems to be something out of the ordinary.”
The Emperor slowly closed his eyes. Kyle had learned through years of experience that this action meant he should speak up about whatever it was.
Kyle, with his sleek and tidy appearance, was known as a socialite with a keen and astute personality. He always had a faint smile on his lips, but this time, it was completely absent. The three court ladies who were looking at Kyle Vellot all had the same thought in an instant: something had gone wrong with this matter.
“Just now, we received a report that Marquis Fey Le O’Bellie has gone missing in Tighalst.”
“Fey? That child?”
The Emperor’s eyebrows twitched. Kyle didn’t miss it and quickly continued speaking. “Yes, Marquis Fey Le O’Bellie has gone missing. It has been a week since she returned to the mansion.”
The Emperor’s eyelids slowly opened. He blinked several times, accepting the blurred vision he couldn’t avoid and coughed lightly. Then, he recalled the face of a girl he had adored since childhood.
“Fey, that child is missing? Is it really a disappearance? Did she go on a trip or return to her territory?”
“Yes. According to the informant, that seems to be the case.”
“Two hours ago, a knight named Deneb O’Bellie came to the imperial palace to report the disappearance of Marquis Fey Le O’Bellie.”
The Emperor took a moment to recall the name Deneb. Then, a familiar face came to mind.
‘That little white-haired boy. The one who was always clinging to Luné and Fey.’
Though Kyle knew that Deneb had entered the palace without permission and caused quite a stir, he didn’t mention it. He didn’t want to burden the Emperor with any more trouble.
“I’m not sure if he’s a little boy, but yes, Your Majesty is right. That’s what he said. The girl ran away.”
Kyle carefully chose his words, even though he was convinced that the Emperor, who knew exactly who Marquis Fey Le O’Bellie was, understood what he meant. The Emperor swallowed the remains of the herbs still in his mouth. The medicine was useless after all. He couldn’t eat such things. With that thought in mind, the Emperor took a deep breath.
“It’s a pity.”
The Emperor genuinely felt sorry for Marquis Fey Le O’Bellie, whom he regarded as his own daughter. He could vividly recall the time when Fey was just a little girl. To him, Fey was always a kind and cheerful girl who smiled brightly.
“Has that child changed…?”
When did it come to this? Luné O’Bellie, the hero of the Empire, died. Crown Prince Altair fell into a state of helplessness. Marquis Fey Le O’Bellie went missing. And he himself surely couldn’t continue on beyond spring. Looking back on his ruined life, all that remained was a slight regret.
“I will always follow Your Majesty’s will.”
The Emperor’s mind returned to reality as he heard Kyle Vellot’s voice. He stared blankly at his loyal subject who had bowed to himself. Of course, he couldn’t see clearly ahead.
‘My only loyal subject… no, not only him.’
A weak laugh escaped his lips.
“If Your Majesty commands me to find her, I will do so. Or if you prefer, Your Majesty can use the incident as an opportunity to take Fairy Tail into the Empire.” Kyle Vellot calmly presented the two choices available in the current situation.
In fact, the current phenomenon of nobles seeking exile was happening without hesitation. With Luné O’Bellie dead and the disease known as the Blight spreading, the nobles had lost the will to support Brimfe any longer. But that didn’t mean the Imperial Court had paid attention to each noble’s exile. The current Imperial Court was not in a position to do so. However, if Fey abandoned Brimfe and fled, that would be a different story.
Only the Emperor and Kyle Vellot were aware of this fact.
“What about the Crown Prince?”
In response to the sudden mention of the name, Kyle reflexively blurted out the question.
“Does the Crown Prince know about this?”
It was expected that he wouldn’t know. The Crown Prince, who spent his days confined to the tower’s underground, would not be aware of this matter.
Yet, for some reason, the Emperor wanted an answer even though the Crown Prince knew nothing about it. And before Kyle could answer, the Emperor spoke with a dry laugh.
“If he doesn’t know, go and inform him. I want him to know, even if I have to force it out of him.”
Occasionally, Kyle Vellot thought that the Emperor’s love for the Crown Prince was wavering a bit. However, he never bothered to express those thoughts. He was someone that was content as long as he carried out the Emperor’s orders.
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
The Emperor’s gaze, which had been fixed somewhere in the air, slowly shifted to his faithful servant.
“Fey is like my daughter.”
“I am aware, Your Majesty.”
“But she is not my daughter.” His flat voice resonated quietly.
“That’s why I want to make her the Crown Princess.”
The gray eyes that had been lifeless began to show a glimmer. The time had finally come to fulfill his desire.
“Summon Kaitos.” The Emperor called the name of his trusted guard.
And at that moment, a slight stiffness appeared in the corners of Kyle Vellot’s mouth. The Emperor deliberately ignored the fact that he knew what had happened to Kyle’s face.
“It’s been a while since I’ve seen Fey’s face.” Kyle watched the Emperor’s mouth move with difficulty. The sound of him coughing uncomfortably tormented his ears.
“So find her and bring her to me. Use whatever means necessary. Bring Fey before me, Kyle.”
A fallen noble with nothing but the name of a decaying house. The last remnants of a dying kingdom, more than anyone else the Emperor needed her.