The moonlight still lingered in the dawn.
The harsh winter of the north, freezing everything solid, was unforgiving.
As Ignis rode the warhorse, his breath visible in the cold air, flames danced around him as if they were threatening to engulf everything in their vicinity ceaselessly.
The snow, piled up to the knees of adults, melted in an instant. As if frostbite and hypothermia weren’t something they needed to worry about, the subjugation knights were relaxed. Some of the knights even sweated from the intense heat.
Damion smiled briefly, gazing in wonder at the surging magic power.
‘I’m still not used to the magic of the transcendent.’
Except for his golden hair, swaying in the north wind, Ignis remained perfectly composed. His crimson pupils radiated a cool atmosphere devoid of any discernible emotion.
Suddenly, Ignis pulled back on the reins and turned around.
Seeing this, Damion reined in his steed and rode to Ignis’s side.
“Your Highness, is there a problem?”
“…No. I thought I heard Stella’s voice for a moment.”
In his composed tone, Damion stifled a chuckle.
“It seems you can’t bear to be away from the adorable princess, Your Highness. I understand. I’ve also missed my little sister…”
At those words, a shadow crossed his face.
The Young Lady of the Duchy of Lorraine, whom he only knew by name. She was rumored to be insane, confined to her room due to a mental illness, never coming out, and avoiding contact with anyone.
Ignis was suddenly curious.
“Damion. Have you still not seen your sister’s face this time, too?”
His eyes widened as he heard Ignis calling him by his name rather than his title.
‘… He’s asking as a friend.’
Knowing the man in front of him well enough to know that he wasn’t interested in anyone else, the corner of Damion’s mouth turned up in spite of himself.
“Unfortunately, I haven’t seen her once since I was six.”
As he gazed affectionately in the direction of the ducal castle, his expression slowly distorted. His green eyes were filled with longing.
“We must ensure the success of this subjugation and return. I have to cure my sister’s illness.”
Ignis held back his words as he stared at Damion, whose hands were clenched tightly.
He felt the same way.
‘We must absorb the neutral faction through the success of this subjugation.’
The current power structure in the Badelstan Empire was divided into the Imperial faction led by the Crown Prince, the noble faction led by Duke Horton, and the neutral faction.
While the noble faction also had many followers of the emperor, due to Ignis’s magic power being equal to that of the former emperor, a faction split occurred. This resulted in fierce clashes between the Imperial faction and the noble faction.
The first emperor was a bloodthirsty tyrant who possessed magic that could consume even souls, and they used this as a reason to criticize Crown Prince Ignis’s potential.
Given that the neutral faction was a pragmatic group that valued justifications and principles, it was imperative for him to secure their support at any expense.
The sudden appearance of northern demons provided an excellent opportunity to gain justification. Ignis wanted to purge the corrupt noble faction to its roots. However, there was an issue regarding leaving Princess Stella alone in the imperial palace.
Therefore, even if it meant subjecting young Stella to some discomfort, the decision to bring her to the north was made to ensure her safety in a relatively more secure environment. The mere thought of Empress Christina’s potential schemes against his sister sent shivers down his spine, draining blood from his face.
Ignis’s previously expressionless face contorted slightly.
He immediately pushed the thoughts of Karentina from his mind. He couldn’t afford to worry about a young lady he had never even met.
As the brisk, frigid air against his skin served as a stark reminder that relishing in such leisurely times was a luxury.
“Let’s depart quickly.”
Ignis, who had been gazing at the unseen ducal castle, turned his head. As the ferocious magic surged like it could devour everything, the knights nearby were overwhelmed by its power and trembled in fear.
Hoping that the growing unease in his heart would subside, Ignis tightly gripped the reins of his horse.