Chapter 45: 029. Imperial Prince is Going Home -3 (Part One)
I continued reading the grimoire even though a loud yawn broke out of my mouth. Then, I muttered to myself. “Never guessed that an actual Paladin corps would be dispatched here to fetch me.”
From what I heard, this whole gang was assembled in order to find out the real party responsible for the meritorious deed of hunting the Vampire Count.
That didn’t mean I should speak the truth, though. I should probably only mention some things that I can say then pepper in some make-beliefs somewhere in the middle and hope that everything would work out fine afterwards.
“Your highness. You seem to rather enjoy studying magic.”
Harman, sitting next to the sleeping Charlotte leaning against the carriage’s wall, asked me.
“Mm? Ah, this? You know, it’s kinda fun once I got started, you see.”
The original reason was so that I could increase my strength in order to survive, but in all honesty, I did find the magic of this world really interesting to learn. Plus, the sense of accomplishment I’d get from learning the magic itself was rather extraordinary, so it became a hobby of mine pretty quickly.
“…Isn’t it difficult, your highness?”
“Well, it’s alright.”
I brushed the topic off and flipped through another page of the considerably thick grimoire. Then, I sneaked a glance at Harman.
He was looking back at me with a rather meaningful stare.
It was right then that a knocking sound came from outside the carriage. I opened the wooden window panel and was greeted by a Paladin bowing his head right outside the door.
“Your highness, we’ve arrived at the capital of the Theocratic Empire, Laurensis.”
Upon hearing this, I opened the door wide and leaned the upper half of my body outside the carriage. I then let out an impressed sigh right afterwards. “Oh-ho…!”
Since this was the capital of a religious state, I figured it’d be the city version of a stiff upper lip, the kind that had humourless square streets everywhere. But boy, was I wrong.
A city so eye-catching and flashy that the medieval ages of Earth could never even hope to match its splendour, was spread out before my view.
Around it, various small to large villages surrounded the capital. Beyond them were outer walls that easily reached twenty meters in height extending around the capital to protect it from the external forces.
Despite the tall fortress-like walls, I could clearly see the statue of the goddess located on top of a hill, and beyond that was the Theocratic Empire’s imperial palace, its pointy tip piercing the heavens above.
The architecture of the structures was truly amazing, simply overflowing with grand scale and sheer beauty. As expected of a capital city that belonged to a fantasy world filled with magic.
This was the holy land of the faithful, Laurensis; the centre of this empire’s faith where this body was born. And also where my ‘brothers’ from the Imperial Family were waiting for me.
“…I’m getting all tensed up here.”
My muttering brought about a wry grin on Harman’s face.
The massive outer gates were wide open to allow the travellers and citizens to come in and go as they pleased. We went past the huge steel gates that were at least fifteen metres tall and stepped on the well-laid-out avenues meant for horses and carriages.
The gazes of numerous tourists and the denizens were directed towards our ride.
“I guess there isn’t going to be a welcoming party for me, then?”
Now normally, flower petals should be raining down and the empire’s citizens would be lining the sides of the streets to cheer for the triumphant return of the Imperial Prince. At least that’s how things were like in the novels I’ve read. If I was being honest, I did anticipate some sort of a flashy welcoming party, but all of their expressions kind of implied that they had no clue who was even riding in the carriage.
Harman coughed uncomfortably at my question and formed a troubled expression on his face. “His majesty has never prescribed to such pretensions, and that’s why…”
“Ah, so that’s how much I’m being resented by him, huh.”
I inwardly told myself that it’d already be a huge relief if my grandfather didn’t start nagging me to death the moment we met.
With these thoughts percolating in my mind, I shifted my gaze outside and observed the city streets. They were spotless and clean. Numerous kids were running around having fun in the markets, all the while the citizens were selling or buying things with bright expressions on their faces. Some men who looked like mercenaries were guffawing about something while holding each other’s shoulders. And the sights of some folks kitted out with spears and shields, probably Paladins patrolling the streets, left me with a pretty deep impression.
I got some inkling from having met Harman earlier, but well, this guy called the Holy Emperor, Kelt Olfolse, must’ve been a wise and benevolent ruler who knew how to lead his subjects splendidly. It was fairly easy to come to this conclusion from all the energetic faces found in the capital’s streets.
“This isn’t so bad,” said I.
Harman looked at me, and with a smile on his lips, nodded his head.
I continued on, “It’s great that there are plenty of things to sightsee here.”
“Is that so, your highness?”
The Paladin spoke in a rather pleased tone of voice.
I had no idea that I’d feel like an amazed tourist despite this place being my ‘hometown’. I also couldn’t help but wonder what my expression was like right now while taking in the sights of these streets.
Probably one of an immature little kid, I thought.
This was how much anticipation and heart-pounding excitement had pervaded into my emotions. Although the distance we had covered wasn’t really all that much, it still felt like I was travelling all around the world.
Unfortunately, such emotions didn’t last for long.
I reflexively covered up my nose. My innards almost tumbled from the sudden onset of this disgusting and twisted stench. The feeling of sheer displeasure welled up inside me almost uncontrollably.
After quickly retreating away from the windows, Harman came in closer to pat me on the back. “Are you feeling alright, your highness? Perhaps you’re coming down with motion sickness?”
“…Let me ask you something, Harman.”
“Yes, your highness?”
He tilted his head in pure puzzlement. However, his response only made the corners of my lips quiver. “Could there be… undeads hiding in the capital of the Theocratic Empire?”
His expression instantly hardened upon hearing my question.
Our group’s march came to a halt in the middle of the street and I stepped out from the carriage. Charlotte woke up from her nap, and along with Harman, stayed very close to me as I made my way forward.
“This is a Yalua fruit! It’s only worth five bronze coins!”
“Oi, little miss! I’ll discount this thing especially for you, so please buy it!”
“Hahaha! That’s right! I really did it! I confessed to her and she said yes!”
The market place was truly lively. I silently walked on these laughter-filled streets as Harman, Charlotte, and the other Paladins approached me while carefully studying my mood.
“Your highness, did something happen…?”
Harman cautiously asked me, but I paid him no mind. I couldn’t stop myself from moving my legs, all because of this ominous foreboding.
Soon, we stepped into an alleyway that branched off from the lively market. There were hardly any people walking around here. Various articles of laundry and drying sheets were hung between the narrow alleyway’s walls.
Despite it being in the middle of a bright day, the shade cast here was pretty dark. It was also quite gloomy and far too quiet for my liking.
This whole area felt far removed from the lively marketplace found just around the corner.
I stopped walking here, and with my gaze fixed to our immediate front, I spoke up. “…And what could that be?”
There was a beautiful woman.
A rapturous expression was etched on her face, while her eyes were tightly closed with tears streaming down her cheeks. Just as striking was the gorgeous arrangement of flowers around her severed neck resting on the ground.
I carefully studied the arrangements of roses as well as her severed head before raising my gaze upwards. There it was, a headless body that I suspected to be hers dangling along on the clothing lines.
It resembled a dried-up mummy as if all of its blood had been sucked out. The headless body danced around in the winds blowing up there.
Harman shouted out in sheer surprise, “What is the meaning of…?!”
Charlotte averted her gaze at this sight. The Paladins following us from behind also stood still with hardened expressions, their jaws dropping to the floor.
A heavy silence descended in our midst after none of us managed to escape from the shock of this scene. However, the first one to break this silence by opening her lips was the woman’s severed head.
‘She’ suddenly opened her eyes, and her eyeballs began frantically searching about the area. When it spotted our group, it then began screeching out. The body-less head was repeatedly opening and shutting its mouth.
It was an undead; to be more specific, a zombie with only its head remaining.
I placed my hand on the woman’s head and injected some of my divinity. It began melting down and turned into ashes that scattered away, leaving behind only the bleached skull.
Since the disgusting stench was still lingering around here, I hurriedly shifted my gaze to scan our vicinity. The creature that killed this woman and turned her into a zombie was still nearby.
I got up and dashed out of the alleyway.
I summoned my trusty shovel and gripped it tightly.
Before long, I found myself back in the marketplace. Amongst all the crowds bustling about, my piercing glare singled out the back of a certain individual, a man in his early-to-mid thirties with a striking set of red hair.
He was walking among the crowd, and yet, he flinched in surprise for some reason before shifting his gaze behind him. I could see his lips bob up and down briefly just then.
-Looks like I’ve got myself a tail.
It was right then – the disgusting stench thinned out, and just like that, the odour of death vanished into the air. As for the man, he too vanished without a trace within the crowd.
I stood there as if in a trance from that spectacle. After regaining my senses, I lowered my shovel helplessly and groaned loudly. “Ahhh… I’m so screwed.”
The only reason why I came here was to learn some magic, but it seemed that I got myself mixed up in a bizarre event, instead…