CHAPTER 1.1



CAINE

The dry wind blew the dust and dirt of the dead earth, making the vision blurred.

Caine deftly used his long sleeves to ward off the sandy wind as he squinted at the land before him.

"It’s getting a lot more depleted..."

It hadn't been very long since he'd last been at this long seawall, the end of the human living world. Last time he visited the wall for restoration, there was a little bit of greenery dotted far beyond the horizon. But today, there was only empty land as far as the eyes can see.

There were no plants or animals, not even a single puddle of river water.

── At this rate, it will only last one or two more years.

He's sure he'll be able to find a lot more information about this matter later.

Now he’s standing on the edge of a huge wall that stretched endlessly from far right to far left. A protective wall that his great ancestors built a thousand years ago to protect the world.

Climbing up the stairs carved into the massive stone mass, Caine arrived at the site where it had collapsed under the attack of the invaders.

Only a "star bearer" can restore the shattered stones, removing the debris and install new ones. The work requires a lot of concentration and patience, just like weaving cloth with delicate embroidery or spider threads.

The stones in this place were not from the human world, but from the star world. Only a star bearer can do this work. Therefore, Caine was respected and treated as a nobleman. Ah, how long has it been since I started to work on the restoration, which is a big part of the reason for my existence?

"....."

Suddenly, the hand that controls the stone material──not an actual hand, but a spiritual body part that connected to the star world──went haywire, and the weaving pattern that was about to be completed collapsed. Similar to the embroidered lace that was ruined by hooking the yarn to a nail.

As soon as Caine lost his concentration he had been focusing on for nearly half a day, the fatigue he had been ignoring until then hit him. A dull pain spread from the core of his head, blurred his vision. His hands and feet trembling, shed nasty sweat.

"──...It's only a half day's work."

What's worse, the work was almost completed...but ruined in a blink of an eye. Caine was disgusted by his lack of physical strength.

The other star bearers around him were still working hard, unaware of Caine's failures due to their different areas of work. But that didn't mean his mistakes can be forgiven.

Caine immediately tried to resume his work, but he was so dizzy he couldn't even open his eyes.

──Let's just...take a break. Just for a bit.

With his eyes closed, he sat down on the crevices of the stone and leaned on the out-of-the-world stone. The surface of the stone-carved out of the star world felt faintly warm and soft to the exhausted body.

'As the heir to the house of Schwarzburg, you are responsible to protect the king and restoring the walls. Nothing else but those two.'

The faint voice of Caine's father who died more than ten years ago echoed eerily in his dreams.

'You are the shield that protects this world. Don't be arrogant. Don't let the emotions take over you. They are just a hindrance that attracts a weak mind.'

Even though Caine knew it was a dream, he couldn't help but feel the hissing sound of the whip that came with the voice, and the scorching shock the moment it hit his skin. Caine woke up as his body flinched.

"...I apologize, sir. A messenger has arrived from the Royal Palace. He said he came here with a request from the House of Representatives."

There's a caring squire's voice above Caine's head. The faint body heat, transmitted through the palm of his hand on his shoulder, was sparse.

Caine stirred up the bangs that rested on his forehead and sat up as he shook off the remnants of his dreams and the hands of his entourage. For a moment, he's lost about where he was right now.

He stared down at his feet, then looked around and reminded himself, oh yeah...

"How long have I been asleep?"

"...less than a quarter-hour," replied the man a bit stammered.

As Caine stared, the squire reiterated reluctantly, "A moment or so, Sir."

Swallowing the words, Caine pressed his fingers on his forehead and closed his eyes for a moment. The pain still lingered inside the core of his head. He was duller than before──more like passed out than falling asleep.

If a single star were to doze off while working, they would be reprimanded by the supervisor, a higher star, but no one would be able to complain to the highest-ranking six-star, Caine, face-to-face. That's why he couldn't forgive his own mistakes.

"Why didn't you wake me up?"

Any delay in the work will only increase the threat of erosion. The squire answered Caine's question in a bland, emotionless voice.

"You didn’t look well so we've decided that waking you up right away won't improve the efficiency of our works."

Caine’s didn't like the reference to his physical condition, but was satisfied with his calm response.

──This squire was not worried about me, he just didn't call out for efficiency.

If a cow and horse are overworked, they'll get tired and stop moving. Effective labor also requires a decent amount of rest. The longer the string is tightened, the less power it has to hold the bow. You have to take it off unless you're using it.

Caine didn't feel uncomfortable likening himself to a workhorse or tools, so he switched the subject.

"Where is the messenger?"

"Downstairs, Sir."

Caine got up from the stone surface and stepped out onto the edge of the huge masses, misguiding his wobbly feet while correcting his appearance.

The squire raised a hand, and the saddled Tianma──emblazoned with the Schwarzburg family crest──dismounted before Caine with a light step.

"Blanc."

Blanc is a top-grade heavenly horse trained only to be ridden by Caine. He has a calm temperament and cared for Caine more than anyone else who's ever involved with him.

Caine mounted with a small sound and a slackened expression that only Blanc could see.

Blanc knew Lord Caine's condition really well. Enough to know not to tell anyone. The Heavenly Horse soon kicked at the boulder on the wall with an almost vibration-free motion, then descended gently and landed on the ground.

The waiting messenger did not wait for Caine to get down from the Heavenly Horse. He unfolded the lofty scroll he was carrying and proclaimed solemnly.

"The Chancellor's Office calls upon all of the King's Guardians, the Paradeion. It has been decided that a favorable Rite of Grace will be performed in the near future, so the king's guardian, Paradeion, will gather in the royal court to make the necessary preparations."

The moment Caine heard the call to the royal palace, there was a bounce in the back of his chest.

A tall, broad back passed through his brain. And in the blink of an eye, he shook it away.

"Accepted."

Nodding, Caine lightly tugged on the reins, and in response to the Lord's wishes, Blanc rushed up into the sky. Continuing on his way to the Royal Palace, a thousand kilometers away.

It would take a hundred days for an adult to reach 1,000 kilometers on foot, but for a Tianma, it would only take two hours. The sight of the Heavenly Horse soaring through the clouds from the ground looked like a meteor moving across the blue sky. While the ground, as seen from the top of the heavenly winged horse, was filled with an unfamiliar aloofness to Caine.

The land, which was only to be nothing but thin, reddish-brown sand and wilderness, was gradually becoming richer as it approached the center of the country. The greenery became prominent in the wilderness and eventually gave ways to pastures and fields cared for by humans. Mountains and forests, rivers flowing out of them to moisten the land like a weave, and as the villages and towns gradually grow in size, the royal capital, the place of arrival, came into view.

The royal capital was the remains of the city before the Great Erosion, so it was much more beautiful and grand in scale than other cities. The myriad spires stretching toward the heavens corresponded to the arrangement of the constellations before the Great Erosion, now they were out of alignment and could not fulfill their original purposes.


NOTES:

Tianma: flying horse, heavenly horse.

All novel posted on this site are purely translated by machine (Papago, Gtranslate, etc) with a little bit of editing.



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