29 Lay All Your Love on Me
(From the point of view of Vonerich Lardizabal)
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity later, we could see Valencia from afar. To be fair, the ships given to us are relatively fast, so we managed to travel from Varba to Valencia in less than two days. It would usually take about three to four days for steamships to travel the same distance we did, but our technology far outweighs anyone in Luxael, and we are not at all modest in saying such a fact. From afar, I could already see the gigantic three-layered walls of Valencia and their famed Undertaker's Bridge outside of the empire itself, connecting the rest of their empire located at the other side of the Valencia River. Hah! Undertaker's Bridge... such an exciting name, isn't it? It derived its name from the fact that the only people who would usually use that bridge are the undertakers and executioners who would chop the heads of Valencia's criminals as some kind of messed up monthly tradition. Once the sinner's bodies piled on one place, the undertakers would use their fire magic to turn the corpses into ashes and bury them in a pit outside of their gigantic prison towers, which is infamously named by comedians and merchants as Ash Hole HAHAHAHA! Oh, Valencia.
Such a ruthless place! For the most part, Valencia is known for its high-budget mass execution of its top criminals and the greatness of their tall and downright humongous prison towers, which are called the Château d'Valencia. This mighty fortress will either force you to be a saint or will lead you to your inevitable death. Prisoners often choose the latter and would willingly be great citizens of Valencia as either paid servants or soldiers that will never be promoted. That's what Valencia is! Walls, prisoners, executions—they're soldiers are known for being ruthless, disciplined, pragmatic, and practical. It is also a known fact that Valencia's citizens are just as fierce as their soldiers, which is why there's this rumor that says, "if you attack Valencia, the least of your problems are the soldiers, it's the citizens." The world had always held Valencia in high-esteem for housing all of Luxael's criminals from Defuntalac to Caelum and from Izrecael to Varba—no matter who you are, if you're caught breaking the law, then to Valencia you go. With such notoriety plastered all over their empire, you best believe that I am the most nervous of stepping inside of such a dark place.
Imagine my shock when we actually landed in Valencia!
"I... I never expected this!" Fanfares from all over the place with children running around with gleeful parents as countless bands play joyful music upon the arrival of our vessel.
"What do you mean?" Frigg asked as he forced a smile as he escorted me to descend our ship and take my first step in Valencia.
"I never thought they would be this happy!" I whispered with shock and delight as I waved my hand to the countless people who were hollering and screaming their applause at me. When my men finally stepped out of their cabins, the crowd, flocking a few meters away from us, just increased. Thus, the fanfare for our arrival became much louder than before. "They aren't faking this to make me feel good, are they?"
"Of course they're happy. Valencia is the richest empire in the world. Go figure!" Frigg replied as we walked to the red carpet laid out for us on the street as the people continued to clap and cheer for our arrival. Countless people looked out of their windows while waving at me and screaming my name so that they could get my attention. In return, I waved at them and sent countless flying kisses all over the place to all the excited people going about the streets. "And their applause is real; people here love you, you know? When you invented that red healing potion eight years ago and happily gave it to Valencia for free, the empire pretty much regarded you as their national hero. Can you even remember that?" Frigg replied, but I only shook my head in response to him as I happily walked towards the end of the red carpet. It seemed like it's leading to a large brick castle in the distance. "You have no idea how many people you saved in this empire. A great plague once ravaged this place, and if it weren't for your potion, it would be the end of Valencia. Of course, the cheers are genuine; of course, they love you."
"D-did I really? I didn't even know!" I said as I approached a few older women who're crying on the side of the road and kissed their hands before moving forward. I could faintly see some of them all clamoring even louder after seeing what I have done. "But wait, isn't Caelum the richest empire?" I said as I continued to walk through the bustling streets with a never-ending feeling of glee spewing out of my face.
"Hell no. Caelum only says that, but they're actually poor as shit. Don't believe all of that Caelum propaganda if all statistics lead to one thing: Valencia is far, far richer than Caelum by a long shot!" Frigg said with his body straight stiff as I finally realized the flustered young soldiers behind me, all marching forward with reddened faces. If it weren't for their helmets, the people would have already seen how embarrassed they all were. I was absolutely shocked by what I am seeing too! Luxurious brick houses all around us, countless people wearing the most opulent clothes I have ever seen, and tall buildings at the far distance, which made Varba look like nothing in comparison!
I am very, very delighted that they would place me in such high regard so much that they would throw such a fantastic celebration for me, but... Is this really necessary? I mean... We're at a time of war, right?
I was about to reply when two people suddenly approached my side as I swiftly walked towards the end of the red carpet. "Prince Vonerich, we are very delighted to have finally met you!" A tall, pale, blonde, and gorgeous man who's probably the most handsome person I have ever seen in my short life had suddenly bowed before me with the gentlest smile on his face. He was wearing a long white coat that reached the floor, and beneath it is what looked like a tight red silk shirt, which accentuated his toned body. He was also wearing red and loose pants, which is accompanied by a pair of black leather shoes. "Forgive us, if the king cannot meet you personally. He's currently in Izrecael at this very moment, and my sister and I are the ones who can personally receive your graceful arrival!"
I continued to walk while the man and his female companion walked on my right side. However... I don't know any of them. The beautiful woman beside the man then cleared her throat and tugged his male companion's chest. We then finally reached the end of the red carpet and saw that it led to a humongous metallic gate that slowly opened when I finally arrived at the end of the street. From inside, I could see countless vines, trees, and flowers all over the place, which covered the brick walls of the palace before me. Now that I had a careful look at it, I can safely say now that the entire palace itself is covered in vines, countless beautiful flowers, and tree roots, which led to a gigantic tree at the very top. It was so absolutely gorgeous and stunning that even the shade it cast on the floor still felt like a shimmering embrace. Because of this, we stood beneath a gigantic tree that seemed to be begging for me to enter inside of the castle it rooted itself on.
However, I just stood there below the embrace of the gigantic tree standing above us with a puzzled look as I gazed at the two people who had come to... welcome us, I think? I'm quite confused about who they are, really.
"Oh, where are my manners, forgive me, Your Highness Vonerich, I'm Claudius Higgins, the prince of Valencia, and this beautiful woman with me is my dear younger sister, Jenna Higgins, the first and only princess of our humble empire." The man named Claudius said as he waved his hand and pointed it at the beautiful woman beside him. Jenna is undoubtedly a star that could make anyone gasp, drop, and salivate all at the same time. Her pale and beautiful skin accentuated her pink lips. The fire brewing in her eyes shows that she is not at all a demure woman, and that is further implied through her biceps, which are far bigger than mine. If I may be audacious to say, Princess Jenna looked like the stunning woman inside of every people's mind when they think of the word 'beautiful,' but she can also choke you to death if she so desires. Both men before me made me feel like I'm such a thin and insignificant man because of the empowering aura they exude. That was when I slowly peeked at the people who were continually applauding us and realized that men and women, young or old, all citizens of Valencia are jacked!
However, most of all, I did not expect that members of the royal family would personally meet me when I'm the one who's asking for their support in our plans. "I am..." I then swiftly took the prince and the princess' hands and gripped it tightly with tearful eyes. "I do not know what to say, Your Highnesses. I am just a mere inventor from the south, and you graced me with this amazing fanfare. I never even expected for members of the royal family of Valencia to meet me personally. I would like to extend an undying gratitude I have for the two of you, and I mean it! I really, really mean it!" I then kissed the prince and the princess' hands before bowing before them with nothing but a grateful smile. "Forgive me, but we have nothing to offer as a gift in return for such amazing pleasure you have given me, but I promise we will pay you back kindly in the future."
"Oh no, please, don't trouble it anymore, Your Highness Vonerich. We are thankful enough that you are here, and we did this in our own accord to show you how thankful the empire truly is to have finally met you." Prince Claudius said with his deep and beautiful voice that sounded like the voice of an uncontrollable beast mixed with a songbird.
The two people before me then looked at me with stunned expressions while they listened to my words. "My, well, I never expected to have seen you like this, Your Highness Vonerich. If you would forgive us for our insolent assumptions, we thought that you're a kind of man who expects lavish and fanfare." Princess Jenna said with her sweet yet firm voice, which felt like a mixture of an opera singer and a military general.
"Don't get me wrong, Princess Jenna, I am a great fan of lavishness, but..." I then looked at the soldiers behind me. They all looked uneasy because of the rising applause all around us. "we are in a state of war, and I'm not sure if it's appropriate to have such a celebration all around us, but I want you to know that really, really love it, I really do! So may we please go to our station now?"
Prince Claudius and Princess Jenna then looked at each other with grim expressions when they heard what I had just said. It seemed that they're finally seeing my point. As much as I enjoyed this welcoming atmosphere, I am also quite offended that the prince and the princess would waste their resources like this instead of helping the war. I have nothing against them, for they all look like great people, but they know better than this. Princess Jenna then looked at me with a troubled expression plastered on her beautiful face as she placed her muscled arm on her chest graciously. Prince Claudius then looked at me with a look of sorrow and regret as he closed his eyes before breathing a long sigh.
Prince Claudius was then the first person to break the ice. It seems that the people around us have started to see the puzzled look of their prince and princess since they started to lower their voices. "In the name of Valencia, I am very sorry, Prince Vonerich, for—"
"I understand, Prince Claudius, and I hope you understand that I mean no ill will, and I also do not wish to insult the amazing efforts your people have given to welcome us. I am not at all angry, and I am also very delighted. I understand, Prince Claudius, I really do." I then sighed as I gazed at them with a soft smile before kissing their hands once more. "Vonerich likes to party, Vonerich likes to fuck around: such labels are already deeply ingrained in my reputation, and I do not condone anyone who would think of me as such, for it is a fact deeply rooted with my name. I understand, Prince Claudius, and I would want you all to understand that I still love Valencia, and I still love the two of you; that will not change." I then cleared my throat as I looked at how their saddened expressions slowly disappear from their beautiful faces. "May I address your people, Your Highnesses?"
"O-of course, Prince Vonerich," Princess Jenna uttered with a twinge of fear as her troubled look crept upon her face again. "Valencia is very much your people, too, and they would love nothing else than to hear your voice." The princess then gestured at a Valencian soldier standing nearby, who's wearing silver armor, to approach her. "Please give the prince one of those seashells from Varba so that he could address the people easier and—"
"No need, Princess Jenna," I said as I pulled my hands away from them gently before looking at the now confused Valencian citizens who were applauding me loudly earlier. They were all now murmuring in shushed voices as I slowly breathed in with a stern expression on my face. "PEOPLE OF VALENCIA!" I roared, which sent a thunderous echo throughout the streets. Swiftly, the people looked at the origin of the deep and loud voice that resounded out of nowhere. They were then shocked to see that it came from me. "CITIZENS WHOM I LOVE, THANK YOU FROM THE VERY BOTTOM OF MY HEART FOR COMING HERE FOR ME!" I continued with the same booming voice before pushing a fist into the air. "TODAY, A GRUESOME ENEMY HAD APPEARED TO CHALLENGE THE MIGHT OF OUR EMPIRES! THEY DARE TO CROSS OUR FRIENDS AND IZRECAEL! THEY DARE TO CHALLENGE THE MIGHTY LUXAEL! WE HAVE COME HERE TO END THIS PATHETIC EXCUSE FOR A CONQUEROR WHO CALLED THEMSELVES GIANTS!" I then gulped my saliva deeply as I felt my throat going dry. "VALENCIA, EMPIRE THAT I LOVE! WOULD YOU ALLOW DEFILERS TO TRAMPLE OUR LANDS? WOULD YOU ALLOW THEM TO MARCH OUT OF YOUR HOMES AS IF THEY OWN THE LAND FROM WHICH YOU'VE GROWN TO LOVE!?"
Silence then ensued throughout the full street all around me as the children of the empire's rulers looked at me with downcast expressions.
"THE ARMY OF VARBA HAS COME HERE TO END OUR ENEMIES. THUS, I ASK YOU, VALENCIA, ONCE AGAIN WITH A PLEADING HEART, WILL YOU BE ALLOWING FOREIGNERS TO MARCH TO YOUR HOMES AND TRAMPLE ON THE VERY GROUND YOU STEP ON!"
"NO!" I heard the voice of a young child roaring forward. I then looked around to see where it came from and realized that it came from a child who seems to be only eight-years-old. He was then gently pulled away from the crowd by his parents as they looked at me with worried gazes. Now, they're finally showing what they really feel.
"NOOOOO, VALENCIA! THE ANSWER IS NO! WE WILL SHOW THEM THE WRATH OF A THOUSAND ANGRY MEN, AND ONLY THEN WILL THEY KNOW THAT THE GODS ARE NOT ON THEIR SIDE! WE WILL LET THEM FEEL THE STRIKE OF A HUNDRED HEAVENS FALLING FROM THE SKY AND ONLY THEN WILL THEY KNOW THAT VALENCIA IS NOT AN EMPIRE THEY SHOULD HAVE TRIFLED WITH!" I then remembered that the people of Valencia view the God of Earth with high esteem, the same way Varba adores the God of Death. When I stopped speaking, the people of Valencia finally had the time to process my words as I saw a newfound determination appearing on their faces. "ONLY THEN SHALL THE GIANTS KNOW THAT A UNION BETWEEN THE GOD OF THE EARTH AND THE GOD OF DEATH IS THE COLDEST THING THAT WOULD EVER TOUCH THEIR HEATHEN BODIES!"
The people then cheered once more with angry faces. Their fists were in the air as their bottling worries finally exploded upon hearing my words.
"GLORY TO VALENCIA! GLORY TO VALENCIA! GLORY TO VALENCIA!" I repeated thrice after seeing the cries of Valencia, and finally, I can see that I am, indeed, in a time of war. I then looked at the prince and princess, who's standing dumbfounded beside me with an ember firing hot within my heart. I then knelt before them, and when I did so, the Varban soldiers who came with me fell on their knees as well in unison. "Prince Claudius, Princess Jenna, please allow a feeble man like me to be given the gracious support of your great empire."
"Stand, Prince Vonerich." I heard the stern voice of Prince Claudius ring above me, which sent countless creeping shivers in my skin like bundles of needles tickling my insides. Haa... As I expected, I have angered Valencia's royal children. Maybe I should have taken their suggestion and spoke on that seashell thing instead. However, when I looked up, instead of an angry and insulted expression, the tearful face of Prince Claudius greeted my shocked expression. Such a tall and muscled man looking at me with water spewing out of his eyes like waterfalls is truly a sight to behold. "You have all the support of Valencia with you. I want you to know, Prince Vonerich, that your magnificent creation was the reason why my mother and I were permitted to live another day in this beautiful world. You have no idea how grateful I am that I am given the opportunity to hear such amazing words from my savior, Your Highness."
I then slowly approached the young Prince Claudius and wrapped my arms around his hardened body. When the people saw this, they all jumped up with joy the same way they all looked like earlier when I first stepped in Valencia. However, unlike earlier, they were all giving meals and weapons to the young soldiers who came with me while the rest of the people busied themselves to run around to make more supplies and armors.
"I wish I had met you at a better time, Prince Claudius. I wish I came to Valencia, not for war, but for love." As I felt the warmness that was spewing out of the tearful prince's heart, I smiled before moving my body gently away from him and said, "Win this war with me, Prince Claudius."
However, before he could utter a reply, giant waves of wind rushed towards our direction as if a tornado was about to appear from afar, making my wings flutter uncontrollably towards the side. I also saw the vibrant hair of the prince and the princess waving into the air after the sudden whirlwind that swept right into our faces. When I saw that the wind came from the hurrying Crespas who's descending from the sky, I realized that maybe what is about to happen is something far more worrying than just a twister.
"Thank goodness you're still here, Vonerich!" The Crespa, who landed his flaw-like feet on the ground, first said with a worried expression and trembling voice. His long hair fell on his back as his golden linen tunic shone brightly before us as he hurriedly approached me. There is only one man who could wear gold according to the Crespa tradition other than the king, and that is the prince. Thus, seeing the prince of Vega rushing towards me, I knew right away that I am dealing with some serious shit. "Terrible news from Duibhne, my dear friend."
I looked at the Crespa, who's wearing gold throughout his body while a frown appears on my face. "What is it, Sailas?" I asked Sailas, a dear friend of mine, with an alarmed voice.
Sailas sighed with his huge owl-like eyes closed before saying, "Madame Song's Fleet has been ravaged by a storm that suddenly appeared between Izrecael and Duibhne's ports. Most of them returned to Duibhne alive, but thousands of people have perished with them."
"WH-WHAT!? WHAT ABOUT MADAME SONG?" I asked with a worried voice as I placed my hands on Sailas' shoulders.
"She's doing well, but she's heavily wounded. However, she still decided to push through the plan. I'm not sure what exactly she has in mind, but they've left Duibhne again, heading towards Defuntalac." He then sighed as he saw my trembling eyes filled with shock. He then continued, "And we just received news from a noblewoman who escaped from Izrecael." He closed his eyes as the other Crespas behind him all looked at him with worried expressions. "The king of Izrecael is dead."