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    Born as the only son of Duke Bertrand, a central noble of Ortona, Gael was sensitive to the movement of aura from a young age.

    Even before he formally learned aura cultivation, he already felt the aura flowing around him like air and used it to breathe. When he actually began training, he quickly created three layers of aura, surprising everyone around him.

    For young Gael, it was not a big deal.

    He had reached the stage where he could not only absorb and accumulate aura in his body but also sensitively feel the aura vibrations from people and living beings around him.

    He noticed strong movements from young and healthy people and weak ones from the old and sick. Gael soon realized that these vibrations subtly changed when people spoke or felt strong emotions.

    He was destined to become the youngest Sword Master and was praised as a genius comparable to the legendary swordsman Banahas.

    “This thieving cat! Where have you hidden my lady’s earrings? Won’t you confess properly?”

    When he was still a child, a theft occurred at the duke’s mansion: the duchess’s jewelry was stolen.

    The main suspect was one of her personal maids, the youngest among them.

    “It’s not true, Madame Gomez. I really don’t know anything about it!”

    “So, you didn’t steal the earrings? You were the only one who could have touched them!”

    “I swear I’m innocent!”

    Young Gael felt anxious vibrations from the crying maid in front of the house steward.

    Her denial seemed truthful, yet she simultaneously emitted strong vibrations of sincerity while claiming her innocence.

    He was confused.

    Why? If she stole the earrings, why did she believe she was innocent?

    Soon, it was revealed through investigation that she had conspired with a mansion guard to steal the earrings and sell them secretly.

    “Please! Please forgive me just this once! My sick mother at home is taking care of my ailing younger sibling! If I am expelled, my sibling won’t be able to receive treatment and might die!”

    “Take her away, now!”

    “Please! You can’t do this to me! After all the hard work I have done for the ducal family! Madame Gomez!”

    Gael felt the piercing desperation in the vibrations from the maid as she was dragged away by the city guards. Her belief that the ducal family’s treatment of her was unjust and overly harsh was genuine.

    Gael felt melancholic, absorbing a part of her sorrowful emotions through her vibrations.

    Soon after she was imprisoned, rumors spread that her mother and sibling had died of illness. Gael thought it was a tragic turn of events, but as a child, he soon forgot about her.

    Months later, the woman, now released from prison, returned to the ducal mansion. She was emaciated, her hair roughly shorn, looking wretched.

    She ran towards the mansion guards, eyes filled with resentment.

    “It’s all your fault! You imprisoned me and ignored my family, you filthy Bertrands! I curse you! I swear, in hell, I will demand the lives of my mother and sibling from you! Aaaaaah!”

    Even as the city guards took her away again, she did not stop cursing them. Her eyes filled with venom were so fierce that even the guards momentarily flinched.

    Watching from a window inside the mansion, Gael vividly felt the waves of hatred emanating from her. She truly believed the entire situation was the Bertrand family’s fault and cursed them wholeheartedly.

    Gael, sitting in his room, turned to his nanny Juana, who was busy with her embroidery, and asked, “Juana, was what that woman said true? Is all the misfortune that befell her really our family’s fault?”

    Nanny Juana scoffed without even looking up from her embroidery. “Of course not, young master. You shouldn’t take to heart what such wicked people say. Why should she blame the ducal family when she’s the thief? It’s clear that she was inherently corrupt, and the Divine punished her justly.”

    The price of stealing earrings being her mother and sibling’s lives seemed too harsh. And why did her family suffer the Divine’s punishment instead of her?

    Although Gael was curious, he sensed genuine vibrations from Juana. She firmly believed that the maid received the punishment she deserved.

    That incident made young Gael realize that most people always speak with some degree of sincerity. It’s just that their sincerity might not be the truth or it might change to another sincerity later. And these wrong sincerities are not always the fault of the person speaking them.

    Perhaps it was from then that he tried to understand and listen to what people said.

    Over time, Gael enrolled in the Royal Academy, where noble offspring typically studied, and there he met Prince Benicio, who would become a lifelong friend.

    Compared to his peers, who were barely at a squire’s level, Gael already possessed the skills of an intermediate knight when he joined the academy, becoming the envy of all.

    Many sought to befriend the young heir of the Duke, the future strongest swordsman of Ortona. Among them was Prince Benicio.

    “You, with such talent, should lead our country in the future.”

    The prince was intelligent and likable, and surprisingly, a supporter of the republic despite being a member of the royal family. He befriended radical republican professors and a minority of noble students, becoming a new focal point of the academy’s republican faction.

    “Everyone says I turned to the republic because I am the second prince, far from power. But that’s not true. I love my homeland. I act purely based on what I think will bring a better future to Ortona.”

    Gael felt a slight instability in Benicio’s vibrations. Part of what Benicio said was not true. Whether it was an outright lie or Benicio himself harbored doubts about his words was unclear.

    “Many philosophers have pondered this. Is it right for a country to be controlled solely by an absolute monarch? Look no further than our own country, where the monarch is becoming a puppet of the royalists, and the merchant alliances and noble council are growing into an invincible force beyond the monarch’s control.”

    The young prince, not yet of age, furrowed his brow with an adult-like seriousness.

    “What then is a fail-proof nation? Listening to more people, moving the country without mistakes based on the opinions of many, that’s a republic. I believe that by realizing the future envisioned by the republicans, Ortona will move in a better direction.”

    Gael looked at Prince Benicio, who was gazing into the distance with a sparkle in his eyes. The prince’s words, filled with dreams of a glorious future for Ortona as the first republic on the continent, resonated with nothing but love for his country and pure truth.

    His truth might someday collide with the harsh wall of reality and cease to be true. But for now, the passion Prince Benicio showed was strong and pure enough to inspire everyone in the academy’s republican faction.

    So, as always, Gael decided to believe in the sincerity of those who spoke their truth before him.

    And later, Gael indeed played a significant role in establishing a republic in Ortona and eventually became the last sword of the diminishing republican remnants, pushed to downfall by the royalists allied with foreign forces.

    * * *

    “This is the end of everything if we don’t act now! We must open the gates to Count Castilla immediately!”

    “That’s an unreasonable demand. Didn’t Count Castilla agree to supply us with resources on the condition that we do not retreat from the Andres Plains? We are different from the royalists. We don’t use force to open neutral territories.”

    “That’s idealistic, Prince Benicio! Don’t you see? If we don’t secure the Castilla Fortress right now, the Andres Plains will become the graveyard of the republic!”

    “It’s impossible! And this isn’t about ideals, it’s about reality. Do you really think Count Castilla will just watch us reach his fortress?”

    “But if we don’t secure the fortress…”

    An endless debate.

    Gael sighed and left the meeting tent.

    The Ortona Civil War.

    The last remnants of the retreating republicans aimed to seize the Castilla Fortress, known as a natural stronghold, as a pivot for a counterattack.

    However, Count Castilla, maintaining surface-level neutrality, didn’t want his fertile territory trampled in the civil war. He provided a small amount of military supplies and food on the condition that the republican forces did not retreat from the remote Andres Plains, keeping his gates firmly shut.

    It had been almost three months since the republicans set up their position on the Andres Plains.

    Stuck between a rock and a hard place, the republican command had been divided into two opposing viewpoints ever since: invade Count Castilla’s territory and seize the fortress, or break through the front lines on the plains to escape the defensive position.

    To Gael, neither option seemed particularly feasible.

    As he walked, idly touching the hilt of Arjuna, a child’s voice came from a corner of the mercenary camp.

    “So, brother, is Duke Dassiano on our side?”

    Gael stopped in his tracks.

    The voice belonged to Prince Benicio’s young son, Kike. Why was he in the mercenary camp?

    Soon, a quiet response followed.

    Gael was startled for two reasons upon hearing the conversation.

    First, it was rare for a foreign mercenary to speak Ortonan. Even strategic meetings were usually conducted in the imperial common language.

    Second, the responses to the young child were remarkably blunt.

    “Brother, what about the Marquis of Laquila on the border?”

    As Gael listened to their conversation for a while longer, he eventually turned and walked away.

    It seemed young Kike, still struggling with the imperial language, had managed to make a friend among the mercenaries. It was somewhat pitiful that their main activity was scrutinizing the list of supporters.

    That evening, Gael visited Prince Benicio’s tent and asked Kike whom he had been with during the day. The boy responded with a bright smile, “Bart from the Astros Mercenary Group. He knows Ortonan.”

    Proudly, Kike handed over a crumpled piece of paper, explaining, “I asked him about these people, and he explained everything to me.”

    Gael unfolded the paper, which had a list of supporters written in a child’s scrawled handwriting. It seemed Kike had remembered the conversations of adults and organized them in his own way. The boy, like his father Prince Benicio, was quite bright.

    Regrettably, most of the names were crossed out.

    The list seemed to reflect the dire situation of the republican remnants, leaving Gael feeling bitter.

    “Still, not everything he said is correct. At least Castilla is neutral, Kike.”

    Pointing to one crossed-out name, Kike tilted his head in confusion.

    “Huh? No, General Gael. Bart said it clearly.”

    Then Kike, looking straight at Gael, stated firmly, a vibration of undeniable truth emanating from him, “Bart said that Castilla is definitely an enemy.”

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