The rest of the council members, oblivious to the circumstances of the time, cocked their heads in confusion. Duke Pendleton asked once more, unable to understand the situation.
“I thought it was impossible to use magic in the other world, for mana doesn’t exist in that place?”
“That is precisely why I developed the object the Director of Security possesses now. It is an artifact which allows one to use magic even in an environment completely void of mana. That is also why it was designed like an object that would blend in perfectly in my world.”
“… Is that possible?”
“It was quite feasible. If it weren’t for the opposition from the Royal Family during its final stages of development.”
Yoo-rah spoke with a hint of criticism in her voice. Irritated, the Emperor coughed dryly a couple times before he asked.
“Why did my predecessor oppose your idea?”
“When you apply extreme heat to a mana crystal, it purges the crystal of all the impurities that give it a solid form and leaves behind pure mana in a liquid crystal state. We then put those liquid crystals under extreme pressure again.”
“Wait, won’t mana simply turn into gas and evaporate if you do that?”
“That is why we mixed finely ground dragon bones to hold the mana in place.”
Most of the council members’ jaws dropped, and they stared aghast at the Queen. How could she even think of using dragons?
Dragons were beings that could render the world asunder with a mere cough. Ironically, they possessed so much power that they were powerless.
“Don’t be mistaken. I used the bones of dragons that had died before the 7 Days of Calamity, not the dragons of today.”
“… Did they really give permission?”
“That’s how desperate the situation was back then. The time and leisure we have now is something we couldn’t have even dreamt of.”
“Should I be proud of this fact? That my ancestor objected to a project that even dragons made sacrifices for?”
The Emperor criticised himself, and Yoo-rah continued with an awkward expression on her face.
“It was something that would have been impossible without help from the dragons. It may have been possible to compress the mana once with our abilities, but compressing and purifying the already-pressurised mana crystals again and again was only possible with the help of the dragons. So we compressed the crystals repeatedly until it was no longer possible. At the end of it, we had used…”
Yoo-rah stopped and took out a fountain pen from her pocket before she finished her sentence.
“We had used more than a million of the purest mana crystals to create just one about as large as this pen I’m holding.”
There were only expressions of pure shock in the room. One million. Although it was simply a number on paper, the weight of that number was extraordinary.
Not to mention she had only used crystals of the highest purity. Its monetary value alone was enough to run the Empire for hundreds of years. And it had all evaporated.
“I remember now. We were so desperate back then.”
“It’s still painful to remember, nostalgic as it is. It was no exaggeration to say that all of the races had truly gone mad back then.”
The few elder council members that were aware of the circumstances back then shook their heads bitterly.
“Wait, even if everything else is as you say, how did you manage to procure such a quantity of mana crystals? From what I know, the number of mana crystals we excavate annually don’t reach ten thousand.”
Duke Pendleton asked his question, and both the Queen and the elder council members let out a sigh simultaneously.
“We scoured the continent and gathered all the mana crystals back then. It was still not enough, so all of the races scoured once more in search of mana crystal deposits. Most of the mana crystal mines that exist now were found back then.”
“… And it’s still incomplete you say?”
The Emperor asked with a mix of astonishment and fear. The Queen answered blatantly.
“It’s just a prototype. Once the development phase was over, the plan was to mass produce it and deploy a team of agents into the other world. We couldn’t possibly send just a lone agent behind the enemy line right? But the defensive coat’s development finished just before we finished making our first prototype. So the Grand Council had to make a decision. And the Emperor took the side of the defensive coat.”
The objection was understandable. It was akin to burning the stable down to catch some fleas. They may have been desperate when there weren’t any solutions, but when another solution presented itself, there was no reason to willingly waste so much resources.
“The Grand Council still contemplated continuing its development, as they had invested so much resources on it already, but there just weren’t going to be enough mana crystals left if we started mass producing defensive coats. The gate could have opened at any moment. And they were exhausted from the number of casualties and the constant shortage of manpower. So they eventually decided on the defensive coat, which would demonstrate immediate results.”
All of the council members sighed, having to digest such a dire past.
“Makes sense why they rejected it.”
Duke Pendleton muttered, and everyone else nodded in agreement. Yoo-rah smirked, seemingly finding their reactions amusing as she continued.
“It didn’t matter what they chose, since I was the one developing it all. Having decided on mass-producing the defensive coats, I recycled and reused the byproducts of my other projects. But I couldn’t find a way to recycle that artifact whatsoever. I mean, it was and still is impossible to destroy something made of finely ground dragon bone in the first place.”
“But you’ve never thought of a different use for that artifact until now?”
The Emperor complained to Yoo-rah, and she replied back with a grumble.
“And how am I supposed to use it? I am a developer, not a user. You shouldn’t expect such a creative use of that artifact like the Director of Security demonstrated. And do you really think I had time on my hand to think of something else when both the Empire and the Grand Council were nagging at me about the defensive coat? I’ve experienced enough minimal funding, endless hours, and soul-crushing work in the engineering departments of my previous world already.”
“So the result of an incalculable funding had been shoved in the corner of storage until now?”
Yoo-rah’s eyes narrowed, vexed by the Emperor’s words. The mood turned hostile – right when Duke Pendleton intervened.
“But why did you hide the fact that the Director of Security possessed a Queen’s artifact until now?”
“What good would it have done if I prattled on about it?”
The elder council members nodded furiously in agreement to Yoo-rah. In honesty, that artifact was a disgrace of Central. It reflected the immediate aftermath of the 7 Days of Calamity – panic. When everyone had gone mad, so desperate to survive that they resorted to unconventional, even underhanded methods. It wasn’t something they would openly talk about.
“Anyhow, I think we’ve gone off into a tangent. Let’s get back to the main topic.”
Everyone nodded in agreement to Yoo-rah. They couldn’t just continue to talk about the artifact, and it was a tricky subject to publicise as well.
“Ah, and before we get to the main topic, I’m just going to say this to those who are thinking of making the Director of Security reside permanently in the Forbidden Lands. That will be impossible.”
Yoo-rah’s declaration was met with a dissenting grunts, but before they could speak, Yoo-rah continued.
“There are many complicated reasons behind it, but ignore all that. If you truly wish to force the Director of Security to stay in the Forbidden Lands, then gain Duke Pendleton’s approval. I won’t have a say in the matter if you do.”
The council members immediately stopped talking and quietly peeked at Duke Pendleton to gauge his mood. If they decided to exile the Director of Security into the Forbidden Lands, then Rivelia, its Vice Director also had to reside in the Forbidden Lands.
It had already been a monumental effort to calm Duke Pendleton after Rivelia was designated the Vice-Directory of Security without his knowledge. What would happen if Rivelia was now tasked to live the rest of her life in that barren Forbidden Lands, practically in exile? It’d be akin to instigating Duke Pendleton into an open rebellion.
The council members gulped and glimpsed at Duke Pendleton. There, they saw the Duke with his lips firmly clasped together, his nostrils flaring, his expression like a bloodthirsty predator hunting its prey, and his eyes burning fiercely.
“I told you that we lost a critical advantage before, right? I’d like to reveal that this was personally investigated and verified by the Director of Surveillance at my request. According to the report by the Director of Surveillance, she believes that the Expeditionary Forces has joined hands with either the demonic or the angelic turncoats.”
“… I cannot comprehend this. The Expeditionary Forces should be completely oblivious of their existence.”
“That’s what we thought at first too. But think about it. Who knows more about the Gate than us? Don’t you think it’d make more sense that someone had provided the Expeditionary Forces with the technology to camouflage the phenomenon rather than them developing it themselves?”
All of the council members continued to look at the Queen in disbelief despite the explanation. Yoo-rah sighed and continued.
“I told you before that the strange phenomenon that occurs when a Gate opens only lasts for 2 to 3 seconds before disappearing right? So I decided to compare and analyse the data as we upgraded our system, and I found some data matching the new phenomenon.”
“… Does that mean the Gate had been opening before now in secret? But this is the first time the Gate has opened in the Forbidden Lands.”
“I never said these strange phenomenons were detected in the Forbidden Lands.”
The theatre fell into silence. Those who had figured out what Yoo-rah was implying looked back at her in complete astonishment.
“Do you have any idea what those words mean?”
The Emperor asked with a trembling voice. Yoo-rah nodded as she answered.
“I cannot believe this.”
“I know you don’t want to, but it’s already happened.”
“The mana storm enveloping the Forbidden Lands is maintained by the dragons themselves! There is no method the Expeditionary Forces can bypass it!”
“Is there any evidence proving it? This is nothing more than a hunch if there isn’t any evidence that supports it!”
Yoo-rah’s words were like a grenade; the theatre was in chaos. The council was in complete upheaval. That’s how big of a problem it was for the Expeditionary Forces to escape from the Forbidden Lands.
“The data doesn’t lie. In my world, there’s a saying, ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend.’ Is there any reason why they shouldn’t join forces when they all have the same goal of thrusting this world into chaos?”
“This is wild speculation without any evidence!”
The Emperor’s refute was met by Yoo-rah’s sigh.
“Do you know why I asked the Director of Surveillance to act personally? You all seem to think this is just speculation, but take into account it was the Director of Surveillance who thought there were suspicious circumstances.”
Everyone shut their mouths. They could have ignored this news if it was from an ordinary agent. But they couldn’t sweep it under the rug, let alone ignore it, when it was backed by the Director of Surveillance. They had to take this as a serious threat.
“I have a question. Why did the Director of Surveillance act herself? Couldn’t she have assigned ordinary agents to it?”
Yoo-rah’s expression soured at the Emperor’s argument. Although it seems like an honest question on the surface, it raised the question that there was some sort of an under-the-table deal between the Queen and the Director of Surveillance.
“Don’t forget, while the Central had let their guard down, our enemies managed to strike deep into our hearts and robbed us of our most valuable information. The Grand Council seems to think this isn’t much of a problem, but we have to assume our enemies have complete knowledge of the Directorates of Strategy, Analysis, and Surveillance in terms of our activity, tactics and response strategies. Hiding something from someone you can predict from start to finish is a very simple feat. That’s why I had no choice but to ask the Director of Surveillance to act personally. And this very same person is quite angry about how this incident came to be while she was away at my request. She very much thinks she is being played the fool.”