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    “Then do you desire the annihilation of this family?”

    If it could be resolved with just his own life, that would be fine. However, even the Duke couldn’t hide his agitation when directly mentioning the annihilation of the family.

    The family’s honor was important, but his family members were of even greater concern. How long would it take for the sparks of divine power to completely incinerate the Serpentine mansion and Adelaide?

    Perhaps everything would burn to ashes in an instant, leaving not even bones or dust behind. Even while burning and melting the talismans, the ring of divine power around Liam’s neck was still maintained. To manipulate divine power so freely like this… Zachary’s divine power was a force so immense that it was difficult to fathom with just a glance.

    Zachary slowly began to walk towards the Duke. He came to a halt right in front of the Duke.

    “First of all.”

    What would he demand? And to what extent would the Duke have to accommodate him?

    In fact, since Zachary held the overwhelming upper hand in terms of power, the Duke couldn’t even dare to set boundaries on what he would accept.

    If he refused Zachary’s request, not only himself but the entire family would face annihilation. The Duke maintained a composed exterior, but he stared at Zachary with intense tension.

    “This.”

    At that moment, Zachary raised a finger. The Duke held his breath and focused. An unexpected object was placed in the direction Zachary pointed.

    “Could I have one more?”

    For a moment, the Duke couldn’t help but look at Zachary with an incredulous expression. He couldn’t help it. The item Zachary asked for was none other than the cloth with the ghost’s eye painted on it.

    “Why that cloth…?”

    When the Duke asked, Zachary’s demeanor seemed to relax for a moment as if he had remembered something. However, this was only for a fleeting instant. He spoke in a lower voice than before.

    “It’s important to me.”

    Why would he need that? From the Duke’ perspective, it was a truly absurd request.

    “…I’ll give it to you right away.”

    There was no need to add unnecessary words to provoke him. The Duke replied naturally, his gaze never leaving Zachary.

    “If I’m alive.”

    At the Duke’ added remark, Zachary’s lips curved into a smile. It was unclear whether he was sneering or simply smiling out of pleasure since his eyes were covered.

    “I have a request.”

    A demand, not a request. His firm lips parted to speak in a low voice. The story that was about to unfold from this point on was likely not going to be a simple and easy request like before.

    As the Duke had anticipated, Zachary’s attitude had completely changed from earlier. Erasing any trace of a smile from his lips and hardening his expression, he slightly bowed his head. The cloth fluttered with his movement, briefly revealing his blue eyes for a fleeting moment. Although the eyes were quickly covered by the cloth again, the Duke, who had already seen the color of Zachary’s eyes, was startled.

    ‘Burning like…’

    They were exceptionally vivid and blue, as if they would leave an afterimage. Just like the divine power that had ignited from his fingertips earlier.

    “If you grant my request, something like your life…”

    Zachary, who had already taken control of the situation, continued to speak in a leisurely manner.

    “I can spare not only you but everyone else as well.”

    The place he pointed to still had Liam trembling in fear. However, both the Duke and Zachary knew. The targets he was referring to now were not just Liam, but all those belonging to the Serpentine family.

    “If not, everyone will have to die.”

    The Duke instinctively sensed danger, but he couldn’t take any action. His entire body had frozen.

    “Now.”

    With a whoosh, flames ignited. A vivid blue fire danced between the Duke and Zachary as if it were alive. The flames instantly consumed the cloth Zachary was wearing. His eyes glowed a vibrant blue on his fully exposed face. As the fire grew, the blue eyes sparkled with a fine light.

    Crack, crackle… With an eerie sound, the talismans and magical tools the Duke had hidden began to burn.

    The Duke furrowed his brow as he noticed the flames only spreading to objects related to magic.

    The Serpentine family was not a place to be taken lightly. It was a family that had endured countless years of hardship to reach the pinnacle of brainwashing magic. However, now it was about to submit to a single person.

    ‘Just who is this man?’

    Looking again, it wasn’t just the magical objects that were burning.

    A pungent burning smell assaulted his nostrils from somewhere. The Duke knew the source of the burnt odor.

    “How did you…?”

    It was the snake pit where the servants who protected the Duke’ safety were hidden. Smoke rose from the crevices of the pits located in every corner of the study.

    “The smell of the snake pits is foul.”

    Zachary smiled loosely. It wasn’t something to be taken lightly or dismissed as empty words.

    The flames that had danced like living beings disappeared with a brief gesture from Zachary. His eyes, which had flickered like blue flames, became calm as if nothing had happened. Zachary stared straight at the Duke with eyes that had darkened to a deep black.

    “Are you ready to listen now?”

    Zachary was so solemn that it was difficult to guess his age, and at the same time, he exuded an overwhelming power and presence.

    When had he grown up like this? And what had he attained through his awakening?

    ‘Even if he has imperial blood, this is beyond normal.’

    The Duke felt goosebumps all over his body. Zachary had set fire to every single pit that an ordinary person might not even know existed. The snake pits where the servants hid were surrounded by layers of magic circles to prevent anyone from noticing.

    ‘He found and burned them all?’

    The servants, who could be considered as capable as a hundred men, were incinerated in an instant without even giving them a chance to react.

    The Duke instinctively realized. Zachary was in a different league from any other imperial family member he had encountered so far. If there were several awakened individuals like him in the empire, other nations would have long since become vassal states or been subjected to colonial rule in a similar form.

    ‘Are they really all dead?’

    The Duke clenched his fist as he looked at the servants who didn’t come out even after sending multiple signals. It was too late even if servants from other locations came. At this moment, he had no means to respond.

    What could he do to fight against a monster-like being that burned everything to ashes?

    “…Please tell me what you desire from me. I will assist you.”

    There was no choice.

    Unlike the Duke who had much to lose, Zachary had nothing to lose at this point. Seeing the Duke’ changed response, Zachary replied in a polite tone.

    “Thank you for readily agreeing.”

    Although it wasn’t an appropriate situation to describe as readily agreeing, the Duke closed his lips without making any objection. Zachary, who had politely responded, was smiling. His smile was eerie yet beautiful. As if he had done nothing wrong, his smile alone seemed as innocent as a typical child his age.

    However, the Duke thought that was precisely why it was even more spine-chilling. Zachary had destroyed all the talismans and magical tools in the room and could easily bring the head of anyone with a single command, killing the servants who could do so in an instant without lifting a finger. Yet, he smiled with such a guileless expression as if he was unaware of what he had done.

    “My request is…”

    Zachary slowly continued.

    The Duke, who had been silently listening to Zachary’s words, began to show an expression of utter incomprehension.

    ***

    It took longer than expected to arrive at the infirmary and receive treatment.

    The avenger was not present, so I had to wait for a while. The avenger, who arrived late, wrapped several layers of bandages around my ankle. Additionally, I underwent a comprehensive health checkup for the first time in a long while.

    ‘Half a day has already passed.’

    As a result, quite some time had elapsed. When I came here, it was clearly early morning, but the sun had already crossed the sky.

    “I’ll take you back.”

    I was startled by a hand that suddenly reached out as soon as I stepped out the door. I raised my head in surprise and saw Erhan.

    ‘Why did I naturally assume Zachary would be here?’

    Realizing how frightening habits could be, I smiled awkwardly.

    “Why are you here instead of going back?”

    “I just came from your room. To take you back.”

    He seemed to have estimated when I would come out of the infirmary, stopped by my room, and then came here. He was wearing different clothes from the ones I had seen him in this morning.

    “I’m really fine…”

    “Sure, you are.”

    Even though I said it myself, it lacked credibility.

    Erhan spoke as if dumbfounded upon seeing me limping out and supported me.

    “Thank you.”

    It was embarrassing to refuse further in this state, so I obediently leaned on him. Erhan responded with a small chuckle. I walked out of the corridor, supported by Erhan.

    Silence descended between us. As we walked in an ambiguous silence that was neither uncomfortable nor comfortable, a hoarse voice whispered into my ear.

    “Lord Erhan.”

    Goosebumps ran down my spine, and my shoulders instantly shot up.

    It was a cracked and hoarse voice, as if the person hadn’t spoken for a long time. Startled, I looked to the side and saw that a servant had already appeared right next to me, fluttering a large ghost eye.

    ‘This is driving me insane. They’re all crazy.’

    I thought I had adapted well to the Serpentine family by now, but that was just my own conceit. How do the servants of this family manage to surprise me in new ways every time?

    “What?”

    Erhan, whose name was actually called, seemed calm. He appeared to have noticed the servant’s presence from the beginning. He responded indifferently without even turning his head and naturally continued to support me. Seeing Erhan like that, I felt a slight sense of relative deprivation.

    Why isn’t he startled? It was a stark contrast to me, who had been frightened by a small voice and jerked my body. The servant delivered the command in an emotionless voice.

    “The Duke summons you.”

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