ANNOUNCEMENT: CHE SERIES IS DROPPED!

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    “Leave the rest to me.”

    With those final words, His Majesty’s body suddenly collapsed, devoid of strength.

    “…!”

    21 quickly caught him, standing nearby. At a glance, his sudden loss of consciousness and limp form appeared gravely critical.

    A moment later, Aslan rushed to his side, and out of apothecary’s habit, checked his pulse. The boy’s face quickly turned ashen.

    “His pulse…!”

    Aslan felt dizzy at the unbelievable reality.

    “Bart… His Majesty’s pu-, pulse has stopped?”

    This wasn’t mere unconsciousness, but dea…

    Aslan’s hands trembled violently.

    21 also seemed momentarily flustered but soon reassured the group with a composed voice.

    “His soul has merely departed somewhere for a while. There is no need to worry.”

    “What has happened to His Majesty Bart?”

    “Did I not tell you? This is not his true body. It’s alright.”

    He is rather skilled at gallivanting about as a mere soul and playing with corpses, 21 inwardly added. Having hastily adjusted His Majesty’s disguise, he lightly hoisted the body onto his back and rose to his feet. Aslan anxiously offered to share the burden, but 21 shook his head.

    “A homunculus is very light, unlike a human body.”

    True to his word, even while carrying His Majesty Bart, 21’s movements remained largely unchanged. Under his lead, the group once more hastened their steps toward the junction of the state highway.

    However, the problems arising from His Majesty’s absence began from that point onward. Before long, Old Man Max’s pace noticeably slowed, clearly exhausted.

    To make matters worse, encounters with search parties roaming the mountain’s base steadily increased in frequency. After narrowly evading their eyes for a time, misfortune finally struck—they were spotted by a pair of searchers before managing to hide.

    21 swooped in like the wind, slashing one man’s carotid artery with a dagger, but the other stumbled back and put an emergency horn to his lips.

    Piiiiiii-

    With the shrill blast of the horn, a shortsword soon plunged into the bandit’s chest, felling him. But from here on out, their flight would become a desperate race against time. A look of dismay flickered across the group’s faces.

    They urgently sought to depart, but upon noticing Old Man Max’s condition, sharply inhaled. He had already turned deathly pale, perspiration pouring down his face.

    “Haah! I… can’t run anymore. It’s over now. Hah! Leave me behind.”

    Glancing back and forth between Old Man Max and His Majesty, 21 briefly wavered. But soon, as if having made a decision, he bit his lip with a resolute expression.

    “This won’t do. I will carry you, old man. Let’s leave His Majesty here and depart as quickly as possible.”

    What? Aslan cried out in shock.

    “Then what about His Majesty? I’ll, I’ll carry His Majesty!”

    “That won’t work either. From here on, we’ll be running at full speed to the Asein Gate. We can’t do that while carrying baggage.”

    “But…”

    “Speed alone won’t suffice. We need something to hold their attention.”

    The group gasped. Not only would they abandon His Majesty, but now he suggested tossing him to the bandits as bait?

    “To some extent, he likely anticipated this possibility as well. His mentioning to abandon him wasn’t a mere request.”

    He said there was a high probability it would come to this.

    “In any case, as this is not his true body, it’s not dangerous.”

    “But, but even if there’s no immediate danger, won’t he eventually return to this body?”

    Aslan wanted to cry.

    Why had things turned out this way? Where had it all gone wrong?

    Was it his fault for not knowing beforehand, as an insider, that the bandits were colluding with Carthago? Or was it his fault for stubbornly insisting on bringing Old Man Max despite their desperate circumstances?

    No, perhaps the root of it all was surviving in Rohan and coming to this damned slash-and-burn village. Ah, everything was his fault.

    His Majesty Bart had asked if he would regret it. Aslan now knew the answer.

    He was in the midst of regretting every single thing he had done.

    In the meantime, 21 carefully leaned His Majesty against a roadside boulder and approached Aslan, who still stood there sobbing, at a loss for what to do. Gripping the boy’s shoulder tightly, he spoke through gritted teeth, emphasizing each and every word.

    “Listen carefully.”

    “The most useless thing in this world is worrying about that man’s safety. Do you understand?”

    Yet those words sounded so desperate, as if 21 was talking not to Aslan but to himself, trying to steel his own resolve. Aslan could only meekly nod, eyes brimming with tears.

    Hoisting the dejected Old Man Max onto his back, 21 tersely spat out,

    “Let’s go.”

    Even then, the group glanced back at His Majesty several times, only hastening their heavy steps upon hearing the hurried approach of footsteps from all directions.

    ***

    Meanwhile, blissfully unaware of the group’s desperate pace, Nate freely set off, having casually tossed aside the homunculus.

    Using a bit too much energy to break free had left him quite fatigued. Still, it felt far more comfortable than being trapped inside the doll, slowly drowning without any outlet.

    As Nate gradually regained his strength, his speed also steadily increased. However, despite shooting forward like a beam of light, he grew anxious as the presence of the barrier he had created grew fainter and fainter. Just how far did that fearless kid intend to go?

    [Emperor Daddy!]

    A tiny blue light, like a bead, suddenly popped into existence and rapidly circled around Nate. It was Herna, always one step ahead.

    [Morres killed that Diggory brat’s bug! But I had no idea he would get sucked into the opened channel. I’m sorry!]

    [It was something no one could have predicted. You have nothing to apologize for.]

    And in that Diggory brat’s eyes, you’re the brat, Herna.

    [Daddy His Majesty! The Knights of St. Marcias are coming.]

    A small pink bead appeared next, gently settling upon Nate’s soul. It was Gades, always one step behind.

    [That Durand brat is dead set on entangling Morres this time around. He’s all fired up.]

    [If it’s that matter, I’ve already told Francis… By the way, child. No matter how you look at it, Sir Durand is hardly a brat, is he?]

    He already has a grandchild as big as you, Gades.

    The twins never seemed to pay any mind to respecting their elders.

    [The Puppeteer is still in the capital. He’s hanging around with that greasy guy from Rohan.]

    [He has no connection to the Diggory brat, but just in case, I told Bremen to keep an eye on him.]

    Herna and Gades followed along, circling Nate as if out for a stroll.

    Among Nate’s children, only these two could open channels. Thus, compared to the other children, they shared relatively more information with him.

    [Emperor Daddy, this is as far as we go.]

    [Daddy His Majesty, you must return safely.]

    But as they were still young children, they couldn’t maintain the channeling for long.

    Glimpsing the twinkling light of the small twins bidding him farewell at the edge of the planetary system, Nate sped up and plunged into the outer nebula.

    The presence of the barrier had grown so faint that it was nearly undetectable without extreme focus.

    Passing through the five melodies flowing between nebulae, at one point, a round, sparkling gray bead-like object attached itself to Nate’s side. Its clear, transparent gray also resembled someone’s eyes.

    [Your Majesty.]

    Cornsheim.

    Nate furrowed his brow. Of all times for this detestable fellow to show up.

    [You must remain in your rightful place. Cease being swayed by the schemes of wicked beings.]

    The thought waves emitted by the Cornsheim’s leader carried an exceedingly dry timbre. Just hearing it, Nate was greatly displeased as that stiff face and inhuman voice came to mind.

    Increasing his speed even further, he spat out a curt thought.

    [Piss off.]

    […Your Majesty must not forget his true role.]

    At the same time, gray beads began to multiply one by one around Nate. The clan members were attempting to connect simultaneously.

    [Your Majesty, Your Majesty, Your Majesty…]

    [Your Majesty, Your Majesty…]

    Soon, dozens of round beads surrounded Nate. They flickered their light in unison, like blinking eyes. Blink, blink, blink.

    Your Majesty, Your Majesty, Your Majesty.

    Without clearly stating their intentions, they continued to call out to Nate as if demanding something from him. They remained as sinister as ever.

    [Don’t pry as you please. Close the channel, Cornsheim.]

    Whoosh. Responding to his will, a powerful wave swept through the surroundings, centered on his soul. The small beads collectively ceased their flickering, shocked by the impact.

    It was already difficult to maintain composure in soul form, unlike when in one’s true body. No, it was closer to deliberately refraining from controlling emotional shifts. Even now, as he began to feel displeasure, an ominous aura started to radiate from his soul.

    The small beads, seemingly frightened, observed Nate’s mood for a moment before beginning to wink out one by one. Now, only the leader of the group that had first appeared remained.

    [Your Majesty. All things must flow according to the natural order. You must cease clinging to that which has already departed.]

    Light began to gather in Nate’s right hand, soon forming the shape of a long rod. It was the manifestation of his sword, Nutcracker.

    There would be no further warning. Clearly understanding Nate’s intentions, the Cornsheim’s leader faded away, leaving behind a small lament.

    [Please do not blindly trust your premonitions…]

    With his disappearance, Nate was left alone in the vast outer space.

    Once more straining his senses to the utmost, he could no longer detect any trace of the barrier’s presence. While wasting time with the Cornsheim bunch, his son’s soul had already drifted immeasurably far away.

    In any case, to disrupt him so needlessly, it would have been better to just leave them for the Inquisitors to sweep away.

    With no other choice, Nate began to advance aimlessly in the direction he had last sensed the presence.

    He felt somewhat uneasy but not entirely without hope. If his son were to call for him even once, Nate would never miss that voice.

    How much time had passed?

    Advancing outward, ever outward without any fixed destination, Nate began to grow impatient. Even though the sense of time was vague in this place, it still felt like a considerable while since he had lost track of his son’s presence.

    [Where in the world are you and what are you doing…]

    He simply couldn’t understand that child. In this situation, shouldn’t he call for his father at least once?

    Was the child fiercely independent or just thoughtless?

    It was precisely that moment.

    -Father, Your Majesty Holy Emperor…

    It was a fleeting, faint thought, as if brushing past.

    Rather than a proper call, it was merely a momentary recollection, but…

    For Nate, that was enough. He shot forth in the direction the thought wave had come from.

    The place he discovered his son was nearly at the boundary between dimensions. Unaware of just how terrifying a place the Ye was or perhaps not caring, the brat was floating about in the darkness with a serene face, embracing a single fragment of a soul.

    Nate felt the back of his head throb, an sensation that should have been impossible for a soul.

    [But then why is the god who oversees this dimension just watching as those fellows lie in wait for an opportunity?]

    In the cold that seemed as though it would instantly freeze and shatter a mere lowly soul, that was the extent of what he had to say. Nate was a bit dumbfounded.

    This kid always said he was curious about many things, yet he never seemed to have any intention of actually studying.

    [That is because the chief god who oversees Delcross is not a personal god, my son.]

    If you had properly read even just Chapter 1 of the Introduction to Theology, no, even just the preface, you wouldn’t be saying such things. Always shirking your duties at every turn, just what do you plan to become when you grow up?

    Of course, his son also thought of the Holy Emperor as a fellow who avoided work and slacked off, but Nate was blissfully unaware of that. Well, even if he knew, what could he do? Forcing upon one’s child the things one couldn’t do oneself was the so-called parental privilege.

    As he enveloped his wide-eyed son, who was staring this way, in light, Nate finished his preparations to launch into a scolding session.

    Herna and Gades are calling their dad with a mixed up of titles and informal calling of Father here. So, they ended up calling their dad like, “Imperial Dad” or “Holy Dad”.

    For those who forgot who is Diggory, he’s the guy who nurtured the worms in the basement and I believe have been feeding thems humans for them to grow.

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