ANNOUNCEMENT: CHE SERIES IS DROPPED!

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    The imperial palace was bustling with people summoned since the morning. They were the five archbishops, who are the leaders of each faction, and the five commanders of the paladin knight orders.

    The young Holy Emperor sat crookedly on his jade throne, supporting his chin with one hand, and gazing down at them with an impassive face. The archbishops and commanders were quick to realize.

    ‘He’s in a bad mood.’

    The Holy Emperor’s calm voice echoed in the tranquil palace.

    “I can imagine that my long absence has caused everyone a great deal of concern. I believe that the Holy Empire’s current prosperity is due to the hard work of loyal subjects like you all. How could I not appreciate it?”

    “……”

    None of them were ignorant of the fact that they were not summoned for praises.

    “Furthermore, I heard there is even someone who does not only perform his own duties excellently but also takes the initiative to help others. Such an attitude, what a truly admirable attitude for a paladin to have”

    What’s more, the Holy Emperor, who usually prefers to be succinct, is being unusually verbose today. He’s clearly in a very bad mood!

    Sir Durand, the Commander of the Paladin Order of St. Marcias who had sent his knights to monitor an area outside his jurisdiction, was silently breaking out in cold sweat.

    “Dame Agnes.”

    “Yes, Your Majesty.”

    An elderly woman, with her white hair neatly coiled up and dressed in the violet uniform of the Holy Knights, bowed in a rigid posture. It was Agnes Mayer, the commander of the St. Gracia Order, a long-standing spiritual pillar.

    “I heard you requested to borrow some of the Imperial Guard knights this time. Are you planning to send the Fourth Missionary Unit to the southern front again?”

    The sudden mention of the southern front caught the old paladin off guard, but she obediently responded. 

    “Yes, Your Majesty. The southern front has somewhat stabilized, but there are still some disturbances occurring. Regrettably, during the large-scale heresy uprising two years ago, we lost a significant number of our young knights. The newly supplemented young knights lack experience, so we thought we might need some help from the Imperial Guards for this missionary journey.”

    It was a fitting move for the St. Gracia Order, who always rushed to the most difficult front without sparing thoughts for their own wellbeing, following the path of their own saint, Gracia, also known as Saint of Servitude.

    “There should be no need for the Imperial Guard for that matter. Don’t we have plenty of seasoned and excellent knights who have the leisure to help others?”

    Ah. Then the archbishops and commanders, who had finally understood the Holy Emperor’s intent, turned their eyes in unison to Commander Durand.

    The Emperor continued, directing his words to the anxious old knight, “Extending a hand of gospel to the heretics is one of the important tasks bestowed upon us by the God, but delivering a hammer blow to the heresy that threatens the empire is equally necessary. Neither of these tasks should be overdone or neglected.”

    He specifically meant that the St. Marcias Order should dispatch as many of their own to the southern front as much as St. Gracia Order have had.

    “If your efforts continue, perhaps one day, the God’s glory will also reach the barren south.”

    He was also implying that they should continue to dispatch forces consistently, taking care of their own bodies. 

    Almost involuntarily, Commander Durand cried out to the Holy Emperor, “Your Majesty! But if so, there will be a gap in the Inquisitors’ duties…!”

    The Holy Emperor didn’t even glance at him but turned his head towards a stern-faced man standing on the right side of the throne.

    A middle-aged man dressed in a deep gray uniform, nearly black. He was Sir Leandros, the commander of the Paladin Order of St. Terbacchia, and also the supreme head of all the inquisitors.

    Due to the nature of his order, there were many times when his duties overlapped with those of the inquisitors.

    When he caught the Holy Emperor’s gaze, he glanced sideways at Sir Durand with a blank expression and bowed his head.

    “I will do my best to ensure that the gap in the inquisitors’ duties is not noticeable.”

    At this point, there was nothing left to say. Sir Durand licked his lips, then bowed his head at the sight of the Emperor’s cold gaze.

    “I will… make sure there are no shortages.”

    “Good.”

    The Holy Emperor nodded with a weary face. “Let’s get to the main issue. The morning council is likely to be unusually long due to my prolonged absence, so I want to sort out the important agenda with you first.”

    There it was. Tension immediately spread across the faces of those summoned.

    The most heated topic to come up in the morning meeting, perhaps.

    “Let’s talk about the anomaly that appeared on the outskirts of the capital. Dame Katrina.”

    “Yes, Your Majesty.”

    Katrina, the commander of the St. Aurelion Order, bowed with her usual grace and took a step forward.

    “Yesterday at noon, there was a confirmed movement of an anomaly at a villa on the outskirts of the capital. The villa was a vacant property under the name of Edward Diggory, the second son of Archbishop Diggory, but it has been used as a place for theological academy students, who support student Kenneth Diggory, to hold a social gathering called ‘The Black Prophets’ for the past two years.”

    Following that, Sir Leandros continued the explanation. His scratchy voice echoed throughout the audience room.

    “We’ve had our Terbacchia inquisitors watching the place for the past year. Something suspicious was found in the basement of the mansion, but it was deemed not to be a demon species, so…”

    The commander then cast a quick glance at Archbishop Diggory.

    “…because those involved were students from the theological academy and children of high-ranking clergy, instead of taking the case directly to the heresy tribunal, we were keeping a close watch. This was a top secret known only to Your Majesty and the St. Aurelion Order.”

    Afterward, he coldly glared at Sir Durand and continued.

    “Therefore His Excellency (Durand) will certainly need to report the process of acquiring that information in detail before His Majesty.”

    As Sir Durand subtly averted his gaze and furrowed his brows, Dame Katrina, who had been watching him, concluded her report, “The anomaly suddenly became unstable, causing a disturbance and damaging the basement and part of the villa. However, Prince Morres, who [just] happened to be at the scene, rescued Kenneth Diggory with two of his own royal guard and personally eliminated the anomaly, saving the capital from threat.”

    Hmm-hmm.

    Archbishop Diggory coughed uncomfortably. Although the Prince had saved his grandson, it was also Prince Morres who had inflicted a severe injury on the back of his grandson’s head.

    Next, the sharp voice of Archbishop Benitus rang out.

    “Ha! You say he happened to be there, but this is like closing your eyes and shouting. And it’s a mockery to say he saved the capital from threat. We still aren’t certain who summoned that anomaly in the first place, are we?”

    The other archbishops’ eyes widened.

    Is he boldly doubting the prince in front of the Holy Emperor? This old man has lost his nerve.

    The Holy Emperor looked at Archboshop Benitus for a moment before opening his mouth calmly.

    “I can see how you want to handle this. From now on, the heresy tribunal will cease its independent investigation and wait for the convocation of the Holy Council. Depending on the results of that council, I command that the trial will proceed.”

    Everyone nodded except for Archbishop Benitus. The Holy Emperor’s command made sense.

    Many of the members of the Holy Council, who oversee the Sacred Laws, are professors currently employed at the theological academy. They would be the ideal choice to decide the fate of the young students.

    However, the obstinate old man seemed to have a different idea. He faced the Holy Emperor with fiery eyes and argued fiercely.

    “That is not possible, Your Majesty! The investigation and punishment of heresy is the exclusive right of our heresy tribunal! Do you expect those soft people from the academy to make a proper judgement? The divine judgement upon the sinner should be stern, and the hammer against him should be merciless! Please revoke the command to halt the investigation!”

    “So let me ask you this,” the Holy Emperor asked the indignant old man. “Heresy trials are carried out based on the interpretation of the divine will by the Holy Council in accordance to the Sacred Laws. The analysis of the anomaly and the interpretation of the scriptures haven’t even begun yet. On what grounds do you plan to judge these children without any relations to Sacred Law?”

    “That…that is…” The elderly man hesitated for a moment, stammered. “Of course, based on the previous precedents….”

    “Are you trying to fit the Sacred Law to the precedents? Interpreting the will of God at your discretion is also a grave sin. It’s a shortcut to becoming a heretic.”

    “….”

    Unconsciously, the other archbishops swallowed their saliva. The young Holy Emperor was so casually suggesting that the head of the heresy tribunal himself should be subjected to a heresy trial.

    “Archbishop Benitus.”

    Towards the pale archbishop, the Holy Emperor commanded, “Leave the affairs of the Theology Academy to the Academy. My command not to interfere still stands.”

    “….”

    As the elderly men closed his mouths in silence, it seemed that the matter was temporarily resolved.

    “But, Your Majesty.”

    Suddenly, a thin voice interjected. It was Archbishop Diggory, the head of the administration. He was a short, chubby man, who kept wiping his forehead with a handkerchief and rolling his eyes nervously.

    “I apologize for my impudence, but the incident involves not only the students of the Theology Academy.”

    The Holy Emperor quietly shifted his gaze towards him, giving a slight nod. He was asking him to continue.

    “At the scene of the incident, well… Prince Morres was also present….”

    “….”

    “I think it is too hasty to simply leave this to the judgment of the Holy Council. So… There might be the possibility that this was not led by the students, but there might be an instigator from outside….”

    As Archbishop Diggory continued to speak, perspiration flowing down his face, the expression of the Holy Emperor observing him was utterly blank. However, everyone present felt the temperature of the real world drop by a degree.

    Standing next to the throne, Dame Katrina glanced at the Holy Emperor and spoke on his behalf.

    “My deputy, Sir Francis, has already provided me with a comprehensive report on this matter. I understand that the prince went to the villa in response to an invitation from the student Kenneth Diggory. To my knowledge, it was their first encounter.”

    “But, but! There were reports that Prince Morres has been consistently sending money to the group known as [The Black Prophets]. Maybe he’s been leading this group from the beginning… Of course, it’s just a possibility….”

    “….”

    “Shouldn’t we thoroughly investigate that relationship first? Even if he’s a member of the imperial family, in front of God’s law, everyone is equal.”

    Ah. Katrina sighed internally. He’s crossed the line.

    Having served the Holy Emperor for a long time, she knew the man very well. Though her master’s face remained cool as usual, the Holy Emperor was rarely but genuinely enraged.

    The case of Archbishop Benitus was a bit different because he truly suspected Prince Morres. But Diggory was merely attempting to link Prince Morres in a desperate attempt to lighten his grandson’s crime.

    And the Holy Emperor never forgives such people.

    “That’s a fair point.”

    At the coldly uttered response, Diggory looked up in a half-hopeful, half-fearful manner. He soon turned pale because the Holy Emperor was faintly smiling. From experience, that was definitely not a good sign.

    “Louis.”

    “Yes, Your Majesty.”

    Suddenly, the air became so chilling that the chief chamberlain shivered in response.

    “Immediately summon Dorian to investigate Kenneth Diggory’s personal funds and their sources in detail. His grandfather personally reported that the Imperial Palace’s funds had flowed into his grandson’s hands, so isn’t this extremely credible information?”

    “What, no, what are you saying…”

    Archbishop Diggory’s eyes bulged.

    In a flash, his grandson was not only being accused of heresy but also of embezzling the Holy Empire’s national treasury, a major crime.

    “If the investigation reveals that it’s not the Imperial Palace’s funds, then it would be right to consider foreign power involvement next. If an external instigator is indeed involved, then it would undoubtedly be the work of those threatening the Holy Empire, so also bear in mind the possibility that Kenneth Diggory could be a pawn of a foreign country during the investigation.”

    “No, Your Majesty…”

    “As soon as the Holy Council’s disposition is decided, hand him over to the court immediately. The charges are embezzlement of the national treasury and suspicion of treason.”

    Diggory’s hands were trembling. Now, whether the allegations were true or not was not the issue.

    If suspected of treason, during that investigation process, his grandson would no longer be living.

    “Of course, thoroughly investigate the allocation of the budget scheduled for Morres as well. Shouldn’t all investigation processes be fair? Perhaps…” Stopping there, the Holy Emperor smirked, one corner of his mouth curling up. “Perhaps there might be some hidden expenditures I’m unaware of.”

    “Ahh…”

    Thud. Diggory collapsed powerlessly to the floor.

    Only then did he realize that the Holy Emperor had already finished investigating the areas of concern.

    What have I done? I only wanted to lessen my grandson’s crime in the eyes of the public because I was afraid, but now, the innocent boy is doomed to meet a cruel end.

    As Diggory, perspiring cold sweat, blankly stared at the floor, the Holy Emperor briefly looked at him with a frosty gaze. The smile vanished from his face in an instant, returning to his usual stern expression.

    “Surely, such an innocent young student wouldn’t do such a thing. It was a joke. I believe his grandfather must have made some mistake.”

    However, no one in that place could laugh at that joke.

    Kenneth Diggory had truly just escaped death.

    List of Paladin Orders and their commanders as of this chapter:

    • St. Marcias – Durand ????
    • St. Gracia – Agnes Mayer
    • St. Aurelion – Katrina
    • St. Terbacchia – Leandros, also head of all inquisitors?
    • St. ????

    Archbishops and their affiliations;

    • Archbishop Benitus – Head of Heresy Tribunal/Inquisitors Court ????
    • Archbishop Diggory – Head of Administration ????
    • Archbishop ????
    • Archbishop ????
    • Archbishop ????

    I’m adding these info in CHE info spreadsheet later.

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