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    It didn’t take long for Masain and the man to arrive at the temporary campsite of the army stationed near the northern gate.

    The hastily set up camp seemed to be bustling with imperial guards, close guards, and various paladins in their respective uniforms. Yet, it was astounding to see that, amidst the chaos, everything operated seamlessly without any visible confusion in the chain of command.

    A knight with a rugged face, who was shouting commands at the soldiers, noticed the newcomers. He walked over with a stern expression. With his tall stature, half-graying hair, and shining eyes, he was a familiar figure to Masain.

    The knight was Balthazar, arguably one of the most renowned knights on the continent, if not in Delcross.

    It was a mystery when he had returned from the southern frontline.

    He approached briskly, as if he was about to chastise them, but unexpectedly stopped in front of the man, saluted by placing his hand on his chest.

    “Your Majesty.”

    Your Majesty? Masain looked up at the man in surprise.

    Facing Balthazar, the man looked somewhat displeased.

    “Why are you here and not at the imperial palace?”

    “I’ll return your question back to you. Why are you here instead of the imperial palace? What happened to your scouts, and why are you wandering around alone?”

    “Why wait for scouts? It’s faster if I just have a look myself.”

    “Hmm…”

    Balthazar’s forehead veins bulged, but before he could say anything else, the man swiftly changed the topic.

    “Nevertheless, it was a success. I’ve managed to rescue Masain from the fortress. He managed to hang on even in such tough circumstances.”

    Only then did the paladin notice Masain standing behind the man. His expression subtly changed, somewhat questioning, as if to say ‘Why him?’ or ‘Why of all people?’

    He quickly recomposed himself, giving Masain an awkward smile.

    “It’s fortunate that you’re safe, Masain-nim.”

    It didn’t seem like he genuinely felt that way.

    Balthazar turned his full attention back to the man.

    “The imperial palace is securely defended by the 3rd Imperial Guard Knights and the Paladin Order of St. Aurelion. We’ve set up a makeshift barrack for you, Your Majesty, so please rest without concerns.”

    “Alright. I’ll leave the cleaning up of the gate fortress to you.”

    “Yes, Your Majesty.”

    Balthazar saluted and left, not even sparing a glance at Masain.

    It was a stark contrast to the treatment he received just a few days ago. The man seemed to sense this subtle shift in atmosphere and clicked his tongue lightly.

    But for Masain, a more pressing question arose. By now, it was clear who the man in front of him was.

    “Excuse me, are you perhaps my uncle, Prince Nathaniel?”

    Although it had been a long time, Masain had vague memories. A boy who, among the bright blonde-haired royal family members, uniquely had black hair. While he never conversed with him, he remembered him as someone frail-looking.

    The man blinked a few times at Masain’s question.

    “I didn’t think you’d recognize me from the few brief encounters when we were young.”

    So it was him.

    The man nodded at Masain.

    “Yes, I am Nathaniel Klein. Although my coronation is still pending, I’m the current 17th Holy Emperor and, indeed, your uncle.”

    Finally, Masain understood the subtle reaction shown by the knight commander earlier. The sudden appearance of the one who had disappeared and should’ve inherited the throne would have been quite uncomfortable for him, knowing that Masain, a close associate of the first Prince, also an enemy to them, was in fact still alive.

    His thoughts were abruptly cut off. A stern-faced knight in a dark uniform approached.

    “Your Majesty.”

    “Sir Leandros.”

    Leandros, the knight commander of the St. Terbacchia Paladin Order and the leader of all inquisitors.

    He had always kept his distance in the fight for the throne, yet when did they begin serving this man as their emperor?

    “The fortress was deserted. The [Puppeteer] was already gone.”

    “Do you believe that person was the [Puppeteer]?”

    They held a quiet, cryptic conversation.

    “There couldn’t be two with such a presence. I’m sure of it.”

    “Understood, Your Majesty. Then I will pursue him to Brittany.”

    After nodding, Sir Leandros respectfully bowed and withdrew. Of course, he didn’t even glance at Masain.

    “Hmm…”

    The man frowned briefly, but Masain knew there was nothing he could do about it.

    Before they could move a few steps towards the tent, another figure approached them.

    It was a politely handsome middle-aged man, Archbishop Caplan, who was the real power of the current council and rumored to be the youngest to ascend to an archbishop.

    “Your Majesty.”

    Noticing Masain, his face changed noticeably, an unabashed expression of incredulity spreading across his features.

    “Wasn’t this… wasn’t this not planned, Your Majesty? What in the world…”

    At that face outright asking why he was still alive, Masain was momentarily speechless.

    A savvy politician like him wouldn’t usually make such a mistake. But Archbishop Caplan briefly revealed his true colors, and the man’s eyebrows twitched as the atmosphere suddenly turned cold.

    “Archbishop Caplan.”

    Caplan trembled. The man was smiling faintly at him, and for the first time, Masain realized a person’s smile could be as cold as a blade.

    “Tatiana Caplan will become the Empress, and Klanos Castle will be handed over to Masain. What else are you dissatisfied with?”

    “Your Majesty…”

    “That’s enough.” The man cut off the Archbishop’s words. “One should know when to be content. You never know when my mind might change.” He smirked, and showed a sliver of tooth. “I might feel like overturning the board you’ve set.”

    The Archbishop’s face turned pale. He glared at Masain for a moment before quickly regaining his composure and respectfully bowing.

    “I apologize for my rudeness, Masain-nim.”

    Without paying any mind to the Archbishop, the man headed towards the tent. Masain hurriedly followed, acutely aware of the sharp gaze piercing them from behind.

    “Caplan seems respectful, but he’s rather ominous. I was going to eat here, but that might have been a mistake. We should be careful about eating or anything for a while.”

    The man clucked his tongue, and made a small gesture to Masain.

    “Follow me. Let’s start by cracking some walnuts.”

    Finally, they arrived at the tent. Despite its hasty construction as a military tent, it was quite cozy since it was to be used by the Holy Emperor.

    He sat Masain on one side of the bed and rummaged around, pulling out a small bag of walnuts.

    Unsheathing his sword, he slid a walnut into the gap between the sheath and guard. The sheath, the end of which was finished with metal, had a curvature perfectly suited to holding a walnut.

    Click. The guard descended, cleanly splitting the walnut into edible pieces. It seemed like he often used his sword this way. Masain could only watch in amazement as the split walnuts piled up in front of him.

    “The name of this sword is Nutcracker. Isn’t it a name that suits its purpose perfectly?”

    Wasn’t it an Aura Blade?

    “But why a nut, of all things?”

    “Through years of experience. It’s not an easy task to play a prank on a nut without cracking its shell.”

    Is it a metaphor? Somehow, it feels melancholic.

    Masain thought as he held a nut to his mouth.

    In that way, Masain, the son of the first prince and second in line for the throne at the time, was able to come under the protection of the Holy Emperor by receiving the fortress of Klanos and abandoning the throne.

    The Holy Emperor put forth Archbishop Benitus as his guardian, and Archbishop Caplan did not openly attempt to threaten him, perhaps because of the Holy Emperor’s gaze. Soon, Masain was able to return to the imperial academy as if nothing had happened.


    “Is it true, you’re troubled because you’re not making progress with Aura Blade?”

    “Yes, Your Majesty.”

    Masain had come to the imperial palace for the holiday. He quickly finished a semester back at the academy, but now he had to formally ask the Holy Emperor about his future course.

    He originally lived in the Blue Rose Palace, but now the current Holy Emperor’s sons were the new masters of the palace. It was natural that he, who had become a Klanos, could no longer stay in the imperial palace.

    But as they talked about his life at the academy, he found himself discussing his troubles with Aura Blade. Why am I talking about this? Masain was momentarily confused.

    The Holy Emperor was seriously listening to his story.

    The two were sitting in the reception room of the Blue Rose Palace, not the main palace office, because the Holy Emperor, was living in the Blue Rose Palace for some reason, and had also decorated the place as his office.

    Although they hadn’t met many times, from Masain’s point of view, his uncle was a very fascinating person. Despite only a five-year age gap, he somehow felt like he was talking to someone much older.

    Perhaps it was something like the maturity of a father. At the young age of 21, he was already the father of five children.

    The son of the Empress, Logan, the son of the 1st Queen, Morres, the twins living in the capital’s mansion, and Sisle, the daughter of the 2nd Queen, who was born not long ago.

    Not only the safety of the Holy Empire, but also the lives of five children were on his shoulders.

    Suddenly, the innocent laughter of a child came from outside. One of the princes, Masain was thinking absentmindedly, became startled, when the Holy Emperor suddenly stood up from his seat and dashed out of the office.

    As Masain inadvertently turned his head towards the open terrace where the man had run out, he was momentarily stunned. Because a little one was perilously climbing over the railing of the balcony on the second floor across the room. It was a little boy with golden hair that had a faint grey hue.

    The child looked around for a moment, swinging, and then fearlessly jumped down.

    Kyah! Prince!”

    “Prince Morres!”

    The screams of the servants were heard belatedly.

    “I-It’s dangerous…!”

    Masain also startled, stood up from his seat. He could vividly imagine the sight of the child covered in blood, writhing on the ground.

    Fortunately, that was just a figment of his imagination.

    Whoosh—

    A gust of wind from somewhere enveloped the child, and for a moment it seemed as if he would float away. In no time, the child arrived below the balcony and was embraced by the Holy Emperor, his radiant smile shining brightly. With slightly upturned eyes and a mischievous expression, he was truly a charming little boy.

    “Morres! How many times have I told you not to jump from anywhere?”

    “Dad[1]! This time do the ‘whoosh’! ‘Whoosh’!”

    “…This kid…”

    The Holy Emperor momentarily made a baffled face but soon indulged the child, playfully tossing him into the air.

    *Whoooosh!*

    The child soared upwards in one swift motion and then, enveloped by the wind, slowly descended back into the Holy Emperor’s arms.

    “Dad! Again! Again!”

    With a faint sigh, the child took flight once more. Kyahaha!

    It was utter chaos.

    “I apologize for startling you, brother Masain.”

    Suddenly, a voice came from the side. Looking down, there stood a young boy with black hair, reminiscent of the Holy Emperor’s aura, stretching his hand towards Masain. The little fellow was offering a handshake.

    “Nice to meet you. I heard from Imperial Father that you’d be visiting. I am Logan, the eldest.[2]

    This kid was peculiar in his own right. Was he three, or perhaps four?

    He seemed just a few months apart from the little one who was flying around in the Holy Emperor’s arms, yet he spoke with an uncanny maturity.

    “Lately, Morres is obsessed with jumping from high places. The moment you take your eyes off him, he jumps.”

    No matter how closely the servants watched, if given a slight chance, he would jump. One day, in the middle of the night, he even opened a locked balcony and jumped out. The Holy Emperor had to rush over and use his divine power to heal a gash on his forehead.

    They couldn’t just lock the door and confine the child all day. The Holy Emperor’s recent confinement in the Blue Rose Palace seemed to be due to this reason.

    “In short, kids cause accidents if you’re not watching.”

    The black-haired little boy remarked, shaking his head.

    Masain was baffled. Even this kid…

    The Holy Emperor seemed resigned to the situation.

    “If he had been creature that understood scoldings, perhaps Lizabeth wouldn’t have run away.”

    Ah, the 1st Queen went on a prolonged trip to the Asein Republic suddenly. It was all because of Morres.

    The Holy Emperor sighed lightly and tapped the young child’s forehead.

    “Won’t you stop causing trouble and greet brother Masain properly?”

    “Brother Masain?”

    The little one turned to Masain and smiled, extending his arms. He wanted to be held.

    Before he knew it, Masain took the child from the Holy Emperor. The warmth of the child’s weight brought a peculiar emotion surging within him.

    After unexpectedly losing his parents and brother last semester and losing all his subordinates in the fortress to a curse, he had felt a void. He seemed to have adjusted, but Masain himself felt that something was off.

    Right now, something was filling that emptiness.

    “Hello, brother Masain?”

    “…Hello, Morres.”

    Masain replied in a subdued voice.

    “Dad said so. Starting today, you will always be with us.”

    “I… see.”

    “Yeah, so you’ll also do the ‘whoosh’ for me, right?”

    “……”

    The kid had a peculiar charm.

    Throughout his vacation, Masain found himself involuntarily rolling around with the kids in the Blue Rose Palace. Startled by Morres’ unpredictable actions and occasionally reprimanded by the old-soul Logan.

    And sometimes, they’d sit in the office, picking up walnuts the Holy Emperor cracked open, while the man offered unsolicited advice on following one’s heart.

    Those were the unforgettable days that would never return.

    1. He’s calling Nate, appa-mama here[]
    2. Not sure why he’s called the oldest here, but maybe because he’s the Empress’s son[]

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