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    The Holy Empire of Delcross is a nation governed by the principle of theocracy.

    This has resulted in a unique and bizarre structure of governance, distinct from any other nation on the continent. Unlike other nations with separate legislative and judicial branches, Delcross operates quite differently.

    [The Holy Council] interprets sacred texts and establishes divine laws.

    [The Assembly] discusses national affairs and administers imperial laws.

    [The Heresy Tribunal] identifies heretics and condemns devil worshipers.

    [The Judiciary] adjudicates and enforces crimes according to imperial law.

    Generally, these branches function independently without conflict. 

    However, occasional clashes occur, such as when something permissible under imperial law is prohibited by the Holy Council. Absurd incidents have happened, like a single crime being prosecuted by both the Heretical Tribunal and Judiciary, leading to double jeopardy. 

    This system was established when the millennium-old Holy Empire of Delcross was founded. Due to the first Holy Emperor’s rule lasting for over 300 years, this system had solidified institutionally.

    Despite its shortcomings, Delcross remains a powerful empire thanks to its strong corps of clerics centered around the Holy Emperor, considered the proxy of the divine. Their lifespan may have shortened over generations, but still, no country could challenge Delcross. Thus, Delcross managed to remain the most powerful empire despite having the most inefficient governmental structure.

    The reason for this lengthy explanation is because Seongjin is currently summoned to the Theological Academy, strangely enough, as a witness for the case involving [The Black Prophets]. He is accompanied by Katrina, the head of the Paladin Order of St. Aurelion, serving as his legal and religious representative.

    Students like Kenneth Digory, initially meant to face the Heretical Tribunal, are now under investigation by the Holy Council due to the absence of appropriate divine laws. The Council’s decisions can take anywhere from one to several months due to scriptural interpretation and debate.

    Moreover, the upcoming birth celebration, the empire’s largest event, is likely to push any formal legal proceedings by at least six months.

    For now, lacking sufficient grounds for prosecution, the students are absurdly held in the Judiciary’s prison for breaking and entering and property damage.

    The investigation itself is happening haphazardly, carried out by an inspector moving between the Judiciary and the Academy.

    Seongjin couldn’t help but marvel at the absurdity of how the empire had been functioning all this while as he faced the investigator.

    “So, Your Highness, you went to the mansion because you received an invitation?” 

    “Yes, the letter has already been submitted as evidence.”

    “Did you have any previous acquaintance with these students?”

    “Well, as I’ve already testified, I have no memories from before my illness.”

    The inspector glanced at Katrina standing behind Seongjin before cautiously asking, “Do you… happen to know anything about the strange entity?”

    “The strange entity?”

    “Yes, according to Kenneth Digory and other students, it seemed as if you knew something about its nature.”

    Seongjin feigned innocence.

    “I saw it as an obvious demonic being. Why are you calling it a ‘strange entity’?”

    The investigator made a troubled face, sensing that this audacious prince was feigning ignorance despite possibly knowing something.

    Yet, behind the prince stood the knight commander, staring at them, which was intimidating.

    After a moment’s thought, the investigator sighed and tidied up the papers.

    “Well, the investigation ends here. There’s not much discrepancy between your statements and those of the students. Thank you for your cooperation, Prince Morres.”

    Had this been the Heretical Tribunal, things wouldn’t have ended so easily. Seongjin stood up, slightly uneasy.

    Is this really all right? The judicial system of the Holy Empire?

    “Good work, Prince Morres.”

    Exiting the academy, Katrina, the commander of the Paladin Order of St. Aurelion, spoke to Seongjin with a gentle expression.

    Katrina Belphein, the right hand of the Holy Emperor and the person he trusts the most, has been serving him since his youth according to Masain.

    The seemingly gentle middle-aged woman with fiery red hair twisted up and wearing silver light armor was somewhat familiar to Seongjin.

    When the Emperor collapsed after sealing the passage and destroying the support structure, I remember seeing her next to him, infusing him with divine power.

    “As for the matter of Bantra Moss’s larva…”

    “Yes, don’t worry about that. I have already reported to His Imperial Majesty, and the Knights of Saint Terbacchia are conducting an internal investigation.”

    Seongjin had explained to her about Bantra Moss before coming to the academy. He was worried that if another like him appeared and opened a gate in the capital, it would be problematic.

    Of course, if she asked where he got that information, it would be a bit awkward. But Katrina simply listened to Seongjin’s explanation and even ordered the investigators to act ignorant.

    Could it be because she’s the Emperor’s right-hand? 

    Seongjin noticed that she didn’t ask him any questions, much like the Holy Emperor.

    Whether it was her way of quietly listening or pressuring investigators, she reminded him of the Emperor in many ways.

    When they had this conversation, Katrina laughed out loud.

    “It seems we think alike. When speaking with His Highness, I always feel that you greatly resemble His Imperial Majesty.”

    Really? In what way?

    When Seongjin looked at her with widened eyes, the corners of her eyes curved beautifully.

    “His Majesty was also calm and intelligent in his youth.”

    “…”

    Quietly following her, Francis suddenly coughed.

    Yes, I get it, Sir Francis.

    Stop with that asthmatic cough!

    On their way back to Pearl Palace Palace by carriage, Seongjin told Katrina that he wanted to visit the tribunal. He wanted to meet Jonathan McAlpin, who was imprisoned.

    He had more questions about Morres’ past actions and the funds said to be provided by [The Black Prophets].

    “Hmm…”

    After a brief moment of contemplation, Katrina nodded.

    “Well, if it’s the tribunal, it should be fine. They are entirely separate from the Heretical Tribunal. They are simply holding the students for convenience and have no interest in this case.”

    Just then, the carriage arrived at the palace.

    She opened the door and turned to her aide.

    “I have to report to His Imperial Majesty, so I’ll take my leave here. Captain Francis, could you look after His Highness?”

    “Yes, Commander. Don’t worry! I will take responsibility for His Highness until the end!”

    The tall knight responded with an unspoken smile.

    Seongjin was puzzled.

    Francis. You’re like a guard dog ready to bite anyone but when it comes to the commander, you’re entirely different. Why?

    “As always, you’re dependable, Captain Francis.”

    Turning towards Seongjin, Katrina continued, “An inquisitor from Saint Terbacchia will visit Pearl Palace soon. Don’t worry, they just want some advice. If you provide them with information about the ‘mamul’ (monsters), it will greatly assist their work.”

    Here, “monsters” is the term that Seongjin used as opposed to the official terms like ‘foreign entities’ or ‘abomination’.

    The unconditional trust she was showing in his words puzzled him. 

    Unable to guess the reason for this unequivocal trust, Seongjin wore a tentative expression. She gracefully bowed, still wearing a friendly smile.

    “Then, I shall take my leave now, Your Highness.”

    The door of the carriage closed, and her figure disappeared beyond the window.

    Francis’s face, which had been softly smiling, suddenly changed. His already sharp eyes turned stern, and his lips tightened as if he had become a completely different person in an instant.

    What is this guy? Is he bipolar?

    “No, shouldn’t you go back to Pearl Palace right now to undergo life-or-death training? Why are you suddenly going to the courthouse, huh?”

    Hmm, such audacity in his words, even in the presence of the prince.

    Francis as usual, I see.

    “I need to meet Jonathan McAlpin.”

    “Then why do you need to meet that man? We’ve already subtly defused the issue about the sponsorship funds. Is there really a need to visit the courthouse and acknowledge your prior relationship?”

    I can’t say I’m not worried about that part, but the important thing is that I’ve already secured Jonathan McAlpin’s testimony. 

    Even previously, Sir Masain searched everywhere from Pearl Palace to the main palace’s ledger, but couldn’t find any sponsorship records. There’s absolutely no evidence to implicate Mores.

    So, before the trial starts, wouldn’t it be better to gather as much information as possible from Jonathan McAlpin? It’d be good to make him talk if possible.

    But Francis’s complaints did not cease.

    “Ah, seriously! Do you know how long I counted the days to see the respected Commander again during my last leave?”

    “……”

    “And now that she, Commander, has finally appeared, what is this? I’m flooded with piled-up work, and she, the Commander, are still sticking by His Majesty with unnecessary worries!”

    Is this guy really whining about the Emperor stealing the Commander from him?

    Seongjin put on a calm smile.

    I tried to be patient, but he’s really too noisy.

    “Francis, I didn’t want to go this far but.”

    Francis’s eyes narrowed sharply over his glasses.

    However, Seongjin had an ace up his sleeve.

    “I’ll tattle.”

    “……?”

    “I’ll tell Dame Katrina that Sir Francis has been nagging me on the way.”

    “……!”

    Francis unknowingly opened his mouth wide and dumbfoundedly stared at Seongjin.

    Why? You don’t think I can do it?

    Even if you don’t know, wouldn’t Commander Katrina take my side?

    [Wow, you’re so childish. I’ve never seen anyone like you in all my years.]

    The Demon King, who usually keeps his mouth shut when a clergyman is around, finally said something.

    What? Why? What? As long as it works, it’s fine, isn’t it?

    Indeed, the ‘I’ll tattle’ strategy worked wonders.

    Francis looked dumbfounded for a moment before clamping his mouth shut like a clam.

    How’s that? I’ve found this barking dog’s weak point!

    Seongjin was exuberant, but the Demon King just sighed.

    “Who’s stranger here? The guy who threatens to tattle, or the guy who’s influenced by it?”

    The carriage moved on, rattling towards the courthouse in silence.

    Upon arriving at the court, everything went smoothly. After stating the purpose of their visit and confirming their identities, they were immediately guided to the prison.

    They said they didn’t care much about students or minor offenders; indeed, the visitation process was lax.

    But once Seongjin visited the prison, he swallowed a gasp at the unexpected sight. The imprisoned students were sitting on the cold stone floor, wrapping their heads and flipping through books—a bizarre scene.

    It would take at least six months after the Council’s meeting for the trial to commence.

    Many of the Council members were also professors at the Academy, and they couldn’t stand the sight of students enjoying a leisurely incarceration without studying for several months.

    To make matters worse, the Council was convened during the Academy’s midterm exam period.

    The professors thought this:

    —”You all have to submit assignments and take exams, right?”

    So, an absurd situation unfolded where all the [Black Prophets] were writing reports in prison.

    “Um…”

    Kenneth Diggory, who had a fractured occipital bone, was fortunately awake after receiving treatment from the priests. Being in his graduation year, he had to write a thesis and was engrossed in thick textbooks, looking rather pale.

    Aside from him, the others showed minor bruises on their faces. It seemed they had undergone fairly severe interrogation while initially incarcerated in the heretical tribunal.

    It was just one day until they were transferred to the tribunal, and the young students, whose charges were not even confirmed yet, had been beaten up. It seemed the heretical tribunal was a terrifying place indeed.

    Among them, Ashley Betcher, who seemed moody, and Jonathan McAlpin, who lacked the backing of a high-ranking clergy, appeared to be in worse shape. They were moaning in agony in a corner of the cell without even opening a book.

    Did they get beaten up a lot?

    “Why are those two like that? Is it okay to leave them like this?”

    When he asked the guard, he shrugged.

    “Well, there wasn’t anything particularly strange when they came in yesterday?”

    What do you mean by that? They are dying.

    “Sir Francis.”

    At his call, Francis led the guard and opened the prison door.

    They were students personally protected by the Holy Emperor himself. If they were to fall critically ill during their time in the heretical tribunal, it would create a significant issue.

    The Prophets, who were busy writing their reports, only then moved aside to make room.

    Francis knelt and cautiously examined the two individuals. For a moment, he touched their foreheads with his divinely enveloped hands and even lifted their clothes here and there.

    After some time, Francis, who looked a little serious, said to Seongjin,

    “Your Highness, we need to isolate the students and call the doctors.”

    Is their condition that bad?

    However, the following words from him not only made the students but also the guards turn pale.

    “It seems to be a plague.”

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