ANNOUNCEMENT: CHE SERIES IS DROPPED!

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    With a hiccup, Seongjin’s eyes widened in surprise. He was so shocked that he completely forgot to greet the newcomer.

    The Holy Emperor walked slowly towards the bedside, standing there for a moment in silence, gazing down at Seongjin. The temperature around them seemed to drop noticeably, causing Seongjin to shiver involuntarily from the cold.

    After a long silence, the Holy Emperor spoke in a calm but frighteningly serious tone, “After bursting the wooden sword, were you planning to explode your own body as well?”

    Ah, Holy Emperor already knew how recklessly Seongjin had been manipulating his aura.

    Thinking about it, the outcome was obvious.

    Had he pushed a little further, his muscles might have burst like the wooden sword.

    “That…”

    My aura didn’t reach its core.

    There was no other way to kill it.

    There were many excuses he wanted to make, but facing those icy, sharp eyes, only a single phrase managed to escape his lips.

    “…I’m sorry.”

    He truly was sorry. Sincerely.

    It hadn’t been long since he woke up in the royal palace in Morres’s body, but during that short period, he had caused the Holy Emperor so much trouble. He had been seriously injured multiple times, and once, he had even come close to death.

    He reflected deeply, bowing his head, and the Holy Emperor’s stern demeanor seemed to soften slightly.

    “Do you understand? The training method isn’t a barrier that limits the aura, but a guideline.”

    Seongjin inwardly flinched.

    The Holy Emperor had noticed that he had abandoned the training method in frustration when his attacks weren’t effective. Indeed, Seongjin had thought at the time that adhering to the training method was creating a limit for himself.

    However, what Seongjin actually did was force his still insufficient aura outward through his arms, using his body like another wooden sword. He was recklessly swinging his unstable aura, eroding his own flesh.

    If he continued to train and layer his aura as the method prescribed, he would eventually be able to safely project his energy outward more clearly and powerfully.

    “Handling aura is like wielding a double-edged sword. The training method is a necessary safety measure in managing that sword. You mustn’t forget that.”

    “Yes, I’ll keep that in mind.”

    “Good.”

    The Holy Emperor nodded. From his past experiences, Seongjin realized that the lecture was over.

    Seongjin, perking up, asked Holy Emperor, “Father, I have a question.”

    “…..”

    “I meditated last night, and suddenly, my aura layers increased significantly.”

    “…..”

    “Until recently, I was near the 6th layer, but now I’m almost reaching the 7th. I feel like I can properly project my aura outward now. Do you know anything about this?”

    Seongjin, engrossed in his questions, failed to notice the Holy Emperor’s eyes growing cold again.

    “Could this be a result of the healing I received from you? Or is it related to the aura depletion I experienced fighting the spider monster? If I continue to receive such healing or deplete my aura, could it accelerate my training progress……”

    Suddenly, the Holy Emperor’s eyebrows twitched, and a spark seemed to fly from Seongjin’s forehead.

    Snap!

    “Ouch!”

    Seongjin clutched his forehead, rolling on the bed in pain, tears welling up in his eyes.

    The Holy Emperor watched him for a moment, then turned away, clicking his tongue.

    “What have you learned? You’re just like someone I know, never learning.”

    Isn’t that a bit harsh?

    I heard everything!

    Katrina said it clearly! I am very much like you in your youth!

    As the Holy Emperor was about to leave the room, he paused and then spoke.

    “…Next time you come, bring the Nutcracker. I’ll examine your sword.”

    “What?”

    Seongjin was about to ask more, but the Holy Emperor left without turning back.

    * * *

    “What happened here! I merely asked you to plant a seed, and what did you do instead!”

    A sharp voice echoed through the hut. This was a secret meeting place in the capital.

    In front of a long-haired man wearing a half-mask, two disheveled underground priests bowed their heads.

    Their once white priest robes were now dirty and stained. A small insignia on the chest was the only indication of their affiliation with the Heresy Tribunal.

    While the older priest wept in despair, Clemence, kneeling beside him, quickly spoke.

    “It was truly unexpected. We were merely performing our task. It’s true!”

    “But why did a gate open in the Heresy Tribunal?”

    “We don’t know the exact reason, but it might be the work of a member of the Forgotten Order. They must have tampered with the legacy of [Rest].”

    “Rest’s remnants? Why would they suddenly?”

    “We don’t know either…”

    “This is no time for excuses!”

    Prince Leonard, who had been sipping from a small bottle of liquor, shook his head in disbelief. He had never seen Romaine so agitated and unable to maintain his composure.

    Understandably so.

    Just a few days after an abrupt emergency measure swept away most of the seeds, adding insult to injury, yesterday morning, a multitude of monsters suddenly descended from the direction of the royal palace, destroying the few seeds that had managed to sprout.

    All their hard work had gone to waste.

    The seeds, of which only a handful would sprout even after dozens were planted, were all gone. When would they be able to start this laborious task again?

    “We had been encouraging the brothers of Rest to participate in our task. Originally, we planned to ask them to open the legacy on the Day of Great Harvest…”

    Clemence continued with a troubled look.

    “Unexpectedly, Hayes acted on his own without any prior indication. This all happened without any warning. I swear it!”

    “So why did he suddenly do that!”

    “Before opening the gate, he apparently had a brief conversation with a visitor to the Heresy Tribunal. If there’s a cause, it might be related to that guest…”

    Romaine’s voice grew low.

    “And who was this guest?”

    “Prince Morres, the third prince.”

    “Prince Morres…”

    He paused, looking into the void, catching his breath.

    Come to think of it, wasn’t Prince Morres’s name also mentioned in connection with the recent monster disturbance on the outskirts of the capital?

    What is it about him that stirs the remnants of Rest, who have been lying low as if dead?

    It’s said that he’s such a troublemaker that even the Azure Labyrinth cast him out, but could it be that he’s not as simple as the rumors suggest?

    Why has this person, who had been quiet until now, suddenly come to the fore, making his presence felt?

    “…A new move by the Holy Emperor.”

    Romaine murmured to himself, grinding his teeth.

    “Guardian of Delcross. I wondered what his motives were, and indeed, he’s adept at manipulating without getting his own hands dirty.”

    Behind the half-mask, light brown eyes flashed fiercely. Clemence flinched at that gaze and bowed his head again.

    “…Right. So that’s how you maintain the balance. I’ll look forward to seeing how long your precarious balancing act lasts.”

    Despite his words, his face showed no expectation.

    Romaine continued to stare fiercely in the direction of the imperial palace, his gaze sharp and unyielding.

    * * *

    The morning’s state affairs were hectic due to the monster disturbance from the previous day.

    The Heresy Tribunal was almost annihilated, and there were numerous casualties, including prisoners.

    The Order of St. Marcias lost its leader, Sir Durand, with his deputy, Sir Paris, now acting as the interim leader.

    The revelation that remnants of the Dark Cult remained within the Heresy Tribunal led to many clergy, including Cardinal Benitus, the cult’s leader, being implicated. The state affairs meeting was like a storm.

    No sooner had things settled down than the Holy Emperor, who had skipped lunch to visit Jinjugung, faced another challenging time.

    In the audience room, his twins were eagerly waiting for him with a chessboard set up, their eyes sparkling.

    And the Holy Emperor didn’t particularly like chess.

    “Rushing the queen like that…”

    He sighed. Suddenly, a black queen invaded his territory, targeting his king.

    “Check.”

    Ahem. Herna always moved one step ahead. Her bold moves often left the Holy Emperor no choice but to admire.

    With no other option, he moved his king.

    Then, a knight moved, cornering him.

    “Check.”

    Hmm. Gades, always one step behind, yet forming a formidable attack with the knight, protecting each other. The Holy Emperor often struggled against their impeccable coordination.

    He had no choice but to delve deeper into enemy territory.

    He managed to dodge for a while, but eventually, his king, alone in enemy lines, was doomed.

    “I’ve lost.”

    To his calm declaration, the twins cheerfully said, “But we’ve only played two games, Imperial Dad.”

    “You promised to continue in the afternoon, Your Majesty.”

    The chief steward, refilling the cold teacups, smiled contentedly. To him, it was a tender moment.

    The Holy Emperor slightly furrowed his brows.

    In a way, this was his own doing. After all, he was the one who taught the twins chess.

    Herna and Gades, having awakened to channeling at a very young age, often lost control of their minds to an alarming degree during their childhood. In a way, their imperfect channeling faculties gave them no limits.

    The Holy Emperor taught the twins chess as a way to anchor them in reality when they would sometimes forget to eat or drink, staring blankly into space. The game required continuous mental effort and focused them on a physical game board in the real world.

    Fortunately, the intelligent twins soon became engrossed in the game, gradually learning to control their channeling based on reality.

    That was a success.

    However, the Holy Emperor never anticipated that they would become such chess prodigies.

    Why not find other opponents or let the twins play against each other? Even Louis, the chief chamberlain, didn’t quite understand why they were so fixated on playing chess with the Holy Emperor.

    But like their uncontrolled channeling, the twins were unable to regulate their ability to read strong thoughts from those around them. If someone concentrated deeply on chess in their presence, they would unintentionally read their opponent’s thoughts, even if they didn’t want to.

    Moreover, being so close to each other, it was impossible for them not to read each other’s thoughts. Playing chess against each other was essentially like playing alone.

    Only the Holy Emperor, immune to their thought-reading, could genuinely enjoy a game with them.

    Regardless of his personal feelings about chess, the Holy Emperor was quite skilled at the game.

    The twins were getting better at controlling their abilities, and the Holy Emperor believed that one day they would enjoy chess without any issues.

    However, he overlooked the fact that the twins insisted on playing chess during audience times partly because they enjoyed seeing him in discomfort, a slightly twisted form of affection.

    He might never realize this fact.

    “Father, you have a habit of moving independently without considering other pieces.”

    “Don’t forget, Your Majesty, that you have many other pieces that can be moved.”

    The twins had matured enough to advise their father.

    “…Is that so?”

    “Yes, sometimes inevitable sacrifices are necessary to prevent greater harm.”

    “Right, feeling guilty about unavoidable circumstances doesn’t change anything.”

    Louis, watching them with an adoring look, probably didn’t fully grasp the true weight of their words.

    The Holy Emperor sighed.

    He did not like chess. It was a metaphor for not enjoying moving and sacrificing others in real life.

    His gaze, devoid of warmth, lingered on the black queen, the first piece the twins had sacrificed.

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