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    A while later, noticing that Ian’s surroundings had quieted down, Xiaoshi entered the conference room. Ian was observing the magic stone powder on the round table while holding documents along with the mages.

    Among the countless grains, he couldn’t tell which ones were Mariv and Gale, but it was sufficient to assess the state of the battle. Ian tapped two spots with a rolled-up piece of paper.

    “Beors’s mana was sensed here and here.”

    “That’s right. The physical distance is considerable to move in a short period. It’s too much even for the Imperial Swordsmen attending to His Majesty, let alone a mage.”

    “If there’s a secret passage used by His Majesty the Emperor, it’s difficult for us to detect. We should announce that the Ministry of Magic is a neutral zone and wait for him to come.”

    “Sir Ian, you have a hunch, don’t you?”

    “I told Romandro to bring the documents from Wesleigh’s time. If we check those, we can make a more accurate guess. What about Beric? Is he preparing well?”

    “He went down to the cafeteria to eat. The area is full of His Highness Mariv’s troops, so it seems some preparation is needed.”

    Mariv’s troops, what a ridiculous phrase. Even the lowly beasts of Bariel are under the Emperor. How reckless it is for those so-called guards to step up and cause chaos.

    Ian chuckled and put down the documents. Akorella, who was organizing the magic stone powder, noticed Xiaoshi’s presence and signaled with her eyes.

    “Minister. Your subordinate is here.”

    “Xiaoshi?”

    “…I have something to tell you.”

    Xiaoshi bowed his head stoically and glanced at the mages. His gaze seemed to ask if it was alright for them to hear this.

    “Oh my, I should go check the defensive formation!”

    “Yes. I was just thinking the same. Mm-hmm.”

    The mages bustled about and left the room. They didn’t know Xiaoshi was a slave and simply regarded him as Ian’s right-hand man. Beric constantly singing about wanting to clash with him also had an influence.

    “What is it?”

    Ian turned to Xiaoshi with crossed arms. He was so taciturn that it was impossible to guess what he would say.

    “Last night, I think I saw His Highness Arsen at His Highness Gale’s residence.”

    …It was an astounding statement beyond doubt. Ian uncrossed his arms and frowned. Why was Arsen at Gale’s residence? No, more than that, how in the world?

    “Explain in detail.”

    “In the darkness of the corridor, I saw distinctly shining blue eyes. I passed by thinking the child was the target’s son, but seeing him earlier, it’s clear it was His Highness Arsen, not him.”

    “…His Highness Jin and His Highness Arsen have identical appearances. How can you be certain it was His Highness Arsen?”

    “By instinct-“

    Xiaoshi hesitated. It was a brief passing moment, but it was etched in his mind and couldn’t be forgotten. Cold and murderous, feeling like it didn’t belong to a living being. Or the eerie sensation of a superior predator. Words that couldn’t be defined were tangled up and didn’t come out properly.

    Would Ian understand this?

    He continued speaking.

    “-I could tell.”

    “……”

    Tap tap, Ian rhythmically tapped the leather of the chair with his fingertips. His eyes staring into the void as if contemplating something. The green hue was particularly deep.

    “…Please believe me.”

    “Yes. I believe you.”

    Xiaoshi flinched at the answer that came out too easily. Ian looking up at him like that. Smiling as if asking why he was so flustered.

    “Although His Highness Jin and His Highness Arsen look like mirrors, everyone in the palace could easily distinguish them due to their different dispositions. If you felt it was His Highness Arsen, then it was probably him.”

    More precisely, they regarded the one who smiled brightly and was lively as Arsen, and the one who was calm and quiet as Jin.

    “What I’m curious about is how and in what way His Highness Arsen was at His Highness Gale’s residence that night.”

    While saying that, Ian glanced at the magic stone powder map. Since the Imperial Palace was so vast, it couldn’t be said that Gale’s residence and Arsen’s residence were completely separate.

    But no matter how you think about it, isn’t it beyond common sense for a child to enter Gale’s residence without a means of transportation, and on that particular night of all nights?

    “Since you were greeted and the guards were dismissed, yes. Even if we somehow accept that he managed to enter. There are more than a couple of parts that don’t make sense.”

    At Ian’s murmur, Xiaoshi lowered his eyes. If he had known this would happen, he should have grabbed the child back then. Seize him, confirm for certain if it was Arsen, and provide more useful information to his master.

    “Xiaoshi.”

    He raised his gaze at Ian’s call.

    “For the time being, take good care of the twin princes, and especially keep an eye on His Highness Arsen. Many things are suspicious in various ways.”

    “I will keep that in mind.”

    The prophecy is also like that.

    The one born later will harm the one born first.

    The one closest to the throne will die, and the Imperial family’s bloodline will be cut off.

    ‘The latter is somewhat understandable.’

    From Ian’s perspective, Jin, who was currently confirmed as the next emperor, was the one closest to the throne. Thus, it was only natural that if Jin died, the Imperial family’s bloodline would be cut off.

    “What about…His Highness Arsen?”

    “Saying it’s uncomfortable with people coming and going, he went inside.”

    Ian stood up from his seat and took the lead. Along with the thought that from now on, Jin and Arsen needed to be separated a little.

    “Inside where?”

    ***

    “Please tell me right away if it hurts.”

    “…It’s fine.”

    The doctor knelt down and examined Jin’s wound. Wiping away the splotchy blood revealed the depth of the wound to be even greater. Fortunately, it missed his eyes and mouth, but it seemed impossible to erase the scar. The doctor let out an unintentional sigh and disinfected the gaping area.

    “…What about Mother?”

    “Lady Dilaina is resting. She merely fainted from shock. I’m more concerned about Your Highness’s injury.”

    Jin closed his eyes in silence. Did these people know he had been abandoned by his mother and siblings? There are no secrets in the Imperial Palace, so once the situation settles down, everyone will surely find out.

    ‘Then, how should I live?’

    It was still vivid. The last warmth of his mother letting go of his hand. Now that the relationship was broken, even if it recovered, it couldn’t return to how it was before. Just like the scar on his face, that mark would remain on their relationship as well.

    “Since the wound is diagonal, the bandage will be a bit uncomfortable. But please endure it for the time being. If it festers, it will hurt more and you’ll suffer.”

    The doctor finished the treatment with a clean cloth and stood up. Next, those who could cast healing magic approached and bathed him in a warm energy.

    Zing. Zing.

    “It will alleviate the pain. Since Your Highness is still young and in poor physical condition, we will monitor the situation and infuse mana.”

    “Magic is your domain, so do as you see fit.”

    The mages beamed at Jin’s kind words. Ah. Outside, the grown princes were causing a commotion, but this young highness was behaving so maturely without crying that he was in pain.

    “Please wait a moment. I will bring you a change of clothes.”

    “What about Sir Ian?”

    “His Excellency seems to be attending to some work at the moment. Should I call him?”

    “No need. I was just curious.”

    “I’ll be right back.”

    The mage bowed his head, realizing Jin’s clothes were in tatters. Jin, sitting on the edge of the bed, closed his eyes and slowly swung his legs.

    ‘When I meet Sir Ian, I should first say thank you. For helping me and allowing me to live like this. For embracing me without hesitation, I was truly grateful. And for saving even Mother-‘

    Creak.

    He was a prince, but before that, he was a child. Ever since he opened his eyes, things he couldn’t handle kept happening one after another. Lost in his jumbled thoughts, Jin didn’t sense the presence approaching.

    Tap.

    Footsteps drawing near. Jin turned his head with his eyes closed. Had the mage returned?

    “Jin.”

    At the familiar voice, Jin’s eyes snapped open. Arsen had approached right in front of him before he knew it and was peering at his face. Jin held his breath and froze.

    “Jin. How’s your wound? Are you okay?”

    “…Arsen.”

    “His Highness Mariv really went too far.”

    Arsen’s eyes reddened as he touched his younger brother’s wound. When Jin grimaced from the sting, Arsen rather made a fuss as if he was more surprised.

    “I’m sorry. Does it hurt a lot?”

    “……”

    Jin avoided his gaze and didn’t answer. Even normally, it was difficult to face him, but it was incomparable to now. He had no idea what expression to make when facing Arsen.

    “Jin. Are you very angry about earlier?”

    “……”

    “That’s why I told you beforehand. That your role would be important. You know how complicated the situation in the palace is right now, don’t you? We just encountered the crisis too quickly, that’s all.”

    Arsen hugged Jin and gently whispered. Jin, who had been staring into the void, murmured.

    “You…wish for me to die.”

    Arsen’s hand that had been patting his back stopped.

    “Before you die because of the prophecy, you wish for me to die first.”

    Arsen’s lips, which had been looking at Jin indifferently, curved. And soon, as if unable to hold back, he burst into laughter and cackled.

    “Jin! What are you saying? If someone heard, they’d think I’m the one who made the prophecy. I’m the one living in fear of death? From the moment I was born, I’ve been living with that fate because of your existence.”

    “That’s a lie. You-“

    “Mother’s choice is Mother’s will. Don’t take out your anger on me.”

    At Arsen’s words, Jin’s eyes widened. Are you saying it’s my fault Mother abandoned you? You were abandoned simply for being you, so I don’t understand why you’re raising your voice at me.

    Without realizing it, Jin felt tears welling up.

    “Luckily, Sir Ian appeared and those armored men showed up. Because of you, Mother and I almost died.”

    Each and every word from Arsen made Jin’s blood boil like poison. Jin didn’t realize it was anger.

    “From now on, I hope you’ll be careful with your actions. Okay? I can’t help it if you hate me, but you can’t abandon Mother too.”

    Jin bit his lip. He wanted to refute somehow, but it felt like Arsen’s dagger that had been pressing down on him his whole life was blocking his throat.

    At that moment, a shadow entered the doorway. Arsen, facing Jin, just giggled and nuzzled his cheek against his younger brother’s shoulder.

    Swish.

    It was Ian. Ian leaning against the doorframe with his arms crossed, looking at them. Jin’s heart leaped wildly.

    “Jin, promise me. We’re family, aren’t we?”

    “……”

    Ian’s previous comforting words to wipe away tears because he was precious erased Arsen’s whisper. The statement that his breath was more valuable than their screams was so shocking that he could easily recall Ian’s voice again.

    “I, I-“

    Ian stroked his own lips with his hand.

    Don’t cry, smile.

    The tears of the precious are heavy and will fill heaven and earth.

    “I-“

    Ian nodded his head.

    Acknowledge your own worth, so believe and follow yourself. If you follow yourself, in the end, only you will remain.

    “I refuse.”

    “…What?”

    Arsen stopped nuzzling and lifted his head. Jin glared at Arsen with tearful eyes. It seemed like they would overflow, but they never fell.

    “I don’t want to die. Arsen, please don’t tell me to take responsibility for your fate anymore.”

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