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    The silence was suffocating. Within breathing distance, Jin and Arsen glared at each other, assessing one another. Jin to escape, Arsen to bind him.

    ‘It seems like the first time.’

    Arsen smiled wryly and tried to grab Jin’s shoulder again. The shock of being abandoned by his mother was certainly no trivial matter. He was about to say something, dismissing it as a fleeting rebellion.

    “Your Highness Jin.”

    Ian’s call stopped him. Jin pushed Arsen away and approached Ian, and Ian smiled benevolently and patted his shoulder.

    “How is your wound?”

    “The doctor took care of it meticulously, so it’s alright.”

    Blood kept seeping into the bandage. Even if it wasn’t life-threatening, it would be inconvenient to live with for a while. Ian praised him in a low voice.

    “It will be tough, but please endure it for a bit. If you persevere, it will pass.”

    A scar on the face, a scar on the heart, they’re the same. Time may not solve everything, but nothing remains intact before time either.

    If you endure, if you let it go, it will pass.

    In that short moment, like the tears disappeared from the child’s eyes.

    “Your Highness Arsen.”

    Ian called out to Arsen, who was sitting on the edge of the bed. The child had forgotten his princely dignity and was slouching with his chin resting on his hand. As if truly displeased with this situation.

    “Let’s have a word for a moment.”

    “…I’m tired though.”

    “It will be brief. It’s for everyone’s safety.”

    Although his tone was polite, the forced nature was evident. It meant if you’re seeking safety in the Ministry of Magic, cooperate properly. Arsen stoically got up and straightened his clothes.

    “Jin. Get treated well. When Mother wakes up, stay by her side.”

    As if trying to fulfill his brotherly duty to the end, Arsen smiled kindly and left the infirmary. Xiaoshi immediately followed behind, and Ian turned to Jin.

    “Why do you call for my brother?”

    Could it be that Sir Ian actually needs Arsen, not him? Could it be an act of pretending to support him? Or is all of this sincere?

    But has there ever been someone like that in the palace? Even in peaceful times, he was pushed to the back, let alone in wartime…

    “Your Highness Jin.”

    Ian lowered his knees and met Jin’s eyes. His gaze was firm. The strength that comes from having a solid inner conviction.

    “Get your mind straight.”

    “……”

    “I mean, don’t waver even when you hear vicious words. If Your Highness wavers, Bariel will waver. If Your Highness collapses, the lives of the people will collapse. Always keep that in mind and believe that Your Highness’s fate is a blessing.”

    Listening from behind the door, it was truly outrageous and absurd. Arsen, how can such a young child be so vicious?

    There were particularly cunning children due to the palace background. But to that degree was rare, so Ian clicked his tongue inwardly.

    Jin looked up at Ian’s furrowed brow.

    “Your words are fit for His Majesty the Emperor.”

    “…For the time being, keep your distance from His Highness Arsen. I will assign subordinates, so don’t be alone together and always be with someone. Even nonsense can sound plausible if you keep listening to it.”

    At that moment, the mage who brought dry clothes knocked on the door. It meant to stop the conversation.

    “Then, finish receiving treatment.”

    “Thank you!”

    Jin shouted loudly at Ian’s back. He rushed in fear of missing the opportunity. The mage held back a smile as if finding the child adorable, and Jin expressed his gratitude again loudly.

    “…Thank you.”

    “You’re welcome.”

    Ian lightly bowed his head and closed the door.

    The corridor was quiet. Far away, the commotion of the refugees could be heard, but it was distant and echoing. Ian entered the reception room not far from the infirmary.

    Creak.

    Arsen was sitting on the sofa, looking out the window. An expressionless face impossible to read emotions from. He was truly curious about what thoughts were going through that small head.

    “What is your reason for wanting to talk to me?”

    “Your Highness Arsen. Did you visit His Highness Gale’s residence last night?”

    A straightforward question. Arsen smiled brightly and promptly denied it.

    “No.”

    Xiaoshi shook his head slightly and glanced at Ian. He knew well that he couldn’t carelessly testify in front of Arsen. He was the assassin who tried to kill Gale, so serving Ian as his master now would clearly be problematic.

    “Why do you ask such a thing? What reason would I have to go to brother Gale’s residence that night? Perhaps, do you think I’m the mastermind behind the assassination?”

    The nuance was subtle, but Ian immediately noticed. Last night, Arsen remembered meeting Xiaoshi. Ian sat across from him and carefully examined the child’s face.

    “By the way, Sir Ian. I’m a bit perplexed.”

    “About what?”

    “Earlier, you saved Jin before me?”

    It was pure curiosity. Wasn’t Ian a proven man, the illegitimate son of a border count who rose to become the Minister of the Ministry of Magic? It was incomprehensible that such a person would weigh between him and Jin.

    “I have a prophecy hanging over me. If by chance I had been harmed instead of Jin at that time, you wouldn’t have been able to avoid criticism either. Once this situation is resolved, Mother will gather and handle forces centered around ‘us’.”

    He said ‘us’ in words, but in the end, it meant Arsen himself. Since he was the strong candidate for succession if Mariv and Gale were gone, it was a warning to think carefully about how to conduct himself. Not to put ideas into his precious twin brother’s head.

    “Your Highness Arsen.”

    Ian quietly looked at the child and smiled.

    “Do you consider yourself close to the throne?”

    “What?”

    “If the one close to the throne is safe, Bariel will also be safe. Does it matter who else harms whom? Look outside. Right now, His Highness Mariv and His Highness Gale are trying to kill each other.”

    Arsen scowled deeply. So now, he was saying Jin was closer to the throne than him.

    “Is it because you’re an outsider that your opinion is different?”

    “You flatter me.”

    Arsen clenched his teeth without making a sound. Regardless, Ian put down the tea that had turned cold.

    “If you recall new memories from last night, please tell me anytime. Xiaoshi here will stay by Your Highness Arsen’s side. As you can see, there are many refugees, so it’s to ensure Your Highness’s safety.”

    Could it be that he secretly borrowed the Emperor’s secret passage? Or is there another collaborator?

    ‘Mariv also lost the Emperor because he didn’t know about the secret passage. The possibility of Arsen knowing about it is slim. It seems like he used a different trick.’

    As if sensing Ian’s mind was in turmoil, Arsen’s eyes narrowed. Although he looked exactly like Jin, strangely, when facing him, he couldn’t recall that at all. That’s how different the two were.

    “Sir Ian. The way I see it now, there’s only one way to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.”

    Arsen leaned back on the sofa and muttered. Tapping his fingertips as if bored.

    “Finding my missing father. If His Majesty appears and reprimands everyone about the whereabouts of the seal, even His Highness Mariv will lose justification and be reduced to a traitor. Then, the neutral forces will have a reason to unite. The Ministry of Magic shouldn’t just put up a barrier and save themselves, but jump into battle and write a new history.”

    Smart. It was a flow anyone could read, but the ten-year-old prince didn’t just read it, he applied it.

    “I don’t know what Father will do about brother Gale. But one thing is certain, it’s most problematic if His Highness Mariv wins.”

    There’s only one thing the Emperor can do right away to dismiss Mariv’s legitimacy. Declaring a new successor. It was like a kind of political cornerstone to handle the incident.

    “Between me and Jin, who do you think Father will choose as his successor? And once a successor is decided, will it change even if the incident is resolved? Once I take the successor position, the influence antagonizing Jin will grow stronger. He’s the child who will harm me.”

    Smiling brightly, Arsen reached out his hand to Ian. Although he refused before, this time the atmosphere was clear that he wouldn’t accept a refusal. Ian chuckled looking at the small child’s hand. He didn’t take his hand this time either.

    “Your Highness Arsen. I understand what you’re saying.”

    In other words, he wants to draw the Ministry of Magic, the center of the third force, to his side right now. But it wasn’t a very appealing proposal to Ian.

    “But Your Highness. There are two variables in Your Highness’s assumption. First. In case His Highness Gale wins. Second. In case His Majesty the Emperor appoints His Highness Jin as the successor.”

    Of course, Ian didn’t want the first one either. Because then there would be no place for Jin to stand. Then what remained was the second.

    “Do you think Father will put Jin on the successor seat?”

    Arsen snorted. As if there was nothing more foolish than painting an absurd future. Ian just bowed his head and didn’t answer. Does he not know that until the future approaches the present, anything is possible?

    Knock knock.

    “Minister Ian. I brought the documents you mentioned.”

    “Yes. Let’s check them.”

    At that moment, Romandro knocked on the door and reported that he had completed the instructions. He had brought the reports processed during Director Wesleigh’s time. If Ian’s guess was correct, there would probably be a clue there.

    “Your Highness Arsen, please rest well. If there’s anything you need, just tell Xiaoshi. Ah, and for the time being, Lady Dilaina and His Highness Jin absolutely need rest, so visitation will be prohibited.”

    Arsen’s face crumpled. As if banning him from meeting even Dilaina, not just Jin, was crossing the line. But Ian didn’t correct himself and grabbed the doorknob.

    “And be careful of Xiaoshi. He has a quirky personality, so if you bother him, he’ll bite.”

    Xiaoshi chuckled at his master’s playful warning. He knew it was telling Arsen not to bother him, but wasn’t the treatment too much? Arsen turned his head and expressed his discontent through silence.

    Creak.

    Thud!

    “Ian, here.”

    “Good work. There’s more than I thought.”

    “The captains are waiting, let’s go together.”

    As Ian took a step, he carefully read the documents Romandro handed over.

    It was about secret passages that could instantly cover every corner of the palace. If the operating method was similar to when Ian was emperor, magic power must be involved.

    For example…

    ‘A huge painting or a hidden door. If it’s made of magic stones, it can connect locations.’

    He was about to enter the conference room to discuss with Akorella. Her scream from inside greeted Ian first.

    “No way! Hale!”

    “Be quiet for a bit. I’m still watching.”

    “Akorella, calm down.”

    “Do I look calm? Right now? Don’t you know what it means that Riama died?”

    Click!

    When Ian opened the door, Akorella, who was pulling her hair, and the mages abruptly stopped and looked at him.

    No need to ask what happened.

    Because Akorella let out a scream filled with fear.

    “Sir Ian! It seems Captain Riama of the Three Captains has died. You know what this means, right?”

    Of course, he knew.

    Hale frowned as he stubbed out his cigarette.

    “If magic sealing stones are used in battle, even the safety of this place cannot be guaranteed.”

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