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    It was the worst.

    Everything was a mess.

    The female executive committee member involuntarily clutched her head.

    Although she had not been a committee member for long, she had faced every kind of battlefield in her life.

    She had defeated countless enemies, overthrown powerful political adversaries, and received both fear and respect from all.

    Now, as an executive committee member, she pursued nameless honor, aspiring to endless dedication.

    To her, that was what being an executive committee member meant.

    That was what the Supreme Operating Council represented.

    Those who worked for everything, not for themselves but for the Luoyang Sword House, without seeking fame or glory.

    Those who had successfully managed and grown the Luoyang Sword House amidst crises following the absence of the family head.

    Those who, while above the family laws, never abused their power, maintaining fairness and balance, earning recognition from everyone.

    Until this very dawn, her belief in this had been unwavering.

    At her age, looking towards twilight, what more could there be to surprise her?

    But now, in this moment, in this place.

    She felt the foundation of that belief shaking.

    * * *

    The two new executive committee members had reached the pinnacle in the great Luoyang Sword House.

    They realized something right after Yeon So-hyeon mentioned ‘original sin.’

    That up until now, they were the only ones caught up in Yeon So-hyeon’s web, ranting in anger.

    That they were the only ones who had objected when Yeon So-hyeon demanded his confinement be lifted.

    And that they were standing before a terrible truth.

    With a trembling voice, she asked,

    “…Original sin? Can someone please explain?”

    Yeon So-hyeon was the first to speak.

    “Do you still not understand when these meetings I attended started not being recorded, or couldn’t be recorded?”

    “…At least I understand it’s related to that ‘original sin.'”

    As Yeon So-hyeon was about to speak again, the chairman’s voice rang out.

    “…From the beginning, our meetings with the Eldest Young Master could not be recorded.”

    “From the beginning…?”

    “The Supreme Operating Council has been established through a single lie until now.”

    Yeon So-hyeon snorted.

    “Chairman. Don’t you think it’s grossly insufficient to merely call it a lie?”

    “…Indeed, it is.”

    The chairman readily admitted.

    He addressed the two new executive committee members.

    “It’s a story of those who committed an unforgivable fraud, an unacceptable rebellion.”

    It was an original sin they could never turn away from, no matter when.

    “A fraud…?”

    “A rebellion…?”

    Even in distorted voices, the agitation of the two new executive committee members couldn’t be hidden.

    “We were arrogant and foolish. It was an act of outrageous greed, a truly shameless deed.”

    The female executive committee member, unable to hold back any longer, pressed the chairman.

    “…What exactly happened?”

    Instead of answering, the chairman posed a question.

    “Do you know when this Supreme Operating Council was first formed?”

    The new executive committee members responded.

    “…When the family head lost consciousness, the council was formed according to the Sword House law, right? As a measure against the absence of a supreme decision-maker in emergencies.”

    “I heard the original name wasn’t ‘Supreme Operating Council’ but ‘Emergency Response Council.'”

    “Yes, that’s right.”

    The chairman looked up at the ceiling as if recalling that time.

    “Everyone was disoriented, confused. The family head was like an unshakable mountain, and their absence was a terrifying void for us gathered in the emergency council…”

    The two new executive committee members also remembered that time.

    “Yes, I remember. Thirteen elders, designated in advance, gathered, and all the martial forces remaining in the family guarded the place tightly.”

    “…Most who were unaware of the situation experienced severe chaos and fear.”

    The chairman nodded and then asked,

    “What was the first thing we had to do in that situation?”

    “…Before announcing the family head’s condition to the entire family, we needed to establish a plan, didn’t we?”

    “And to do that, we first had to decide on the highest decision-maker, right?”

    “Then, as per the ceremonial hierarchy, the Eldest Young Master would be appointed as the acting family head…”

    “But I heard the Eldest Young Master refused the acting head position due to being under confinement by the family head. So, the emergency response council at the time…”

    “Could it be…?”

    Fraud.

    Rebellion.

    Original sin.

    A shameful history.

    The reason why meetings with Yeon So-hyeon could never be recorded from the beginning.

    Yeon So-hyeon, who ridiculed and called them thieves for claiming their positions were legitimately and justly attained.

    The words they heard in this meeting seemed to strike their minds with force.

    “…It can’t be, can it? Chairman, please tell me my hypothesis that just came to mind is wrong.”

    “Chairman…”

    As no answer came from the chairman, Yeon So-hyeon grinned twistedly.

    “Now do you understand? Why, from the beginning, what was discussed in the meetings I attended couldn’t be recorded?”

    The two new executive committee members looked pale as they couldn’t take their eyes off Yeon So-hyeon.

    “You deprived me of my rightful authority. You usurped a position that rightfully should have been mine.”

    His smirk twisted even more.

    “…Supreme Operating Council system? Legitimate procedures? Justifiable positions? All these years of excellent performance?”

    Contempt and hatred that he had harbored for a long time finally showed on his face.

    “How dare a mere band of thieves, a handful of fraudsters…!”

    Though Yeon So-hyeon insulted them and disrespected the council, this time, none of the new executive committee members could utter a word.

    “You didn’t even tell me about my father’s collapse! Instead, you spread the false fact that I had given up my succession rights!”

    He spat out his anger.

    “Then you conveniently pushed father aside as the former family head and appointed yourselves as temporary family heads!”

    His outcry, though devoid of inner power, was filled with a chilling determination more daunting than any master’s.

    “You thought that by doing so, I, who was in confinement, wouldn’t be able to act rashly! I still remember when I was first summoned to this council!”

    He shouted as if spitting blood.

    “You told me that day! Not to act rashly in the tumultuous times of the family! That if I spoke out, it could lead to a civil war, so I should wait quietly!”

    The two executive committee members swallowed hard.

    It was a threat beyond their wildest imagination.

    “You promised me that day! Just wait a little, and once the chaos subsides, you would hand over the position to me!”

    Yeon So-hyeon stepped out of the sunlight illuminating the center of the cave.

    “That was your first promise to me!”

    He strode into the darkness, approaching the executive committee members.

    “But soon you transformed the family into a Supreme Operating Council and began running it officially!”

    In the darkness, his eyes seemed to flash fiercely.

    “And I have waited ten years since that first promise!”

    He roared.

    “Can you fulfill that promise even now?!”

    All the executive committee members were silent.

    They hung their heads, simmering in thought.

    It was a promise that could no longer be kept.

    A reality where the promise was unattainable.

    It was an impossible demand, now that other successors had grown and gained power.

    * * *

    Yeon So-hyeon stood in the darkness, looking up at the ceiling.

    He knew all along they couldn’t keep their promise.

    He had lost interest in them.

    As everyone maintained their silence, he dusted off the dirt from his plain white clothes.

    The dust whirled up, leaving ugly yellowish stains on his garments.

    The chairman’s voice echoed again.

    “…On the day the emergency council first met. Someone said it. We can do much better than a child not even ten years old.”

    A heavier silence settled.

    “This great family should no longer be swayed by one person.”

    The chairman continued with difficulty.

    “…Who first voiced that opinion, I still don’t know. But it didn’t take long for that opinion to become everyone’s.”

    In the cave, only the old man’s voice echoed mournfully.

    “By gathering opinions together, we convinced ourselves that we could further develop the family.”

    The old man’s shadow clenched a bony fist.

    “…Thus, at that time, we announced that the Eldest Young Master had refused the position of acting family head.”

    It was a terrible lie.

    An irreversible, massive lie.

    They effectively imprisoned Yeon So-hyeon, who was living in seclusion, in Wongak Pavilion.

    The new male executive committee member shook his head.

    “I can’t accept it. The people who were part of the emergency council, renowned in the family, rebelled for just that reason…?”

    The chairman gave a bitter smile.

    “…What dominated us at the time was not greed for power. It was an ugly jealousy, the end of a feeling of defeat.”

    “Could it be, the Bloodbath…?!”

    As the word ‘Bloodbath’ was spoken, Yeon So-hyeon, standing in the darkness, turned around.

    He walked back into the sunlight and looked up at it.

    “…Right. At that time, we were survivors of the Bloodbath. We were never able to escape its aftermath.”

    The chairman covered his face.

    “Weren’t the elders purged at that time clear enemies of the family?!”

    “And only a few at the top knew the reality of that incident, no one else knew, right?!”

    The chairman hung his head.

    “…Nevertheless, we couldn’t escape the fear of having been defeated by, no, mocked by a mere child.”

    He muttered to himself.

    “…That’s why we wanted to prove ourselves. And so, we committed an unthinkable, irreversible act.”

    It was thievery.

    A fraud.

    They didn’t inform the Eldest Young Master about his father’s collapse and stole the family from him.

    The new male executive committee member shouted almost like a scream.

    “But even so, apart from not consulting the Eldest Young Master at that time, everything thereafter was conducted legitimately, wasn’t it?!”

    At that, Yeon So-hyeon burst into laughter.

    “Have you still not realized?”

    “What are you talking about…?”

    Yeon So-hyeon pulled an item from his sleeve.

    The object glittered golden in the sunlight.

    It was the Luoyang Sword House’s head seal, the Sword House’s Golden Seal.

    “Why I, who was in confinement, had this and still legitimately possess it.”

    “…!”

    The chairman’s voice followed.

    “…The family head had arranged for the head seal to be transferred to the Eldest Young Master in case of emergency.”

    Yeon So-hyeon bared his teeth.

    “And there were also father’s usual words.”

    The chairman nodded weakly.

    “…The family head always used to say to us, who were closest, almost like a habit.”

    He uttered the family head’s words like a sigh.

    “…If something unexpected happens to me, everyone must remember.”

    He clasped his face.

    “…That Yeon So-hyeon is in this Sword House.”

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