Chapter 1. Kill the Empress
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Hans Helio seeped silently into the darkness, hiding his presence.
Originally he should not be in the capital now.
He had sent the emperor a letter saying that he would arrive tomorrow.
Hans remembered Roselyn again as he groped for the dagger, checking again for it.
“…..Why don’t you wear the emperor’s crown?”
Her voice still tightened his heart.
Every vein in his body pulsed as if it were ripping, and his heart swelled to excess.
A faint sense of dread coexisted with a vague trembling.
Hans intuited that his fate would change completely with that one word.
“Are you not confident that you will become emperor?”
Sometimes he wasn’t sure.
It was a complicated feeling that could not be defined in words.
But still, the only thing he was confident of was that he would work hard so that he would not regret it.
His heart was burning. A heavy sense of mission carried him and burned again.
Hans drew a silent breath and knocked on the door of the abandoned house.
Three times at first.
Then, after a short wait, twice, then once.
The door, which had been closed by a series of silent knocks, opened.
A shabbily dressed young man checked Hans out, then greeted him with a visibly relieved look on his face.
“I’ve been waiting for you. Please come in.”
“I’m sorry I’m a little late. Let’s go in.”
“You have come a long way.”
Inside the old mansion with tightly drawn blackout curtains.
People were sitting at a huge, old dining table, and as soon as Hans entered, they rose from their seats to welcome him.
Some of those close to him embraced him with open arms as soon as they saw him.
Hans wordlessly tapped the slender shoulders of the men in his embrace with firm hands.
They were all thin, as if they had been through a lot.
“I’m just glad to see you again like this.”
“We have been waiting for you for a long time.”
“Something must have happened to the sudden call to arms…”
The twenty or so of them gathered were all those who had followed Hans.
Their ages were diverse, and some of the women who had inherited the title had come there dressed as men.
These were people who had been treated unfairly by the imperial family simply because they followed Hans.
They were also deprived of their family heirlooms for ridiculous reasons and their families were taken away by conscription.
Some had witnessed the death of their parents who had defended themselves against the imperial family.
These were aristocrats who suppressed their anger and grief and succumbed to the tyranny of the emperor.
They all wore shabby clothes, but they were never vain in their spirit and will.
Hans looked at those gathered with hardened eyes.
“I did not gather you here today to tell you how happy I am.”
Everyone gathered there felt that a full-fledged story would come out.
They closed their mouths and looked at Hans with nervous eyes.
Hans took a deep breath and grabbed the dagger he kept in his clothes.
At that very moment.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
Someone knocked on the door of the abandoned house that no one came to anymore.
Everyone who was gathered looked at the closed door in unison from their seats.
They winked and asked with their eyes if anyone else would come, but everyone shook their heads.
Knock, knock, knock.
Once again, a knocking sound with a constant pattern could be heard.
This sound was indeed a sign that they alone were promised.
……Who on earth could it be?
The air was tense, and the tension pushed down heavily on the seat.
“I know you are inside. Please open the door.”
It was a clear, young male voice.
The most powerful of them, Viscount Hutens, approached the door after winking at Hans.
“Who is it?”
“I am here to see the Marquis Hans Helio.”
Hans’ face hardened noticeably.
No one should know he was in the capital right now.
It was also strange to know the exact pattern of entering the hideout, even if the man had followed him.
‘Is it the Emperor’s tail? The lurking? I’ve made sure there’s no one following me…….’
Hans looked at Hutens with his knife in his hand.
In any case, the man knew the hideout and the people in it, so there was no avoiding him.
If other armed forces were waiting in the vicinity…….
“I came alone. There are no other people, please open the door.”
Said the man through the closed door as if he could read Hans’ mind.
Hans’ eyes narrowed and he nodded to Hutens as if he had made up his mind.
Hutens opened the door, armed but latching, in case of any danger.
In an old robe with shaggy hair that hid his eyes, the man came in.
It was so wildly unkempt, the beard made it almost impossible to see his face.
The man smiled stiffly, staring precisely at Hans over the latch.
“There you are, sir. My name is Hartz Graham. I would like to speak to Marquis Helio.”
The moment Hans heard his name, he couldn’t help but be surprised.
He was the very prophet of the exile that had been captured by the emperor.
* * *
“We don’t have much time, so let’s get to the point.”
Hartz took off his robe and shook it as soon as he came inside.
It was an act of showing that he had no weapon.
And yet, the suspicion in people’s eyes was not easily quieted.
The same was true of Hans.
He was not sure if the man was the real prophet Hartz, and even if it was right, it would not seem good that the person who was captured by the emperor came to him.
‘Was the prophet originally like this?’
The more outward appearance Hans had no idea of his age, the less he could find what was in his heart.
Even Hans, who prided himself on having a fairly accurate eye for discerning people, had difficulty gleaning Hartz’s true intentions.
“You are suspicious of me, aren’t you? It’s normal. When a stranger suddenly appears at your secret meeting. But please understand that I have my reasons.”
“First of all, you have to believe me, so I will let you know some hidden facts.”
Hartz pointed toward Hans’ chest.
“Who do you think was the one who informed the emperor of the location of the ‘it’ you are holding now?” (*it= the dagger Roselyn gave Hans.)
As soon as he was asked the question, Hans realized that man was prophet Hartz.
“It was you.”
“Yes. Then do you know why I brought it to the emperor’s attention?”
Hans stared at him quietly, as if trying to figure out the intent of the question.
Even though Hans was not a man who had consolidated his position by force of arms, the look in his eyes, which shone clearly in the darkness, was enough to drive Hartz.
Is this how it feels to see a tiger with its teeth hidden? Hans was a different kind of oppressor than the young beast of prey.
‘Indeed, he is the one she chose.’ (*Roselyn chose Hans to be the next emperor)
The first time in his not-so-sweet life, Hartz felt a horrified chill in the Marquis’ eyes.
Hartz touched his beard to hide his nervousness and said his next words.
“Why did the emperor dare to order you, who are not on good terms, to bring ‘it’ to him?”
“…… Was that also your doing?”
“No one can bring ‘it’ unless it is you.” And so, as you have experienced, if it were not you, ‘she’ wouldn’t give it to anyone.”
At the word “she,” Hans was again silenced.
The prophet Hartz.
He already knew that he and the Empress would meet.
He also knew that she would give him this dagger.
Would she have wanted to “retrieve the sacred relic” to fulfill Gillotti’s wish?
Did the prophet ask the emperor to let him go because he knew that the empress would not give him the sacred relic unless it was him? Was that really all there was to it?
‘No, that’s not all.’
Of course, nothing was certain yet, but one thing for sure was that the prophet knew that the empress was still alive.
If the prophet was really on the emperor’s side, he would have told this to the emperor first.
There was no way that that impatient emperor would have known about it and taken no action.
If the prophet had told the emperor in advance of today’s meeting, Hans would be facing the emperor’s knights right now, not the prophet himself.
After thinking about it, Hans came to a conclusion.
“You sent me there because you wanted me to meet with ‘that person’.” (*that person = Roselyn)
Hartz laughed at his words with a sigh of relief.
Of course, the bulky hairs made it almost impossible to see his smile.
“That’s why I’m called prophet. You are right. I wanted you and ‘that person’ to meet.”
Hartz answered Hans’s sharp question in a calm voice.
“I am the one who sees the will of God.”
“I am simply following the future that this absolute power has shown me.”
Hartz’s words sent a shiver down Hans’ neck.
“God is…. Is it really there?”
“Sometimes there is and sometimes there is not. God’s realm continues to diminish with the passage of time. Many gods have crossed over in time.”
Even a prophet could not reach the realm of God.
He merely borrowed God’s “eyes to see the future” for a while.
Of course, he did not borrow it arbitrarily.
When he discovered one, he simply took a little peek at some of the pieces of the future that came pouring in like an explosion.
Each time Hartz spoke, their silent murmurs grew louder.