Episode 313. Epilogue (1)
It was a humid, sultry summer. The bright afternoon sunlight reflected off of the newly paved street.
I was used to the rattle of the carriage, so it didn’t bother me, but I spent my time admiring the passing view.
“It’s nothing new, but I still can’t believe it.”
The city’s distant skyscrapers were magnificent and vibrant. The buildings lining the street were tall, and the street itself was wide and well-maintained. When you took in the beautiful scenery, nobody would think the final battle of a war had unfolded in this very city.
“It’s only been four years, and things are way nicer than they were before. What an excellent restoration.”
This was the imperial city of Dresden. It had been the heart of the Hebrion Empire for one-thousand years, regarded as the best city on the continent. It was the home of an international figure of glamour, the Hebrion Academy.
However, the entire city and its academy were razed due to that unsavoury incident. For all of the glory it had historically held, it was not a city trying to heal its wounds from the past and get back onto its feet, but a city that used the opportunity to rebuild with advances in technology and redefine itself. It was no longer just a city of historic value, but a bustling metropolis that pioneered the way towards the future.
Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot to introduce myself.
My name is Pram Schneider. I graduated from the Hebrion Academy, and I’m now serving as one of the Empire’s knights!
“Mr Pram, hello!”
Sometimes there are people who recognize and support me. I thought this was something I would get used to, but I’m still shy so I end up giggling.
In response, I waved my hand while directing a smile in their direction.
“Mr Pram, are you a woman or a man?”
“I’m not sure which title to use, Sir Pram?! Miss? or Mister?”
From time to time, the children ask me mischievous questions. I sighed and closed the window, pretending I didn’t hear them.
I clenched my fist tight.
How could they be so ridiculous? I am obviously a man!
I tried to gain some muscles to avoid the misunderstanding, but no matter how hard I tried, I was stuck with this effeminate form.
Perhaps it has something to do with my constitution, but unless I figure something out, I’ll be stuck with questions like those forever. Sad. How very unfortunate.
“We have arrived, Sir Pram.”
Before I could grow despondent, my carriage arrived at the destination. What a relief! I nearly started wishing that I was actually a woman.
“Thank you! I’ll be back soon!”
Once I stepped out of the carriage, I was greeted by the main gate of an iron fence that encircled a giant dome-topped building several hundred meters in diameter: the new Hebrion Academy. The harmony between the restored original gate and the modern architecture made for a picturesque sight.
It’s also the head office for the Ministry of Education.
Ah, what is the Ministry of Education? It is a state institution that was built under the order of His Majesty the Emperor three years ago. The Ministry of Education maintains the country’s educational system on a national level. They recruit numerous professors and build new schoolhouses wherever people live.
This was the establishment of public education.
The foundation of the Ministry of Education brought about many changes. Under the Empire’s bold and wholehearted support, they succeeded in providing all citizens with education, something that used to only belong to the nobles, the rich, and the lucky. Thanks to the expansion, they found a good number of talented individuals who would have otherwise remained hidden.
The future of the Empire is bright, and it will continue to remain as such.
On my way towards the new main building, a structure caught my eye, and for a moment my heart stopped. Twelve large gravestones were arranged in a semi-circle just off the main path. When I stood in front of them, I felt solemn. Inscribed within them were the names of over three thousand people. They were those who had fallen during the Artemis Church’s invasion.
I paid a silent tribute to them briefly.
‘Thank you, everyone.’
The Empire survived thanks to all of you. No, not just the Empire, but this whole world was saved.
If I were just a bit stronger, then perhaps…
I began to walk again, leaving my mixed feelings behind.
[-Sir Pram Schneider, your identity has been confirmed.]
When the intercom buzzed its approval, the building’s entranceway automatically swung open. Once I walked in, I was greeted with the maze-like tangle of corridors that made up the building’s first floor. While trying to make my way through the unfamiliar terrain, a familiar voice sounded from behind me.
“Oh my, oh my. What brings you here?”
“It’s been a while, Pram.”
I turned around towards the source of the voices to see a man and woman holding hands, approaching me. Excited to see old friends again, I lowered my head politely.
“Hello, Radoria and Kelt.”
After Argeria graduated, the two of them had been the leaders of the Red Dragon Party and the Blue Moon Party, which were known as the strongest parties when I was a student at the academy. Now, they were accomplished Sixth-Circle magicians who co-represented the Empire’s Magicology Lab, their new magic research facility.
“Wait, is that you Pram?”
I unintentionally flinched after I met the eyes of the surprise third arrival. The person had such an intense disposition that he bordered on the edge of hostility whenever he spoke. Even though I already knew him, it had been a while since I last talked to him, so it caught me off guard.
“Ronde! It’s so good to see you. It’s been a long time!”
He was currently acting as an assistant professor. While he was a student, he was a member of the Starling Party. As my junior, I’m very proud of what he’s accomplished.
“Are… you alright? You look like you haven’t slept for days… ”
“You’re correct. I’ve got a lot on my plate right now, so I’ve been pulling all-nighters recently.”
As I gave him a concerned look, Ronde shrugged as if it was nothing.
“Well, if they keep giving me work, then it means they recognize my talent, which isn’t a bad thing. Once I finish this current project, I’ll ask for a holiday.”
The Hebrion Academy always held renown, but now that it was the center of a national education system, it had even greater prestige. To be an assistant professor at such an education institute was a testament to his competency.
“But what brings you here… Ah, is it because of the occasion?”
“Yes, indeed. Though I’m not quite familiar with this place, so I’m a bit lost.”
Ronde smiled and pointed in a direction.
“Dean Pugman and Bridgette will be in the last room at the end of this hall.”
I bid goodbye to them and walked along the path Ronde gestured.
Ah, Professor Pugman had become the new dean of the Hebrion Academy after Dean Justin retired.
He used to discriminate against the commoners unfairly, so he used to carry a poor reputation, but once that side of him disappeared he started to gain the trust of the students. His ability is first-class, so this could not have worked out any better. Though he still has a bad temper, he’s still an excellent teacher than everyone acknowledges.
As I reached the end of the hall, I found a room with a nameplate:
[Ministry of Education]
I was about to knock, but a sudden raised voice from beyond the door surprised me.
“It’s not going to be an issue. Please approve the program.”
It was Dean Pugman, but his tone wasn’t that of the arrogant aristocrat I remembered.
“There’s no way. If you thought you could get approval for a large budget by providing poor documentation, then you’re greatly mistaken.”
Her response to him was soft but firm.
Professor Bridgette, no, that wasn’t her title. She was Bridgette, the Minister of Education.
“But the documentation you’re asking for is double what we normally give for this kind of project.”
“And the budget you’re asking for is higher too. The more money involved, the stricter the procedure.”
“But we don’t have the time. I need to leave soon.”
“Then take your time. I’ll gladly wait until you have time to finish.”
“Dear me… ”
They had always opposed each other since becoming professors, and their relationship had not changed. Although, the power dynamic seems to have reversed since my days as a student. The contrast between the old Pugman and this one is too much; I can’t stop giggling.
After getting the giggles out, I opened the door to the office and confronted the two.
“Are you ready yet? It’s time for both of you to leave.”
As I entered, they exchanged joy and sorrow. Minister Bridgette looked extremely disappointed, and Dean Pugman nearly cried tears of relief.
“Is it that time already?” Bridgette pouted, “Don’t we have a little longer?”
“I’m sorry, but we’re on a tight schedule. I’ve already prepared carriages, so let’s get going.”
“I guess it can’t be helped. I couldn’t possibly be late to miss Adjest’s coronation ceremony.”
Finally, Minister Bridgette set down her seal, and Dean Pugman nearly cheered in victory. He used to have so much pride, and now he had become someone who could find joy in such petty things.
Bridgette and I both broke out in laughter at the absurd sight.
* * *
Even if I never knew my father, that didn’t stop me from finding a family.
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No matter which Imperial palace you went to, you would be greeted by a magnificent sight, but Leonhardt Palace was in its own classification of decorum. Classy, vibrant fountains adorned the gardens; chandeliers, laiden with the prettiest jewels money could buy, decorated the arching ceilings; priceless works of art garnished the elegant hallways that connected the rooms.
Every bit of decor was a priceless treasure, the total of it reflecting on the status of the palace’s occupant. Even after several of them were sold to help fund the country’s reconstruction, the palace remained gorgeous thanks to the quick recovery.
It made me wonder if I even belong here.
“I’ve always thought this but… ”
Considering the dignity of this atmosphere, I tend to reflect on what I wear.
“I don’t think clothes like this suit me.”
I felt heavy, looking at the shiny golden lion insignia on my shoulders. Because this insignia was only given to four people, the Royal Guardsmen of the Empire.
Some time after the war ended, I joined the Royal Guard.
Jean Euremrin was regarded as the master of swords after mastering over ten-thousand techniques, but he resigned from the Royal Guard to train after he lost against Argo. He felt his absurd skill was insufficient, and so I was able to take over his position.
At some point, people stopped calling me the Silver Light Swordsman, and started calling me the Invisible Sword.
“What, are you saying? Are you saying the clothes I designed especially for you don’t suit?”
“N-no, I didn’t mean that… ”
“Hah hah. Just kidding, Pram. You’re so fun to tease.”
This person who is smiling at me while pinching my cheek, is Romantica.
Romantica started her fashion business after the war ended and she is currently managing several large-name brands, and had become a true leader of the fashion industry. After doing so, she was offered the opportunity to be the sole designer for Hebrion’s royal family.
“Nuuh. Please stop that, miss Romantica. I need to focus on my guard duty.”
Although miss Romantica stopped pinching my cheek, she still continued to bother me. She hugged me tightly from behind, like I was some kind of stuffed toy, and ran her hands through my hair.
Well, this is bearable.
I looked around the corridor, leaving my hair in her hands.
“Hey, isn’t that man with the whiskey bottle Donape Aslan? He’s supposed to be the strongest barbarian of the north!”
“Jeez… He’s as gigantic as the rumors say. The rumor that he split a mountain with a giant axe might actually be true.”
“Hey, the one sitting across him is the king of Prillecha!”
“Didn’t he make a massive fortune when he secured an exclusive trade deal last year?”
Incessant babble spewed forth amongst the countless reporters. At the event where the new ruler of the Hebrion Empire was revealed to the world, many distinguished guests and nosy reporters naturally flocked.
Would this not be the first time this many celebrities gathered together?
Sir Raphaello approached me. He, too, was trying his best to perform his duties as a member of the Royal Guard.
“Who would have thought this many people would attend?”
I nodded at his remark. Until relatively recently, the Hebrion Empire and the Western Kingdom Union had a poor relationship. Even when they were united against the Outsiders, it had been done so begrudgingly, but with time the two powerhouses had grown to respect each other. If not for… If not for his actions, it would have been impossible to see such a sight.
“It would’ve been nice if the lad was here too… ”
Perhaps Romantica had a similar thought.
I felt a chill in the corner of my heart.
Desir Arman, my one and only teacher. He was the man who made me who I am today, and the greatest magician in history. He single handedly saved the world, sacrificing everything in the process.
As I was caught reminiscing, the signalling bell echoed throughout the palace.
The gathered guests quickly grew silent, fixed their posture, and stared towards the front of the main corridor. The gallery’s gate slowly swung open, and Adjest strolled forward, the crowd respectfully parting for her.
She was beautiful.
The pure white dress Romantica made and her platinum blonde hair harmonized together and emphasized her beauty even more. I thought I was used to her stunning looks, after being around her for so long, but today’s Adjest looked especially extraordinary. Every person gathered, man and woman, were absolutely stunned by her beauty. A few even failed to keep their mouths closed.
Soon, miss Adjest stood in front of Guiltian, the Emperor, who held a glass of consecrated oil.
“You’re here, Adjest.”
Guiltian looked at Adjest with sentimental eyes.
“Thank you for coming all the way here.”
“I did what I must.”
There was a brief silence between the father and daughter.
What broke the silence after a while was completely unexpected.
Miss Adjest widened her eyes.
“In order to raise you to be strong, I chose to be indifferent. In order to keep you safe, I chose to suppress your freedoms. When I did what I thought to be the right course of action, I coerced you into taking a path you never would have chosen for yourself.”
His Majesty Guiltian did not hesitate at all in disgracing himself in front of the crowd. He treated his absolute dignity as the Emperor of the Empire as worthless and said unbelievable things.
“I don’t know if I’ve been a good Emperor, that’s for history to decide, but I know I was a failure of a father. Despite that, you grew up perfectly.”
His Majesty Guiltian blessed Adjest while sprinkling holy oil over her head.
“My daughter, I’m so proud of you.”
Miss Adjest lowered her head without saying anything, taking a moment to collect herself, before eventually raising her chin and responding in a teary voice.
“I will do my best to be the daughter you’re always proud of, and try to be an Empress that the Empire can rely on forever.”
Now with the holy pledge and the crown presented to her, the succession ceremony was over. The only thing that remained was for Adjest to pledge her vows to the people of the Empire.
An ear splitting ringing echoed out before reddish mana appeared as space itself distorted.
Teleportation magic. The Side Guard quickly readied their shields to protect the guests. Lord Raphaello also moved quickly to shield His Majesty, the Emperor, and miss Adjest, while I pulled my sword loose in preparedness.
This was an unprecedented event. For someone to intrude upon the Imperial succession ceremony, where people of international importance were gathered, was nothing short of ridiculous. The quiet hall suddenly became uproarious.
But Romantica seemed displeased at the scene, and some of the dignitaries looked excited instead of afraid. In fact, the other knights and I had only moved to guard those present as an extra precaution. The chances of an enemy appearing in the middle of the ceremony was extremely unlikely, especially when there was only one person who could cast that kind of teleportation magic.
Soon someone walked out of the distorted space.
“I’m not too late, am I?”
It was a man with black hair as dark as the night sky.
As he showed up, the hall was filled with raucous applause, surprised murmurs, and even a few screams of admiration.
His Majesty Guiltian smiled bitterly at his appearance.
“Though you are later than the time I informed you of, the ceremony has yet to conclude, so it is fine.”
Even though Desir had interrupted the middle of an extraordinarily important succession ceremony, Guiltian didn’t seem too offended. After all, when you considered what Desir had been busy doing, his sudden arrival was understandable.
I threw myself in Desir’s arms, forgetting my role.
“W-Wait. You’re pushing into me too hard. You’re heavy, Pram!”
“I know, I’m doing it on purpose!”
It was his punishment for being late. His Majesty, the Emperor, might have forgiven him, but I could not.
“Fool. How could you be late for something like this?”
Romantica felt the same as I, and she slapped Desir’s back forcibly.
“Sorry. Things ended later than I thought.”
Desir grinned awkwardly. Then he turned his head to look at Adjest.
Adjest wore the warmest smile she had ever shown anyone when they made eye contact. The corners of her lips turned up slightly. She did not say anything but it wasn’t hard to guess what she was thinking.
‘Thank you for coming.’
Desir responded to her silence with his own.
‘It’s a matter of course.’
Once the crowd finally calmed down, the ceremony continued.
I held Desir’s and Romantica’s hands in mine, and looked at Adjest in front of me. We stood in silence for a while, watching the ceremony unfold, when Desir suddenly broke the silence.
“… This is it, Adjest. Now I’m happy.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Don’t worry about it, just a little inside joke. Hehehe.”
Des1r chuckled to himself before ruffling my hair. I gently closed my eyes and basked in the warmth of his hand.
I used to be lonely and sad. I thought that was because I missed my family, despite never knowing them. I always wanted to find them, to fill that hole, but now I realize that’s no longer necessary.
Because now I am no longer lonely nor sad.