Geo became tense and rigid, Marley shot a sharp look, and Rie trembled.
Only Seti, who had lost his conversation partner, stomped his feet and grabbed some sweets.
I stood up from my seat and approached Lucerne.
“I kept you waiting.”
“Are you alright? The garden was incredibly beautiful, and the tea and refreshments were delicious.
I had a great time playing with the children.”
Lucerne murmured in a low voice as he gazed at the children seated around him.
The children, with hardened and silent expressions, didn’t appear particularly happy.
I was about to say something, but Seti broke the silence with a wide smile and greeted Lucerne.
A subtle change came over Lucerne’s expression as he took a deep breath and sat down.
I squinted my eyes, trying to decipher his expression, but then I gave up and took my seat as well.
A silence settled over us.
How should I begin?
A long while passed, with only the sounds of snacks being eaten and tea cups being set down.
It was unlikely that Lucerne would initiate introductions, and the children were unlikely to ask Lucerne if he was truly a tyrant.
Awkwardly, I decided to break the silence.
“Um… guys, today is a special day for introductions!”
Geo and Marley made silly faces.
“Mom, we don’t need to introduce ourselves.
We already know each other.”
“Mom is silly.
We did that already.”
As Marley called me silly, Lucerne narrowed his eyes and gave her a stern look.
Before he could say anything, I quickly spoke up.
“You were the only ones before.
Mom thought about it, but I didn’t introduce you to Mr…”
“I can’t introduce myself… I don’t… know…”
Geo’s voice trailed off, his small, rounded shoulders slumping.
Even before I could signal him, Lucerne recited his own name.
“Imperatoris Santos Lucerne Stria.
I am the 41st Emperor of the Strian Empire, the ruler of the imperial palace, the one blessed with mana, and the most powerful person in the empire.”
The 41st Emperor of the Strian Empire, the owner of the imperial palace, a person blessed with mana, and the strongest man in the empire.
These were the first descriptions I had heard as well.
Lucerne, silently mouthing the modifiers, spoke softly.
“Don’t try to attach my name to them… It might bring forth pointless memories.”
Taking his words to heart, I refrained from mentioning his name.
Pointless memories must refer to the memories of Astia before her death.
Since they didn’t exist to begin with, there was nothing to remind him of, but I didn’t want Lucerne to feel uneasy.
A heavy silence fell once again.
The children, who now knew Lucerne’s true identity instead of merely speculating, grew even more rigid.
Rie, her face on the verge of tears, stuttered with her mouth open.
“Oh no, does His Majesty the Emperor eat people?”
Lucerne furrowed his brow.
Startled, Rie let out a whimper.
“I’m sorry! I’m small, I am not too big, and I don’t taste good! Please don’t eat me!”
As he sobbed, tears streaming down his cheeks like rabbit droppings, Seti stood by his side and patted on the shoulder.
Lucerne waited for the crying to subside before he responded.
“I don’t consume anything of that sort.”
“Then, you don’t eat?”
Rie halted his tears and blinked her eyes.
Tears welled up once again, streaming down his cheeks.
“Well, they said that monsters eat people…”
“The imperial palace is filled with delicacies.
There is no need to consume human flesh, which is unappetizing.
Their diet is not so repulsive or peculiar that they need to slaughter and devour humans when there is an abundance of livestock.”
“And there are seafood and mountain delicacies?”
“It means delicious food,” I whispered to Rie, and he opened his mouth.
The child’s gaze landed on the snacks on the table.
Lucerne’s explanation about not eating people when there were so many delicious foods seemed convincing.
Marley, who had been waiting for her turn, raised her hand.
“Mister, I have a question for you too! Are you a monster?”
“It depends on how you define a monster, but if we’re going by classifications, I don’t belong to the category of monsters.”
“Just…us? I like justice too! I’m Malitia, the warrior of justice, so I have to slay monsters.
If you don’t eat people and you’re not a monster,then are you also a warrior of justice?”
It was a firm response, clearer than ever.
Marley nodded without a hint of disappointment, muttering, “In that case, I’m the only hero of justice.”
As if the tension had eased, Marley and Rie bombarded Lucerne with more questions.
“How different is the diet of a monster from yours?” It might have seemed absurd and make one want to give up, but Lucerne sincerely answered even the children’s absurd questions.
His responses were short, simple, yet Marley and Rie grew increasingly excited, seemingly delighted that Lucerne acknowledged their words.
Geo, who had been observing Lucerne’s interaction with his siblings with a solemn expression, cautiously raised his right hand.
Lucerne extended his palm towards Marley and Rie.
The children gradually lowered their voices and fell silent.
Lucerne gazed at Geo, and the child clenched his fist on his knee.
“Oh, um… Your Majesty… I heard that you killed a lot of people.”
Geo concluded his statement, but Lucerne did not respond.
It seemed he didn’t consider it a question.
Geo, trembling in fear, tightly shut his eyes.
“They say you’ve killed a hundred times over, is that true?” Geo asked, raising his head to look at Lucerne.
Geo stared at Lucerne intently.
Lucerne’s gaze met the child’s, and his eyes darkened.
There was a hint of hesitation in his voice for the first time.
“…More than that.”
A cool autumn breeze swept through, causing the red sagebrush to sway in the wind.
The scent of blood seemed to linger in the air, tickling the nostrils.
Once again, a heavy silence enveloped the garden.
Marley and Rie, who had been chattering excitedly moments ago, froze in place, while Geo, who had posed the question, trembled.
Only Seti, unable to grasp the gravity of the situation, blinked innocently.
Lucerne turned his gaze towards me, his expression filled with a mixture of resignation and longing.
“…I wanted to live.”
He sighed, his hand unconsciously touching the collar that covered his neck.
Taking into account what Lucerne had been hinting at, the way people treated him, and the guards who had mysteriously vanished before my eyes, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that he had taken many lives.
However, the Lucerne sitting beside me, uttering brief words as if making excuses, appeared more like a wounded human being than a tyrant.
“I wanted to live… What happened?”
Seti, fidgeting in her chair and stomping her feet, let out a whine.
As the conversation became increasingly incomprehensible, it seemed that the child was becoming overwhelmed.
“Quiet down,” Rie whispered, poking Seti’s side.
“We’re discussing something important right now.”
“Devote yourself wholeheartedly! Cherish the value of every moment.”Seti exclaimed, oblivious to the gravity of the situation.
The children’s faces turned pale at Seti’s words.
“Be quiet! You might get us killed!”
“Someone, please quiet that little brat!”
“Seti, Shh! Be quiet! We could all end up dead if you keep this up!”
The children lowered their voices and attempted to persuade their younger sibling, who didn’t grasp the concept of “death.” Seti looked at their older sister and brother, pursing their lips in confusion.
“What’s death? What does it mean?”
“Death means when you stop living, you know?”
“Ah! Stop living! I know! Like this! *squawk*”
Marley slapped her hand on the table, trying to demonstrate death in her own way.
From my perspective, it was both amusing and adorable.
Seti burst into laughter.
“Hahaha! Marley is silly.
“Hey, you little brat! What are you doing?”
“What? This is how you die, right? *squawk* That’s how the villains die in 〈Jewel Warrior〉!”
“Oh, really? You’re so silly.
I don’t want to play with you.”
Marley and Rie started playfully wrestling with each other.
As the older siblings argued, Seti hopped off the chair.
The child reached behind the tea table and grabbed Caleb’s hand, cheerfully shouting,
“Hold me! Embrace me!”
“Seti! No! Don’t…”
Geo stood up from his seat, lowering his voice and casting a glance at Lucerne.
Seti puffed her cheeks defiantly.
Seti tugged at Caleb’s clothes, urging him to do something, as if Caleb were familiar with the situation.
Caleb leaned forward and embraced the child, softly humming a soothing tune.
I hurriedly joined in to offer assistance.
“I hope it’s not too heavy for you.”
“Wouldn’t it be heavy?”
“Kyaha! Up! Lift me up!”
Seti, sitting on Caleb’s shoulders, stomped her feet and giggled.
If it felt that good, she eagerly grinned and patted Caleb on the back.
At that moment, Lucerne, who had tightly pressed his lips together, stood up from his seat as if he had made a decision.
He extended his hand towards Seti, just as he had done to me on the first day he arrived at the imperial castle.
“I will do it.
Come to me.”
All of us, including myself and Calib, widened our eyes in surprise.
What was Lucerne planning to do?
Lucerne was a hand taller than Calib.
Seti, alternating he gaze between Calib and Lucerne, nodded cheerfully as ifs he thought sitting on Lucerne’s shoulders would be more fun.
“Yeah! I’m going to the sky!”
In response, Lucerne raised his right hand.
Following his gesture, a blue light enveloped Seti, and the child’s body floated in the air.
“Wow! Seti is flying! Seti is in the sky kingdom!”
Seti twirled her body in the air and burst into laughter once again.
The other children watched, their mouths agape in awe.
“Wow, that’s amazing.
It looks so much fun… Wait, Marley.
Is that what you find interesting?”
“Yeah, it’s freaking cool.
Don’t you think so?”
Seti soared through the air and landed gently on Lucerne’s shoulder.
The child created a shade with her hand in front of her eyes to see if she liked the height, and looked around.
Big people! Great people! Look!”
“Is it good?”
“Yeah! Give it to me!”
Seti stomped her foot, wiggling with excitement.
Lucerne caught Seti’s dangling legs with his hands and glanced back at me.
I widened my eyes in surprise, but then regained my composure and spoke up.
“Lucerne, I’m sorry.
Are you okay?”
“Is there any reason for me not to be okay?”
“It’s just… …”
Seti shouted while tugging at Lucerne’s black hair.
“Oh yeah! Pick up the child!”
Was Lucerne really okay with this?
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