Chapter 7 – Evelyn Agnes (1)

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“Prince Zion…”

Priscilla muttered as she lay flat on the bed, staring at the intricate intaglio engraved in the ceiling. 

Zion Agnes.

The owner of this palace and a royal abandoned by both the Imperial family and his fiancée.
And the sole focus of her interest as of late.
Before she entered this palace a few days ago, Priscilla was focused exclusively on realising the annulment of her engagement to Prince Zion.

Truthfully, it was a matter she had been contemplating for a long time.
She had only resolved herself to proceed with the matter recently, as Prince Zion had been so deeply smitten with her that it made it difficult to broach the subject.
However, unlike her, who struggled greatly before steeling her resolve, Prince Zion accepted the annulment without hesitation.

How many in this empire would reject her?

How many people in this empire would be approving of annulling their engagement with the daughter of the illustrious Bamel family, a woman possessing both paramount social status and outstanding beauty?

It’s as if he’s become someone completely different.

The change in Zion’s personality had completely and utterly piqued Priscilla’s curiosity.

Although she had intended on leaving immediately, as she had no intention of revoking her request to annul the engagement, her curiosity compelled her to stay here.

The attack on the palace last night was strange as well…

Priscilla shuddered, remembering the events of last night.
Since it was completely unexpected, she was forced into confronting the assassins in her bedroom, clothed in only a nightgown.  After they suddenly broke down the door and entered, the assassins immediately began attacking Priscilla.
Perhaps because she was unable to prepare herself beforehand, they steadily overwhelmed her and nearly took her life as well.

Then, he appeared.

He appeared, engulfed in darkness, and easily eliminated the assassins that she was completely suppressed by despite her best efforts.
Seeing him gouge the hearts of the assassins one by one, waltzing between them like a phantom, sent shivers down her spine.

She was frozen, her breath caught, until the moment Zion dispersed the darkness surrounding him after slaughtering the assassins.

What Priscilla felt then was neither doubt nor astonishment, but relief.

Prince… Zion?

She remembered sitting down unconsciously, the tension finally leaving her body, and calling Zion’s name.

Even now, she still retained doubts regarding the mysterious power that Zion had used while also secretly being grateful for it.

I think the change in his personality is for the better… ah, no.

Priscilla shook her head at the thought that unknowingly crept into her mind and began thinking about something else.

But what kind of madman ordered an attack on the Imperial Palace?

The place they attacked was the palace in which Prince Zion resided.
Regardless of the rumour claiming that he was abandoned and imprisoned, it was still within the bounds of the Imperial Palace.

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No matter how easy it was to infiltrate, it was still strange that it was attacked in the first place.

It was something she was still unable to rationalise.

What was even more intriguing was that Prince Zion ordered complete silence regarding it so that the news wouldn’t circulate.

Normally, one would hasten to notify the main palace and increase the number of guards…

She couldn’t comprehend the reasoning behind Prince Zion’s actions.
What was certain was that the changed Zion wouldn’t do this.

Then-

“Hmm?”

Priscilla peered through the window, her attention drawn there by the bustling noise she heard from outside.

What drew her attention were the numerous knights lined up outside the main gate.

They were not knights of Chimseong Palace, as the aura that each of them emitted was strong for them to be the palace’s knights.

True elite knights from within the Imperial City.

Thud, thud.

Then, she caught sight of a figure approaching the main gate, walking amongst the marching knights.

“That person…”

Priscilla’s eyes widened, surprise overtaking them completely.

* * *

Astral Darkness.

Zion himself knew little about the origin of this strange power.
He had grasped it instinctively from birth and had created his own technique for its manipulation.
On account of last night’s battle, he was finally able to complete the first star of Astral Darkness.

An increase in power is always pleasant…

However, the burden on his body also increased.
And such a burden would only become increasingly strenuous as his attainments in Astral Darkness reached greater heights.
It was impossible to endure with Zion Agnes’ fragile body.
Of course, training would alleviate the burden, but Zion Agnes’ physique was inherently lacking.
Therefore, training would only serve as a contrivance, not a solution.

I need a means to strengthen my body.

Dismissing that topic for the moment, Zion peered out the hall window and examined the knights lined up in front of the main gate.
Although they numbered in the dozens, they remained orderly.

It was them that Zion would meet right now.

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“Prince Zion has arrived.”

The drawing-room door opened, as if by the butler’s words, revealing a woman seated on the sofa who was staring back at him.
Her ashen hair, the symbol of Agnes’ royal family, fell to her chest in waves.
Her emerald eyes shine radiantly and exhibited a strong conviction, suggesting that they would not tolerate even an iota of injustice.

As if from a stubbornness to remain in place, her lips were tightly pressed together, and her lithe body flaunted the extreme training it had undergone.

Evelyn Agnes.

Zion’s half-sister and one of the princesses of the Agnes Empire.

Was he acquainted with Evelyn Agnes?

Zion considered as he sat across from her.
Evelyn was a character mentioned many times in the novel Zion had read.
The woman who possessed all the makings of a protagonist, bested in that aspect only by the hero.

She was branded the “Lion Princess” and was already one of the most powerful monsters in the world despite only being in her early thirties.

Blessed with a unique charisma and an unyielding sense of justice, she had established one of the strongest forces in the Imperial City.
With overwhelming support from the knights, she was one of the most likely candidates to succeed the throne.
And she was the only member of the Imperial family who supported the hero’s party.

In the novel at least.
I intend on supporting them as well.

However, she had died before that could happen, leaving her unable to assist the hero in the end.

So-

“Are you alright?”

“”

Evelyn asked as she regarded Zion, her eyes brimming with concern.

Her voice was calm yet powerful.

“What do you mean?”

Evelyn’s brows twitched at the informal remark that left Zion’s mouth, but she  ignored it and answered Zion’s question.

“I heard there was an attack last night.”

In the end, the information was leaked.

Evelyn uttered those words, her concern-filled eyes staring intently at him.
In fact, it would have been strange for her not to know.

It occurred in the Imperial City in the first place, and even though Zion himself forbade the palace’s residents from speaking about it, it was only a matter of time before others became aware.

It was just faster than he expected.

However, that didn’t signify that Evelyn was the one who orchestrated the attack.

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To begin with, she wasn’t of the character to plot schemes in the dark; Evelyn’s weapons were truth and justice.

“I’m perfectly fine, as you see.”

He had changed.

Evelyn sensed it from Zion’s answer as he confidently met her gaze.

Could it be that he was psychologically affected by last night’s attack?

Poor child.

The concern in her eyes made way for compassion.

He was not only abandoned here because he was born into a merciless Imperial family, but was also a younger brother who had been treated with contempt since childhood.
In addition to the hardships he had to endure every day, he was also threatened with death.
It wasn’t surprising that he had turned out like this.

“That’s a relief.
I’ll identify and punish those who attacked this place soon.
And I’ll designate the knights I brought with me to this palace, so you can rest assured, Zion.”

“No, that isn’t necessary.”

Those words stemmed from her goodwill, but Zion rejected her.
Evelyn’s eyes widened slightly, as she hadn’t expected his refusal.
However, Zion had no intention of changing his mind.
Even if Evelyn’s knights were deployed here, it would only be a temporary deterrent, while also increasing the number of people observing him.

“We still have enough resources.
Anyways, what brings you here?”

“The news worried me, so I came to visit.
You are still my brother, regardless of us being born to different mothers.”

Uttering that, Evelyn swallowed the tea in front of her and opened her mouth again.

“You’ll be an adult soon.
Then… you know that you will have to participate in the succession ceremony, right?”

Zion instinctively knew that this was the real purpose for Evelyn’s visit.

The Succession Ceremony.

Being of the Agnes’ immediate family was the minimum requirement for participating in the battle for succession.
The ceremony was a ritual carried out when they reached adulthood.
In other words, an Imperial family member that failed to pass the succession ceremony was unable to be a candidate for succession to the throne.

In addition, one who passes will be granted the privilege of being able to enter Baekseong Palace, located in the centre of the Imperial City.
It was an opportunity to establish his own force in earnest.

“Give up on the succession ceremony.”

However, Evelyn advised Zion to withdraw from the succession ceremony.
No, from the start, Evelyn thought that Zion would do so.
What was necessary to succeed in the ceremony was not support or charisma, but one’s own strength.
The Agnes family believed the emperor himself needed to possess great personal strength as well.
Therefore, it was a tradition of theirs to eliminate any incompetent people who were deemed unqualified to become the emperor early on.

It would be suicide for an incompetent Zion to participate in such a succession ceremony, and Zion should have known that.
However, the words that came out of Zion’s mouth were contrary to Evelyn’s expectations.

“Why should I?”

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It was as if she was staring at the surface of a still lake, devoid of any wind.
Zion looked at her languidly as he replied as such.

“Are you asking because you truly don’t know?”

“Why should I give up?”

“… I didn’t know you were so thoughtless.”

Evelyn’s eyes were filled with anxiety and anger.
Did he even know the situation he was in?

“You won’t pass the succession ceremony.”

As someone who had experienced it before, she could clearly tell.

“You don’t have the power nor the ability.”

She answered in a cold voice.

“Obviously, you won’t pass the first hurdle and you’ll fall apart.
And even if you pass and enter the Baekseong Palace, it’s a merciless and terrifying place that cannot even be compared to the succession ceremony.
Perhaps you won’t last a single day, much less a week.”

Kugugugu!

With those harsh words escaping from her mouth, a pressure emitted from Evelyn, quickly causing everything in the drawing room to shake.
Was she trying to force him to change his mind by oppressing him with force? Six stars were clearly visible in her eyes. 

Astral.

A power possessed only by the direct descendents of the Agnes family.
The power to rule over everything in the world.

“Give up on the succession ceremony.”

Showing off her attainments in Astral, which reached six stars, Evelyn ordered Zion once again.

But-

“By the way.”

Zion chuckled amid the pressure which could cause even a trained knight to faint in an instant.
He met Evelyn’s eyes squarely, as if the situation intrigued him.

“I would like to ask.”

As if having overcome Evelyn’s overwhelming pressure, which stretched past the drawing room and encompassed the entire palace, Zion slowly asked.

“Who said I was incompetent?”

As he said that, a black star clearly spun in Zion’s slightly-narrowed eyes.

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