C278: Meeting with the Shadow (1)
Sorry for the late release.
Eileen asked, parting her pink lips.
“If I ignore your warnings and use force…….?”
“What would happen?”
Rudger thought for a moment before answering.
“Your Highness, how large is the imperial castle?”
“Why do you ask that?”
“Because I need to know, so I can give you a clear answer as to whether the entire castle or only half of it will be destroyed.”
Rudger calmly examined the appearance of the First Princess Eileen.
If it were her usual self, she would have responded with a grin but now she just sat still without doing anything.
It was as if she was trying to figure out whether his words were sincere, or not.
Despite his outwardly nonchalant demeanor, Rudger had something to lose.
He needed to collect the fragments of the relic and plan what to do after but he had no idea how long those plans would be delayed if something happened at the palace.
It was supposed to be within the next three years, but since becoming a teacher at Theon, even that had become unclear. However, if there was a conflict with Eileen here, it would not be strange if the remaining process took more than 10 years.
‘So I made a half-bluff threat to avoid being dragged around.’
He threatened to destroy half of the palace, but in fact, half of it was false.
The palace can be destroyed but not by Rudger himself, but by his master, Grander.
‘She’s in the capital and if anything happens to me, she’ll make the first move.’
Of course, given Grander’s usual behavior towards Rudger, it’s unlikely that she would step forward even if it were dangerous. But that’s a judgment only someone who doesn’t know her well could make.
Rudger, who has lived with her for years, knows better. If his life were truly in danger, she would not hesitate to act.
‘Master’s very existence is a ticking time bomb……No, it’s more like a tactical nuclear device in today’s world. If she were to go on a rampage, even the Empire’s power would be no match for her.’
But Rudger didn’t want that to happen.
The advantage of a tactical weapon was its power. There was also a disadvantage, which was that she was “too” strong.
If Grander goes wild, it would be hard for Rudger to be safe then.
Rudger couldn’t get away with it because it wasn’t about bringing the game to his advantage, but about destroying it completely.
It’s like a last resort with mutually assured destruction in mind.
‘Actually, I don’t want to use this method.’
It was a moment of crisis, so it was inevitable to borrow his teacher’s hand, but it was an honest feeling that he didn’t want to cause trouble for Grander.
Grander was like a family to Rudger, though they quarreled with each other every day.
Rudger still remembers 20 years ago when he met Grander for the first time.
He, Heathcliff Van Bretus, was seven years old and had fallen down a deep well pit, waiting for someone to rescue him but the boy knew that no one was going to save him.
The boy’s fall to the bottom of the dry well was done by someone to kill him and he knew that there were many people involved but the boy who fell down the well didn’t die.
Whether that was a blessing or a curse, neither the boy nor the people who planned it knew but that was the end of it.
There was no food and no water at the bottom of this well and it was only a matter of time before he died.
The boy looked up at the moonlight above the narrow well. He knew he was going to die in that pale light, but he remained still.
In fact, he had half given up. The assassination attempts he had endured over the past seven years had made him tired of living.
-HoHo. I didn’t think there would be anyone here.
But perhaps fate would not allow him to die.
The boy’s eyes widened at the sound of a voice that came out of nowhere.
Someone was looking down at him from above the well. It was a red-eyed girl with long blonde hair.
The image of the blonde girl with her back to the blue full moon was so unreal that the boy could only stare up at the sight, dumbfounded.
The vampire looked at him and smiled, intrigued.
-Hmm. That hair color and that smell of blood. You must be a noble of this damn country, and not just any noble.
The girl’s words brought the boy to his senses. Something was wrong with this girl, from the way she spoke to the way she acted.
-And yet here you are, abandoned and alone. Ah, so that’s how it is.
The girl realized at once what the boy had been through and she couldn’t help but laugh in amusement.
-I was going to change my mind because I keep being called a devil’s child, a monster, and whatnot.
With that, she descended to the bottom of the deep well spreading her red wings behind her back. She should have looked terrifying, like a bat, with wings made of blood and no feathers but the boy thought she was beautiful.
-You’re not afraid to look at me, and even in this situation, you haven’t lost your grip on life.
-I, you mean?
-You think you’ve given up, but I can tell. You don’t smell of death at all, but rather of clinging to life.
With that, she grabbed the boy and took off into the sky.
The boy hugged her tightly in the sudden feeling of floating. It was a natural reaction for a human who had never flown before.
He could barely keep his eyes open, and his ears ached from the harsh winds rushing past them. Still, he could hear her voice clearly.
-I have decided.
When she was far enough away, she set the boy down on the ground.
-Little one, I will raise you.
-I’ll feed you, I’ll shelter you, I’ll make you strong.
The question the boy asked showed that he was no ordinary boy.
Why would a being of her caliber want to save him and raise him?
The boy didn’t understand.
-Think of it as a whim.
-When you’ve been in the world long enough, sometimes you want to do things your own way.
-But there must be something you want from me.
The boy’s words caught her off guard, and she burst out laughing at the absurdity of it all.
-Hahahaha! You’ve got a good head on your shoulders already, little one. Yes, I didn’t help you for no reason.
-What do you want?
-Don’t worry. I’m not asking you to pay me for raising you, or to live for me forever.
He was about to ask her what she was thinking but Grandeur cut the boy’s suspicions short.
-Well, I just want you to kill me when the time comes.
– Yeah, you don’t know yet, but you have the power to do that. If you use it, you can definitely kill me.
The girl’s bright red eyes pointed at the boy.
– What do you say? Do you promise?
That was the first meeting between Rudger and Grander.
It was a vampire, a spawn of the devil, who saved the boy from being abandoned by a follower of God.
For the next 13 years, Rudger traveled the world with Grander. He learned from her, received her teachings, and gained her wisdom.
Because of her selfish nature, they had a lot of trouble. Sometimes they fought and sometimes they didn’t speak to each other. Nevertheless, she was Rudger’s teacher, her mother, the one who helped him survive in this world.
That would never change, even after all these years.
‘So rather than causing trouble for her…….’
Rudger’s momentum was very slight, but Eileen noticed that it had changed. She immediately smiled and shook her head.
“Don’t stare at me like that. It’s an unavoidable reaction to the immutable truth of beauty.”
“I didn’t say anything.”
“You said it with your eyes.”
To put it mildly Eileen’s used humor to change the mood. It was an offer of reconciliation and not escalating things to armed conflict.
‘It’s time to step back.’
Eileen was quite hurt, but she knew it was time to step down.
As the supreme leader of the current Empire, it was impossible to lose to a teacher who has hidden his identity but Eileen wasn’t one of those fools who let their position get the better of them.
She had eyes to see. Eyes that saw the current, eyes that saw the opposition and eyes that saw the flow. Eyes everywhere.
She also had a natural instinct for crisis, and a rational mind that could analyze with certainty when to go for it and when to back off.
All of that has gotten her to where she is today and now, her senses were telling her to stop here.
Eileen didn’t waste that warning. The moment she sensed Rudger’s discomfort, however fleeting, she felt a chill run down her spine.
‘Destroying the imperial palace were not empty words.’
Eileen casually stroked her free forearm. There were goosebumps on the skin inside the soft arm coat made of pure silver color.
Eileen was disappointed. She’d thought she’d finally found someone worthy of her, but he still seemed unwilling to be caught.
He was a mirage, right there in front of her, but if she reached out he would vanish.
‘Which makes me want him even more.’
With this man at her side, the Thousand-Year Empire would achieve its greatest golden age ever. Knowing that, she could not give up, even if she had to retreat for now.
For now, Eileen decided to settle for seeing the man she had been hunting for the past seven years face to face.
“That’s it for the jokes.”
Rudger stared at her calmly as her mood changed rapidly.
“I called you because of what’s been going on in the capital recently.”
“Does this have anything to do with why you summoned the Knights of Cold Steel and the Nightcrawlers?”
He must have seen it on the way, so there was no need to explain this part.
“As you know, there have been reports of a suspicious group infiltrating the capital, though it hasn’t been that long, and I’ve sent men to search the neighborhood in hopes of catching them unaware, but I’ve noticed something strange.”
“What do you mean?”
“I heard reports that they had certainly entered the capital, but there was no sign of them anywhere in the city.”
Not only did the mysterious group show up, but they disappeared after only a few days. The words didn’t quite make sense.
“Is it possible that they slipped out of the capital again?”
“The moment we heard they had gotten in, we increased security at all the gates leading outside.”
“So you’re saying that if they got out, you would know about it.”
“And the fact that we haven’t heard from them yet means…….”
Rudger guessed, and Eileen said the answer.
“That’s right. They’re still inside the capital.”
“And that’s why you called the knights, just in case.”
“And why did you call me here personally to meet with you…….”
“Partly to catch up with you after all these years, but also because I need your help.”
Eileen stared at Rudger with a steady, unwavering gaze. Her clear amber eyes held an intense determination.
Rudger’s eyes closed and opened as if he’d expected this.
“I take it this is a request.”
“Yes. Just as I asked you that day, seven years ago.”
“And what will you reward me with?”
“I will open the Imperial Treasury and allow you to come out of there with any three things you want.”
“The Imperial Treasury?”
Rudger asked as if he didn’t expect the reward to be this big.
Instead of answering, Eileen nodded firmly, signaling her determination.
The royal family’s report is a forbidden place where no one is known to have entered recklessly. No one knew what lay within, and since no outsider had ever been inside, no information was known.
It was a place full of unknowns.
Rumor had it that it held something like a 500-year-old holy sword.
Eileen offered to open it up and let them take what they wanted. That meant she thought highly of Rudger’s abilities.
‘It must be a dangerous assignment for the reward to be this great.’
Rudger knew Eileen well.
She was very clear about her work and her life. She rewards people when they perform to her standards. The reward is so deserved that there is really nothing to add and nothing to subtract.
With that perfect calculation, she decided to open the Imperial Treasury.
‘The enemy must have dug deep into the capital, even beyond the reach of the imperial family.’
Even if he refuses this request, Rudger himself will also be caught up in the process.
Since he was going to do it anyway, he might as well get paid for it. It was also a legitimate way to obtain the Relic fragment that lay within the Imperial Treasury.
‘Honestly, it’s acceptable.’
Rudger glanced at Eileen. She might think she was hiding it, but he could tell that she was getting nervous, if only slightly.
She’s afraid that he might reject her.
For all her pretense of strength, she’s no better than she was seven years ago.
Rudger smirked inwardly.
Eileen’s expression softened slightly at his answer, as if relieved.
Anyone else would have done it, but to have Rudger step up, she felt relieved.
“I’m relieved to hear that you’re willing to accept the request.”
“So what else do you have to tell me?”
“My loyal servant will be back soon with news.”
“A loyal servant?”
“There she is, just in time.”
As Eileen spoke, Rudger felt a figure approaching the gazebo in the garden.
Rudger turned and saw the figure, which was also approaching urgently.
“Princess, I’m here……eek?!”
. Rudger narrowed his eyes and stared at her.
Madeline looked at Rudger, too, and her complexion turned pale and she shuddered.
“C, why are you here……?!”
“Then why are you here?”
Rudger glared at Madeline with suspicious eyes since she was a member of the Black Ops Alpha team that had once been involved in the coup.
The same Alpha team that Rudger had completely dismantled.