Episode 246. The Downfall of the Star (2)

“You must hurry, sir.”

The servant presumptuously urged him to walk faster, but Kim Seon-Hyeok didn’t rebuke him. 

“Where should I go?”

“Th, the bedchamber, sir!”

Now that Seon-Hyeok was almost running, the servant didn’t dare to follow him any longer and shouted after him. 

He left the servant behind and raced down the hallway of the Imperial palace. 

But it was too late.

Ding Dong Ding Dong

Kim Seon-Hyeok stopped running and froze at the sound of the bells ringing heavily. 

He began to feel even more rushed at the ominous sound of the bell. Stone-faced, he began to race down the hallway again.

He finally reached Theodore’s bedchamber.

“His Majesty, has he...?!”

At his question, the servant waiting in front of the bedchamber dropped his head and quickly began to shed tears

“Ah…”

He closed his eyes at the sudden dizziness. 

Only then did he realize what the ominous bell he heard on the way meant. The bell had been announcing the death of the king. 

Ding Dong Ding Dong

The somber bells continued to ring regularly. 

“Where is the empress?”

Even Kim Seon-Hyeok was surprised at his hoarse voice. The servant pointed at the bedchamber as he wept. 

“Open the door.”

The door opened and the inside of the chamber was revealed.

“Ophelia…”

And there she was. 

Ophelia was sitting in the room, looking in the direction of her father with her eyes closed. 

Clack. 

The door closed. Outside that door, the sad bell announced the death of the king as it continued to ring, but the bedchamber was silent. 

And in that silence, Ophelia’s back seemed particularly thin and small today as she sat with her back to the door. 

“You’re here?”

She spoke with her back still facing him. 

Her voice was so calm it was hard to believe that her father had just died. But that was why Kim Seon-Hyeok’s heart ached even more. 

“Ophelia.”

He quietly approached her and placed his hand on her shoulder.

She didn’t move even when his cold hand touched her. She just continued to look at Theodore as if she wanted her father to wake up. 

Kim Seon-Hyeok sighed quietly before looking at Theodore’s last appearance.

The curse placed on the Adenstein bloodline gnawed so much at the life of this wise monarch that he looked a hundred years old with his face full of wrinkles and liver spots.

Even though he must have been suffering tremendously from the pain of the curse, Theodore had been smiling in his last moment. That weak smile on his wrinkled mouth spoke of satisfaction without any regrets. 

“Though I may have been lacking, I gave it my all to govern the kingdom and I’ve raised Ophelia as a great successor. Wouldn’t you say that I was a decent king, then?”

That was what Theodore had said during his lifetime. It was only now that Kim Seon-Hyeok was able to realize that his words had been sincere without any exaggeration.

What were you so happy about, sir?

Theodore’s smile felt heartless as it seemed indifferent to the grief and loss felt by the people left behind.

But Theodore had wanted to live as a monarch and even until the moment he died, he wanted to die as a monarch. 

Who would dare to criticize the deceased when he had devoted his entire life to the well-being and the future of the kingdom?

“He said he suffered tremendously during his lifetime.”

Ophelia continued to speak slowly hoarsely. 

“But I never knew that. What a terrible daughter I was.”

“Ophelia.”

When she began mocking herself in a gloomy voice, he quietly called her name. But she didn’t answer. She just jumped out of her seat and shouted towards the door.

“The person outside, announce yourself!”

“I, Reinhardt, am here, Your Majesty!”

It wasn’t clear whether he had just arrived or not, but Marquis Reinhardt’s mournful voice was heard. 

“He is the last king of Adenburg. We will honor his end so magnificently that such magnificence will never be seen in history again, so stop everything and immediately start the proceedings for the state funeral!”

Having given such instructions, she sank back into her seat.

“I wish to be alone.”

Her voice was hoarse and cracking. Kim Seon-Hyeok looked at her for a long time before quietly leaving. 

***

The state funeral was held magnificently under the strict orders of the new empress. 

The imperial nobles and the envoys from the other kingdoms who had come to celebrate the coronation hadn’t left the Imperial capital yet and attended the funeral of the wise monarch, mourning the end of an era with his death.

While he was alive, King Theodore Tiberius Ro Adenstein had devoted his entire reign to strengthening the royal power, and laid the foundations for an empire and he fell asleep amidst the mourning of numerous nobles.

From beginning to end, Ophelia took charge of everything and made sure things went smoothly.

“Since you’ve all come such a long way, feel free to remain in the Imperial capital until your fatigue from your travels is gone.”

Once the last procedure was over, she left after speaking words of appreciation for those who had attended. And until the end, she remained strong and didn’t shed a single drop of tear. 

“Haa. I don’t know whether to say she’s unflinching or…”

 Once the funeral was over, the nobles who had gathered all had complicated faces as they looked at the unwavering appearance of the empress.

But contrary to their words, the nobles didn’t seem to feel any warmth towards the empress who didn’t show any feelings even when her father had died. 

“With an empress as firm as her, the empire’s future is very bright.”

They became depressed as they imagined their future withering with an empress who was several times stronger and more practical than the previous monarch had been.

It was to the point whether some began to call her the Iron-Blooded Empress because she was a woman who was unyielding as if her blood was iron. 

But Kim Seon-Hyeok knew that she wasn’t a cold-blooded person who had metal flowing through her body instead of blood. 

He knew that she didn't want to shake in front of others and show them the weight of her burden.

“I’m tired.”

Even on the day of the state funeral, Ophelia had been taking care of all the big and small issues that cropped up in the kingdom like usual and had returned to her bedchambers late. If one just glanced at her, then she didn’t look much different from any other day.

“Ophelia.”

But there was no way someone who had lost her father would be fine. 

He embraced the sorrowful woman sitting on the bed. She didn’t push him away, but she also didn’t reach out and hug him back.

She just sat there and allowed him to adjust her as he pleased. 

“You don’t have to try so hard in front of me.”

Kim Seon-Hyeok stroked her small back countless times as he whispered to her. 

However, Ophelia continued to hide her sadness. She had been raised as a monarch all her life and now that she had finally ascended to the position of empress, she was wise, but at the same time, there was a side of her that was rather obtuse. 

Like right now. 

Without shedding a single drop of tear, her unfeeling appearance was that of an ignorant child who didn’t know how to express sadness.

Seon-Hyeok didn’t say anything else. He stroked her small shoulder and back as he continued to embrace her. 

Who knows how much time passed.

Ophelia remained still, but felt a tinge of warmth reach her heart. And soon, Seon-Hyeok's shirt grew wet. 

Ophelia's shoulders didn’t tremble, nor was there a single sob. The monarch who had been taught everything but never learned how to be sad silently shed tears in her sadness. 

Just as his tear-soaked shirt began to dry, Ophelia slowly hugged him. 

“You are a gift left to me by Father Emperor.” 

Her voice was soft as she tried to talk past the lump in her throat, but Kim Seon-Hyeok could hear her clearly. 

“I’m glad I have you.”

He embraced her again upon hearing her feeble voice.

***

Although the state funeral was over, the citizens and the nobles of the Imperial capital mourned the monarch as they dressed in black for a while. The noisy atmosphere had subsided and the excitement of the last festival disappeared as if it never happened. 

However, even as the people were mourning, the situation on the continent was moving breathtakingly fast.

Several countries, including Noctein and Griffindor, declared their intent to separate from the Eastern Kingdom Alliance and formed an Anti-Adenburg Imperial Federation. 

They secretly made contact with the Holy Kingdom of Astoria, the leader of the central region, and prepared for an era of cataclysm that would come to the continent after the great war. 

Even while some countries were at odds with Adenburg, the empire continued to flourish day by day. 

First, Diego Velazquez of the Iberian Alliance, who had been conferred the title of the Prince of Iberia at the coronation of the new empress, announced to the world that he had become a member of the empire and officially accepted the title

And city-states, reborn as the Iberian territory, overcame the distance between themselves and Adenburg with a powerful navy and fleet, and forged a stronger bond with the empire’s mainland than the other kingdoms had expected. 

The empire’s territories bordering the southern seas developed rapidly due to the Iberian fleet carrying tribute and trade goods. The wealth and prosperity signaled the growth of the underdeveloped southern region of the empire. 

The kingdoms that directly shared a border with Adenburg or were connected to them in any way had no choice but to worry. 

Since it was clear that the Adenburg Empire would flourish over time, they had to decide whether they would join the empire or stand against it. 

It wasn’t an easy task. 

Their long histories of existing as independent kingdoms made it difficult for them to make a decision. 

But they didn’t have much time. 

Rumors had been secretly spreading that the huge amounts of money that was flowing into the mainland through the Iberian fleet was to be used to fund the military in training Adenburg’s new army. 

The empire already had overwhelming superhuman strength that half the eastern kingdoms would have to unite in order to barely match the empire’s current strength, but now, the empire was trying to reorganize its army to match its status as an empire. 

It was no wonder the other leaders of the kingdoms who were watching the situation became hasty. 

But another incident broke out in the midst of all this. 

The Northern Cavalry, which had been helping the Holy Kingdom fight the Demon King’s army in the central region, supported the establishment of the new empire. 

They emphasized the fact that the Indomitable Grand Duke was a brother of the North and declared that they would be willing to add their strength should Adenburg ever fall into crisis. 

Now that things had gotten to this point, the kingdoms that had been withholding their decisions had no choice but to admit that the continent’s landscape had completely changed. 

The newly established empire might as well be the center of the continent now.

The envoys of each kingdom set out for the empire with their own considerations. 

***

While the situation on the continent continued to change, Kim Seon-Hyeok temporarily left the Imperial capital. Due to Theodore’s death, he hadn’t been to express his condolences for the death of Count Mangsk, but now, he was leaving to do that as well as comfort the new countess. 

“Will you really be alright?”

He was reluctant to leave as he was worried about Ophelia who hadn’t been able to completely shake off her sadness, but she pushed him away saying that he needn’t worry about her. 

“All his life, Count Mangsk renounced the luxury he deserved as a lord and devoted himself to protecting the border. He was a great and loyal man who dedicated his life to a secluded fortress. His death should not be observed negligently just because the imperial family is upset.”

After he had received the title of Grand Duke, Ophelia had talked to him somewhat casually, but after the state funeral, her manner of speaking to him completely changed. 

It seemed she herself wasn’t quite used to it because her expression and tone were still awkward, but it was clear that in a private space with just the two of them, she was trying to correct herself.

Considering how before, she had treated him like she would treat any other vassal, she had made great progress. 

“But, you’ll have to come back quickly.”

Of course, she ordered him to finish his duties and return home as soon as possible. It seemed as though she couldn’t trust her spouse who never returned home once he left. 

“I’ll be back soon.”

He smiled at her as he gently stroked her hair. Then, he led the Imperial Guards and started to leave the Imperial capital.

However, an uninvited guest blocked him from leaving the Imperial capital. 

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