On the last day of the conference, Hestia and the other Crows headed to the train station, receiving a farewell ceremony from the capital's knights. The Dragon Tribe set out on their aircraft last night so that the dragons wouldn’t surprise the people of the empire.
The Butterfly Tribe dilly-dallied while continuing their academic conference with the court magicians, saying that they would teleport back. From Hestia's point of view, the great elder was procrastinating because he didn't want to be separated from his grandchildren.
When Gallahad called her, Hestia looked through the window in her carriage and shook her index finger from side to side. "Until we get back, it’s deputy chief."
Gallahad nodded with a sour face. "Yes, Deputy Chief-nim. Why didn't you search for our little brother? If he was in the palace and we had asked the emperor or the prime minister, we could have caught him.”
Hestia was stunned by Gallahad's question. "Oh my god! Oppa is-"
"That routine is getting old."
Hestia smiled and shrugged lightly as Gallahad dismissed her statement with a single stroke. "Well, I'm sure we wouldn't have been able to catch him even if we did that."
"How come? I don’t know about me and the others, but couldn’t Elder Weger-nim have captured Den?"
Hestia shook her head. "No, when I was at the banquet hall, I could only sense Den when he moved. That means no one will be able to sense him if he truly hides in the palace.”
"Even Elder Weger-nim?"
"Yeah, Elder Weger-nim too. According to Elder-nim, the magic circle surrounding the entire palace disturbs one’s senses.”
Gallahad nodded, convinced by Hestia's explanation. "I thought I felt something weird."
Then, after thinking for a moment, he asked, "But on the day of the banquet, why did you go to see Den? Honestly, you didn't have any intentions of catching him then, did you?”
Hestia was slightly surprised by Gallahad’s suspicions. "Why do you think that?"
"Rather than thinking, it’s my intuition. When have I ever thought about things?"
Hestia admired Gallahad's grumbling. "I thought Den was the one who inherited Dad’s intuition, but Oppa has a pretty good intuition too."
"Ahem!" When Hestia agreed with Gallahad's guess, he crossed his arms proudly and stuck out his chest.
"Huhu, that’s right. Our little brother might have noticed when he caught me, but I didn't have any intentions of catching him.”
"I just wanted to see our little brother’s face after such a long time. He always sends fake letters, so it made me wonder how he’s been living. Don’t you think about that as well?”
Gallahad was taken aback by Hestia's comments. "Is that all?"
"Well? Did you think there was anything else?" When Hestia asked back, Gallahad became speechless.
"Huhu, of course, I checked some of my hypotheses as well."
Hestia held up the chess piece that she was fiddling with. Gallahad could not understand the meaning of Hestia's smile as she stared at the chess piece.
* * *
Yahoo! Hestia noona has finally gone back home! I was almost aching from trying to hold my breath during the conference.
Originally, the conference would only last for three days, but the conference this time was a prolonged week-long marathon. This was the maximum duration due to the talk of the currency reform.
Throughout the conference, there were multiple times where I freaked out because Hestia noona occasionally visited Duke Asteria with Gallahad hyung. At this point, I thought Hestia noona was visiting just to tease me since she already knew my location.
"Oh, if it weren't for the great elder, I could have heard the conversation between Hestia noona and Duke Asteria.”
Regrettably, it was useless because the great elder noticed my wiretapping magic and neutralized it. Fortunately, the location tracking magic was overlooked, so I was able to track her location. Maybe Hestia noona would have known even if the great elder hadn't told her.
"You've done a great job, Den."
I smiled back at Duke Asteria as he gave me words of encouragement. “I didn’t do much. Grandfather went through all the trouble."
Duke Asteria was referred to as His Highness, the Duke, but he continued to strongly encourage me to call him grandfather when it was just us two. Thanks to this, the name ‘grandfather’ naturally came to my lips.
The duke probably doesn't know me much, but he seems to know my aunt very well, so I thought there would be no problem. If there's a problem, Aunt will likely take care of it.
"Hahahaha! Is that so?"
Come to think of it, I felt like the way Duke Asteria treats me has changed. To be specific, after drinking the wine that I snuck away from the kitchen together, I felt like he regarded me as a cute grandson rather than a coveted talent.
Of course, it was probably my misunderstanding, but it wasn't such a bad feeling. After all, it wasn’t like back in my hometown where they would pet me with sword aura or treat me gently with a fist.
The duke sighed quietly and looked at the palace that was becoming farther away. "It's the first time I've ever felt regret towards the conference’s ending."
Throughout the conference, he was ripping off the nobles for money, but the duke seemed sad, as if there were leftover pockets that he had not yet ripped off. Indeed, the feeling that Hestia noona and the prime minister held back from completely exploiting the nobles due to the ongoing currency reform was not there. The process of emptying, rather than filling, the pockets of the nobles was enjoyable, so the duke's feelings were understandable.
"There's the next convention, isn't there?”
Duke Asteria laughed cheerfully at the consolation that he could continue his hobby after a year. "Hahahaha! That's right; there's the next conference. I'll ask you next year too, Den."
I nodded happily at the duke's request. I wondered if it felt that good to rip off the nobles like that. Don't tell me Hestia is coming to the capital for next year's conference as well. Even if she came, I probably wouldn’t have to deal with the pain of an overlapping request from my aunt alongside the conference again. However, if there’s another one, I’ll have to grab my aunt by the collar.
"I look forward to your kind cooperation. So, is Grandfather going straight up to Asterium?”
Duke Asteria nodded wistfully. "I'm afraid I have to. Since it’s in the bordering area of the Demon’s Territory, all kinds of problems will arise if you take your eyes off for a while."
Sighing, Duke Asteria smiled as if he had a pleasant thought and said, "Right! If I can't go, I'll have them come!"
At the duke’s cry, I had a hunch that something very annoying might happen. "Uh... Who are you referring to?"
He isn’t talking about bringing the nobles up his territory to empty their pockets, is he?
"Hahaha, you can look forward to it." Duke Asteria smiled pleasantly, and my intuition was somehow warning me that that smile was related to me.
And it was a month later that the ominous feeling was proven to be correct.
* * *
After leaving the palace, I reported my return to the adventurer’s guild headquarters and immediately left work. While I was away, Roseland was completely pulled out of the office, so Demuir became swamped with work, and he held onto my ankle and begged for help. But I kicked Demuir in the butt and left work.
"You’re back?" Back at the boarding house, Alice and Hillis welcomed me while playing Indian poker.
"Oh? Alice, did you not go to school?”
"Oh, we have a week off because all the professors canceled classes and went to the conference since the Butterfly Tribe went as well."
I nodded and put down my bag. "Certainly, a magician's enthusiasm is great."
"How do you know? Oh, you told me your business trip was at the palace. Did you meet Yuria and Alphonso?”
"Yes, thanks to that trip, I was at the academic conference."
The great elder’s gaze was sharp and stinging, but I just ignored it. Once he goes back to the Alps, the home of the Butterfly Tribe, we wouldn’t see each other again.
"What? Let me join. I haven't met Yuria and Alphonso yet. What kind of people are they?”
It seems Hillis had not yet met Yuria and Alphonso. Of course, this was only natural if Yuria and Alphonso went with their family and the Butterfly Tribe the day before I entered the imperial palace.
I shrugged lightly towards Hillis’s question. "Those two will probably be back today, so meet them in person.”
Alice complained to herself when she saw me talking informally towards Hillis, and she eventually decided to speak informally to Yuria after she returned to the boarding house late that night. For your information, Indian poker was a victory for Hillis.
* * *
In a space full of darkness without a single bit of light, Sagittarius sat in his seat, placing a bright candle in front of him.
"Oho, this is the biggest gathering I've ever seen."
In the dark room, over a majority of the 12 seats around a large round table were taken.
"I know. Is it okay for a patient to be sitting here?" Libra looked at Leo sitting in front of him and spoke sarcastically.
Leo burst out in anger, "Shut up! I’m not so weak that I need your concern!"
Scorpio giggled and said to Libra, "Oh my, why are you acting like that towards a man crawling for life?"
When she openly laughed at him, Leo’s fist trembled in anger, but he was miserable since Scorpio wasn’t wrong.
"But anyways, how unexpected. You attended this time, unlike previous instances where you ignored the invitations, Aries."
When asked by Libra, Aries ignored him and looked at Leo. "You have a rare curse placed on you."
Leo rejoiced at Aries’s words. "Oh! Do you recognize this curse?"
Leo was ecstatic that there was someone who recognized the curse eating away at his body as they spoke. It was as if a traveler found an oasis in the middle of the desert and was exclaiming that he could survive.
Yet, it was too early to rejoice. The oases he had discovered so far had been mirages. A sense of fear and desperation rose all the way up to his neck as he thought that the oasis he discovered this time might also be a mirage. He didn't answer Leo's question and muttered to himself.
"Interesting, how are you still alive? There's a mixture of mythical level curses that twist causality and will certainly kill the bearer of the curse. Hmm, is this magic divine power? No, is it a saintess's miracle? I suppose miracles are the only way to avoid a mythical level curse. No, it's strange...”
Listening to Aries’s muttering, Leo swallowed as his mouth became dry.
"Is there anyone who has died instead of you?" Aries asked, and Leo nodded heavily.
"I see; that's why you're alive. In my view, no matter how wide the miracles’ permissible range is, it’s limited to transferring the causality-twisting curse onto others and weakening the curse of death. If there weren’t someone else to die in your place, the miracle would have failed."
Leo closed his eyes heavily at Aries's diagnosis. Then, he asked carefully, "Can you lift this curse?"
Aries stared at Leo's curse intently to see if he was uninterested in Leo's question. "How interesting, how new. I don't know who made this, but how interesting it was to bring a mythical level curse down to the level of great magic. I'd like to see the guy who put this curse on you.”
As Aries was absorbed in his own world, Aquarius smiled bitterly and said, "More importantly, it seems the more urgent matter for Leo is whether it can be lifted."
Aries nodded at Aquarius's words. "I can lift it, but I have my own business and can’t right now."
Taurus questioned as he sat next to Aquarius, and Aries nodded. "Yes. The reason I came to the empire is also for business."
When Aries answered, Virgo looked at Aries calmly, and Pisces sitting next to her remained still and stared at the sky.
"Well, let's get the meeting started." Sagittarius drew their attention with a clap.Previous Chapter Next Chapter