Chapter 14:

Emperor’s Day (1)

Mad God


“You still won’t tell me?” Aerthus IX sighed, looking down on his son, who was kneeling before him.


They were in the Prince’s bedroom, which was now stripped to bare bones, and he was only left with a pillow and a blanket, like a prisoner in the deepest part of the Imperial Dungeon. The only difference is that he still had a window letting in the sun’s rays, shining on the icicles hanging from it outside.


“I can’t.” Leinor answered while looking down on the cold, white marble floor.


“I ignored it because you were advancing rapidly, but now you came back injured. What were you thinking? You could’ve died! Don’t you know I hope that you will be the one who inherits the throne?”


“I don’t wish to be Emperor, father.”


Aerthus didn’t know how to respond to that. He just sighed and tried to massage his head, which felt like exploding.


“Seriously. What happened to you, Leinor? Besides reaching your rebellious age… was I also like this?” he murmured.


“I’m sorry, Father.”


“I hope you mean it! What you did was out of line, same for your little fiancé. I won’t ignore it anymore. You need to tell me what's going on, Leinor.”


“I can’t.”


“Enough! You will!” The Emperor thundered, looking more irate than ever before, but Leinor silently knelt before him, not saying anything.


“You can hit me as mother did. I won’t tell you.”


“She did what?”


“...”


“Leinor, look-”


“Leave him.” came a voice projection to Aerthus IX’s ears from his father, the previous Emperor. “I already investigated the matter, it’s just kids being kids. Leave them be! Make him stay in his room for a month, register him for the upcoming competition and announce that I would be spectating it too. Make sure he participates.”


“Father, you-”


“Just do it, Dermitos. Also, add to the announcement anybody who can triumph over Leinor is automatically sent to the final 4.”


“...” Aerthus IX just stood there silently, going mute by his father’s order, but soon he only sighed. “Understood.” he sent back before speaking to his son. “What your mother did, I will overrule it. You will get back your pieces of furniture.”


“I’m fine like this, Father.”


“Don’t interrupt me. I’m not finished yet! You are confined to your room for the month. You can only come out when the competition begins so that you can participate.”


“Father, I-”


“Silence! If you don’t want to, forget ever seeing her again, you little shit! You make me mad just like Reignar, for Gods’ sake!” Aerthus IX fumed before turning around and slamming his door close, leaving him alone.


Leinor just slowly looked around in the empty room, giving a small sigh, sat down cross-legged, and silently started to cultivate.


“I hope she’s fine,” he murmured under his breath, but soon the only sound coming out of his room was his breathing as he meditated, focusing on his advancement, just like Ren, Zern, and even Isha did at their homes.

….

…..


“How’re the preparations?” Aerthus IX asked his ministers in the assembly hall while the winter sunlight shone through the open windows, carrying with them the sounds of the bustling capital.


“Everything is going smoothly, Your Majesty.” the older, balding and thin Minister of Rites answered. “The stage has been built in front of the main gate; Your Majesty’s podium has been erected on the walls, giving you the best view; also, the seating for the civilians is almost ready.”


“Will the weather cause any problems?”


“None at all, Your Majesty. The weather is stable, the snowing stopped, and the workers keep the area clean and easily approachable.”


“Good. The Forefather went too far with his love for the snow to place the national celebratory day to this time of the year….” Aerthus sighed, and his ministers only nodded wryly as they couldn’t voice their agreement or disagreement on this.


“Put up with it.” came a voice, and soon Aerthus VIII appeared in the room with a smile, wearing a mundane, grey shirt and leather trousers, as all the ministers kneeled, bowing their heads.


“Long live the Empire!” they echoed in a union, not daring to get up or even take a look at the previous Emperor.


“Rise. I know some of you from my time, and you don’t need to bother with these customs! I came back to personally witness this year's competition as it will be… interesting.” he said with a mysterious smile. “How’s my grandson doing?”


“I assume you are asking about Leinor.” Dermitos said, rolling his eyes. “He barely spoke with us since then, only cultivating in his empty room like a bloody monk. He refused everything except food and water!”


“Ahahaha, stubborn kid, I like him!” Carthus laughed loudly. “Anyway, continue. Don’t mind me. I just came to catch up with everything else I missed.” he yawned as he sat down next to his son.


“Okay, let’s continue! What is the news from Xendar?”


“The General sent back a report. He stays there guarding and guiding the demon folk to fight on his terms! The ambush at the opening of the Catharine Forest was a success, and we retook the old fortress of Cath’s Door. It will help in keeping back the waves of beasts in the future. He is also requesting the aid of the troops of the Defense Force with the rebuilding efforts of the fortress.”


“Oh? You have a great General son. Cath’s Door was lost in the time of Aerthus IV. It was such a shame he died trying to reclaim it….” Carthus nodded with a satisfied smile. “When he’s back, I’d like to meet with him.”


“Yes, Father, I will arrange it!” Dermitos smiled happily. “Order Ultar to start allocating men and resources, so we don’t lose the fortress. Also, order Frennar to establish a supply line, and don't let this chance slip. Dismissed!”


“Yes!” answered everyone, and soon orders started to fly out from the palace while the city was preparing for the upcoming celebration despite it being the middle of winter.


….

…..


“Are you ready?” Boursat’s echoed voice.


“Yes, Boss, I heard her boytoy will also participate. If we meet, I’ll pay back what he did to me twofold!” Isha answered him.


“Don’t let your new strength blind you. They are the ones who worked this out. They have more experience with it! Just beat him up until that little devil can’t recognize him!”


“Ahaha, will do, Boss!”


….

…..


“I’m proud of you, son.”


“Thank you, father! It is thanks to Master's guidance.” Zern bowed to his father.


“She would say the same; It’s all thanks to your hard effort. Now you are the strongest who has ever been born into our family. I know you will make me proud.”


“Well… Master herself will participate, and so will the Prince, so…” Zern sighed as he massaged his head.


“Ahaha, just reach the top 10, and I’ll be happy!”


….

…..


“Soon, it’s time,” Leinor murmured, letting out a long breath in his cold room as he got up from the mediating position, flexing his muscles that looked slim, hiding below his skin, not showing off, like a strong man’s buff physique, giving him a refined, gentlemanly look. In contrast, his long hair draped over him as a cape. “After this, we should go on a real date,” he whispered with a smile while his aura gently radiated out, warming up the room before slowly receding as he looked out his window longingly.


….

…..


“Moooom, please… five more minuteeeees~”


“Get up, you lazybones!” Anya laughed as she pulled off her blanket, making the still-sleepy Ren land on her head as she fell onto the cold floor.


“Ugh… why is it always my forehead? It will grow big, and I'll look like an idiot!” Ren moaned grumpily as she sat up with messy hair, and slanted eyes with big black bags under them. “I hate mornings! Why can’t the day start at noon?”


“Bla-bla-bla, princess! Get up; the preliminary tests start in 3 hours!”


“Ugh… the what?” she asked, still sitting on the ground, rubbing her eyes.


“Competition. The one you signed up for. Remember? It’s today. First, every attendee must go through three tests. One: Background check. Only those who are from the Empire can participate. Two: Body Refinement check. Those below three are eliminated instantly. Three: Age check. Only those below 100 can participate.”


“Troublesome. Can’t I skip it besides the second one?”


“No. Mandatory. So get up, wash, dress up and eat your breakfast, then I’ll take you to the assembly. Bring your registration after it’s done; the competition starts tomorrow.”


“Oookay… ugh, it’s still just half past six... “ she moaned when she saw the numbers on the clock, but soon, she got herself together… or not, as she clawed her way towards the bathroom with closed eyes, like a little mole who stumbled up to the surface accidentally.


….

…..


The queue was already building up at the giant tents in front of the Capital’s main gate as hundreds of participants were waiting for the evaluation conducted by the Royal Guards, the personal force of Aerthus IX.


“Master!” Zern shouted, drawing a lot of eyes to him as he came up to Ren, half dozing off while standing in line, blowing a bubble of saliva out of her nose.


“Huh?” Ren woke up with a pop of her sweet dreams and with the end of her bubble-buddy, “Oh, Zern… ‘morning...“


Escaped a lazy, tired yawn through her lips while others tried to put one plus one together; who may the little child be, and why does an adult call her master. Not many had seen the general’s daughter since birth, and only those native to the capital could recognize her distinct hair and eye color.


“You look tired, Master.”


“Your eyesight gets better and better, train a little more, and maybe you could even tell what kind of underwear I put on,” Ren murmured with a tinge of annoyance.


“Ugh… sorry…”


“Nah, no worries, I just hate waking up before the sun does!” she moaned, slapping her face with her two little hands, trying to wake herself up.


“And what if I guess your underwear?” came another voice, and soon Leinor walked up as many people gave way, especially those who recognized the Fourth Prince.


“Go for it,” Ren said while picking her ear.


“Violet!” he said confidently.


“Bzzzt. Wrong.” Ren giggled, putting on a smirk. “I ain’t got any on!”


Her answer immediately made the people around them almost fall on the ground while Leinor turned tomato red, looking troubled as Zern turned around, pretending he wasn’t with them.


“Bwahahaha, look at your face! I missed this expression for so long~” Ren laughed loudly, holding her stomach. It seems she finally has woken up completely.


“Damn, you tricked me!” Leinor pointed at her nose.


“Nyahahahaha! Did I? Who knows~”


“Hmf!”


“Oh come on, my Prince, don’t sulk~,” she said while grabbing onto his arms, giving him a big hug, and turning his face into a brighter color of red as others started to laugh.


“R-ren… um…” he tried to say something, but he felt like melting away, just like the snow when spring comes.


“Pick me up!” came the request as she looked up at him with big, watery eyes, and when he did so, she snuggled into his arms and soon fell asleep.


“Eh…” Leinor blinked his eyes but just sighed with a happy but hopeless expression as he stood there holding her like a princess as a voice projection reached his ears


“You won the bet, by the way. This is your reward, so don’t drop me while I nap a little~” Ren said with closed eyes.


“You…” Leinor stifled a laugh while the rising sun slowly inched upwards as the line started moving.