Chapter 36

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When Ivan arrived at the intelligence headquarters, everyone, from the sentries to the agents guarding the desks, stood up and faced him.

“Oh my God, is it real?”

“Little Ivan….”

Whispers filled the headquarters as Ivan walked, quietly bowing behind him and standing stiffly in front of him.

Suddenly, one agent, meeting Ivan’s gaze, hastily raised his hand in salute and approached.

“Ah, it’s an honor to meet you, Lieutenant Petrovich!”

“You know me?” (Ivan)

“I do.”

The young man who met Ivan’s gaze trembled and quickly spoke.

“We are the generation that learned from the manual you wrote!”

“Oh, that.” (Ivan)

Ivan nodded, recalling that he had written something like a diary, detailing his experiences infiltrating the demon-residing areas and assassinating enemies in the field.

And, as is typical with diaries, it’s quite embarrassing when someone reads what you’ve written. Ivan turned his head expressionlessly.

“Have you come to meet Lieutenant Cherkatov?”

“Uhm. I have a matter to report directly to Kirilovna, Her Highness the Royal Chancellor.” (Ivan)

“…I will escort you to the East Palace. Please follow me.”

Ivan nodded briefly and followed the unknown agent. The suffocating silence hung heavily.

Reporting directly to the princess? How significant could this matter be?

The agents, each in a firm posture, bowed respectfully behind Ivan and left for their respective positions. A sense of impending busyness lingered.

Regardless of what might happen, if ‘Little’ Ivan is personally involved with the princess, the repercussions would undoubtedly affect them.

Krasilov East Palace was a massive marble structure built solely for the princess.

Due to the princess’s personality, it showed a tendency to pursue extreme practicality rather than the grandeur of a palace, but the building, with its size and symbolism alone, left a strong impression.

Ivan descended in front of the grand gate adorned with relief carvings. The agent driving the carriage saluted without a word and disappeared beyond the distance.

No one would find it strange that someone was watching in front of the palace. However, Ivan paid little attention.

“Dmitri.” (Ivan)

“Oh, Senior!” (Dmitry)

Dmitri, who seemed not fully awake, appeared as soon as he received the report. He combed his hair with his fingers and smiled amiably.

“Let’s go straight in! Her Highness is already waiting.” (Dmitry)

“You knew I would come?” (Ivan)

“Well, you didn’t sleep in the barracks tonight!” (Dmitry)

Dmitri chuckled, thinking of Elizaveta, who was likely pacing anxiously.

If the mission succeeded, the airborne battleship should have disappeared from the Frechenkaya airspace. And if the mission failed, news of Ivan’s demise would have spread.

Any news makes it difficult to sleep. Anticipating Elizaveta’s worry, Dmitri, too, was handling his duties with a distracted gaze.

“Her Highness is in the audience. Let’s go!” (Dmitry)

The princess’s balcony faced the direction of the main road leading to Jan’s University, meaning that sitting on the balcony, one could see airships in the sky.

A woman, resolute yet profoundly complex, waited there, gazing at the sky, anticipating the outcome of the mission.

Dmitri walked ahead, smiling faintly.

Our meeting should have happened at a more suitable time and place.

In the end, their reunion wasn’t as romantic as she might have hoped. Dmitry chuckled, recalling Elizaveta’s words.

Ivan, lost in thought, headed towards the balcony, remembering the last image he had of Elizaveta.

“Sorry. I’m truly sorry, Vanka. Really, sincerely sorry.” (Elizaveta)

On that rainy day, she stood, choked with tears. A petite woman, Ivan wondered how such a woman could be born from the sturdy royal lineage.

“You… You had the right to resent me, to resent this country. Even if you had run away, I wouldn’t have blamed you.” (Elizaveta)

He remembered what he had said to the weeping princess in the rain.

It was easy for Ivan to recall.

“Do you happen to have roses?” (Ivan)

“What…?” (Elizaveta)

“Cherenovika liked roses.” (Ivan)

It was a funeral hall and, at the same time, a burial ground. A place where no tombstones stood, and no one paid any respects. A funeral hall for those who were supposed to be forgotten.

Until the building became the intelligence headquarters, it was a desolate square in a corner of the war-ravaged Frechenkaya city, with no shelter to shield from the rain.

In the cold winter rain, Elizaveta, with a melancholic face, asked while getting wet.

“Do you remember what others liked?” (Elizaveta)

“Yes, all of them.” (Ivan)

“Tell me. I will remember.” (Elizaveta)

That was enough. Ivan began speaking quietly. When his words were finished, Elizaveta whispered softly.

“Roses, chocolate cake, musk perfume, silk coat hanger…” (Ivan)

Reciting the names of the departed agents and what they liked, Elizaveta murmured repeatedly.

As the falling rain diminished, she looked up at him with wet eyes, reaching out her arms.

It was cold. The slender fingers of Elizaveta’s hand, stroking his cheek, felt chilled, perhaps from the cold.

Feeling Elizaveta’s hand on his cheek, Ivan stood there motionless.

“Vanka, please live quietly. Don’t be noticed by anyone. So this country can forget you.” (Elizaveta)

As a specialized agent trained in covert skills, Ivan could read even the murmurs Elizaveta didn’t utter.

Only I should be able to remember you.

Others in this country don’t have the right.

“But don’t ruin your face. Um… yes. How about growing a beard, like a grandfather?” (Elizaveta)

“Beard… you mean?” (Ivan)

“Yes, like a grandfather. It might suit you well.” (Elizaveta)

Thinking of the majestic king’s face, Ivan nodded slightly. It was indeed a handsome beard, exuding a dignified and manly charm.

After a while standing in the rain, Ivan turned around and left.

That was the last encounter between him and the princess. Four years had passed since then.

Thanks to the princess’s help, many had forgotten him.

Fortunately, being a high-ranking officer who had once led enemies in the Royal Guard, his name remained on the national cemetery.

Passing through the entrance of the memorial, a vast garden appeared.

Magically tended flowers bloomed gracefully under the night sky.

Ivan paused for a moment.

Roses, lilies, freesias… To someone, the scene might look like a haphazardly cultivated flowerbed, but Ivan knew. This was a memorial park for those who had fallen in the past war.

They had somehow found out about the flowers the deceased preferred and planted them, ensuring they would bloom throughout the seasons.

So that they would never be forgotten.

“Your Highness, your subject Dmitry Cherkatov has arrived.” (Dmitry)

“Come closer.” (Elizaveta)

A cold voice echoed. Beyond the garden, a long outdoor table was visible.

Under the moonlight, the table sparkled white, adorned with simple refreshments.

A small woman behind the table, sifting through papers, came into view.

“Vanka. It’s been a while.” (Elizaveta)

The woman, neatly arranging her silver hair and securing it with a blue pin, wore not the military uniform Ivan remembered, but a royal dress.

In a blue dress, the woman looked up at him.

While Ivan pondered his words, her eyes widened in shock.

“Oh… heavens…” (Elizaveta)

Being a trained agent, Ivan could deduce the words she had swallowed through lip-reading.

“What on earth have I done…” (Elizaveta)

Her gaze was fixed on Ivan’s jaw.

***

It took some time for Elizaveta to recover from the shock.

She struggled not to look directly at Ivan’s face, coughing several times.

When Ivan finished his report, she had regained her composure with a cold expression.

“Veolgrin personally appeared and said so.” (Elizaveta)

“Yes, Your Highness.” (Ivan)

“Hmm.” (Elizaveta)

Elizaveta tapped the table thoughtfully.

After a while, she looked up at the sky. Stars were scattered across the dark night sky.

“Vanka, my most trusted lumberjack.” (Elizaveta)

“Yes, Your Highness.” (Ivan)

“You’ve met my father. What do you think?” (Elizaveta)

“…The King…” (Ivan)

Listening to Ivan’s words, Elizaveta chuckled and spoke.

“The King, indeed. Is that how you see it?” (Elizaveta)

“…” (Ivan)

“A foolish fellow who believes that everything will be solved by keeping his mouth shut and sitting still. I would willingly despise my father. That’s what I should do.” (Elizaveta)

It was their last moment together, and then four years passed.

Her eyes were burning fiercely.

“The United Kingdom feared a well-worn sword. Do you know that? If the Hero Party hadn’t disbanded, there would have been a second war. A war recorded in history as a conflict between individuals and groups.” (Elizaveta)

Since the advent of the Demon King, the rulers of the United Kingdom were deeply troubled.

Not only was the enemy’s military strength formidable, but the presence of individuals overwhelming military forces was even more frightening.

The existence of individuals capable of facing groups is, in itself, a challenge to authority.

Therefore, if the Hero Party had not disbanded, and if they had not returned to their respective homes, the world would have faced a second war.

“Maximilian said he wasn’t gone… And Veolgrin is looking for my doppelganger.” (Elizaveta)

“Yes, Your Highness.” (Ivan)

“I will personally deal with the ‘fake’ me in this city. Don’t worry about it. But, well… Why did the ‘real’ me form an alliance with the great mage of the Hero Party?” (Elizaveta)

Elizaveta’s eyes gleamed sharply.

“Assuming, like the reasons you had to be disbanded back then, the Hero Party also had such reasons, what if we consider that? Setting aside others, if you had to assume there was one person who must be eliminated, who would that be?” (Elizaveta)

“…Maximilian.” (Ivan)

“Yes. That’s right. The strongest of humanity. The Golden Emperor. Maximilian, the ‘Demon King Slayer.’ That man.” (Elizaveta)

Veolgrin had planned all of this to locate the real crown prince.

If he mentioned Maximilian’s hideout in the midst of that, it’s reasonable to speculate that there was some meaningful connection between the two.

Now, there was only one question left.

‘How.’

How could they dare to ‘eliminate’ that sturdy man?

What measures should be taken to eliminate him? Was it even possible? Even Ivan, who knew many strong individuals in the United Kingdom, couldn’t easily think of a solution.

If the Hero Party members attacked Maximilian, it might be possible.

But that wasn’t happening. And if it wasn’t such a case, Maximilian would never have fallen into human hands.

“Wait. I will find out that method… and the reason it had to be done.” (Elizaveta)

“Yes.” (Ivan)

“Sit. The guest has been standing for too long. Please forgive me.” (Elizaveta)

Ivan sat in the prepared seat. A maid approached and poured warm tea into his cup.

-Drip.

Elizaveta pulled a chair and sat next to him.

“Now, let’s postpone talking about business. For now, yes. Can you enjoy the present?” (Elizaveta)

“….” (Ivan)

“Four years. Vanka. I hoped our meeting would be more romantic than this, but well, the world doesn’t always flow as expected.” (Elizaveta)

They sat side by side, looking at the garden.

Under the moonlight, the shining flowers swayed lightly in the breeze.

“Do you recognize it?” (Elizaveta)

“Yes, Your Highness.” (Ivan)

“I haven’t forgotten.” (Ivan)

The small woman, who still didn’t reach his chest, faintly smiled.

It was a smile that retained traces of the lively times, which were still vibrant despite the deep scars and pain.

“Come to my office’s terrace, and you’ll see this garden straight ahead.” (Elizaveta)

“Your Highness, I hope you won’t see the flowers.” (Ivan)

“Hmm?” (Elizaveta)

“When Your Highness visited me, you said something to me.” (Ivan)

Ivan chose his words carefully, recalling the time when he served in the Royal Guard.

“‘It is your duty to be the King’s instrument of war, and I wished to spend my time looking at the sky rather than the land.’” (Ivan)

“….” (Elizaveta)

Elizaveta silently stroked the teacup. Ivan raised his head and looked at the sky.

Stars were scattered like grains of sand in the night sky.

In this fantasy world of the pre-modern era, it might be one of the few advantages that the night sky is beautiful.

In a calm voice, Ivan spoke.

“Your Highness, you said that when you look at flowers, you remember those who left, but that is not right. Do you remember our precepts?” (Ivan)

“Do not mourn those who have left.” (Elizaveta)

“Yes, we too stand in the same ranks as them. We are all those who will eventually leave this land.” (Ivan)

Elizaveta closed her eyes at Ivan’s words.

He poured tea into Elizaveta’s cup and handed it to her.

The white teacup was gently warming up with black tea. It was comforting.

“Your Highness, please continue the legacy of the Sun King. Look at the sky, not the land. When you draw those who have left, look at the night sky.” (Ivan)

Elizaveta opened her eyes at his words. The night sky was not dark. Beyond the black sky, between the suddenly emerging clouds, the starlight spread out gracefully.

“Don’t draw the departed ones from flowers. Please count us as stars. They, too, must be hoping for that from you.” (Ivan)

“Vanka….” (Elizaveta)

Elizaveta looked away from the night sky and turned her gaze towards Ivan.

With tear-filled eyes, she stared at Ivan for a while and then reached out quietly.

The hand that held the warm teacup was placed gently on his cheek. After watching him for a moment, Elizaveta asked quietly.

“How about trimming your beard a bit?” (Elizaveta)

“… I sincerely refuse.” (Ivan)

“If I command?” (Elizaveta)

“I’ve already resigned.” (Ivan)

“Seems like you’ve only become more eloquent since then.” (Elizaveta)

After saying something that would vehemently protest when Enrique hears it, Elizaveta burst into laughter.

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