As soon as Anfey and Ernest stepped into Saul's place, they were escorted into the front hall by a gloomy butler. Confused as to what had happened, they saw that Niya and all of Saul's students had gathered there, and the atmosphere seemed heavy. Niya held her face in her hands, staring blankly at nothing, tear streaks still visible on her face. Christian's face was buried in his hands, and he was sobbing softly. Blavi was softly whispering something to Christian.
"What happened?" Anfey asked, his heart sinking. His instincts as an assassin caused him to be pessimistic. The only person that could cause this heaviness, that he could think of, was Saul.
Did something happen to him?
"Lord Anfey, did you not hear the knell?"
"Knell?" Anfey glanced towards Ernest. The bell from atop Mount Saint Brunswick? Sure, they had both heard it, but neither had thought much of it.
"His Grace has been reclaimed by the gods," the old butler sighed.
"Oh lord…" Anfey said and let out a sigh of relief. He didn't care for this majesty or that grace, just that Saul was fine.
Next to them, Niya sighed. She was very upset. The emperor had treated Niya like his own for as long as she could remember. If anything was wrong, Saul would still scold her out of courtesy, but Yolanthe would not tolerate any degree of mistreatment towards Niya.
Christian was sobbing even harder now, his shoulders shaking. Anfey, seeing that everyone was upset, decided that he would feign some sadness as well. No one here was as good as him when it came to acting.
The news of Yolanthe's death quickly travelled through the city. His manner of death was perplexing. The magic transportation portal he was using had a sudden mutation, and it had disappeared with the emperor inside. The four guards responsible for the portal were killed in a subsequent explosion.
The Royal Guards of the Sacred City now had no leader. If this situation continued, there were sure to be riots. Thankfully, Miorich was in the city. Using his position as a powerful golden knight, he was able to assume control over the Royal Guards and issue a state of emergency to stabilize the situation in the capital.
On top of Mount Saint Brunswick was a large platform. On the platform was a building with a huge dome adorned with realistic carvings. Near the railings was a throne made of warm jade, and in front of it was an eagle carved from stone. This was Yolanthe's ambition—even the eagles that ruled the sky must bow before him.
Usually, Yolanthe loved sitting in the chair and watching the scenery, but now the man on it was the oldest prince of the empire, Wester.
The portal on the platform lit up, and Wester's friend Brufit came onto the platform and slowly walked towards Wester.
"I said not to disturb me," Wester said hoarsely.
Brufit's eyes lit up with a moment of sarcastic coldness, but soon turned to sadness. "Your Grace, I know you are upset, but now is not the time. You are in trouble, my lord, big trouble."
"It doesn't matter. Do not bother me."
"Your Grace…" Brufit sighed but didn't say anything more.
Not long after, Wester closed his eyes slowly, on his face an expression somewhere between laughing and crying. "When I was young, father always brought me here. He told me stories, looking at the moon and stars and the Holy City's lights. He had said that everything would be mine one day. I was too young then! I had asked if the moon and stars were mine, and he said they were."
Brufit didn't say anything. He knew he was better off listening.
"Then I got older and had two younger brothers. It was then I began to harbor a dislike for Granden and Rodhart. I was afraid that what was promised to me would one day be taken away from me.
"After I heard that father had died, I realized, why are we like this? We never know what we have until we lose it." Wester shot up from his seat, hitting the ground with his scepter. "What is this? What is the good in this? Tell me. What has this brought me?"
"Your Grace, please, collect yourself," Brufit said.
"Collect myself? What do you want me to do? Go back to being a petty little princeling?"
"Your Grace… this is something I don't know if I should say," Brufit hesitated. "Lord Yolanthe was an excellent king, and his brilliance was unmatched. It was because of him that the Maho Empire became one of the most powerful empires. But do you know how he managed it?"
"Keep going," Wester said softly.
"Because he had the will to fight," Brufit said. "He had the will to continue. You, Your Grace, have lost that."
"What do you mean?"
"This all happened too fast, leaving no time for a will. If you tell everyone that you are the king, who would believe you? Would Rodhart, who holds an entire nation state, believe you? Or Granden, who controls the entire empire's army? My lord, you have a fire burning under your throne, and if you don't collect yourself from your late father's death, you will be burnt alive."
Wester sat down slowly, his face pale. Clearly, Brufit's words had hit a sore spot.
"Your Grace, you always said that you disliked your brothers. Who could say that they didn't harbor any dislike for you?"
Wester smiled bitterly. He knew the rule of the court. When someone smiled at him, he always repaid it with a smile, and he knew that the others did so as well. He knew well what his brothers' attitude toward him was. But what could he say? He had ruined it single-handedly.
"Your Grace, I am very disappointed. As a friend, I ask you, you do not realize what you have until you have lost it, but do you want to lose everything once more?" Brufit said. Then he turned and marched towards the portal.
"What are you doing?"
"Your Grace clearly has no more use of me," Brufit said, smiling. "My job here is done." He turned and began walking towards the portal once more.
"Wait! What do you want me to do?"
Brufit smirked. He knew Wester wouldn't let him go. He needed friends in his moments of weakness.
"Your Grace, are you ready to hear my advice?" He turned slowly.
"Say, what should I do?"
"Simple. You need to fill yourself with the will to fight. Think, my lord. You have lost your father, do you want to lose the power and throne he left you as well?"
"No!" Wester said, determined.
"Right now, you need to spread the news of you inheriting the throne, to seek the approval of the people. Of course, your enemies will oppose you. All you need to do is find the strongest enemy and crush them."
"Enemy..." Wester smiled bitterly. He understood Brufit, of course, but he didn't know where to begin.
"Your Grace!" Brufit said after studying Wester's expressions. "Who do you think poses the most threat to you?"
"Who do you think?"
"Granden, of course. He holds an army of two hundred thousand, and has help from Archmage Saul. He is of the greatest threat to you."
"What do you want me to do? Miorich has control over all the armies in the city right now, can you make sure he sides with us?"
"I cannot be sure." Brufit shook his head. "You must earn his trust on your own."
"What do you mean?"
"His Grace's death was too sudden an event for us, as it was for Granden. He has not made preparations. And, my lord, do not forget how influential Archmage Saul is in the empire."
"That is what I worry about. Granden alone cannot command two hundred thousand, it was only because of Saul that he was able to manage it."
"What if Saul was on your side, my lord?"
"Impossible!" Wester said without a moment of hesitation. "Saul had always liked Granden, and Niya was fond of him as well. The last time we met, I scolded Granden, and Niya almost lost it."
"Think, my lord. Where is Niya, and where are Granden and Saul?"
"You mean…" Wester's eyes widened in shock.