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1605-chapter-53

“The minions of the demon god… but they were supposed to have disappeared long ago…”

“Why now, and why target the First Prince and the heirs of noble houses?”

“This is a bad omen.”

The nobles murmured among themselves.

‘Who could have orchestrated such an event?’

I gripped my dress tightly.

“We are working with the temple and deploying our best talents to uncover the truth. We will reveal the mastermind behind this, no matter what. Let it be known that any unnecessary chatter outside this chamber will not be tolerated.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

The nobles responded in unison.

“Continue with your account.”

At his command, I continued my story.

I ended with the part where, after defeating the boss monster, we were escaping the collapsing dungeon. I had almost made it to the exit but was knocked unconscious by falling rocks.

By the time I finished, I was slightly fatigued from the long recounting. I forced myself to stay upright despite my tired body.

The emperor acknowledged my efforts calmly.

“You have endured much.”

“I simply did what had to be done.”

“For a young noble with little combat experience, it must have been difficult. Your contribution is significant.”

‘If it weren’t for Prince Claude, none of us would be alive.’

I swallowed the truth that nearly escaped my lips.

In this story, Claude had to be portrayed as a coward.

A fool who hindered the group, constantly trembling and providing no help. This was for his protection.

‘I wonder what expression he has right now.’

I resisted the urge to look back.

“You not only saved promising young nobles of the empire but also… the life of the prince. As a benefactor of the royal family, I will grant you any one wish. Is there something you desire?”

“I do.”

“What is it?”

The room fell silent. All eyes were on me.

The day after I returned to the duke’s residence, the duke had explained the situation regarding the royal family.

No matter how troublesome Claude Valentin was, he was still a prince of the royal bloodline. Saving a member of the Valentin royal family meant I had earned significant merit in the eyes of the empire.

“Therefore, no matter how poor your standing has been, you will not be denied a reward or receive inadequate recognition. The emperor is likely to grant whatever you wish for, within reason.”

What will you ask for?

The duke had asked quietly.

It was a wish granted by the emperor himself, practically an unlimited promise. Anything within reason was possible.

I had taken several days to ponder it thoroughly after saying I would think about it.

The first thing that came to mind was revenge against the Varden family.

This fantasy held my thoughts sweetly for a brief moment.

‘Should I ask for their noble titles to be stripped? Have Helena expelled from the academy and force them to return to their small estate to live as peasants?’

But I soon shook my head.

No matter how great my merit, it wouldn’t be possible to strip innocent-seeming nobles of their titles so easily.

Moreover, it would go against my vow to seek revenge with my own hands.

Even then, stripping them of their titles and sending them to the countryside seemed insufficient.

After thoroughly considering all aspects and repeatedly pondering the situation, I came to only one conclusion.

“I wish…”

All the nobles, who were intently watching me, perked up their ears at that moment.

Only Duke Desmiere, already aware of my wish, watched with his arms crossed.

‘Will Claude forgive me?’

I had released an irreversible arrow.

“Grant me permission to leave the academy.”

“What?”

The room buzzed with whispers. The unexpected request led the nobles to murmur among themselves.

Despite the commotion, I resolutely looked at the emperor, who was staring at me silently.

The nobles likely expected me to ask for the restoration of the Estelle family’s honor or the return of the confiscated estate, or perhaps to remove the label of “the devil’s daughter” attached to me.

But these were never considerations for me.

The crimes of Count Estelle, whom I never thought of as a father, were clear.

Whether or not he truly had honor was doubtful. It was only natural that the honor of a family that had existed for over seventeen generations would be sullied.

I had no intention of asking for leniency for his crimes.

Nor did I care about the vile reputation attached to me.

‘You cannot change people’s minds with power alone.’

A dishonorable reputation is erased only when people’s perceptions change, not by an emperor’s decree.

Even if certain words were banned and people were forced to treat me courteously, it would not change their minds.

They might outwardly show kindness due to the emperor’s command, but inside, they would harbor even greater disdain and mockery.

Hence, I chose this.

“What is your reason?”

“I feel my skills in spirit magic are lacking.”

The nobles quieted down, their attention solely on me.

“The academy has clear limitations in enhancing spirit magic. The natural energy needed to sense spirits is insufficient, and the quality of materials and classes is lacking. The recent battle in the Medina dungeon has only strengthened my desire to improve my skills, Your Majesty.”

“How does leaving the academy relate to improving your skills in spirit magic?”

“I intend to seek out the Elf Forest.”

The commotion in the conference room grew louder. Everyone had something to say.

“But the elves disappeared from the continent long ago, didn’t they?”

“It’s unclear if they still live in the Moonshadow Forest, and that place is known for not allowing outsiders…”

“Even if you succeed in entering the forest and meeting the elves, can we allow a descendant of a madman to form a contract with higher spirits? Is that even possible?”

“Enough!”

The emperor’s voice boomed. The nobles had forgotten they were in the imperial conference room and now flinched and fell silent.

I glanced at the last speaker, who met my gaze with a tense but unyielding expression. Duke Desmiere was glaring at him from the side.

Tense, I turned my eyes back to the emperor.

The last reaction was one of the reasons I had to ask the emperor for permission.

The first reason is, of course, the oath made at admission.

From age thirteen to nineteen, we pledged to return to Valentina twice every new semester.

If not, we agreed to a magical restriction that would make our heads explode.

To release this restriction that ties the nobles to the imperial family, permission must be granted. Only then can we leave the capital freely and focus on training that might take years.

The second reason is exactly that.

As the daughter of Count Estelle, who committed terrible acts after making a pact with the Fire Spirit King, I needed the emperor’s official permission to make a pact with a higher spirit and improve my skills.

I remembered the argument I had with Helena in the Valentina forest. She had mocked me then.

“Real nobles, the true power holders of the empire, are all watching you.”

“If you show even a hint of your ‘demonic’ nature or summon a higher spirit… they will come to kill you immediately. Before it’s too late.”

I swallowed hard. My lips trembled nervously.

The room was overly quiet. Everyone stared at the lips of the final decision-maker.

Would the emperor allow me, the daughter of Count Estelle, to leave the academy controlled by the royal family and make a pact with a higher spirit?

Finally, he spoke.

“……Let’s hear the nobles’ opinions. What do you think of this matter?”

As if waiting, a man stepped forward. He was the one who called me ‘the offspring of a madman.’

“We acknowledge that Lady Estelle has achieved remarkable feats, Your Majesty. Your decision to grant her a fair reward is wise and considerate. However, what she asks is excessively… dangerous.”

He glanced at me.

“We already have a precedent. Her father, Count Alaster Estelle, dared to turn the precious land of the empire to ashes and killed imperial citizens as he pleased. It has only been seven years since his execution. Allowing his daughter to cultivate the talent inherited from a criminal’s blood is a premature decision, Your Majesty.”

“I agree.”

“That’s right.”

Voices of agreement echoed immediately. Another man at the left table raised his hand to speak.

“Moreover, all legitimate heirs of noble families must complete seven years of study at the academy. This has been a respected tradition since the year after the empire was founded. We cannot make an exception for her alone, Your Majesty.”

“Indeed.”

“I also think this way.”

Nods and agreement followed. Some even clapped quietly.

‘I can’t let it end like this.’

It seemed difficult, but facing the reality was disheartening. Still, I must gain permission somehow.

Then it happened.

“Please grant Lady Estelle’s wish, Your Majesty.”

I was startled and looked at the source of the voice.

A sturdy-looking middle-aged man, sitting at the front of the right table, calmly raised his hand and spoke.

“Speak, Marquis Oakley.”

The emperor gave him the floor. As I realized who he was, my eyes widened.

‘He’s Felicia’s father!’