“For me, quality over quantity.”
San tapped Biyeon’s shoulder as if he was brushing off some dust. Suddenly, San frowned. Biyeon’s small fist was stuck in his side.
The emperor looked back at the two who were gently ribbing each other and playing around. He then smiled and nodded. The two bowed to show their respects before exiting the door.
The emperor waved his hand. The two slowly turned around and walked away while holding hands. Soon, the woman’s head tilted towards the man’s shoulder.
Beside them, a group of servants and maids followed alongside and behind San and Biyeon.
The emperor’s eyes were fixed on their backs for a long time. Until the light faded away from their bodies and the darkness swallowed up their human form… this was the highest form of courtesy the emperor paid to the two great humans who would become the ‘representatives of humankind.’
‘For this world's future… and to the strangers who are willing to face a terrible fate that this world has given them…’
“I’ve never been so surprised in my life.”
“Me too. It was terrifying.”
The emperor and Hanyoung stepped outside the conference room. Having stayed up all night, the emperor had visible black circles under both of his eyes.
However, his eyes were shining brighter than ever. The emperor was also a combat warrior who took control of the battlefield as an imperial soldier during his youth.
Even aristocrats and nobles were expected to have some military experience in order to properly rule over the smallest of territories. To that extent, leadership on the battlefield, where blood and flesh splattered all the time, was rated as the highest quality and experience among the qualities and experiences that an imperial leader should have.
The meeting, which started in the morning, had continued late into the night until the early hours of dawn. The discussion was serious, intense, and very candid.
Everyone heard the amazing story told by San and Biyeon. At times they uttered exclamations of surprise, and at other times, they expressed deep sympathy for their unfortunate plight.
They also listened to the information about the transcendent beings that the two had encountered during their time in this world. The incredible adventure that the two went through, and were still going through, had a profound impact on everyone.
Up to that point, the back and forth had been nice and friendly.
San and Biyeon then went on to explain their experiences after entering the imperial palace.
From that point on, everyone gathered thought they knew what happened, so they thought the two were just filling in some missing details.
As the two unraveled a remarkable story, the emperor had, at one point, glanced over at Hanyoung. Hanyoung had responded with a single nod. The emperor must have recalled the real reason why he had sent out Rain. Hanyoung had smiled bitterly as he looked at San and Biyeon who were seriously describing their story.
‘What kind of expression would they make if they knew that Rain was just a disposable pawn in his initial plan? I’m glad that the emperor’s thoughts on Rain have changed now, but…’ Hanyoung had thought.
Though Rain was the main force behind the current reforms of the imperial courts, behind the scenes, the emperor and Hanyoung had been planning the reforms for a long time. However, their plans were a little less diplomatic than Rain’s. It was closer to being a reign of terror.
They would first use their ‘discarding hand’ in the form of the smart but insignificant figure, Rain. The emperor initially didn’t have high expectations for the talented strangers that Rain had brought in.
In the end, whatever the direction that things flowed, it would have ultimately flowed according to the emperor’s intentions. And by using San, Biyeon, and Rain as scapegoats, the emperor and Hanyoung had devised a large-scale attack strategy against the subversive forces that lay behind the opposition imperial and ruling families.
The grand plan was also known to the second prince and his aides. It was a fact that only Rain and Rain’s organization were kept in the dark about.
However, their original plan was never implemented, as Rain was completed and thoroughly successful in her reform efforts, and the emperor and his knowing entourage were very satisfied with what Rain had accomplished.
Rain and the two were lucky. They were far more capable than expected and were rated as useful.
This unexpected success played a large part in making the emperor not throw away the three individuals. He was also willing to give them a little bit of attention, as he thought he was doing right now.
The emperor thought that he had only the concluding work remaining.
The two dangerous strangers, San and Biyeon, would be conferred titles and sent to the troubled southern estate, and if he could send Rain along with them, the plan would be neatly wrapped up.
If the three were able to fortify the southern part of the empire, then it would be a bonus, and if they died, that was that. Wasn’t that politics?
However, as San and Biyeon’s story progressed, the emperor’s face hardened. Hanyoung had placed his hand on the base of his sword.
Hanyoung’s moans had crept through between his lips. All his plans with the emperor were slowly re-opened and reinterpreted. They had made a critical mistake and overlooked the deeper disruption that existed underneath the surface.
“So, there’s such a sinister plan, and it’s still ongoing?” Hanyoung asked the two with a stiff face.
“There is a saying where we live. ‘When the hunt is over, the hound is boiled,’” San had responded with a chilling, cold tone.
“What do you mean?”
“When a powerful man finishes a task that bothers him, it means that he purges the people who were working on it. No loose ends,” Biyeon had said bitterly.
The faces of the emperor, Hanyoung, and Hanhyuk had turned white.
“Go on,” the emperor had said with a trembling voice.
“When we came here, we learned that we couldn’t trust anyone. Since the trust was not already established, we had to make everything work even without trust,” San had stated.
“So, the first premise that the two of us and Princess Rain established was to ensure ‘safety,’ both for us and the people we brought in. The next premise was the need to get out ‘safely’. Safety here had to include both safety from outside forces and safety from within,” Biyeon had explained.
“Safety from within meant that we’d have to consider all situations where one can end up being purged or assassinated at the end of the day,” San had further explained.
The king’s eyes trembled after hearing their words. Their story continued. The four members of the Outsiders were observing the unfolding situation with an interested expression.
“If the emperor and Han-Sung Clan eventually became forces that threatened our safety, the ‘operation’ to retaliate would have been carried out. If necessary, we would have forcefully expunged our enemies, regardless of who they were. Even if one was the emperor of an empire.”
The two had stated such blasphemous words with calm and unpretentiousness. The emperor’s face at that point had dyed red, and Hanyoung and Hanhyuk were raising their energy as much as they could just in case a fight broke out.
“So, you even thought of treason…?”
“Treason? That’s not an appropriate expression. We never wanted power,” Biyeon had sharply responded.
“The subject we contracted with was Princess Rain, not the emperor of the empire. She regarded us as true friends and showed her courage and unyielding faith to even risk her own life. On the other hand, the fact that the emperor did not believe in us, viewing us as a hand that could be used up and discarded, was a different matter. We probably wouldn’t have been kept alive to maintain a secret. Is what we’re saying correct?”
“We value human contracts. The mission we recognized was to properly conduct the business Rain wanted, and to protect her and ourselves in the process.”
Maddening chaos was churning in the calm silence. The white blades of the Han-Sung clansmen were seemingly half protruding from their sheaths.
“This meeting is where mutual security can be pledged. We are not so wicked as to break the vows we make. Could the two Han-Sung clansmen please recall your violent energy and aura?” San said quietly.
Still, in the space between them, the fierce momentum and aura of shining blue blades constantly fluctuated.
San gathered his aura first. Soon after, Hanyoung retreated his aura. Hanhyuk followed. In their dismayed eyes, they saw Biyeon smiling.
Hanyoung had clenched his jaw.
“Shall we continue?” San asked with a smile.
In the deathly silence, the two calmly explained the progression of Rain’s operation and their own work to obtain ‘safety.’
They detailed the process of gaining control of all the core subdivisions of the imperial courts, the process of securing friendly forces, the process of thoroughly controlling the information flow of sub-organizations…
Soon, the explanation of their second operation, to check the emperor and the imperial families who were untrusting towards them, followed.
The process of taking control of the Black Guilds by borrowing the power of the emperor and securing the list of all the imperial contracts and their contractors. The process of attracting the staff that served the imperial palace and the staffing organizations as a friendly force. After all this, even the most sensitive organization couldn’t distinguish the emperor’s decision from San and Biyeon’s controlling hand.
They had done all this without even Rain knowing.
In the end… according to their groundwork, the reform proposals were easily passed, and the appearance of a very uncomfortable confrontation between the stupid emperor and the more stupid nobles was revealed by utilizing these various sources and manipulating the overall narrative.
So, who really held the cards were…
“We concluded that creating a tense situation of a struggle for imperial dominance is the safest way for Princess Rain and us to safely survive,” Biyeon concluded.
“Why did you think so?”
“Because we couldn’t entrust anyone else to handle the level of complexity that these operations were conducted under. For us and for you, Rain is now the key controller.”
“Well… is that so? Of this imperial palace?” the emperor asked while smiling bitterly.
“You seem to think there are more loyal and trustworthy people than Princess Rain, right? In the beginning, I thought it would be safer to dismantle the offices of the secretary completely,” San responded while looking at the emperor.
The emperor said nothing and let out a smirk. His reaction meant that he understood that no one was trusted within the royal family. For the first time in his life, the emperor felt that he was atop the palm of another person. He was being roundly controlled.
He had been defeated so thoroughly that he even felt refreshed.
The two said no more. However, the emperor, Hanyoung, and Hanhyuk all understood the underlying message.
‘They can do anything they want. At worst, if the emperor needed to be killed to keep Rain safe, these two would have done so without a second thought.’
Hanyoung felt sweat dripping down his back. What if the emperor did not show a level of trust today…? Hanyoung felt abject fear for the first time in his life.
He now understood why they were not courteous to the emperor from the start, or why they didn’t fully open their hearts to Hanyoung himself.
“Can you tell me why you’re telling me this now?” Hanyoung asked.
“Because we saw that it was necessary,” San answered briefly.
“For our own permanent security. How much can you believe in a title given to you by someone with an underlying uneasiness to who he’s bestowing titles to?” Biyeon added.
Hanyoung closed his eyes tightly. All sorts of anger and bloody will was screaming within his mind.
The emperor had grown angry beyond measure, but he was more furious at the reality that he could not release his anger. At that moment, San coldly threw out the next logical words.
“Trust will set us all free.”
“Are you all willing to faithfully negotiate now? Again, to reiterate, we are not interested in power,” Biyeon stated.
Thus, everything was reset and reconfigured.