Kyle makes a dramatic entrance, and the mysterious Hans Button makes an impression on the judges.
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Episode 45. 80kg (10)
A small commotion started at the doorway about five minutes before the third round of interviews began.
A natural human corridor formed as some of the interviewees took a few hesitant steps back at the first sight of him.
Everyone–The people in the back, the interviewees preparing for the third round of interviews, the heads of the various departments serving as interviewers, a group of high-ranking nobles, and the First and Third Princes– stared towards the doorway, rendered speechless.
‘What's going on?'
My question was answered shortly. Moving through the corridor created by the crowd, the Second Prince walked to the dais in front of the Grand Council Chamber.
‘No. Why him?'
His arrival changed the entire atmosphere of the third round of interviews.
His confident, domineering gait and unreadable expression unnecessarily unnerved the audience, and the coldness that radiated from his body, that of a man raised on the battlefield, combined with the arrogance of the Imperial Family, to create an invisible boundary that could not be easily crossed.
The Second Prince was someone most people had only heard of in rumours.
Never before in history had a single man held the titles of Commander-in-Chief in both the Imperial Security Forces and the Military. It was a first.
And never before had a prince spent three years on the front lines of war. Another first.
In addition, no prince had ever survived the Imperial court without the support of the Ocerian nobility, yet Kyle Amure had, despite seeking no noble alliances. This was yet another first to his name.
The hero of those rumours had appeared in an unexpected place to act as an interviewer.
As if that weren't enough of a headache, I'd been unlucky enough to run into him unnecessarily again.
As he walked down the aisle, he threw a casual glance in my direction.
‘How's it going, rookie?'
The look in his eyes said it all. And it was as if he was laughing mockingly at me despite being so expressionless.
Argh. Arrogant jerk.
Suddenly, the memory of him pushing the carriage on the streets of the Knights' Guild flashed through my mind as if from an omniscient author's perspective.
My dress and hair clinging to my body from the rain, the strained expression on my face as I struggled to push it free.
Being so surprised to see Kyle that I simply collapsed. THUMP!
Go away, go away, go away memories. Damn it. I'd forgotten about that.
After a quick glance around, I shuffled behind a tall male interviewee.
I scrunched my body up to make myself as small as possible, but, unfortunately, the other interviewee's large frame couldn't completely conceal my wide shoulders.
Since the other princes were here, it was only natural he would come as well, right?
I decided to be as quiet as possible during the third round of interviews.
Would it kill him to smile, by the way? He was so aloof. The interviewees looked like they were about to die of nervousness.
"Was he on the list?"
I heard one of the Imperial staff members quietly murmur next to me.
"The Ministry of Security revised it a moment ago. The Commander-in-chief, the Prince, will do it himself...."
"I didn't realize he was interested in this kind of thing."
"Indeed. The other princes appear as interviewers often, but the Second Prince has turned down every invitation to participate."
What? They weren't expecting this?
I slowly stole glances at the interviewers and the other princes.
The bewildered expressions on the faces of the Imperial staff conducting the interviews, the surprised gazes of First and Third Princes, and the sour looks of obvious hatred from the flocks of visiting nobles from each of the ministries made me realize just how unusual his appearance today was.
It was said that he rarely showed his face in public, so why was he here? Could it be because of me?
But I immediately banished that thought.
It was true that our encounters had made a substantial impression, but they were too inconsequential to make him come all the way here just to see me. I was too insignificant for him.
After the Secretariat staff announced the start of the interview, a total of eight interviewers, including Kyle, took their seats at a desk in front of us.
The First Prince sat in the center, flanked by the Second and Third princes, and the deputy chiefs of each of the five palace departments took their seats.
"I thought you were busy today."
No one expected Kyle to answer, but the politicians smiled at the insincere response, and Prince Franz's mouth twitched slightly.
"Let's get started. Everyone has things to do."
Joseph, who hadn't even glanced in Kyle's direction since his arrival, urged the interviewers to begin.
I kept my eyes on the interviewers, trying to anticipate the questions that would be asked.
If no one stepped forward when the interviewer posed a topic, the interviewers would nominate a random interviewee.
I was sure most of the interviewees must be praying for their names not to be called.
"Okay, let's get started. You must answer the questions with conviction. If you disagree with someone, don't hesitate to offer a rebuttal. Your Highness?"
The gray-haired interviewer naturally turned the first question over to Prince Franz.
"I have great expectations for the third interview. It was created by direct order of the Empress. After a long period of preparation, it was sanctioned by His Majesty the Emperor, and in the process many people..."
Blah blah blah. God, it was just like a high school assembly.
I didn't understand why he was so eager to introduce the first question like that.
I wanted to dig my fingers into my ears, but instead I held onto the hem of my skirt tightly as I listened to the speech. It had been going on for five minutes already, without a question in sight.
If I didn't hold onto my skirt, I might get distracted and let my sullen expression slip through.
However, it felt like I was the only one who was having a hard time with this situation. Everyone else seemed to have braced themselves for it.
It was as if there was an expectation that the First Prince's presence at such an event would naturally be accompanied by a speech.
Was I making it too obvious that I came from a different world?
Huh? What was that movement?
I glanced away, pretending I was still listening to the First Prince's speech, and saw that Kyle was clearly looking at me.
He just pointed his middle finger at me...! But then he crossed over his index finger, like an X. That's royalty for you... Ah! It wasn't an offensive gesture...*
Thick beads of sweat rolled silently down my forehead. Surely I was misunderstanding his strange hand gesture?
He leaned forward slightly, pretending to tilt his chin, then tapped his nose...?
Then it hit me.
"Oh, my God."
The words slipped out of my mouth, and a few interviewees turned towards me for a moment before turning back.
I was dumbfounded and glanced at the Second Prince again, but he was already looking elsewhere with a blank expression, as if he had never done it.
He’d acted like some paragon of justice when he'd swooped in to push the carriage, and then - That was right! He'd said he would flatten my nose and take me down a peg, didn't he? Was that why he was here?**
The flame of determination that had fizzled out after I had finished the second interview flared up once again.
Why the hell were there so many people trying to screw me over in these interviews? I must have betrayed my home country in one of my previous lives.
But there was no point in getting excited. What was done was done. I needed to do this as calmly as possible.
Yes. Just like Prince Kyle.
I made a mental note to prepare myself for the upcoming interview.
After a long and boring opening speech from the First Prince, the third interview began.
"...an Emperor must have a broad mind. If an Emperor, being an absolute ruler, tries to rule his subjects and the people of the Empire only by the strictest standards, it may be easy to control the country in the short term and his authority may seem solid, but in the long term, cracks will form from below."
"What are these cracks you're referring to?"
"If a monarch's authority is fueled only by fear, it causes people to hide the truth. Righteousness can only be practiced by an Emperor who is lenient, which is why a stern Emperor will only hear the sweet lies of his subjects rather than the bitter truths. It's a poison that makes it impossible to see the Empire with clear eyes. This was true in the past and it is true now. The former king of our political opponent, Skandoa, was one such monarch. He chose to challenge Oceria after listening solely to the honeyed words of his closest advisors and lost the Three-Year War as a result. And that's not all, is it? Just look at the current Duchy of Ga'an, and you'll see that over a hundred years ago...."
Button. No! Sir Hans Button, had quickly risen to prominence.
He had been expounding his monarchical theories without restraint in front of a group of princes who might be future Emperor. Seriously.
"...even fear must be used in moderation; no secondary fear can match the first. Nowadays, death by hanging no longer alarms the citizens; they accept the hanging as a manner of execution and treat it as some kind of event. As a result, these hangings have been used by local officials to win over their tax bases. A blind man is hanged for stealing bread, an old woman mistaken for a witch, a homeless man is hanged for being a spy for an enemy country. Citizens revel in it, and bureaucrats order hangings without conforming to standards. There are no requirements, despite the fact that the actual punishments specified by Imperial law must be based on specific criteria. Or, to be more precise, the problem is that centralized policing does not reach the provinces."
"...Is that all?"
It was all controlled. No one could introduce a new topic, we were just being dragged along by Hans Button's lead.
He had already won the game. But he didn't stop there, he then turned the conversation to a discussion of economics. As if he had a plan.
No one thought to interject. I suspected this would happen, but I didn't expect it to be to this degree.
When he finally finished, some of the interviewees and interviewers started clapping. Everyone had forgotten we were standing in an interview room.
This guy was smart.
He was obviously well-informed, and the logic with which he weaved his thoughts together was coherent and compelling.
Moreover, considering how few people could articulate their thoughts so well in front of such a large crowd of strangers without trembling, he was quite a stand out, and that deserved recognition.
But why did he make me so uncomfortable? Was it because he was indeed a 'sociopath' as I had heard?
At the end of Hans Button's answer, the interviewers continued to throw back to back questions at him.
Despite being very provocative, the topics he discussed were interesting and provided material for a variety of policies. It was no wonder that all of the interviewers, each serving as the head of a different department, were so intrigued that their eyes lit up at his words.
However, two people did not participate in the questioning onslaught: Kyle, the Second Prince, and Joseph, the Third Prince.
Kyle kept looking through the interviewee documents, while Joseph just stared at Hans Button with an unreadable smile on his lips.
No one could dispute the fact that Hans Button was the star of the third interview.
And as the third round of the interview continued and Hans' one-man show grew to a close, the atmosphere in the room began shifting, little by little.
Editor’s Notes -
* There was an incomprehensible section of this sentence and I’ll be honest I have no idea what specific gesture Kyle was trying to make here. All I got was X-something. Either way neither I nor Tara knows what’s going on with this hand gesture.
** 'To flatten one's nose' is the Korean equivalent of saying to take someone down a peg. This was why Kyle was conspicuously gesturing to his nose earlier. This is so petty, it's hilarious 🤣
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