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24 THE ROSE AND THE GLASS GLOBE

"WHY DO you want to bind our life forces together, Nero?"

Nero was surprised by Neoma's question. He didn't expect her to know about the forbidden spell that could tie their lives together. But he should have expected that. If he found the book in the library of the palace where they both lived before, Neoma could do that as well.

And he had to remind himself that like him, she could also read and write now.

[My precious little sister is smart, indeed.]

But he was surprised to hear her call him by his name instead of "Big Brother."

"Don't worry, Neoma," Nero assured his twin sister. "I asked the saint to tweak the spell a little. If you die, I'll die with you. But if I die, all my Mana will be transferred to you so you'll be fine even without me."

Neoma's eyes almost popped out of her head. "Nero, are you serious?"

He nodded before he answered. "I am very serious."

At first, Saint Zavaroni refused to perform the forbidden spell on him.

But when he told the saint the reason why he wanted to do that, he had successfully convinced him to help him save his sister. To be honest, he wasn't certain if his hunch about Emperor Nikolai sacrificing Neoma to save him was correct. But it was better to be safe than sorry.

He could and would die for Neoma anytime.

But he didn't want his little sister to die for him.

[After all, big brothers (and sisters) are born to protect their younger siblings.]

"But why would you do that for me, Nero?" Neoma asked as if she was confused by his decision. "Why would you want to ensure my safety by risking your own life to do so?"

Nero, despite still feeling weak, raised his hand and touched Neoma's chubby cheek. "It's because you're my only family in this world, Neoma."

To hell with the emperor.

***

[HE SAID 'family.']

Neoma almost cried at what Nero said.

She was… touched.

[Argh, I'm turning into a softie.]

To be honest, she couldn't really see Nero as her "older brother" since her mental age was already that of an adult. Whenever she looked at him, all she saw was a child that needed help. She also never expected him to "take care" of her because aside from their "age difference," she still couldn't forget the fact that he killed her in her first life.

But right now, she suddenly felt like a baby that she was supposed to be.

[So this is how it feels to have a decent older brother.]

In her second life, she had loving parents so she didn't really care much about Emperor Nikolai now.

But unfortunately, she wasn't given a chance to have a sibling back then. So it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that she didn't know how to handle having an older brother that actually cared about her. She suddenly felt emotional.

[I should stop treating Nero like a random kid and start accepting the fact that he's my twin brother.]

"Big Brother, do you love me?" Neoma asked with the best puppy dog eyes that she could muster at the moment."

"I do," Nero said without missing a heartbeat.

"Then you shouldn't keep secrets from me," she said with a pout. "If we're really family, you should tell me stuff that has something to do with me." She held his hand and hooked her pinky finger with his. "So, Big Brother. Please tell me why you felt the need to tie our lives together through a forbidden spell."

"I don't want your little heart to get broken, Neoma."

"Big Brother, I'm stronger than you think I am," she told him.

He laughed softly at that. "What are you saying? You're as frail as a flower."

She almost rolled her eyes.

Well, it was her fault why Nero thinks she was "frail." She was too good at acting like a baby-in-distress after all.

"But even if I'm as frail as a flower, I won't wither easily," she said, and then she remembered the classic children's book that she had read during her second life. It was called 'The Little Prince.' "I'm a unique rose well-protected by a glass globe. And that glass globe is you, Big Brother."

He smiled as if he liked what he heard even though he didn't get the reference. "You have a point."

"So, will you tell me now the reason why you're being so overprotective?"

Her twin brother nodded before he answered her question. "I have a feeling that His Majesty brought you here to steal your life force and use it to extend mine."

Okay, that was a huge blow.

Now she finally understood why Emperor Nikolai was considerate to her all of a sudden. So, the emperor wasn't dying.

[Instead, he wants to sacrifice me just for Nero to survive.]

"Neoma, are you okay?" Nero asked worriedly.

She shook her head. "I don't want to die, Big Brother."

"I won't let you die, Neoma."

"But I don't want you to die when I die," she said firmly. "There must be a way to save you without anyone dying."

Nero's brows furrowed in confusion. "Do you have anything in mind?"

"Yes, but I need to consult Saint Macaroni– I mean, Zavaroni first," Neoma said while her mind was busy coming up with different strategies to save her butt. [I don't intend to die without getting rich and comfortable in this lifetime.]

***

"WHAT?" Nikolai asked the saint after he told him the reason why he couldn't sacrifice Neoma's life for Nero. "Are you serious, Your Holiness?"

"I am, Your Majesty," Saint Zavaroni said, then he sipped his tea before he continued. "Prince Nero asked me to perform the forbidden spell that will tie his life force with Princess Neoma. But His Royal Highness doesn't want the princess to die once he does. So instead, the spell that I cast will kill him if Her Royal Highness dies. But if Prince Nero dies, his Mana will be transferred to the princess. If it isn't clear to you yet, that means that His Royal Highness wouldn't let Her Royal Highness die just for him to be saved."

The whole tea room shook when he released a dangerous amount of Mana to threaten the saint. He knew that the Holy Knights would rush to His Holiness's side but unfortunately for them, they wouldn't be able to break the barrier that he put around the chamber.

Right now, he could kill Saint Zavaroni and no one could stop him.

"You know that I can't afford to lose Nero," he said in a threatening voice. "He's my crown prince, Your Holiness."

Much to his annoyance, the saint remained calm despite his menacing aura.

Saint Zavaroni calmly and elegantly put the cup down on the table, then he looked at him straight in the eye. "Your Majesty, do you know what my biggest regret in life is?"

"Do I need to know?"

The saint just smiled sadly before he answered his own question. "Your Majesty, I still can't forgive myself for helping the previous emperor sacrifice the Princess Royal's life to save yours."

He smiled bitterly at that. "Are you saying that you regret saving the life of your emperor? That can be considered as treason, Your Holiness. Even though you're the saint, you can still be executed for treason."

"You know that's not what I meant, Your Majesty," the saint said in a very patient tone that annoyed him even more.

[The saint really never loses his composure.]

"Princess Nichole was a beautiful person inside and out," the saint continued, unabashed "She was elegant, intelligent, and very kind. The princess was like a ball of sunshine. She had a bright future ahead of her."

"Saint Zavaroni," he warned the saint coldly.

"I know that the royal family looks down on princesses because you think so little of women," His Holiness still continued despite his warning. "But if the Princess Royal had lived, I'm certain that she could have changed the royal family for the better. She would have changed the law and become the first crown princess in the history of Moonasterion Empire." The saint gave him a sympathetic look. "Your Majesty, you just got lucky that you were born a man. If it wasn't for the thing between your legs, you couldn't hold a candle to Princess Nichole."

He smirked bitterly. "Is a saint allowed to say something as vulgar as that?"

"A saint is only a human that just happens to have divine powers," His Holiness said with a smile before he sipped his tea again.

Now he realized why he hated Neoma's attitude.

[The royal princess reminds me of Saint Zavaroni's sass.]

The saint may appear "gentle" to most people because of his "angelic smile."

But he knew better.

The saint was probably one of the most sarcastic people that he had met in his life. His Holiness could insult the hell out of someone with a big smile on his face. But even if he exposed the saint's true colors, no one would believe him.

"I have a feeling that you'll get along well with the royal princess, Your Holiness," he said while shaking his head. "She's a sassy one."

The saint looked pleased to hear that. "Just like Princess Nichole and Lady Roseheart."

The 'Lady Roseheart' that the saint mentioned was Mona Roseheart– Neoma and Nero's mother.

"Your guilt over Princess Nichole's death isn't a valid reason for you to prevent me from saving my crown prince," he said firmly. "As the emperor, I order you to undo the spell."

"That's not the only reason why I want to protect Princess Neoma, Your Majesty."

"I want to hear your reason then," he challenged the saint. "Depending on your answer, I may or may not get you arrested for treason."

"Your Majesty, I opened the gates of my temple to Prince Nero not because he's the future crown prince," His Holiness said firmly. "I decided to help you because I need to meet the royal princess. I already saw this happening."

His forehead knotted in confusion. "What do you mean by that, Your Holiness?"

"I received an oracle a few days ago, Your Majesty," the saint said seriously. "I didn't announce it publicly because I know that the oracle will only bring chaos to the empire. But since you're the emperor, I thought you ought to know it."

"Get straight to the point, Your Holiness."

"The future has changed, Your Majesty," Saint Zavaroni declared seriously. "The one I saw sitting on the throne wasn't Prince Nero– it was Princess Neoma."

The saint's words sent a chill down his spines.

"The oracle can't be right," Nikolai argued angrily. "A princess can't rule the empire!"

***

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