Advanced Chapters ― Ch72/72 ― My Presumed Fiancé, Who I Thought Was Around 120 Years Old and Whose Face I Didn’t Know, Turned Out To Be a Transcendent Beauty

Completed ― My Presumed Fiancé, Who I Thought Was Around 120 Years Old and Whose Face I Didn’t Know, Turned Out To Be a Transcendent Beauty

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟏: 𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐟𝐢𝐯𝐞 𝐩𝐫𝐢𝐧𝐜𝐞𝐬𝐬𝐞𝐬 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐢𝐫 𝐟𝐢𝐚𝐧𝐜𝐞

There were five princesses in the Eakes Kingdom.

The first princess was a warrior princess. With a sword in hand, she was unbeatable; even ordinary men weren’t her match.

The second princess was a songstress. Her voice was more beautiful than a siren’s.

The third princess was a beauty. She had captured the hearts of many. Even a prince or a knight couldn’t escape her charms.

The fourth princess was a musician. Whether it was the piano or the violin, the music she played was heavenly.

As for the fifth princess―what was her name again…?

“Mabel, could you come here for a moment?”

Upon hearing her third sister’s pitiful voice, Mabel hurried to her room.

“What’s wrong, Kathleen-oneesama?!”

“My hair got tangled! What should I do? I have a date with George-sama later.”

As Mabel entered the room, she saw Kathleen sitting at the vanity, with panicked servants around her. It seemed that a delicate hair accessory had gotten tangled in her beautiful golden hair.

“I’ll take over from the servants.”

Mabel smiled and stood behind her sister. Looking at Kathleen’s green eyes through the mirror, they were terribly moist, and her cheeks were rosy. Despite not wearing much makeup, her beauty alone was enough to make several princes propose to her. 

Mabel took the hair accessory tangled in Kathleen’s hair and carefully removed it before fishing for another. Her golden hair was like silk, with a luster and softness that was different from her own. Mabel couldn’t help but sigh a little in her heart, thinking that Kathleen truly lived up to her name as the princess of beauty.

“Here, it’s all good now.”

“Thank you, Mabel. You’re always so reliable.”

Kathleen smiled and Mabel returned the smile. However, another servant rushed into the room to call for Mabel.

“Mabel-sama! I’m sorry, but Claire-sama is calling for you.”

“There’s some honey juice in the ice room that’s good for the throat. Please bring it over!”

“Mabel-sama~! Gertrude-sama has returned home.”

“I’m coming!”

Mabel hurried to the entrance, where her eldest sister had just returned from her hunting hobby.

Gertrude, the eldest sister, had black glossy hair and black eyes. Her dignified gaze held both nobility and beauty. She wore the same equipment as the knights and a streak of red blood flowed from her arm. Seeing this, the servants turned pale and surrounded her, fussing over disinfecting and bandaging her.

But Gertrude paid no attention to the commotion around her. When she spotted Mabel, she happily waved her hand.

“Mabel! I caught the white deer you said you wanted to eat the other day.”

“Oneesama…I did say I wanted to eat it again because it was delicious, but I never said I wanted it that badly. Look, you are injured now!”

“Haha, it’s just a small wound. Don’t worry.”

Gertrude, with a bandage wrapped around her arm, patted Mabel’s head to console her. Her demeanor was very refreshing. If she had been born a prince, she would have been immensely popular with women throughout the country.

“By the way, Fergie was looking for you. She said she wanted to discuss the dress she’ll be using for the next performance.”

“Oh, I forgot! I’ll go see her now!”

Her fourth sister, Fergie, was scheduled to participate in a piano recital at the palace next month. It was a major event with many prominent figures visiting from other countries, and Mabel remembered that she had been consulted about the dress she would wear there. She hurriedly ran to her room to get the design drawings.

Watching her go, Gertrude laughed in relief.

In this castle, the five princesses of the Eakes Kingdom lived together.

Each of them had their own unique talent, whether it be in martial arts, singing, art, or something else. They were famously known as “The princesses blessed by the gods” However, only the fifth princess, Mabel, did not have any particularly outstanding talent, unlike the other four.

She had plain brown hair and ordinary green eyes. 

Although she had a reasonably cute face, she couldn’t help but fade into the background when standing next to her four sisters, each with their own unique beauty, led by the third sister, who was called the Beauty.

The four sisters were busy attending events such as inter-country exchange meetings, balls, and presentations. The castle’s servants were even more frantic with taking care of them. Before she knew it, Mabel had started to help out the servants. 

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟐

“Phew, finally done…”

“Mabel-sama, thank you for your hard work today.”

As Mabel entered the kitchen, she was warmly greeted by the smell of cookies baked by the chef and the servants who had already taken a break.

“Mabel-sama, you really helped us earlier.”

“No, it’s nothing. Kathleen-oneesama’s hair is soft, so it tangles easily.”

The servants who had been panicking by Kathleen’s side earlier came to thank Mabel with an apologetic expression, and she smiled in response.

Although her four sisters were all very kind, they could be a bit capricious or emotional, often leaving the servants at a loss. At times like that, Mabel, as a family member, would step in and somehow bring peace to the situation.

Although Mabel was often overwhelmed, she couldn’t help but lend a hand to those in need due to her kind-hearted nature. As a result, she seemed to be seen as someone who had drawn the short straw by those around her.

“Thank you very much. Mabel-sama is so kind.”

“Indeed. At first, I thought it was unfair to have the princess do something like that, but thanks to Mabel-sama’s help, we were able to get through it.” 

Upon hearing the young servant’s words, Zoe, the head servant, also murmured to herself. She and Mabel, who were both turning sixteen this year, had a strong bond of trust since long ago, and Mabel smiled shyly.

“It’s okay, Zoe. I seem to be more suited to house work.”

“Really. You also have a deep sense of duty that compels you to help those in need.”

“It may not be very princess-like, but isn’t it okay for Mabel-sama to be like that?”

As they exchanged such conversation, Mabel picked up a cookie from the center of the table. This was her favorite time, where she could sit with the servants and drink tea during the slightly calmer afternoons when her sisters were busy with their own affairs.

Finally, the tea was ready, and the sweet, rich aroma tickled her nose—in the midst of such happiness, the sound of the kitchen door opening in a hurry echoed.

“―Are you here again, Mabel-sama?”

“Travis! What’s wrong?”

The one who appeared was Travis, who worked as an assistant to Mabel’s father, the king. He was still young, but a talented person nonetheless. He had long straight silver hair and deep gray eyes. Through his distinctive silver-framed glasses, he found Mabel among the servants and pushed up his glasses.

“Mabel-sama’s engagement has been decided.”

Unable to understand the words that Travis had just told her, Mabel repeated them back.

“Engagement, you say?”

“Yes.”

“Mine…I see.” 

Mabel blinked a few times and repeated Travis’s words in her mind.

My engagement…my engagement?

Meanwhile, the servants, though taken aback by the sudden news, continued to offer their congratulations.

“Congratulations, Mabel-sama!”

“So you’re finally engaged! That’s wonderful. We were all worried since you’re already sixteen and there were no rumors of any suitors.”

“That’s great news, Mabel-sama! You’ll be able to handle any nobleman with ease.”

“Wait a minute! What do you all think of me?!”

It was true that while her older sisters had quickly become engaged, the unremarkable Mabel was rumored to have trouble finding a suitor. Some even said that the king, who was reluctant to let go of his youngest daughter, was having trouble deciding on a suitable match.

The kitchen was bustling with a celebratory mood, and Travis was the only one calmly continuing the conversation.

“The fiancé is Eugene-sama of the Masked Mage.”

In the next moment, the celebratory mood turned into a funeral-like atmosphere.

“Mabel-sama…She..poor thing…”

“Travis-sama, can’t we pretend this engagement never happened?”

“Mabel-sama, you can come back anytime if it gets too hard for you.”

“What do you mean? What’s going on?!” 

Taken aback by everyone’s sudden change, Mabel looked to Zoe for help, who also seemed to be staring at her with a pleading expression.

“But Eugene-sama, the masked mage, he…”

“He always wears a mask, and no one has ever seen his true face.”

“Rumor has it that anyone who approached his mansion out of curiosity and saw his face ended up collapsing on the spot.”

“My great-grandfather heard that he has been living on the outskirts of the Eakes Kingdom since he was a child; If that’s true, he might be well over 120 years old…”

“That can’t be right?!”

As Mabel listened to the information about her fiancé from the servants, she felt her blood run cold.

Mabel knew of the existence of the masked mage, or more accurately, the “Mage.”

Long ago, people were able to use miracles called “magic.” 

They could create fire out of nothing, produce wind, and cause all sorts of phenomena. In order to use magic one needed “magical power,” which everyone was born with to some degree.

However, as time passed, magical power began to show disparities among people. The strong became stronger, and the weak became weaker. As a result, those who had strong enough magical power to use magic became a very small minority in the world.

Those who could use magic eventually came to be called “Mages.”

Their magic, which had been condensed over a long period of time, was incredibly powerful. It was said that with the power of just one mage, an entire country could be destroyed. As a result, they disliked having their magic used and quietly disappeared from the public eye.

And at some point, they all began to wear masks. As a result, they came to be called “Masked Mages” based on their appearance.

A rumor brewed around the kingdom that a mage lived amongst the people.

Because they wore masks, no one knew the true appearance or actual age of the Masked Mages. 

Even if someone happened to see them, as one of the servants had mentioned earlier, they would faint or lose their memory upon seeing their faces. No one could remember their distinct features.

Furthermore, they were said to be extremely long-lived, and no one knew exactly how many decades they had lived. If the stories the maids told were true, her potential partner would be quite elderly.

Of course, as a princess of the kingdom, Mabel never thought she could choose her own marriage partner. 

She understood that it was decided based on the country’s interests, but even so, the potential partner sounded very wretched. However, Travis continued the conversation, either knowing or unknowingly aware of Mabel’s feelings.

“In that case, please go to Eugene-sama’s mansion in two months. We have already investigated the location.”

“T-Two months from now?”

“Yes. There are preparations to be made.”

Mabel intended to say that it was too soon, but it didn’t seem to be taken that way by Travis. She sighed as a feeling of helplessness enveloped her.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟑

Mabel left the kitchen, accompanied by the pitying gazes of the servants.

‘Even so, why did the king choose a mage as my marriage partner?’ 

She thought as she walked down the long hallway to her room with Travis. When she looked at the window glass, she saw her own perplexed expression.

Although she couldn’t choose freely, Mabel was still a member of the royal family. The man chosen as her partner should also be of a certain status and family background, such as a count, a margrave, or even a prince from another country. However, a masked mage had no territory or status. They were the farthest thing from politics and lineage.

“Mabel-sama.”

Travis, who had been walking a little ahead, spoke up.

“To be honest, there is another reason for this marriage.”

“What is it?”

“Recently, there have been rumors that the Wiski Empire has been rapidly strengthening its military. They have introduced not only weapons and stockpiles, but also special weapons.”

Wiski was a military state located to the north of the Eakes Kingdom. Due to its cold climate, it was unsuitable for farming or animal husbandry, and it did not have any significant mineral resources. Therefore, the country itself trained excellent mercenaries and sent them to other countries to make a living as a nation.

“As you know, our country has often suffered from Wiski’s invasions. If this military buildup is for the purpose of invasion, we cannot afford to sit by idly. However, even if we are told to prepare a military force that can immediately counter them, it is not something that can be done so easily.”

Travis gave a cough. 

“We have decided to borrow the power of the Masked Mages.”

“…What?”

“If Eugene-sama marries Mabel-sama, he will protect the Eakes Kingdom, Mabel-sama’s home country. In other words, that is the purpose of this marriage.”

After understanding the words clearly, Mabel realized that her head was starting to hurt.

Indeed, the Eakes Kingdom was a small country. It was sustained by two core industries: tourism, a result of its beautiful cityscapes, and the livestock industry, which centered around raising sheep. There was no room to immediately prepare for military defense, nor were there enough resources. However, trying to redeem the threat from neighboring countries with just the marriage of the youngest princess seemed like an overly optimistic idea.

“Of course, we will also take other measures. However, rather than doing nothing, the parliament decided that it is better to grasp at straws and buy time during this period.”

“Stop it! It’s getting worse and worse!”

However, the eldest daughter Gertrude and the second daughter Claire already had fiancés, and there were rumors that the fourth daughter Fergie was in love with the prince of Wissa. The third daughter Kathleen had not yet decided on a partner, but in her case, it seemed that choosing carelessly would cause a riot, so the selection process was very strict. In contrast, Mabel still had no partner, and as the youngest princess, she had little political involvement, making her the perfect candidate for the marriage.

Mable berated herself for almost agreeing directly. Recalling a question she had in mind, she asked Travis.

“Does Otou-sama know about this?”

“No. Actually, it’s not an official engagement yet.”

“What?”

Mabel began to feel a little angry upon hearing that they had decided to go ahead with the plan two months later, even though the masked mage knew nothing of it.

“To be honest, I’ve never heard of a masked mage getting married. So, Mabel-sama will have to get closer to Eugene-sama first and make the engagement official.”

“Isn’t that ridiculous?!”

“If all goes well, we can tell his majesty and make the engagement official.”

Certainly, the engagement of a princess like Mabel requires approval from the parliament, in addition to her father’s approval. The selection is also initially carried out through the parliament, so this time it is probably a proposal from the parliament.

But Mabel couldn’t stand the idea of having her life decided by such a thing.

“What happens if I refuse this proposal?”

“In that case, I think we’ll have to ask Kathleen-sama or Fergie-sama, both of which don’t have a fiancé yet.”

Mabel’s face became bitter upon hearing that response. 

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟒

For the past few days, Kathleen-oneesama had been infatuated with the knight commander, George-sama. She was already a woman loved by many, having captured the hearts of countless men. If such a woman were to be offered to a masked mage, it could cause a riot amongst the men in the country.

Fergie-oneesama already had a lover, and Mabel remembered being introduced to him.

Fergie-oneesama was usually reserved and didn’t show her feelings much, but at that moment, she smiled happily next to him. Seeing that, Mabel couldn’t help but feel overjoyed.

There was no way she could tear apart such a happy couple.

“…I understand. I’ll go.”

“Just as I expected from you.”

Travis easily accepted Mabel’s words, which she had squeezed out after much deliberation, and smiled as if he had foreseen it all. This guy was quite good-looking, but his personality was really hard to stomach.

“Just to confirm, this is just to buy time, right? Even if I fail, it can’t be helped.”

“Yes. It is the consensus of the council that we would like you to do your best if possible.”

Upon hearing that, Mabel let out a deep sigh.

―And so, the fifth princess was to marry a suspicious man she had never even seen before, in order to protect the country from a looming threat. 

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟓: 𝐌𝐢𝐬𝐭𝐚𝐤𝐞𝐬 𝐄𝐧𝐠𝐚𝐠𝐞𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐭

However, Mabel was not one to accept such selfish talk in silence.

“This is such a joke!”

“Mabel-sama, please stop.”

Wimmie, Mabel’s personal maid, cried out behind her. Upon hearing this, Mabel turned around and shouted forcefully.

“But if I don’t do something, I’ll end up marrying some old man! I don’t want that!”

Mabel, who had been riding a horse, a skill she had learned from her eldest sister, arrived at a forest located at the eastern end of the Eakes Kingdom. She nimbly dismounted and helped Wimmie down.

Instead of the luxurious dresses she usually wore in the castle, she was wearing work clothes with long sleeves and pants for farming. It was a costume that her sisters did not have, but for Mabel, who usually worked in the fields with the maids, it was something she was used to. She tied her long hair back and gazed at the trees towering in front of her.

“Wow…this is amazing.”

Wimmie, who was looking up at the trees next to her, let out an astonished voice.

This was because the forest was almost untouched by human hands, like a primitive forest. The huge trees blocked the sunlight from above, making it mostly dim. The rocks were covered in moss, and the ground was covered in weeds that looked like they could cut through skin. There were also mysterious bird calls coming from deep within the forest, and Wimmie looked at Mabel with unease. 

On the other hand, Mabel had received holy water from a priest and sprinkled it on her face, hands, and feet. It was probably a charm to ward off evil spirits in the forest. After emptying the contents of the bottle, Mabel let out a sigh. She took the luggage that Wimmie had and prepared herself.

“A-Are you really going?”

“Of course. I’ll explain the situation and ask for their cooperation.”

Mabel understood the country’s policy of wanting to protect the Eakes Kingdom. However, she thought it was too much to link it to her own marriage.

‘After all, it is still within doubt that the kingdom is going to be under protection just because I got married.’

If she were as strong as Gertrude, she could threaten him to cooperate. If she were as beautiful as Kathleen, she could charm him. 

However, Mabel had neither strength nor charm, nor even artistic talent. Just because a daughter had married into the family, it was unlikely that the mage would listen to her every word. And there was one more thing.

‘I want to fall in love too!’

More than anything, Mabel herself was against this marriage. 

It may be for the sake of protecting the country, but still, Mabel was a young girl. While listening to the love stories of the maids, she also dreamed of meeting someone wonderful and felt her heart flutter while reading romance novels. 

Truthfully speaking, Mabel had never experienced love before. That’s why, even if she were to marry a predetermined partner someday, she wanted to taste the feeling of falling in love at least once.

Thinking about such things, Mabel took a step forward and crushed the grass under her feet. She turned back to the anxious Wimmie and gave her a firm smile.

“Thank you for bringing me this far, Wimmie. Can you please wait here and bring Alfred back?”

“Mabel-sama…”

As the chestnut-colored horse called Alfred and the teary-eyed Wimmie stared at Mabel, she turned back towards the forest and took her second step, firmly planting her foot on the ground. 

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟔

‘What an incredible place.’

Mabel walked on the damp ground, leaving clear footprints of her sturdy shoes. The gloomy atmosphere persisted, and she had been hearing some kind of animal cry in the distance. She consulted the map several times, trying to find the direction to the mage’s mansion.

However, there were no landmarks to guide her, and Mabel felt sweat trickling down her forehead. As she took a step forward, she heard the sound of something quickly scurrying away and instinctively pulled her foot back. To be honest, she wanted to go back home right away. But if she didn’t persevere here, the peace of the Eakes Kingdom might be at risk.

‘Am I still not there yet?’

Mabel tripped over a tree root and fell forward with a short scream. She quickly managed to stand up, but her palms and knees were covered in mud. She brushed it off as best she could and continued on.

How long had she been walking like this?

Everything in the vicinity had an eerie, gloomy atmosphere. The makeup she had put on had completely melted away from the sweat, and the mud on her hands was starting to dry. Fragments of mud were falling from her clothes. Even the luggage she had minimized felt very heavy to Mabel now.

When Mabel began to think that she might die here, lost and alone, she instinctively stopped moving. She felt a slight pain in her heart. 

Perhaps it was the desire to go home, but there was also a sense of discomfort that seemed to whisper to her that this was not the right way. Following her intuition, Mabel changed direction and continued on. Then, after a while, she felt a tightening sensation around her heart.

Avoiding the direction that gave her a bad feeling, Mabel continued to change direction as she went. She noticed that the area beyond the trees was getting brighter as she went on. She instinctively ran towards it.

“I should be out!”

Beyond the forest was a neatly trimmed lawn that resembled a carefully tended garden. The short grass was a fresh green, and the sun was shining down fully. Mabel took a deep breath as the tightness around her chest left her.

She stretched out her arms and let out a sigh. Then, she saw an old stone castle in the distance. 

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟕

it seemed like the place was not well-maintained; the stone walls were covered in overgrown ivy.

Approaching the castle where there was no sign of life, Mabel faced the large entrance door. Judging from the rusted knocker, it was clear that the place had not been cleaned for a long time.

She knocked heavily, but there was no sound from inside. She knocked again. A moment of silence was followed by the creaking sound of the door, opening slowly.

“Excuse me…”

She felt sorry for intruding, but knowing that she couldn’t go back without meeting the mage, Mabel stepped inside. As expected, it was dark inside, and the smell of dust and mold filled the air.

She tried to open several doors on the first floor, but they were all locked. She reluctantly returned to the central hall and climbed the circular staircase that split into left and right. The dusty deep red carpet emitted an indescribable smell.

“I wonder if anyone really lives here.”

As she climbed the stairs to the second floor, it was just as dimly lit as the first. There were windows on either side of the hallway, but they were all covered with curtains, allowing only a small amount of sunlight to filter through.

Walking straight ahead, she tried each door along the way, but none of them would open. Mabel was at a loss when finally, at the end of the hallway, she looked up and spotted a door; the largest she had seen here.

She gently placed her hand on the doorknob.

Then, with a creaking sound, the door was opened easily

“Oh, it’s open…”

She entered the room quietly. The dimly lit room had several large bookshelves lined up against the walls, all of them packed with books. The books that had no room on the shelves were piled up near.

In the wooden box placed between the piles of books, there were various things such as plants and stones. The smell of spices tickled her nose when she took a breath.

‘There are so many books…The mage must be a scholar’

As Mabel continued forward, she found another room. There were bookshelves there too, and the windows were closed. The room was filled with parchment. A tattered sofa and blanket were placed in the center.

Due to the dusty and indescribable smell, Mabel instinctively headed towards the window. The window was quite large and covered with thick curtains, occupying one entire wall.

‘I need to get some fresh air in here, this is unbearable’ 

Next to the window was a splendid desk and chair. Laying on the desk was a piece of paper with incomprehensible characters piled up on it. Mabel, with tears in her eyes from the dust, searched for the window key and pushed it up with all her might.

It seemed that the window had not been opened for a long time, as the key was stuck even though it should have come off. Mabel, in desperation, opened it with force. With a loud bang, the window opened, and the curtains, which had turned yellow from sun exposure, fluttered. 

A pleasant breeze flowed into the room, carrying the scent of spring. It hit Mabel’s face along with the warm sunlight. Outside the window was a wide, semi-circular balcony, with tall trees and lush green leaves swaying beyond it. Satisfied, Mabel slid the curtains left and right and turned back to the room.

At that moment, the sofa in the center of the room rattled. Or rather, the blanket that was curled up on it moved. 

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟖

“Waah!”

Mabel let out a scream, and the blanket slowly rose up and fell to the floor as if shedding its skin.

What appeared was a person dressed entirely in black.

To be precise, everything from the coat, gloves, and boots was unified in black. The hair was also unkempt black hair, but what surprised Mabel the most was the face. There was a jet-black mask befitting the name of a mage. He was probably the rumored Eugene.

However, the mask only covered the upper half of his face; the lower part of his face was exposed, revealing white skin and thin lips. Only his eyes visible through the mask made Mabel recognize that he was human.

She had heard that he was quite old, but judging from his skin, he didn’t seem to be that old. He was also tall. Mabel would have to look up to him when standing next to him.

“Who are you?”

The lips under the mask moved, and a clear voice came out. Mabel quickly lowered her head.

“I-I’m sorry! I didn’t think anyone was here.”

She desperately swallowed the words she was about to say, “Why are you in this room?”

“I’m sorry for coming in without permission. But there was no one downstairs, so I just―”

“So, who are you? How did you get through the forest?”

Mabel stumbled over her words at his question. She wanted to build a peaceful relationship as much as possible to get a smooth annulment of the engagement.

She silently apologized to Wimmie in advance.

“Um, well, I’m a maid assigned to Mabel-sama. My name is Wimmie. I thought I would greet you on her behalf since we will be in your care in two months.”

Mabel’s words were met with a brief silence. Finally, Eugene spoke up.

“Mabel?”

“Yes?”

“Who?”

“Um, your fiancé.”

“Whose?”

“Yours, Eugene-sama.”

Mabel timidly looked at the man.

He tilted his head skeptically behind his mask, eyeing her suspiciously.

“What are you talking about?”

“Um, well, I thought there was supposed to be a written agreement addressing the engagement.”

At her words, Eugene left his blanket on the floor and strode over to the desk. He knocked over a pile of books with force, causing several parchment papers to fall to the ground, along with some dried plant roots.

He found a letter among them and roughly tore open the envelope.

“Is this it?”

After staring at the letter for a while, he glanced at Mabel and then tossed the letter onto the desk.

“They certainly did contact me.”

“Yes, they did.”

“What a foolish country.”

The uncovered part of his mouth twisted into a sneer.

“I suppose they plan to use this marriage as an excuse to exploit my power.”

As Mabel flinched in realization, Eugene laughed sarcastically.

“That’s why they’re offering their daughter. The country may be foolish, but the princess is just as foolish. It’s ridiculous that she would accept the marriage proposal without thinking about it.”

‘I haven’t accepted anything! What’s with this person? So rude.’

Mabel held back the urge to retort. But then again, perhaps this was an opportunity in a way. 

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟗

In the unlikely event that the mage was enthusiastic about marriage, there was a possibility that Mabel would not be able to refuse, no matter how much she objected.

However, Eugene seemed to have no interest in this marriage at all. In other words, as long as they could come up with a plan to protect the country, there was no need for marriage, and they could smoothly resolve this matter.

‘But how exactly can we protect the Eakes Kingdom…’

Marriage was, of course, meaningless.

If they thought about money, there was no appeal to money for a mage who could destroy a country with their power alone. However, even if they explained the situation and asked for their help, the twisted mage would give a sneer and call the princess foolish.

That left only one method.

‘Blackmail! Find a weakness that I can exploit!’

Fight poison with poison.

In exchange for this immense power, the mages must have some weakness.

Even if they were powerful, they were still human. They must have one or two secrets they didn’t want others to know. Find those secrets, keep them secret, and ask them to protect the Eakes Kingdom in exchange. That was it.

“Hurry up and go back to your master or whoever. Tell them that even if I get married, I will never use my power for their sake.”

Eugene said this and tore up the marriage contract he had in his hand into small pieces. He then pressed the fragments into Mabel’s hands. Although Mabel was a little shocked to see the document about her own marriage in such a state, she bit her lip and held back her emotions. 

I can’t back down now.’

In order to get a hold of his weakness, she needed to observe him more closely than anyone else. For that, she had to stay in this castle no matter what.

“I-I can’t do that!”

“What?”

“I-I came here as Mabel-sama’s attendant! I can’t just leave on my own.”

Mabel desperately looked at Eugene and argued with him. Eugene stared back at her for a while, but eventually sighed as if it didn’t matter.

“Do as you please.”

“Huh?”

“Whether you stay or not, it doesn’t matter to me. You’ll probably run away in a few days anyway.”

“I-I promise I won’t run away!”

“Is that so?”

With a snort, Eugene picked up the blanket that had fallen to the floor and went somewhere. While watching his back, Mabel gently squeezed the crumpled piece of paper in her hand, biting her lip. 

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟏𝟎: 𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐒𝐞𝐜𝐫𝐞𝐭 𝐨𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐌𝐚𝐬𝐤

‘Before that, I need to do something about my living situation’

Although she had been allowed to stay safely, if she were to sleep in a castle that had not been cleaned or maintained like this, she would undoubtedly fall ill.

Eugene might have some kind of immunity as a mage, but Mabel didn’t have such a convenient thing.

“Alright, cleaning it is then.”

As Mabel left Eugene’s room and headed towards the stairs, she opened the windows one by one along the hallway.

Perhaps they had not been opened for a long time, as rust fell off with each pull. But every time she opened a window, fresh air flowed in, making her feel a little better.

Mabel went downstairs and searched for cleaning tools. She hadn’t noticed it before, but she saw a smaller door under the stairs.

Opening it, she found a staircase leading to the basement. As she cautiously descended, she found herself in a dark space with no light. It seemed to be a warehouse.

Looking around for something to use as a light source, she stepped into the room and heard a thud from somewhere.

She saw that a candle, which had been mounted on the wall, had lit itself. She didn’t understand the principle behind it, but perhaps this was the power of magic.

Looking around the warehouse again, she saw unopened packages, wooden boxes, and various branches piled up in a messy state.

There were also some open boxes with many cans inside. It seemed that Eugene ate these regularly. 

While sweeping away spider webs, Mabel pulled out mops, rags, and brooms. 

She carried them out with difficulty and lined them up in the first-floor hall. Mabel was satisfied; a sense of accomplishment filled her. At that moment, Eugene appeared out of nowhere and watched her back from the second floor.

He remarked in a soft voice, “There are spider webs stuck to you.”

“What?! Where?!” 

Mabel panicked and brushed her hair. Eugene couldn’t help but laugh.

Mabel glared at Eugene fiercely as she turned around to face him. 

‘Watch me, I’ll definitely find your weakness and use it against you!’

She took a deep breath and tied a handkerchief she had brought with her around her mouth. Holding a broom in her right hand, she went upstairs like a soldier heading to the battlefield.

However, the situation in each room was so bad that even her determination began to waver. 

“How could it be left like this…”

The second-floor rooms, which should have been locked, were all open for some reason. Perhaps Eugene was testing or amusing Mabel. 

Mabel thought it was convenient and barged into the room. She instantly frowned at the bed of white dust that had accumulated on the windows that had probably been closed for years. She also noticed the presence of towels that were very likely not changed for a long time.

However, there was no one to listen to her complaints. 

Mabel reluctantly replaced the air in the room and threw the bed sheets out into the hallway. She decided to clean at least one room thoroughly. It wasn’t much of a problem compared to her usual work in the castle.

“Phew, it’s starting to look better.”

After two hours of cleaning, Mabel wiped the sweat off her forehead with satisfaction.

The floor was spotless, the curtains were removed and the windows were open. Since the bed had no sheets, Mabel had brought a blanket to lay on it. She also hung a towel that she had brought on the rack. In front of the carefully polished vanity that she had excavated from the trash, Mabel smiled happily.

(For now, let’s make this my room.)

She would get Eugene’s approval later. Next, she had to do the laundry and clean the kitchen.

Mabel hurriedly left her temporary room. 

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟏𝟏

By the time she finished doing the laundry and cleaning the kitchen, it was already past 8 o’clock in the evening.

Mabel sat down on the worn-out chair in the kitchen, feeling exhausted.

‘Phew, I’m tired…’

Although she was accustomed to such work in the castle, the maids had always taken care of all the cleaning and laundry. Doing everything from scratch in this dirty castle was indeed a laborious task. Mabel sent a prayer of gratitude to the maids who had always kept their surroundings tidy.

As she was doing so, Mabel finally remembered that she was hungry.

Come to think of it, she had only nibbled on the rations she brought in the morning and hadn’t eaten anything since then.

“Should I make something to eat…?”

Although she had tidied up the kitchen to an acceptable degree, she wasn’t sure about the availability of seasonings and ingredients. She had only brought a few cans from the storage. Mabel crossed her arms and pondered if she could make something simple. 

She added canned tomatoes, dried meat, and canned beans to the black pot. She put it on the fire and waited. Soon, it started to simmer. Mabel carefully stirred it with a spoon, simmering the meat and beans until they became tender.

“I wonder if there’s any salt.”

She looked up at the empty shelf and contemplated.

Among the cans she had brought from the storage, she picked up one that had “Pickled Lemons” written on the side and quickly opened it. She picked up the softened yellow peel and lightly squeezed out the juice into the pot. She had wanted salt or pepper, but this would serve as a substitute to some extent.

After stirring for a while, she served it in a bowl. The meat was tender, and the beans were soft and satisfying. The acidity of the tomatoes added a nice touch. Mabel savored it, thinking it would be perfect with white bread if she had any. 

‘I wonder how Eugene is doing?’

She hadn’t seen him since noon.

She had been too busy cleaning, but he was probably locked up in his room, sleeping, or doing research. Was he eating properly?

“I guess I’ll take it to him, just in case.”

Mabel poured the remaining food into another bowl, picked up the tray, and quietly headed upstairs.

When she reached the farthest room, she knocked softly. There was no response.

“Excuse me…”

She said softly as she stepped into the room, being considerate. 

As usual, she passed by the room filled with books and peeked into the back room. There, she saw a light illuminating the desk, and Eugene seemed to be reading something with his back turned.

“Um, I made dinner, so if you’d like—”

“I don’t need it.”

In response to his cold reply, Mabel felt a mixture of disappointment and confirmation. Then, she spoke again to Eugene’s back.

“Um, I was wondering if I could use the room right before the second floor.”

“I’m not using it. Do as you please.”

Eugene ignored her and still didn’t turn around.

‘…Well, at least I got permission to use the room.’ 

“I’ll leave the meal outside. Please eat it if you want.”

With just those words, Mabel quietly left Eugene’s room. She closed the door and placed the tray on the floor.

She smiled and then returned to clean up the kitchen. 

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟏𝟐

Day 2.

Mabel headed to Eugene’s room first thing in the morning.

“Hmm, what a waste. . .”

As expected, there was untouched tomato stew in front of the door.

Feeling dejected, Mabel picked up the tray and headed to the kitchen. Although she was somewhat shocked, she had plenty of things to do today. There was no time to be discouraged.

‘Maybe it’ll be fine if I heat it up again.’

While fearing that her thought process was unbecoming of a princess, Mabel began planning today’s cleaning schedule.

The main focus for today was the kitchen. Since she didn’t have enough time yesterday, she wanted to clean it up completely in one day. Mabel covered her mouth with a cloth once again and entered the kitchen with a wet rag and a bucket in hand.

Before she knew it, it was already evening, and Mabel finally stopped cleaning.

“Phew, surprisingly, there are various things for cleaning here.”

The kitchen, which had been filled with white dust and a musty smell, had miraculously returned to its original state. The dishes and cooking utensils that had been left on the shelves were all washed and neatly organized by type.

Various seasonings were lined up, seemingly discovered from somewhere. With all these, she wouldn’t have trouble cooking for a while.

Mabel left the kitchen with the dirty rag and broom in hand. Then, she felt movement near the entrance. She thought it might be Eugene, so she headed in that direction.

‘Wh-who is that?!’

However, it wasn’t Eugene who was there but a young man carrying a large bag on his back.

He entered the castle with ease, crouched under the stairs, and seemed to be fumbling with something. 

Could this be what they commonly call a thief?

Mabel momentarily forgot to breathe.

But she quickly exhaled quietly and tightened her grip on her hand.

‘Eugene is probably on the second floor today. I can’t go to him without passing through the stairs.’

Fortunately, the person had their back turned to Mabel.

In that case, Mabel cautiously approached the young man while holding the broom in both hands, ready to strike. Remembering the self-defense lessons she had learned from Gertrude, Mabel shouted.

“Hey!”

With a loud voice, she swung the broom she held. The young man immediately jumped up, turned around, and rolled to the side. The broom struck the stone floor with a thud, and Mabel’s face turned pale.

“Hey, wait, what?”

“Get out!”

“Wait! I am telling you, I―”

In a hurry, she lifted the broom again and brandished it toward the young man. But upon seeing Mabel like that, the young man desperately waved his palm in front of his body. Mabel’s grip loosened as she noticed his actions.

At his feet was a familiar can. Next to it was something that looked like the root of a plant.

“A can?”

“Oh, You really freaked me out! That was dangerous, you know.”

The young man finally exhaled and stood up, brushing off the dust from his clothes. With brown hair and brown eyes, he looked at Mabel again and asked.

“This is surprising; I never expected someone to be here.”

“Someone? This is Eugene’s castle, right?”

“The master has never come out.”

He laughed gently. His face was calm, with wide eyes and a straight nose that was well-proportioned. Mabel felt that he had the impression of a popular young man in the town.

“Um, who are you?”

“Oh, I’m Cero. From the Luxen Trading Company. I deliver goods here once a week.”

“Oh, I see! I’m sorry for suddenly attacking you.”

“It’s fine. So, what about you?”

Mabel pondered for a moment.

If she revealed her name here, information could leak out, and there was a risk of being taken back. She had to somehow deceive him.

“Well, I’ve been working as a maid here since yesterday. My name is Wimmie.”

“Oh, you work here.”

Cero seemed genuinely surprised, widening his brown eyes. But he smiled and handed Mabel a can he had with him.

“Well then, we’ll be meeting regularly from now on. Nice to meet you.”

Looking at the can, Mabel returned the smile. It seemed that he was not a thief, but someone from the trading company who delivered food. That explained why there were so many seasonings and ingredients in Eugene’s castle, even though he rarely went out.

“Likewise. By the way, Cero, do you only deliver cans?”

“Basically, yeah. And if there’s a special request from the master, I also bring herbs and such.”

“A request?”

“There’s a letter left around here.The master writes out what he needs and I bring it the next week.”

Hmm, Mabel was impressed by the system, but she had an idea and opened her mouth to Cero.

“Um, can I make a request?”

“From you, miss?”

“I have some money. I wonder if it’s enough for—”

“Oh if it’s for the master, you don’t need to pay.”

If I recall correctly, the supplies being delivered for Eugene are being covered by the country’s expenses.

Therefore, it was said that as long as it’s not something that Mabel would use personally, it could be covered by those expenses.

Mages are given the best treatment everywhere. Although Eugene lives on the outskirts of the kingdom, his expenses are still taken care of.

“That’s a relief. Well then, I’d like to request a little bit of flour and vegetables.”

“Sure, sure,” Cero wrote it down on a piece of paper in a practiced manner.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟏𝟑

For tonight’s dinner, I made a dish using the fish I found in the kitchen, canned clams, and salt-cooked dried mushrooms.

I picked out the good potatoes from a few that were available and steamed them as a side.

“Mmm, delicious!”

Mabel finished eating them neatly and went back upstairs to serve herself another portion. She knocked on the door and entered Eugene’s room in a familiar manner.

“Eugene-sama?”

“What?”

There sat Eugene, looking almost the same as yesterday.

As usual, he didn’t bother to turn around and was focused on his desk. The room didn’t seem to have been aired out. It reeked with dust.

“Here’s today’s meal. If you’d like.”

“I don’t want it.”

Mabel sighed at his response.

Thinking of leaving it outside again, she became worried and spoke to Eugene.

“Um, don’t you get tired of staying in your room all the time? Maybe you should take a break.”

“…”

“At least let some fresh air in,” She added.

“You’re annoying.”

There was no getting through to him, as expected.

Mabel furrowed her brows but left the room. Just like yesterday, she left the dinner in the hallway.

‘I wonder if he’s really okay…’

It’s only been two days since she arrived here, but she hasn’t seen Eugene during the day. It might be because Mabel has been running around cleaning, but he’s probably been holed up in his room all day.

Certainly, Claire and Fergie also lock themselves in their rooms for practice before performances. But they still eat properly, and their rooms are very tidy.

Maybe she shouldn’t expect Eugene to be like an ordinary person, but even so, she can’t help but feel that his current environment isn’t good for his well-being.

“But it’s not like I have any say in this…”

After all, he’s not someone who listens even if she says something.

As Mabel reconsidered, she went back downstairs to clean up the kitchen.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟏𝟒

Day three.

Mabel, who was cleaning the other guest rooms, stood up at the sound of a knock on the door.

“Cero! You’re early.”

“Oh no, it’s just about time.”

As she stepped into the entrance hall, Cero stood there with a large box on his back.

He began unloading a big bag of flour and a wooden box of vegetables in front of Mabel. Seeing this, Mabel’s eyes sparkled.

“Thank you! Now I can make proper meals.”

“That’s good to hear. If you want, I can bring some fresh meat too.”

“Really?!”

“Of course, but I’ll need to find the right timing, so it won’t be immediate.”

After jotting it down on a memo like yesterday, Cero smiled at Mabel.

“By the way, how’s the work here?”

“Where do I even start? It’s really tough. The rooms are all covered in dust, and the kitchen took a whole day to clean up.”

Cero was holding back his laughter, “It must be tough.”

He continued, “I can imagine. It’s been like this since I first came around.”

“Is that so?”

“Yeah. It’s been about five years, but I haven’t met anyone.”

“What about Eugene-sama?”

“I haven’t met him, not even once. I haven’t even seen his face. They say it’s dangerous to see his face.”

“Dangerous?”

Those words reminded Mabel of the rumors about Eugene.

“Yeah. The guy before me accidentally saw the master’s face in this castle and collapsed. They say he went back to his hometown and never returned.”

“I see…”

“Yeah. He was apparently having nightmares for several days.”

Mabel had indeed heard the story of someone collapsing after seeing Eugene’s face. She should be fine since she was looking at him through a mask, but instinctively, her body trembled at the thought of accidentally seeing his face beneath the mask.

“Well, don’t push yourself too hard.”

“Ah, thank you, Cero.”

After Cero left, Mabel carried the ingredients he brought to the kitchen and started preparing them. While kneading the dough with water and salt, Mabel silently pondered.

(Come to think of it, no one knows Eugene’s true face.)

In the first place, Eugene rarely shows himself in public.

Moreover, he covers part of his face with a mask, so no one knows his true face. Even if someone were to see it, he would end up like that guy, collapsing. 

If she could know his true face, perhaps she could use it as leverage to threaten him.

‘But he hides his face because he doesn’t want to be seen…’

It is said that there are two reasons why mages wear masks.

One is to symbolize their unique existence.

The other is to prevent identification.

If their true faces were to be seen, it would reveal that they are mages, increasing the likelihood of being involved in crimes such as abduction or confinement. In reality, even if they were involved in some crimes, they could solve them with their magic, but that’s a different issue.

If this reason is indeed true, their true faces could become a weakness.

However, If Mabel were to see it carelessly, not to mention getting a hold of a weakness of his, she might collapse and fall into a more irreparable situation.

“Hmm, what should I do?”

Without realizing it, the kneaded dough had come together in a white mass. Mabel divided it into eight equal parts. While letting the wet cloth rest on top of the dough, Mabel pondered with a puzzled expression.

A few hours later, the enticing smell of freshly baked bread wafted from the kitchen hearth.

Mabel took them out and let them cool to the right temperature. At the same time, she seasoned the rehydrated dried meat with a sweet and savory flavor, and carefully washed and drained the leafy vegetables.

She made incisions in the bread and sandwiched the meat and vegetables inside. When she drizzled a little of the remaining seasoning sauce, it soaked into the bread, creating a delightful taste. Mabel placed it satisfactorily on a plate and started on the second one.

After completing a total of eight sandwiches, Mabel washed her hands and said, “Alright.” Although it was a bit early, she headed towards Eugene’s room, thinking that warm bread would be better.

“Eugene-sama, may I come in?”

Knowing that she wouldn’t receive a response, Mabel knocked and immediately opened the door.

She walked through the perpetually gloomy room with a familiar stride.

However, the moment she entered the adjacent room, Mabel almost dropped the tray she was holding.

“Eugene-sama!”

Eugene, who had been facing the desk until yesterday, was not there. Instead, he lay on the floor in a collapsed state. Mabel quickly placed the tray of sandwiches on the nearby table and rushed to Eugene’s side.

She grabbed his shoulder and turned his face towards her.

Since his face was covered by a mask, she couldn’t see his expression, but his thin lips slightly parted as he took shallow breaths. When she placed her hand near his chin, she could feel an extremely high fever.

‘He has a fever. I need to do something quickly!

She looked around the room in a panic.

Although there was a sofa where he had been sleeping when she first arrived, it was covered in dust and not in a condition to accommodate a sick person. In fact, it would be better to leave this stuffy room altogether. Mabel lifted Eugene onto her shoulder.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟏𝟓

“Huuuuh!”

As Mabel carried the much taller Eugene on her back, an immense weight pressed against her shoulders and back.

She tried to take a step forward, but no matter what, his knees and legs remained on the floor, dragging along.

In that unreasonable position, Mabel desperately carried Eugene’s body out of the room.

‘He is about as heavy as Fergie-neesama’s piano!’

In the past, there was a time when they had to move the piano to fulfill her fourth sister’s sudden wish to rearrange the room, as it had received poor feedback.

Remembering the difficulty of that time, Mabel exerted all her strength in her legs and waist.

She dragged him down the hallway, all the way to the room Mabel was borrowing.

She managed to open the door and rolled Eugene onto her bed. With a heavy thud, the dark-haired man sank into the sheets. Mabel huffed and puffed heavily, raising and lowering her shoulders multiple times.

Afterward, she flipped Eugene’s body over and made him lie on his back on the bed. The uncovered skin on his face had turned slightly red. Mable worried that his fever was worsening. 

‘First, let’s wipe off the sweat. I hope I can find some medicine later’

She hurriedly went downstairs to the kitchen, grabbed a basin and a towel, and rushed back up.

Apologizing with a single word, she removed his coat and then his shirt underneath. Underneath his clothes, there was a surprisingly well-toned chest, and although Mabel felt embarrassed seeing the body of the opposite sex for the first time, she gently applied the towel.

She soaked the towel in lukewarm water, wrung it out, and carefully wiped away the sweat, making sure it wasn’t too cold.

It would be better for him to change clothes, but it seemed difficult to strip him in this state.

She wiped his upper body, his neck, and chin. After doing that, Mabel stopped.

‘Can I remove the mask?’

‘I want to wipe the sweat off his forehead, it’s hard to do so with this mask in the way…’

Mabel didn’t feel repulsed by the idea of touching the mage, who doesn’t want to take off his mask. 

But there was also anxiety. It’s said that anyone who sees his true face will fall down. 

In this case, there is no certainty whether it’s okay or not because Eugene is unconscious.

‘I can’t be saying such things now! It’s an emergency. Saving a life comes first!’

Mabel swallowed her breath and hesitantly reached for the mask.

It seemed to be secured by fixing the ends on both sides of his ears, so she removed the metal fittings and gently lifted it up. Seeing the face that appeared from underneath, Mabel quietly held her breath.

‘Such a beautiful face…’

The same white skin as his chin, the eyelashes that were hard to see through the mask were long and curved.

His nose was high, and it drew an elegant hill towards his pale pink lips. Although his eyes were closed now, if they were open, she would be able to see his even more well-defined features.

While looking at it, Mabel felt an inexplicable tightness and pain in her chest.

There were rumors that he was a very old man or that he had an incredibly ugly face, but judging from this true face, she couldn’t believe any of that. For now, Mabel didn’t feel like collapsing. She also wondered how much of the story about collapsing after seeing his true face was true.

Mabel was captivated by his appearance for a while, but suddenly remembered what she had to do and wiped his forehead with the towel.

He had sweated a lot here too, and perhaps feeling a bit relieved, Eugene let out a faint breath.

Is this enough? Mabel thought as she held the basin and went back downstairs.

She went outside and drew cold water from the well, replacing the water in the basin. Before returning to the second floor, she entered the storage room to see if there was any medicine, but she couldn’t find anything suitable.

‘There’s no medicine…I’ll ask Cero next time he comes.’

She returned to the second floor and entered Mabel’s room. Eugene, who was wrapped in a blanket, still seemed to be struggling to breathe, and Mabel brought a chair close to the bed and sat down.

‘It would have been nice to have some ice.’

She soaked the towel in cold water, wrung it tightly, spread it out once, and gently placed it on Eugene’s forehead. As she looked at his face, which had turned bright red, Mabel sighed in distress.

“What should I do? Is he going to be okay?”

If someone fell ill in the castle where Mabel resided, the attending physician would have immediately rushed over and prescribed medicine. The maids would then take care of everything, from changing clothes to cooking, so Mabel herself had never done such tasks.

‘Wiping sweat, keeping the body warm, cooling the head…What else did they do for the sick?’

Recalling her own experience of catching a cold, Mabel desperately thought about what to do.

She suddenly realized that her hands were trembling, and Mabel shook her head vigorously.

There was no doctor here. No medicine either.

She had no choice but to figure things out on her own. There was no time to be afraid.

Telling herself that, Mabel took a deep breath once again.

She steeled her resolve and took the towel that had been placed on Eugene’s forehead and soaked it in the basin. The towel, which had absorbed the heat from his forehead, quickly turned cool to the touch when she squeezed it tightly. She placed it on his forehead again.

‘For now, let’s bring down the fever…What kind of food would be suitable to eat?’

Mabel noticed that Eugene’s arm was sticking out from under the blanket, so she gently took his hand and carefully tucked it back inside.

His hand felt warm, and Mabel gazed at his face with prayer.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟏𝟔

“Hmm.”

The next day, Eugene woke up to the brightness of the morning sun.

‘It’s been years since something like this had happened’, he thought, furrowing his brow as he opened his eyes.

‘What is this place…?’’

As his hazy vision became clear, Eugene realized that the ceiling and interior were different from his own room. He slowly recalled his actions from the previous day.

‘Yesterday, I was working on my research, and then…’

He remembered writing down a passage with magic, but he seemed to have no memory beyond that.

Moving his gaze to the left, it stopped there.

“Why is she…”

There, he saw Mabel sleeping.

She was gracefully sleeping in a chair, and for some reason, she was still holding Eugene’s hand. Upon realizing this, Eugene’s thought process was momentarily blown away.

Perhaps noticing the slight movement, Mabel woke up as her hand traveled along Eugene’s.

As soon as Mabel made eye contact with Eugene, she grabbed both of his hands in surprise.

“A-Are you okay?”

“…What is this situation?”

“You collapsed in your room yesterday.”

Upon hearing that response, Eugene closed his eyes and sighed.

“It’s nothing new. Don’t make a big deal out of it.”

“Is it always like this? Do you collapse like this every time?!”

“If I faint a little, I wake up in the morning.”

Mabel wore an expression of disbelief upon learning that Eugene would forget about sleep and meals while absorbed in his research, causing him to collapse each time. But with a slightly reproachful tone, she reached out her hand to touch Eugene’s forehead. 

“Well, I’m glad you’re feeling better. Hmm, your fever has also gone down.”

But the moment Mabel’s hand touched his forehead, Eugene’s eyes widened.

The sensation of her touch against his bare skin. No way.

“Hey! Where is my mask?!”

“Uh, it’s, it’s right here.”

In response to his sudden stern tone, Mabel picked up the mask that was placed on the side desk. Eugene snatched it from her as if tearing it away and immediately put it on his face. He then yelled at Mabel.

“You, did you see my face?!”

Seeing Eugene’s reaction, Mabel seemed perplexed about how to answer.

“I-I’m sorry, I thought it would be better to wipe off the sweat.”

“That’s why! Did you see my face?”

“I-I did…but, um, it was a really beautiful face, that’s all.”

Eugene was at a loss for words on how to respond, and Mabel glanced at him, trying to catch a glimpse of his expression. But unable to bear the silence any longer, Mabel desperately continued speaking.

“I-I’m sorry, um…”

“―Are you sane?”

Upon hearing Eugene’s words, Mabel let out a “Huh?” in response.

“Is your head okay?”

“You don’t have to go that far, I was just trying my best.”

“No, I mean, are you not in love with me? That’s what I meant.”

Right after Eugene said that Mabel furrowed her brows deeply and genuinely tilted her head, saying, “What?” 

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟏𝟕: 𝐄𝐮𝐠𝐞𝐧𝐞’𝐬 𝐌𝐚𝐠𝐢𝐜

“I should be captivated, you say?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

Perhaps feeling relieved as his fever subsided, Eugene adjusted his clothes.

“You must know that those of us called mages are born with high magical power.”

“Y-Yes.”

“High magical power is synonymous with beauty.”

According to Eugene, those who possess a large amount of magical power have some kind of “beauty” that manifests. Whether it’s exceptional intelligence, extraordinary physical abilities, or a captivating face and voice, even if they cannot use magic, individuals with such qualities are said to have higher magical power than others.

“Your master, what was her name again? Well, the fifth sister, she must also possess magical power.”

“You mean Lady Mable?”

“Yes. I heard she is an exceptionally beautiful princess. The other sisters probably possess some form of magical power as well, even if they don’t use magic.”

Upon hearing this response, Mabel felt a complex mix of emotions.

Indeed, each of her sisters had some aspect that captivated others. And according to Eugene, it was due to their magical power. But if that were the case, it meant that Mabel, who had nothing special to her, was just a useless princess.

Unaware of Mabel’s state of mind, Eugene continued speaking.

“You can get a good idea of how high someone’s magical power is by taking a look at their face.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t like using this expression, but it means we are ‘too good-looking’.”

If an ordinary man were to say such a thing, one would simply brush it off with a smile. However, as Mabel looked at the man speaking these words, she couldn’t help but feel that it wasn’t an exaggeration.

‘Indeed, he looked so perfect that he didn’t seem human.’

“This face is accompanied by magical power. So, if someone stares at it without any precautions, they can easily fall into a state we call [Charmed].”

“Charmed?”

“In simple terms, they deeply fall in love. They might have intense dreams or their hearts will go crazy with beats.”

These words immediately made Mable think of Kathreen

Any man who saw her face would be instantly captivated by her beauty and would do anything to court her. There had even been instances where court musicians called her the “bewitching beauty.”  It seemed that wasn’t an exaggeration.

“That’s why we all wear masks. We can’t have people collapsing left and right.”

“Well, there are some exceptions,” Eugene added.

“I see, now I understand the reason for wearing masks.”

“That’s why it’s strange.”

“What do you mean?”

“Why aren’t you infatuated with me?”

Surely, if Mabel integrated all the previous stories and seen Eugene’s true face, she should have been captivated by him.  

However, when he took off his mask, he was desperate, and even when she saw his face again with the mask on, Mabel did not feel any excitement or thrill. 

“W-Why could that be?”

“How should I know?”

“M-Maybe it didn’t work because I just woke up!”

Upon hearing Mabel’s words, Eugene showed a slight gesture of contemplation. However, he quickly realized that they had woken up some time earlier and had a conversation without the mask, and he bluntly dismissed the idea.

“No, that’s not it.”

“Hmm…”

Mabel, who had been desperately thinking, could only think of one possibility.

Perhaps, she herself didn’t possess the ability to fall in love.

Calling it an ability might be an exaggeration, but it meant that she couldn’t develop romantic feelings for others.

‘Indeed, I’ve never fallen in love with anyone before…Does that mean I’ll never be able to fall in love?’

The two of them sighed simultaneously, each carrying their own thoughts.

After a while, Eugene removed the blanket and placed his shoes on the floor.

“For now, forget about everything that happened last night.”

“Y-Yes.”

After hastily responding, Mabel quickly added,

“Oh, but wait a moment!”

“What is it?”

“I don’t want you collapsing like that again. Please make sure to eat properly.”

“Whether I collapse or not, it’s none of your concern.”

“No, I do care! It would be unsettling if something happened to you and I had bad dreams!”

Who do you think carried you all the way here? Mabel became angry, and Eugene’s voice softened, seemingly feeling apologetic.

“N-No, I…”

“Listen. Eat your meals properly; clean your room; change your clothes.”

“Fine, fine. Anything else?”

“N-No! Starting from tomorrow, okay?”

Mabel declared firmly, then smiled sweetly. Seeing that, Eugene still had his mouth half open but eventually resigned himself and closed his lips, looking frustrated.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟏𝟖

The next morning, Eugene woke up to the sunlight streaming through the gap in his mask.

He forced his groggy head up. The room was bright.

“Ah, good morning.”

“…”

He sat up from the sofa that served as his bed. Mabel stood by the window with a refreshing smile. The curtains were wide open, the window was left ajar, and the chilly morning breeze passed by Eugene.

“Why are you here?”

“A healthy body comes from a regular lifestyle. Now, quick, quick, get changed!”

Mabel handed him a set of men’s clothes, seemingly appearing out of nowhere. The blanket he was wearing was taken away, and Eugene reluctantly got up.

“I don’t want you collapsing again.”

“You are such a pain…”

After Eugene changed in a separate room, he handed the clothes back to Mabel, who promptly left the room.

“It’s been decades since I woke up this early,” Eugene muttered to himself, and Mabel returned once again. This time, she carried a silver tray in her hands.

“Here, breakfast.”

“I don’t want to eat.”

“No, you have to.”

“Do you want to fall ill, again?” Hearing these words, Eugene bit his lip in frustration. In response to his reaction, Mabel inwardly triumphed and placed the tray on the corner of his desk. On it was a plate of softly cooked oatmeal.

“I don’t like this.”

“It’s gentle on the stomach. If you get better soon, I’ll make other things too.”

Eugene glanced at it and reluctantly sat down on the chair, starting to eat with a spoon. Seeing his actions, Mabel smiled in relief.

From that day on, Mabel gradually became more involved with Eugene.

“Eugene-sama, is this book fine here?”

“No, put it on the shelf below, next to the red book.”

Today, they were cleaning Eugene’s room together. Eugene’s condition seemed to have fully recovered, as he had been eating his meals normally lately.

Mabel arranged the books on the piled-up floor while confirming with Eugene. In the process, she found a letter. The sender’s name was written in the sender field: “From Rownensolfa.”

“Um, I found a letter.”

Eugene looked at it with a displeased expression, then picked it up and dropped it directly into the trash bin. Mabel gasped.

“T-The letter!”

“Eh, it’s from some irrelevant person.”

With just those words, Eugene quickly returned to tying up unnecessary books with hemp rope. Mabel furrowed her brows in frustration but quickly went back to wiping the shelves.

In this way, Eugene’s room gradually became cleaner, and he started eating his meals at the designated time.

Perhaps the experience of collapsing once had an effect, Mabel thought to herself as she folded the laundry.

‘I wonder if we’re getting along a little better?’

His face was still hidden behind the mask as usual, and he wasn’t particularly friendly.

However, he wasn’t as cold as before.

‘I wonder if we could become friends and protect the Eakes Kingdom together’

At first, she infiltrated this castle to exploit Eugene’s weakness.

But if possible, she didn’t want to do anything that would threaten him.

However, he wasn’t the type to readily use that power.

‘If I knew his likes and dislikes, maybe I could find a way to rope him to my side’’

Mabel pondered, and at that moment, she heard Cero’s voice from the entrance hall.

“Wimmie, I brought today’s portion.”

“Oh, it’s Cero!”

She checked the canned goods, vegetables, and meat that Cero had brought, one by one. Everything she had requested was properly there, and Mabel smiled with satisfaction.

“Thank you, as always. You’re amazing, Cero.”

“Hehe, I am happy you think that.”

Seeing Cero looking proud, Mabel suddenly had an idea.

“By the way, Cero, you’ve been here for a long time, haven’t you?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Do you know what Eugene likes?”

Cero looked puzzled at Mabel’s words, but when he looked up, he started to ponder.

“What he likes?”

“Yes. Food, sweets, things like that.”

“Even if you ask me, the master always eats canned goods… Ah, I remember now!”

As if he had thought of something, Cero raised his index finger.

“Strawberries, Yeah, I think it’s strawberries.”

“Strawberries?”

“Yes. There was a time when I happened to bring some along with the usual canned food. Normally, any extra food that I bring that the master didn’t ask for is left untouched, but I have a memory of it being gone.”

‘Eugene likes strawberries?’

Mabel couldn’t imagine Eugene liking such a thing and felt slightly surprised.

But Mabel thought that strawberries could be used for breakfast, dessert, and even cakes. They could contribute to Eugene’s pacification plan.

“Cero, can you bring me some strawberries?”

“Ah…It’s almost the end of the season, so we don’t have any in stock. Oh, but we might have some that can be picked near the forest.”

“Do you know where exactly?”

Cero spread out a map from his bag and pointed to a square at the edge.

“Here is where we are, the caste. This path goes through the eastern forest. Do you understand?”

“Near this cliff, perhaps.”

“Yes, exactly. But I have another job tomorrow, so If it’s okay with you to wait three days or so, I can quickly go and get them.”

Seeing Cero counting on his fingers, Mabel looked at the map again. It didn’t seem like a very far place, so Mabel could go and get them herself. Cero must be busy, and it would be unfair to burden him with such a selfish request.

“No, it’s fine. I’ll go and get them myself.”

Above all, if she went to get them herself, it would be free. She didn’t think she was being extravagant now, but if it could lift some cost off the treasury, it would be better.

“But it’s quite a distance, and the grass is overgrown.”

“I’ve crossed the forest once before, so I think I’ll be fine.”

“The forest? Alone?”

“Yes.”

Hearing that, Cero tilted his head to the side. He eventually lowered his eyebrows in a troubled manner and smiled. He then folded his own map and handed it to Mabel.

“Well, it’s not that far, but please don’t push yourself too hard. I’ll give you this map.”

“Oh, Is it really alright for me to take it?”

“I have a spare with me.”

With a refreshing smile, Cero left. Mabel who was left behind, remained with the map in her hand and returned to the kitchen. She marked the location Cero had told her about and quietly clenched her fist.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟏𝟗

The next day, Mabel stood in front of a dense forest.

She had changed from her usual dress into a set of full armor.

As she took a step forward, her shoe soles sank into the damp soil as usual. She grimaced slightly but firmly placed her other foot forward and continued on, walking confidently with a map in hand. The sunlight was quickly blocked by the protruding trees.

‘The forest is still as creepy as ever…’

Upon further thought, Mabel couldn’t help but admire Cero, who traveled back and forth through this forest almost every other day. Even though she did it before, it was definitely not an easy path.

She took a sip of water from her bottle and rested for a moment, catching her breath. Moments later, she continued walking towards the area Cero had told her about. Soon, she saw a brightly lit spot beyond the trees.

“This must be the cliff.”

It seemed like she had made it out of the forest.

The sunlight poured down, and a plain stretched out before her.

However, it wasn’t very wide, and she quickly reached an elevated area. Beyond that, it seemed to be a deep valley, with a straight cliff exposing its steep slope.

‘Oh, it’s so high…’

She immediately turned her back to the cliff and headed back towards the forest. Looking around, she found short trees lined up at the base of a large rock.

As Mabel approached and squatted down, she saw many small red fruits swaying there.

“Found them!”

With a smile on her face, Mabel plucked one of the fruits. She wiped it lightly and put it in her mouth.

The perfect balance of sourness and sweetness made her close her eyes in bliss. She carefully selected the ripe ones and picked them, one after the other.

‘It was not a good idea to take too much,’ she thought. It was when she carefully selected and put about ten of them in a hemp bag that she stopped

Then, she heard a sound that made the air tremble. Looking up, what entered Mabel’s eyes were the golden eyes looking at her from between the trees of the forest she had just left. 

“W-What?!” 

Emerging from the darkness, it soon revealed its beastly form.

It was much larger than a dog. Mabel gasped, thinking it might be a wolf.

Upon closer inspection, it wasn’t just one, but two, then three. The wolves appeared one after the other. The wolves slowly approached Mabel. Standing up, she felt a sense of danger surrounding her.

‘What should I do?! Wolves, of all things!’

The wolves didn’t lower their pace. Mabel took a step back, trying not to turn her back, but the three wolves continued to approach.

Before she knew it, she had climbed up to the top of the cliff and reached a position where she couldn’t go any further back. The wolves kept a certain distance from Mabel, baring their teeth in a threatening manner.

‘No way, there’s nowhere to go!’

She reluctantly threw a stone at their feet, but they showed no signs of fear. Worried, she turned around, but the wind blowing up from the bottom of the valley only increased her fear.

Meanwhile, the wolves closed in. One of them, showing its well-aligned fangs, bent its front legs.

“――Ah!”

In an instant, the wolf’s hind legs jumped and pounced toward Mabel. Caught off guard, Mabel instinctively took a step back. At the same time, the ground beneath her feet gave way, and Mabel’s body floated in the air.

Falling!

Gravity suddenly pulled on her body.

Feeling herself being dragged toward the bottom of the valley, Mabel clenched her teeth. However, she was hit by a strong recoil, causing her neck and legs to sway up and down.

Amidst the shaking that rattled her brain, Mabel soon realized that her shoulders and the back of her knees were being supported.

And there, she saw a black mask up close.

“Eugene-sama?!”

Before she knew it, Eugene was holding onto Mabel’s body. When she looked down, there was an endless abyss.

“Huh?”

“If you move, you’ll fall.”

Letting out a pitiful voice, Mabel finally noticed that she and Eugene were floating in the air. The question of ‘how’ was resolved by what she saw over Eugene’s shoulder.

It was a pair of large white wings.

Like a giant bird taking flight, long wings extended from his back.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟐𝟎

“Um, well, I, the sky…”

Despite Mabel’s confusion, Eugene flapped his wings again with a rustling sound.

As the altitude slightly increased, Mabel felt a strange sensation in her stomach.

But she knew it would be troublesome if she were dropped, so she tried her best to remain calm.

Feeling a little more composed, she glanced towards the distant forest. The figures of the wolves—now much smaller—confirmed that it wasn’t just a dream, which caused Mabel’s back to shiver in fear.

“Why are there Shadow Hounds…?”

“Eugene-sama?”

She thought she heard a faint murmur and called out his name, but either it didn’t reach him or he didn’t respond.

She held on tightly, not wanting to be dropped.

As the castle seemed to draw closer, they descended onto the second-floor room where Eugene resided.

There awaited a large balcony, and Eugene skillfully placed the soles of his shoes on the railing, taking a few steps before landing.

Silently, Mabel was lowered down, straightened her wobbly legs, and faced Eugene.

“Um, thank you very much.”

“It’s nothing. I just went because the forest barrier was broken.”

“The barrier?”

While Mabel asked, her eyes were fixated on Eugene’s white wings.

White feathers extended from the gaps of his black coat. They had been spread wide earlier, but now they were folded small.

“When someone other than those I permit enters the forest, it becomes disorienting.”

Upon hearing that, Mabel tilted her head in confusion.

“What happens when you get disoriented?”

“You won’t be able to reach this far and will return to where you came from.”

Mabel raised another question mark.

When she came here, she was sure she didn’t have Eugene’s permission.

But despite the hardships, she had arrived here.

“Well, I came here without a problem…”

Upon hearing those words, Eugene stared at Mabel through his mask.

“That’s why I asked when I first saw you, “How did you get through the forest?”

Thinking back, he did ask that.

“I don’t know why, but my magic doesn’t seem to have an effect on you.”

“H-Huh?”

Leaving Mabel, who didn’t quite understand, Eugene lightly tapped his white wings on his shoulder with his fingertips. The feathers instantly disintegrated into small particles of white light, blending into the sky. It seemed those wings were also a result of magic.

“So? Why were you in such a place?”

“Um, well, It’s just that…”

Feeling his gaze on her again, Mabel swallowed nervously. She had intended to surprise him with her preparations, but since he had saved her life, she felt hesitant to deceive him.

“Well, actually, I went to pick strawberries.”

Timidly, she took out a hemp bag from her bag and opened the mouth of the bag to show him. Eugene peered inside and let out a sigh of exasperation.

“How trivial. You could have asked a merchant who goes in and out for that.”

“Cero seemed busy, and it was nearby, so I thought I could go.”

“Do you like them enough to risk your life?”

She could hear a mocking smile in his voice. Mabel hesitated whether to say it or not, and in a small voice, she murmured, “I heard that you liked them…”

Saying that, she felt embarrassed and involuntarily looked down.

She had prepared herself to be ridiculed, but for some reason, she couldn’t hear Eugene’s voice.

When she raised her head, she saw Eugene with his mouth slightly open, directed towards his mask.

“…Huh?”

Contrary to his rough response, Mabel noticed that his face gradually turned red from his neck up. She blinked two or three times in surprise.

Leaving Mabel, Eugene turned on his heel and walked quickly toward the room.

“Um, well, do you hate me for it?”

“I don’t know!”

And just like that, Eugene returned to his room. Mabel was left alone on the balcony, still holding the strawberries.

(Well, let’s see if I can serve them as dessert after dinner.)

She carefully put the strawberries back in her bag and pondered what to have for dinner.

She could put them in a salad or serve them with ice cream. What kind of way would Eugene like to eat them? As she thought about it, Mabel suddenly remembered the sensation of being lifted by Eugene.

She gently placed her hand on her right arm, which had been firmly grasped. The warmth was long gone, but the hand through the glove still felt strong.

‘He went out of his way to help me…’

After all, Mabel was the one who had intruded without permission. 

To put it bluntly, it’s just a maid who fell off a cliff, and Eugene had no obligation to save her. Honestly, while staying here, I thought that even if something happened, I would be left all alone.

But he saved me, with those strong arms of his…

He may not be as cold-hearted or misanthropic as people around him think.

With that thought, she felt a slight feeling of warmth passing through her heart.

‘But men are really strong. His body was sturdy too…’

Not only was it the first time she experienced flying, but it was also the first time she was embraced by a man.

‘What is this feeling?’ Was her heart pounding because she was relieved to have escaped from the wolves, or was she finally realizing that she had been saved?

“…What’s happening to me?”

For some reason, Mabel’s cheeks felt hot, and she lightly slapped her palm against them.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟐𝟏: 𝐌𝐚𝐬𝐪𝐮𝐞𝐫𝐚𝐝𝐞 𝐌𝐚𝐝𝐧𝐞𝐬𝐬

A month had passed since Mabel began her infiltration.

The once miserable castle had completely transformed into a beautiful place under Mabel’s hands. It was a sunny day, and Mabel had just finished hanging the freshly washed sheets and towels.

‘What nice weather…’

Although Mabel had gotten used to life in the castle, she furrowed her eyebrows slightly as she looked at the white fabrics fluttering gracefully in the wind.

“Oh no, what am I doing here?”

Originally, her plan was to prevent her own marriage to Eugene and instead use his weakness to protect the Eakes Kingdom.

But for some reason, she found herself diligently cleaning his castle, cooking him meals, and doing the same things she used to do for her older sisters.

‘What should I do? Should I still try to find some weaknesses? But I can’t seem to find anything.’

She had entered his room multiple times, but there was nothing suspicious. Eugene didn’t go anywhere, except for the time they went to the cliff to help Mabel.

Mabel pondered, feeling troubled. At that moment, someone called out to her from behind.

“Hey, what are you doing here?”

Startled by a voice different from Cero’s, Mabel quickly turned around. Soon, she tensed up.

“Um, well, I…”

“Are you a maid? But I can’t imagine him hiring someone like you.”

That man was taller than Eugene and had a very well-proportioned body.  

With red hair and long limbs, his prominent-jointed hands were large and masculine. His teeth, visible when he smiled, were white and gave a very refreshing impression. 

However, there was one strange thing: half of his face was covered by a mask.

Mabel knew all too well what that meant.

“Um, I am Eugene-sama’s fiancée…”

“Huh?”

“Sorry, sorry! I mean, I-I am Wimmie. A maid serving as his fiancée’s attendant!”

Ah, the uncovered part of the mask formed a curve with his mouth. Seeing that, Mabel felt her heart pounding heavily. That was close! Good thing she hadn’t been suspected yet.

Surely, he was the same as Eugene――a masked mage.

The man with red hair immediately placed a finger on his lips and pursed them.

“Why didn’t he tell me such an interesting story?”

“Um, um–”

“Well, never mind. Wimmie, where is Eugene?”

The eyes behind the mask glanced at Mabel. Those eyes were red, and Mabel once again felt a shiver run through her back.

“If it’s Eugene-sama, he must be in his room, as usual.”

“I see. Would you mind showing me the way?”

“Um, excuse me, but may I ask who you are?”

“Oh, right. I haven’t introduced myself yet.”

Saying that, he placed his hand on his own mask and skillfully removed it.

Mabel was momentarily surprised, but her gaze remained fixed on his face as if bound by it.

His features were so meticulously crafted as if a sculpture had come to life.

Different from Eugene’s, it had a somewhat masculine bone structure, long eyelashes, and wide deep red eyes.

On the other hand, the skin texture was fine like that of a woman, and the red hair stood out against the fair skin.

At first glance, he gave off a terribly cold impression, but when he narrowed his eyes, a suddenly friendly atmosphere emerged, captivating the hearts of many with that contrast.

Mabel also sensed a discomfort that tightened her chest, but she quickly returned to her usual senses.

“Nice to meet you, Wimmie. I am Rownensolfa Antranze. It’s a long name, so you can call me Row.”

He said that and smiled cheerfully. Seeing that, Mabel awkwardly smiled in response.

‘I remember now. The name from the letter…He’s one of the masked mages.’

Having already experienced shock with Eugene, Mabel managed to remain relatively calm when looking at Row’s devilishly handsome face. With a graceful and polite smile, she immediately guided him to Eugene’s castle.

“So, you’re Row-sama. Please follow me this way.”

Upon seeing Mabel’s demeanor, Row widened his eyes with surprise.

However, soon, he seemed to find it amusing and narrowed his eyes, obediently following behind Mabel.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟐𝟐

“What brings you here?”

“Well, hello, Eugene. It’s been about twelve years, hasn’t it?”

Upon hearing that a guest had arrived, Eugene went to the reception room and saw Row sitting calmly on the sofa. As Eugene turned to leave, Row hurriedly called out to him.

“Hey, wait a minute. It’s been a while, so why not have a little chat?”

“It feels like a waste of time.”

“Well, our life is very long. Even having a chat for a mortal’s lifetime is considered killing some time, don’t you think?”

Seeing Row’s smile, Eugene let out a deep sigh. Giving up, he walked over to the opposite sofa and sat down, trying to look impatient. Soon, Row also took a seat on the opposite sofa.

“But I was surprised, Eugene. You’re getting married.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Well, Wimmie-chan is your fiancée’s maid, right?”

“Seems like it.”

“If the personal maid is here taking care of things, it means the wedding is just around the corner.”

Row whistled lightly, and Eugene glared at him with a look of disgust.

“I never said I was getting married. She just came and started living here on her own.”

“Oh, really? But she’s a princess, right?”

“I can’t imagine marrying someone I’ve never even met.”

Just then, a light knock was heard. Along with the words “Excuse me,” Mabel pushed a wagon with a tea set into the room. Skillfully making tea, she placed cups and pastries in front of Row and Eugene. 

“Thank you, Wimmie-chan.”

“You’re welcome. I’m not sure if it will suit your taste.”

Mabel smiled and quickly left the reception room with the wagon. Eugene picked up his cup and took a sip.

“Anyway, it’s not like I invited her personally. And I don’t like the idea of just sending a maid to observe.”

“Well, that’s how it is with royalty.”

There’s probably something behind it, thought Row as he took a bite of the pastry.

“Well, maybe. If you want me to do something, I can tell her to come herself.”

“Even if she comes, I won’t cooperate.”

Hearing that, Row laughed. Then, while sipping tea, he suddenly remembered something.

“By the way, about Wimmie-chan.”

“What about her?”

“Is she someone you’re protecting?”

“No?”

Row tilted his head in confusion.

“Well, actually, I showed my face before coming here.”

“Huh? You showed your face?”

“Yeah. But she wasn’t captivated, so I was a bit surprised.”

Eugene was astonished.

“You, don’t go showing your face to everyone without discretion.”

“Hahaha, sorry, sorry. I only show it to cute girls, you know? Of course, I erase their memories when we part ways.”

Unlike Eugene, Row has a bad habit of exposing his true self and making women fall for him quickly when he finds a woman to his liking. 

Of course, with his perfectly symmetrical face and natural charm, women always fall for him without fail. 

However, even after seeing his face, Wimmie wasn’t captivated.

“I didn’t do anything.”

“Yeah, I know. But this has never happened before. Maybe it’s just a coincidence.”

As Row still had a questioning look on his face, Eugene recalled his own experiences.

‘I thought it was just because she had a high resistance to my magic…’

Row and Eugene had different archetypes. In fact, Row had a high level of attainment with charm spells. Eugene pondered for a while but decided it was unnecessary to say anything and swallowed his words. 

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟐𝟑

“Anyway, did you come here with something to talk about?”

“Oh, right. It’s actually about Wiski.”

“Wiski? The neighboring country?”

“Yeah. Have you heard about their recent military buildup?”

Hearing Row’s words, Eugene placed his fist against his mouth.

Despite being a shut-in for many years, he had gathered some information through his familiar. He had also heard suspicious rumors about Wiski, and considering the recent increase in weapon imports and military construction, it was certain that they would start a war soon.

“There are rumors that Shadow is involved.”

“Shadow?”

Eugene’s eyes beneath his mask narrowed slightly.

Shadow was the name of an Archetype.

Mages were classified into different archetypes, such as Eugene being classified as “Anima” and Row as “Trickster.”

However, there was only one mage for each archetype.

Shadow was one of them, and both Eugene and Row had never met this mage before.

“Is it acceptable for mages to be involved in national politics?”

“Well, it depends on the extent. I have a treaty with Izumi, and I believe Silicis Chast has a consulting contract with Hita.”

Mages with immense power were generally not encouraged to strongly support a single nation. 

However, as they had to live in this world, it was necessary for them to secure friendly recognition from certain countries. While Eugene hadn’t entered into any specific agreements, he had received some assistance from the Eakes Kingdom.

“But participating in acts of destruction is not allowed, right?”

“That’s the problem. I wonder what happened to Shadow…”

If mages were to use magic seriously, they could easily obliterate an entire country. Therefore, acts such as invading other countries or starting wars were considered inappropriate. These were the teachings of the previous generation of mages, called Masters.

While Eugene pondered, Row finished drinking the remaining tea in his cup and placed it back on the table. He moved his fingers to grab a second piece of pastry.

“So, I was wondering what we should do.”

“What do you mean, what should we do?”

“Well, if Wiski were to start waging wars on the neighboring kingdoms, this Eakes Kingdom would be the first target, right? Are we going to defend it, or are we going to flee? And if Shadow is on their side, Eugene, you won’t get away unscathed.”

“That’s true, but…”

“After all, we used to be close friends. I’m just worried about you.”

Seeing Row’s smile, Eugene let out a deep sigh.

“There’s no need for you to worry about me. If the war reaches that point, I’ll just run away.”

“Oh, you’re not going to fight?”

“Why should I?”

“Well, it’s your beloved wife’s country.”

Eugene let out an even deeper sigh than before.

“That’s why I’m asking why we’re even having this conversation. Whether we’re married or not, I have no reason or obligation to protect this country. If something troublesome happens, I’ll run away, that’s all.”

After Eugene’s words, a soft knock followed by the sound of the door opening resonated. It was Mabel, pushing the wagon once again.

“Um, would you like a refill of tea?”

“Oh, perfect timing. Can I have some?”

The heavy atmosphere from earlier instantly dissipated by Row’s delighted voice.

As Mabel poured fresh cups of tea for them, Row seemed to have thought that the previous conversation was not appropriate and brought up a completely different topic.

“By the way, it’s about time. The new moon.”

“Oh, right. It’s already that time.”

“I hope we can get through it smoothly this time.”

Mabel swiftly replaced their cups with new ones and cleared away the old dishes. Like a discerning servant, she tidied up in the corner of the room, seemingly oblivious to the conversation.

“What were you doing these past few years?”

“Nothing much. Just in my room. Doing research.”

“Well, I guess that’s how it is. Man, I feel lonely since I haven’t slept with a girl in a while.”

While looking at Row’s cheerful expression, Eugene thought to himself, “How long is this guy going to stay here?” and took a sip of hot tea with a hint of irritation.

Pushing the wagon covered in a white cloth, Mabel walked silently through the corridor.

Eventually, she stopped and looked up at the clear sky through the window glass. There, a very thin crescent moon faintly floated under the sunlight.

‘The new moon…’

When she went to pour new tea, she heard the words “New moon” being mentioned. Since it was mages talking, it undoubtedly involved matters deeply related to them. 

‘I wonder if something will happen on the night of the new moon.’

That mage who introduced himself as Row also said, “It would be good if we can cross it smoothly.”

Perhaps it was something related to their secret. It could also become Eugene’s weakness.

‘Maybe it’s a chance.’

Mabel suppressed her slightly accelerated heartbeat and took a deep breath. 

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟐𝟒

The weather wasn’t very good this morning.

“It might be a bit difficult today.”

Staring at the laundry piled up in the basket, Mabel looked up at the sky. She decided to give up on doing the laundry for today and quietly returned to the kitchen.

With practiced ease, Mabel efficiently went about her household chores. She had finally gotten used to life here. She finished cleaning the room, preparing dinner, and ironing clothes one after another.

Before she knew it, it was already evening, and Mabel made her way to Eugene’s room.

Seeing that the dishes she had left there earlier were empty, she lifted them up with a slightly delighted expression. As she carried them, Mabel looked out of the hallway window.

The sun had completely set, and the sky was dyed in shades of indigo. Several twinkling stars floated in the sky, and Mabel gazed at them intently.

Somehow, the stars looked particularly clear tonight, and she remembered that it was a new moon on the calendar.

“A new moon…”

After murmuring to herself, Mabel recalled the words of the other mage who had come a few days ago. But there was no way to know even if she thought about it, so she headed downstairs to the kitchen.

She soaked the dishes in water and started preparing bread for the next day. After tidying up most of the kitchen, Mabel finally returned to her own room. She praised herself for working hard today and changed into a simple cream-colored dress for bedtime.

It was a dress that she would be scolded for if she were to wear it in her own castle, but here, there was no one to complain.

She carefully brushed her hair and pulled back the blanket, lying down. There was pleasant fatigue, and it seemed like she would sleep soundly tonight. 

‘Good night.’

And so, Mabel fell asleep as usual.

――Fuu, Ffuu.

“―?”

Mabel woke up to a strange sound. At first, she stayed in bed, but when she realized that the sound didn’t stop, she slowly sat up.

Ffuu, Ffuu.

“…What’s that sound?”

It sounded like something trembling or an animal’s cry. But it was a sound she had never heard before, and Mabel strained her ears to listen. The sound was faint, but it continued intermittently.

She gently placed her shoes on the floor and draped a simple robe over her shoulders, then quietly approached the door. She held her breath and listened for any signs. It seemed that the sound was coming from outside the room.

She opened the door without making a sound. As she stepped into the hallway, she saw a beautiful night sky through the window glass. In the absence of the moon, numerous small diamond-like stars were shining.

After being slightly moved by its beauty, Mabel listened even more carefully. She had a sense that the sound was getting closer, so she walked in that direction. It seemed to be coming from beyond this hallway.

“Eugene?”

She walked cautiously and eventually arrived at Eugene’s room at the end of the hallway. She nervously pressed her ear against the door, and indeed, she could hear that sound from the other side.

Worried, she knocked on the door. As usual, there was no response, so she reluctantly placed her hand on the doorknob. But for some reason, the door, which should usually be left open, was locked. She tried turning it a few times, but there was no sign of it opening.

“Eugene-sama, are you okay?”

Mabel called out from this side of the door. However, there was no response from Eugene. Mabel had a sense of unease. What could that sound be?

At that moment, a deep sound reverberated through the floor. Startled for a moment by the vibration, Mabel knocked on the door again. What on earth was happening?

‘This won’t do, I have to find out what’s going on inside!’

But there was no sign of being able to enter from here, and there were no other doors. Just as she was thinking about it, Mabel remembered the balcony in Eugene’s room. There should be a large tree right nearby.

‘If I look from the window, maybe I can see inside.’

Mabel hurriedly ran down the hallway, descended the stairs, and rushed out of the front door. She circled around in the direction of Eugene’s room and searched for the balcony of his room. At the end of the second floor, probably that one.

As soon as she looked, there were several splendid trees right nearby. She ran to the base and touched the trunk with her hand. It was thick and strong enough, so it seemed safe for Mabel to climb. She looked up once, took a deep breath, and swallowed.

“I-I’m going. . .”

Cleaning and doing laundry were Mabel’s specialties, but honestly, climbing trees was a first-time experience for her. She had seen her eldest sister Gertrude climb effortlessly, but Mabel had only ever watched from below.

But if she just stayed here without doing anything, it would be irreversible. Mabel let out a long breath and cautiously placed her right hand on the lowest branch. 

‘Otou-sama, Okaa-sama, Wimmie, forgive me for this disgraceful sight!’

As she looked at her attire in the deserted place, she apologized in her mind. But now, saving lives was more important than feeling embarrassed. She carefully climbed, one leg at a time, using her left hand and right foot, struggling to reach the top. The trembling sounds and occasional loud impacts continued, causing Mabel to sweat as she desperately aimed for the window.

‘Just a little more…’

Lifting her left foot, she finally reached the balcony. Gasping for breath, she grabbed the railing and placed her foot on the edge. With a forward roll, she tumbled onto the balcony.

‘Th-That was scary!’

With her still trembling legs and racing heart, Mabel cautiously approached the window. It was covered by curtains, making it impossible to see inside. As expected, it was locked from this side as well. Mabel hesitated for a moment but quickly took off her shoes.

‘Sorry, but I need to find out what’s happening.’

She timidly tapped the glass near the lock. At first, she tapped it gently, but as nothing happened, she gradually increased her strength on the second and third attempts. After several strikes, Mabel, in frustration, slammed the glass with all her might, finally shattering it.

“Ah! It shattered…”

Hastily reaching her hand through the hole, she pushed up the key on the other side. Sliding the window frame, a gust of wind entered through the slightly opened gap, causing the curtains inside to flutter. Mabel strained her eyes, but the room was pitch black, and she couldn’t see anything.

“Eugene-sama?”

Calling out, Mabel stepped inside. Then, a voice resembling a roar echoed.

“Don’t come close!”

She involuntarily stopped in surprise. Ignoring Mabel’s astonishment, the voice continued.

“Don’t you dare come! Don’t look at anything! Go away!”

It certainly sounded like Eugene’s voice, but at the same time, it seemed to be mixed with a strange noise. More accurately, it was muffled or as if something else was blending with his voice.

“It’s Eugene-sama, right?”

Mabel spoke as quietly as possible. But there was no response, so she reluctantly continued her inquiry.

“Are you okay? I’ve been hearing strange noises, and sometimes loud sounds.”

In the darkness, she extended her hand forward and cautiously moved her feet. But the moment she stepped on the broken glass, Eugene’s scream echoed again.

“I told you! Don’t come! What the hell is wrong with you!”

At that moment, Mabel was speechless. Her chest tightened as if being squeezed.

―His room was filled with books, and at its center, it was there.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟐𝟓

“Eugene-sama…?”

It looked like a black mass.

But upon closer inspection, it was clear that it was made up of long, black hair growing densely. Its body gently billowed, rising and falling in a rhythm similar to human breathing. It was quite large, and it was impossible to tell what kind of animal it was.

“Don’t look…Don’t look at me…”

As Mabel strained her eyes, she could see four legs extending from its torso. They resembled those of a beast, but the tips were adorned with unbelievably sharp claws.

With trepidation, Mabel moved her gaze to where its head would be. Suddenly, she was caught in its gaze.

The piercing gaze, sharp enough to shoot her down, had golden eyes, and the black pupils at the center of its eyes were as thin as threads. In the blink of an eye, it stood up and fled to the back of the room.

‘What is that?’

Every time it breathed, the black hair trembled slightly, and a faint sound, like “Ffu,” escaped. The sound she had been hearing all along seemed to be the sound of this creature breathing.

Now, in front of the bookshelf, Eugene was wrapped in his favorite blanket, shrinking his large body to its limits. Occasionally, he exhaled with a trembling motion, more indicating fear than anger.

“Eugene-sama, right?”

There was no one else in the room.

When Mabel asked, It answered in a voice even more broken than before.

“…Yes. it’s me…”

With Its confirmation, Mabel felt a slight sense of relief.

There was no doubt that it was Eugene. But what was the meaning of this appearance?

“Why are you in such a state?”

“. . .Because of the new moon.”

Mabel involuntarily gasped.

“Once every two years, there is a day called Coffin’s New Moon. Today happens to be that day.”

Eugene remained huddled in the blanket, still looking down. Even now, he was exhaling in pain, but the speed was gradually increasing.

“On the night of that day, we undergo a transformation. Like this―Ah, ahhh!”

Towards the end, he squeezed out the words, and Eugene let out a loud scream. With the force of tearing the blanket apart, he repeatedly banged his head against the floor.

Mabel hurriedly tried to run towards him, but she stopped in her tracks as a strong wind passed in front of her.

Feeling something strange under her eyes, Mabel touched her own cheek with her finger.

There was a sticky trace of blood, and upon seeing it, Mabel was astonished. Eugene’s claws were facing her, and he had probably swung them toward her.

“Don’t come closer! Don’t come, don’t…don’t come near me…”

Saying that, Eugene once again held his head and curled up. Mabel stood still, not knowing what to do in the face of his appearance.

‘What should I do, but he looks so agonized.’

He had said it would only last for one night.

That means if she waits until morning, he will return to his original self, right? 

Thinking that, Mabel looked at the beastly Eugene again. His breathing was becoming increasingly rough, and the frequency of his thrashing was increasing. He collided with furniture and books multiple times, and she could see that he had been hitting his head since earlier.

Surely, he must have suffered severe injuries all over his body.

‘One night…in this condition?’

There were still a few hours until dawn. There was no way she could believe that his body would be unharmed if she just let him stay like this.

Mabel took a deep breath, preparing herself.

She tore off the curtain hanging on the window and spread it in front of her body.

Since the fabric was quite heavy, it should be able to withstand some impact.

“Eugene-sama, I’m sorry, please bear with it for a little while.”

The beast began to suffer again. It hit the table with its leg and fell. Seizing the opportunity, Mabel ran towards Eugene, using the curtain as a shield.

Perhaps he noticed it, as he finally muttered words like a murmur.

“Don’t come…don’t come.”

However, before those words could reach her, Mabel had already thrown herself at his neck. The black hair was stiff and rough, and she desperately held down the sharp claws, shouting, “It’s going to be okay!”

The claws she had been holding trembled in surprise.

Mabel continued to firmly look at Eugene. He buried his entire body in the blanket, breathing in pain while moving his body up and down.

For now, she had sealed his claws, but what should she do next? While thinking about it, she tried stroking his back.

“Where does it hurt? How’s your breathing?”

“Why…why…”

Eugene’s voice had become quite difficult to hear, and Mabel gently placed her other hand on the blanket. She carefully shifted it to see his face.

A nose that stretched out like that of a wolf.

Beneath it, a mouth that seemed to split open, revealing multiple sharp teeth. Mabel felt the urge to scream, but she desperately swallowed it down, knowing that if she screamed now, he would surely run away.

Earlier, she couldn’t quite make it out, but his eyes were a beautiful almond-shaped gold. Mabel felt as if she were being drawn into them, but suddenly a small pain shot through her chest, bringing her consciousness back to herself.

“It’s okay. I’ll stay by your side until morning.”

After Eugene seemed to have looked into Mabel’s eyes, he squinted them in a crescent shape. Amidst his labored breathing, his words spilled out intermittently.

“My head…hurts.”

“Your head?”

Mabel gently placed her hand on what seemed to be his forehead. There was no noticeable fever. She initially thought it might be pain from an external injury, but judging from his repeated head-banging movements, it seemed to be internal pain.

Reluctantly, she continued to move her hand up and down, slowly stroking his head. She didn’t think this would magically heal him, but it was better than doing nothing.

“I hope it feels a little better.”

“…”

Eugene’s breathing remained irregular and rough, but since he didn’t respond, it didn’t seem like the pain was increasing. Mabel continued to stroke his shoulders and back.

‘Maybe his body is cold.’

When the extremities of the body get cold, it can cause headaches. Mabel covered his body with the curtain she brought and continued to stroke him diligently.

Then, perhaps feeling a bit relieved, Eugene’s breathing became softer. Mabel saw that his golden eyes were closed, and he lay there looking exhausted.

Once again, Mabel gently stroked his head like a pet.

Good, it seems like he’s feeling a little better.

And so, Mabel continued to stroke his body until dawn broke.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟐𝟔

Eugene woke up to the cold morning breeze.

As he pushed his eyelids open, he could see the balcony window wide open.

Part of the window was broken, and tiny shards of glass were scattered below. When he lowered his gaze, he saw his own hands, which had returned to their human form. He lightly clenched and opened them, then looked at his own body.

Since the transformation had already begun, his clothes were torn, so naturally, he was naked.

However, his body was wrapped in a worn-out, thick curtain. Through it, he could see the image of a girl resting her hand on his arm.

‘Who is this?’

When someone saw his true face, they would become infatuated.

This was a phenomenon known as “captivating the hearts of those who see.” It was a state where magic, without the control of its user, bewitched people. However, during the New Moon of the Coffin, the power would go out of control, and naturally, that magic would also have no limits.

Specifically, the heart would stop.

It was said that anyone who saw this beastly form would surely die.

That’s why during the New Moon of the Coffin, mages would not allow anyone to approach them.

Eugene also locked himself in his room, intending to endure somehow. He had managed to endure forcibly like this before.

While looking at Mabel, who was sleeping soundly as if leaning on him, Eugene furrowed his brows. He must have been tired from stroking his body all night long.

‘How is she still alive?’

Whether it be looking at my face or Row’s, her heart doesn’t get charmed.

Furthermore, even when seeing this transformed appearance under the effect of the new moon, she is still calmly breathing, beside me.

‘This form of mine…’

Eugene gently reached out his hand to Mabel. He gently moved aside the hair that was getting in the way.

Upon doing so, Mabel let out a short gasp. 

Startled, Eugene quickly withdrew his hand, but Mabel didn’t wake up. She just twisted her mouth and went back to sleep, looking content.

Eugene let out a sigh of relief. Upon closer inspection, he noticed a red cut on Mabel’s cheek, and he pondered for a while.

‘Did I do this…’

The memories of yesterday night were a blurry mess.

Whenever he transformed into a beast, he would always suffer from severe headaches.

While writhing in pain, the window suddenly opened, and the curtain fluttered.

Faded white fabric reflected someone’s figure.

Thinking that there shouldn’t be anyone coming here, Eugene looked over from his miserable position on the floor.

There, he saw a beautiful azure sky filled with countless stars and a pair of green eyes that were anxiously swaying.

Soft-looking brown hair fluttered gently, and despite the face that seemed on the verge of tears, there was a desperate expression.

―Ah, how beautiful.

During the New Moon of the Coffin, he had never recalled human-like emotions. He had only endured the pain that was relentlessly inflicted upon him.

But for that one moment, as if struck by lightning, his consciousness had returned.

The headache quickly returned, and Eugene gritted his teeth again.

But within the fading consciousness, there was only one thought: don’t get too close to her.

He didn’t want to kill her, that was all.

However, despite being subjected to cruel words multiple times, she came to Eugene’s side.

Without running away from his terrifying claws and appearance, she stroked his back all night long.

While that was happening, it felt like the excruciating pain in his brain was gradually subsiding.

‘Despite being such a small and fragile creature…’

Eugene stared intently at Mabel, who had always cared for him.

Carefully crawling out so as not to wake Mabel, Eugene took out the clothes from the closet and hurriedly changed. He then slipped his hand under Mabel’s sleeping body and held her sideways in his arms.

Even after going to such lengths, she still didn’t wake up. Eugene, feeling exasperated, looked at Mabel, who seemed to be having a pleasant dream, and she smiled and nuzzled her face against Eugene’s chest. His cheeks flushed at her gesture.

It seemed that it was Eugene who was magically charmed.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟐𝟕: 𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐄𝐧𝐝 𝐨𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐄𝐧𝐠𝐚𝐠𝐞𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐭

When Mabel woke up, she found herself on her own bed.

She cautiously sat up. Her clothes were the same as when she went to sleep, and her hands and feet were not dirty. She immediately touched her cheek, but there was no pain or even a trace of a wound.

‘What’s going on. . .?’

Last night, she heard a strange noise and sneaked into Eugene’s room through the window. There, she met him in a terrifying form, and then―

“You’re awake.”

A voice broke her thoughts, looking up, she found Eugene leaning against the open door.

He had no trace or form of his appearance from last night, and he still had a well-proportioned figure, with a black mask on his face.

“Um, yesterday, I–”

“Forget about what happened yesterday.”

With those words, Mabel became unable to say anything more. Instead, Eugene continued speaking.

“Wimmie.”

“Uh, um, yes.”

“Take the day off and relax.”

Saying that, Eugene had a faint smile on his face. Ignoring Mabel’s surprise, he walked out into the hallway.

Left alone in her room, Mabel tilted her head like a broken toy, wondering about the change in his behavior.

‘He called my name.’

From that day on, Eugene’s attitude completely changed.

As he had said, “Take it easy for the day,” he cooked and brought her meals. It was a simple oatmeal and soup, with the ingredients and flavors being quite plain, but just the fact that Eugene had made it was surprising to Mabel.

The next day, even after Mabel had recovered, his attentiveness continued.

While Mabel was carrying laundry outside, a sudden gust of wind blew, and the sheets in the basket were being swept away one after another. She hurriedly chased after them and found them neatly hanging on the clothesline.

Wondering what had happened, she widened her eyes and saw Eugene looking down at her from the balcony. When their eyes met, he quickly disappeared, but it seemed to be the result of his magic.

They even started eating meals together.

He came to where Mabel was eating in the kitchen and said, “I’ll eat here too.” At first, Mabel was surprised, but she accepted it as it was more enjoyable than eating alone.

Seeing him skillfully eating with the mask still on, she felt a strange sensation.

‘He suddenly became kind, didn’t he?’

After finishing the meal, he even started helping with the cleaning and laundry. Mabel was grateful for it, but considering his previous actions, she couldn’t help but feel doubtful.

Days like that continued for a few days, and Mabel, reaching her limit, rolled around on her bed in her room.

“What on earth?! Why is he so kind!”

It was already nighttime.

Today, they had dinner together again, and after cleaning up and parting ways in the hallway, Mabel couldn’t help but express her thoughts.

“He helps with cleaning and laundry, he eats with me, and he even cleans up after…”

Furthermore, today during the meal, he asked, “Is there something you want?” 

I answered that we have enough ingredients and medicine, so there was nothing in particular. In response, he asked if I didn’t need any dresses or accessories. 

‘Why would he ask something like that…I wonder what happened to him’

His cold attitude from when she first arrived had completely changed. Something about Eugene’s gaze toward me had changed since that night of the new moon. Perhaps the moment he transformed into that beastly form, he had been replaced by someone else. 

Amidst the silence of the night, a random thought suddenly sprung to her mind, filling her with worry, ‘What should I do? If he really is a different person, then…’

‘Let’s confirm it!’

I sat up abruptly and quietly left the room in my nightdress. I headed towards the end of the corridor and gently knocked on the door.

“Come in.”

A response came. Even to that, Mabel felt moved as she obediently stepped into his room. The bookshelf was neatly organized, and the materials that had been scattered around before were now sorted by type.

Light leaked from the inner room, and Mabel peeked her face in that direction.

“What’s the matter? It’s late.”

Eugene turned to face Mabel. It seemed that he had been reading at his desk as usual. Until now, he never turned around even when Mabel called him, but now they were facing each other like this. The theory of him being a different person seemed even stronger now.

“Um, there’s something I want to confirm. . .”

If he had been replaced by an imposter, she needed to find the real him. Mabel involuntarily held her breath and continued speaking.

“Could you take off your mask, please?”

A brief silence fell. Mabel was about to say “Never mind” when she realized.

‘If I see his face, I should be able to tell if he’s a different person. However, he probably won’t just agree and take the mask off.’

If it was someone else, trying to deceive him would be a lot more difficult. She regretted saying such a foolish thing and agonized over it, but Eugene, contrary to Mabel’s thoughts, simply answered with an “Ah” and readily agreed.

“I don’t mind.”

“Yes, of course–Huh?”

Before Mabel could finish her sentence, Eugene reached for his own mask. With practiced movements, he removed the fastenings around his ears, and the mask snapped away from his face. He placed the mask on the desk and looked back at Mabel.

“Is this okay?”

“Um, well, yes.”

What appeared before her was that beautiful face she had seen during his illness. 

However, unlike back then, his eyes were now wide open. The color was a beautiful golden shade, as if polished amber. It was hard to see through the mask, but when viewed from the front, they were truly captivating eyes. From the gap in his slightly long bangs, he quietly observed Mabel. 

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟐𝟖

‘Hmm, they look the same…’’

I thought I had developed immunity to beauty thanks to Kathleen’s beautiful face, but him being a man does make a difference in the impression. Eugene furrowed his brows as he observed Mabel, who tilted her head while saying “Hmm” after seeing his bare face.

“What’s wrong?”

“Oh, it’s just because it’s you, Eugene-sama.”

After saying that, Mabel quickly covered her mouth. It was good that she had recognized him, but if it was revealed that she had made him remove his mask for that reason, she might receive more unpleasant remarks.

However, Eugene himself unexpectedly didn’t say anything in return. On the contrary, after gazing at Mabel for a while, he slightly lowered his eyes with a stern expression.

“Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, just wondering if it’s still not effective.”

While Mabel had a puzzled expression, Eugene stood up from his chair. The warm-colored light on the desk illuminated him from behind.

There was no trace of the time when Mabel had forcefully changed his clothes while scolding him, completely removing the remnants of dirt. He wore a clean white shirt with a black vest. He still had the black coat on, but each garment had neat creases.

If only he would cut his overly long bangs, Mabel thought, but before she could finish that thought, Eugene took off his gloves and gently extended his finger to Mabel’s cheek.

Surprised by his slightly cool touch, Mabel felt Eugene getting closer than before. As she instinctively lowered her chin, Eugene placed his hand on it and gently lifted it up.

‘Wha–what, what is happening?’

Their gazes met as Eugene peered into her eyes.

Exquisite features of eyes and nose, slightly closed lips. Mabel’s heart made a thumping sound as she was captivated by his transparent honey-colored eyes. 

The distance between them was so close that their lips could almost touch.

Mabel, forgetting to breathe, watched Eugene’s movements, but as he seemed to painfully distort his handsome face, he softly let go of her hand.

“Normally, when someone sees this face, they would immediately fall in love with me.”

“I-is that so?”

Seeing Mabel take a step back, Eugene blinked two or three times and let out a sigh.

“This magic of mine is really useless when it matters, huh.”

“What?”

Mabel heard those words and remained silent for a while, not understanding their meaning. She tilted her head. Seeing her gesture, Eugene thought for a moment and whispered softly.

“Wimmie. I might have… fallen in love with you.”

“Huh?”

“I want to be by your side. I want to see you happy. I want to see you smile… I think these feelings are what it means to love, right?”

This time, it was Mabel’s turn to blink her eyes repeatedly.

She briefly wondered if he was teasing her, but Eugene’s eyes were serious as if desperately searching for the right words.

“But I have no experience with this kind of thing, and although I tried my best, it seems to have no effect on you.”

Mabel finally realized that the past few days of helping and such were for this reason. She had never been confessed to so directly, and she could feel her cheeks gradually heating up. And then, the final blow pierced her.

“I give up, Wimmie. How can I make you fall in love with me?”

“H-How can I…?”

Mabel wanted to know that more than anything.

After all, it was the first time a man had confessed to her. Mabel’s thoughts became jumbled in confusion, but she remembered why she was here.

‘Maybe, if I ask him now, he will protect the Eakes Kingdom…’

However, as this thought came to mind, Mabel threw it away. She didn’t want to use him like this…

I originally thought of using his weakness to threaten him. By lying that she was a maid. By being enthusiastic about protecting the Eakes Kingdom. However, doing and thinking are two different things.

Even though she had finally obtained Eugene’s weakness, why did her heart ache so much?

“Wimmie?”

“Um, well, but I am Mabel-sama’s personal maid.”

“Oh, right… I’m sorry.”

Without noticing Mabel, who was covered in sweat, Eugene furrowed his brows slightly.

“I’m sorry, but I’ll have to annul the marriage with your master. I thought I could agree to it just for show. However, now that you’re here, I can’t even consider that.”

Upon hearing those words, Mabel’s heart pounded louder than ever.

“If your master wants to determine her marriage partner, she should come herself. I have no intention of sending you back to your master, who is okay with sending you to my castle, all alone.”

Eugene believed that Mabel was Wimmie. However, his impression of Mabel was terrible. What would he think if she were to tell him now that she was Mabel?

‘He would probably think I deceived him…’

She couldn’t accept the kindness he directed toward the fake version of herself.

Mabel felt a sharp pain in her chest.

“Um, I’m sorry. I need some time to think.”

Seeing Mabel desperately utter those words, Eugene looked down with a pained expression. His expression carried a sense of guilt.

“I’m sorry for causing trouble…”

However, because these feelings were genuine, Eugene’s golden eyes tried to capture Mabel. However, Mabel couldn’t meet that direct gaze.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟐𝟗

The next morning, Mabel was absentmindedly polishing the window glass in the hallway.

She knew she should be thinking things through, but somehow, doing something like this helped her gather her thoughts.

‘Should I tell him the truth? But…if I say it, he might end up hating me, right?’

As the dust on the window was wiped away, Mabel’s determination gradually became clearer.

‘Although he said he liked me, if I do that I, I…’ She let out a sigh, causing the window to fog up. 

If she were to say, “You know, I am actually Mable,” now…

“….”

Mabel stopped her hands and quietly looked down.

At that moment, she heard Cero’s voice from the entrance. Mabel put the rag in the bucket and hurriedly went downstairs.

“Wimmie, I brought today’s delivery.”

Downstairs, Cero, who usually had a smile on his face, was there. But instead of entering the lobby as usual, he only peeked his face through the open door.

“Thank you as always, Cero. Is it a big package―.”

As Mabel rushed to the entrance, Cero immediately grabbed her hand.

Before she could even think, he pulled her hand forcefully and led her outside.

“Cero?!”

“―Mabel-sama.”

As Mabel tried to resist, she heard a familiar voice from behind.

She turned her gaze and saw Travis, wearing his glasses, looking at her.

“Travis, why are you here?”

“Wimmie spilled the beans. We’re going home.”

Travis grabbed Mabel’s trembling arm and tried to make her stand. Finally, Cero, who was nearby, spoke up.

“Hey, aren’t you Wimmie’s older brother?”

“That was a lie. After all, without you, I can’t cross the forest.”

“W-What? You tricked me!”

It seemed that Cero had brought Travis to Mable without knowing his true identity. He tried to help the bewildered Mabel, but Travis’s hand reached Cero a moment too soon.

Then, a loud noise echoed, and Cero collapsed on the spot. Mabel quickly turned to face Travis. He was holding something like a metal tube in his hand.

“What have you done!”

“I just made him sleep a little. Mabel-sama, come this way.”

Mabel wanted to rush to Cero, who was lying on the ground, but Travis held her arm tightly, preventing her from moving. Panicking, Mabel desperately searched for a way to escape.

‘No, I can’t go back yet!’

I haven’t told him――Eugene, yet.

But contrary to Mabel’s feelings, the thunderous impact she had heard earlier ran through the air once again.

“――Ah.”

Mabel felt a strong pain in her neck and let out a voiceless scream. Her memory abruptly stopped there.

When she woke up, she was in her room in the royal palace.

“…Yes, that’s right, I remember.”

Feeling a slight pain in her neck, Mabel slowly recalled her memories.

“I have to go back.” She sat up from the bed. But as if on cue, the maids and, finally, Travis entered the room.

“Are you awake, Mabel-sama?”

“Travis, I apologize for sneaking out on my own. But I have to go back!”

“That’s not possible.”

“Why?”

“It’s obvious, isn’t it? It wouldn’t do for someone who is supposed to be a princess of a country to be wandering around pretending to be a mage.”

“But he’s my fiancé, isn’t he?”

“It’s not that simple. Even if you were a princess, it’s absurd to have you running around, pretending to be other people just to hang out with mages”

After saying that, Travis gave instructions to the maids. They surrounded Mabel and began preparing her appearance, fixing her hair and clothes.

“I apologize, but you will remain here for the remaining month. We have to ensure that Mabel-sama doesn’t leave this castle.”

“Why?”

“Because it would be troublesome if you were to escape again, wouldn’t it?”

Travis sighed and left the room. Left behind, Mabel futilely resisted as she was engulfed by the wave of maids.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟑𝟎

After being brought back to the castle, Mabel attempted to escape multiple times.

However, it seemed that messengers had been sent to all the palace servants and soldiers. If she tried to go outside even for a moment, she would be stopped. If she expressed a desire to go shopping, a maid would quickly procure everything for her. She was forbidden from participating in diplomatic events and was completely confined.

There was always a maid waiting in her room, and soldiers patrolling outside.

‘What should I do? I want to go back quickly.’

Caught off guard, Mabel had come without saying anything to Eugene. Right after she had said she needed time to think about his confession.

‘I hope he doesn’t think I ran away because I didn’t like his confession. I need to do something quickly.’

Mabel wandered around her room for a while, then had an idea and sat down at her desk, spreading out a piece of stationery. The feathers on the back of the writing instrument swayed gently.

“Excuse me, Mabel-sama.”

As soon as she heard a soft knock, Wimmie opened the door and entered. Her expression was gloomy, still looking downcast. She seemed on the verge of bursting into tears.

“Um, I’m really sorry. I couldn’t keep deceiving everyone.”

“Wimmie, you’re safe. I’m glad!”

Mabel quickly stood up from her chair and rushed to Wimmie’s side.

Since being brought back to the castle, she hadn’t seen Wimmie at all. She had been told that they couldn’t meet for a while. Probably because Travis had been strict with her. She had received harsh guidance from someone like Travis.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry…”

“It’s okay. I’m the one who should apologize for asking you to do such an unpleasant task.”

Mabel hadn’t expected things to escalate to this extent, and she was reminded once again of her own recklessness. Wimmie, with tears streaming down her face, responded to Mabel’s words.

“I, I’m just glad you’re safe, Mabel-sama…”

Wimmie choked back her sobs and continued speaking in a hesitant voice.

I thought you would come back right away, but a lot of time had passed. I started to worry that you might have been captured by mages and couldn’t escape. I reluctantly confided in Zoe, and Travis overheard our conversation. I poured out everything at once.

“I, I was so worried…”

As Mabel gently stroked Wimmie’s back, she let out a sigh.

It was understandable for her to feel anxious. Even Mabel herself had only thought of Eugene as a suspicious mage until she actually got to know him.

Waiting for Wimmie to calm down, Mabel timidly spoke up.

“Wimmie, I’m sorry to ask you this right away, but I have a favor to ask.”

“Yes! If there’s anything I can do, I’ll do it!”

With her eyes red and swollen, Wimmie looked up at Mabel with a serious gaze. Seeing Wimmie like that, Mabel gathered up the papers that were spread out on the desk.

“I want you to deliver a letter.”

“To whom?”

“To Eugene-sama. There’s a person named Cero in the Luxen Trading Company. You can leave it with him.”

Upon hearing those words, Wimmie’s complexion suddenly paled.

“W-Why?”

“There’s something I absolutely need to tell him.”

Seeing Mabel’s desperate expression, Wimmie didn’t say anything more and nodded silently.

Two weeks had passed since Mable’s freedom had been restricted.

Even Mabel had given up on escaping and spent her days quietly. Today, she was in the gazebo in the rose garden, which was a rare occurrence. She had come at the invitation of her third sister, Kathleen, to have tea and be her confidante in matters of love.

“So, George-sama is…”

As Kathleen happily talked about her favorite knight commander, Mabel was thinking about something else in the corner of her mind.

‘No response to the letter. He must be angry…’

It had been quite some time since she asked Wimmie to deliver the letter, but there was no reply from Eugene.

‘He must be really mad at me.’

The letter began with an apology for suddenly disappearing, then explained that Wimmie was a fake name and that it was actually Mabel herself. She felt sorry for deceiving him. She had considered writing a response to his confession, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She felt that it was something she should say directly.

Unconsciously, Mabel let out a sigh. Kathleen noticed and stopped talking, looking at Mabel.

“Mabel? Are you okay?”

“Uh, um, yes! Sorry, I was just lost in thought…”

She laughed, trying to brush it off. But Kathleen stared at Mabel for a while. beautiful green eyes that looked like precious emeralds and lips like a blooming rose. For some reason, Mabel’s heart fluttered under the gaze of her third sister, known as the beauty of the kingdom.

Ignoring Mabel’s distraction, Kathleen smiled and said, her lips curving up.

“Mabel, are you…in love?”

“Huh?”

Mabel’s eyes widened at the sudden question.

“Sorry if I’m mistaken, but it seems like you’re thinking about someone.”

Love. for a moment, Mabel didn’t understand what she meant.

Certainly, she had been thinking about Eugene, but it wasn’t love or anything like that. She was simply worried that he might dislike her.

‘Eh? Is that…love?)

Her thoughts raced in her mind, but no matter how much she thought, she couldn’t find an answer. Meanwhile, Kathleen seemed amused by Mabel’s reaction, blushing with a smile on her face.

“I’m glad. I thought you weren’t interested in such things, Mabel.”

“I-is that so?”

“Yes. Thinking about someone, wanting to be liked by them. You’re kind, but you always put others before you.”

Being pointed out like that, Mabel reevaluated her own feelings. 

She had thought that her concern for Eugene stemmed from the guilt of lying. However, was that really the only reason?

‘Why couldn’t I just tell him right away?’

There were plenty of opportunities to reveal her true identity and leave. But Mabel didn’t do it.

It was because she enjoyed her life in that mansion. She wanted to know more about Eugene, who was gradually opening up to her.

So, she was afraid of telling the truth and being disliked by Eugene.

“Onee-sama, it’s not that I want him to like me. It’s just that I don’t want to be disliked. Is that…love?”

At Mabel’s hesitant question, Kathleen’s eyes widened slightly. But she quickly smiled with joy and reached out her hand to Mabel, who was looking down.

“Yes, I think that’s also a form of love. It’s a wonderful thing.”

As her hair was gently stroked, Mabel’s eyes opened wide as if she had finally awakened from a long sleep.

Her sister usually gave the impression of being carefree about things like hair or cosmetics, but she was very reassuring in matters like this. Mabel looked at Kathleen and asked again.

“Onee-sama, are you in love too?”

“Yes. I’m always in love.”

Her laughter was so lovely that even Mabel, of the same gender, blushed. Kathleen smiled with those glossy lips and shyly picked up her teacup. 

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟑𝟏

“You know, I have a dream of experiencing love like Okaa-sama’s.”

“Okaa-sama?”

Upon hearing that, Mabel blinked her eyes in surprise.

Mabel had heard that their mother had passed away due to illness a few years after Mabel was born. Although Mabel had little memory of her mother, she had heard from Kathleen that their mother had shared various stories with them.

“Yes. It seems that Okaa-sama was once in love with a masked mage.”

Mabel almost spat out the tea she was drinking. She hadn’t informed her sisters about her marriage to Eugene yet, so she cautiously repeated the words “masked mage.”

“A masked mage, you say?”

“Yes. It seems to have happened before she married Otou-sama.”

According to the story, their mother came from a high-ranking noble family, and her marriage to the current king, her father, was somewhat predetermined. She never questioned it herself, but one day she met a masked mage and fell in love.

“But Okaa-sama was the future queen. On the other hand, the mage had a different status. One day, the masked mage suddenly disappeared.”

―May your future be filled with happiness

The masked mage left only that letter and left their mother.

Their mother grieved for a while, but their father, who was the crown prince at the time, supported her. He continued to love her without reproaching her for being involved with another man. Drawn to their father’s sincerity, the two of them married as planned.

“Of course, sincere love like Otou-sama’s is wonderful too. But I think that the mage who willingly stepped back also had strong feelings for Okaa-sama.”

Kathleen said that and smiled happily again.

Mabel, who had rarely heard about their mother’s story before, felt like she was a distant figure. But as she listened to the story, she felt a strange tickling sensation.

“Hehe, that’s why I support Mabel’s love too.”

When Kathleen picked up her cup, she let out a small “Oh.” It seemed that the tea had run out. As Mabel was about to stand up to get a refill, Kathleen gently stopped her.

“It’s fine. I’ll be going now.”

Mabel sighed deeply again as she watched Kathleen return to the castle, telling her to think it over slowly.

‘Okaa-sama and the masked mage…’

The only mages Mabel knew were Eugene and a man named Row who had come recently. She had heard that there were a few others, but she wondered who had fallen in love with her mother.

‘It couldn’t be Eugene, right?’

A shadow passed through Mabel’s heart. She had heard that the masked mage had a long lifespan due to their magic. If that was true, there was a possibility that Eugene and her mother had fallen in love.

For some reason, her heart ached.

If it was really someone like that, Eugene would surely say something and notice. It should be fine, Mabel reassured herself, but she felt frustrated that her inner feelings were unsettled.

At that moment, she heard a rustling sound from the trees. Mabel turned to see if Kathleen had returned. 

However, what she saw was not her third sister, but a person wearing a black mask. Judging from their physique, it was a man, and there was one person in front and another behind.

“Who are you―”

Before Mabel could stand up and shout, the men quickly rushed towards her. One of the men took out a large sack and spread it over Mabel’s head.

‘What is this?!’

Her vision was blocked, and Mabel felt a tight sensation, like a rope, tightening around her torso. The rope was tightly wound, depriving Mabel of her freedom.

As she thought her body was tilting, Mabel was lifted sideways.

“No, what’s happening?! Someone help me!”

With her legs and shoulders held, the men carried Mabel away. It happened in an instant.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟑𝟐: 𝐅𝐨𝐫 𝐘𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐒𝐚𝐤𝐞

When Mabel woke up, she found herself lying on a bed.

“Ouch.”

Perhaps due to being roughly carried in a sack, her consciousness had been interrupted along the way.

Looking around again, she realized that she was in a room that was no different from the palace of the Eakes Kingdom. However, the windows were boarded up with nails, and the only door was locked.

The room had minimal furnishings, consisting only of a bed, a desk, and a chair, giving it a sense of emptiness.

‘Where on earth am I…’

Judging from the exquisite gold decorations and geometric wallpaper, it appeared to be the residence of a high-ranking noble. As Mabel searched for any means of escape, she heard loud footsteps approaching from a distance. Soon, she heard the sound of the door being unlocked.

“Kathy! You are finally here!”

With a cheerful unlocking sound, the door swung open, and a man stood there with his arms wide open, wearing a beaming smile.

With his thick golden hair, deep-set wide green eyes, and a glimpse of white teeth behind his thick lips, he could be described as a handsome man without hesitation.

However, upon seeing the man, Mabel furrowed her brows involuntarily.

“Strauss-sama?”

In response to Mabel’s words, the man blinked in surprise and looked at her.

“Hmm? Who are you?”

“I am Mabel Ratra of the Eakes Kingdom.”

The man called Strauss blinked a few more times and then placed his hand on his chin.

“Mable Ratra…Oh! you’re Kathy’s younger sister!”

“Yes. well, sort of.”

There was no doubt about it.

This man was Strauss Wiski.

He was the first prince of the Wiski family and was rumored to be deeply infatuated with Kathleen.

Although Mabel had met him a few times at balls and diplomatic events, it seemed that he had no recollection of her at all.

“So, you’ll be my sister-in-law in the future. Let’s get along!”

“…”

Mabel couldn’t help but think, What is he thinking, forcibly kidnapping me and then saying let’s get along? However, before she could voice her thoughts, Strauss turned around and shouted loudly.

“Hey, Travis! Where’s Kathy?”

At the mention of that name, Mabel felt a chill run down her spine. But the person called turned calmly and showed his face to Strauss.

“Strauss-sama, what can I do for you?”

“You said you would bring Kathy, but she’s not here!”

Upon hearing those words, the man named Travis stared at Mabel. Likewise, Mabel stared back at him. There was no mistaking it.

――He was Travis, the prime minister of the Eakes Kingdom.

“Hmm, it seems I made a mistake,” Travis casually said, as he ignored Mable’s piercing gaze.

“Seriously, get it together.”

“I apologize sincerely. I will think of the next plan immediately.”

Satisfied with Travis’s polite bow, Strauss walked away somewhere. Left behind, Mabel asked him in a clear voice.

“What is going on here?”

“Well, Prince Strauss is deeply infatuated with Princess Kathleen. He must have planned to take advantage of a time when security was lax, but I never expected Mabel-sama to be the one taken by mistake.”

Saying that, Travis narrowed his gray eyes, resembling the color of the cold winter sky, and muttered softly.

“…Of all people, why did it have to be you?”

Seeing the faint smile on Travis’s face, Mabel bit her lip.

“Even one princess can be a strong bargaining chip in diplomacy. Well, I don’t think that a wild horse will be caught easily. If it were the second or fourth princess, we could have made her perform some talents here.”.”

“Don’t insult my sisters!”

In response to Mabel’s angry gaze, Travis let out a sigh.

“My apologies.”

“You betrayed the Eakes Kingdom. What do you plan to do now?”

Upon hearing that question, Travis stared at Mabel for a while and then narrowed his eyes. With an elegant air, he answered.

“Well, I am merely here to provide you with a strategy on what to do.”

“And my marriage was also part of that strategy?.”

“Ah, I thought that was a ridiculous suggestion.”

Surprisingly, it went through, and Travis laughed.

“I meant it as a joke, but I never thought it would actually happen. That’s why people who can’t think for themselves are troublesome.”

“A joke, you say?”

“Seriously, there’s no way those mages would obey orders to marry. I fell sorry for Mabel-sama, who took it seriously and came all the way here.”

Feeling embarrassed, Mabel could feel her face growing hot.

She had been manipulated by something that was no longer even a scheme.

Her desire to experience true love, to know who the other person was, it was all a joke to him…

Such modest wishes were of no importance to the adults who held power in the country, including Travis.

“Honestly speaking, I don’t believe you have what it takes to bring Eugene-sama to our side.”

Unable to say anything in response to Travis’ words, Mabel remained silent. Taking her silence as confirmation, Travis chuckled softly and turned to the soldier standing behind him.

“You, take her to the Western Tower.”

“But, that place is―”

“She is not Kathleen-sama. You can treat her accordingly.”

The last words were directed at Mabel.

As she listened to them, Mabel continued to glare at Travis until the very end.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟑𝟑

The place called the West Tower was quite unusual; It was made entirely of rough stone, with exposed stone surfaces on the walls and floors.

Naturally, there were no carpets, and the only furniture was a shabby bed that hardly looked like a bed. There was a toilet and a wall to hide it, at least. Perhaps due to the lack of sunlight, the air circulation felt somewhat poor.

‘It’s just a prison…’

In fact, the walls surrounded it on three sides, and where there were no walls, iron bars stood like a fence. 

It seemed that there were several similar cells on the opposite side, separated by a corridor. There was only a small window high up at the back.

Mabel approached the iron bars and shook them with both hands. Naturally, they didn’t budge, so she reluctantly looked around the corridor.

‘There were two gatekeepers where I entered, and there’s one in the back too.’

She needed to quickly escape from here and inform the Kingdom about Kathleen being targeted and Travis being subservient to Wiski.

In frustration, she tapped the iron bars with her palms. But all she heard was a weak echo, and Mabel sighed.

“―Who?”

Suddenly, a voice came from the adjacent wall.

At first, she thought she misheard, but it was followed by a metallic scraping sound. As Mabel widened her eyes in surprise, a man’s voice echoed from the wall on the right.

“Is someone there?”

“…I’m Mabel. Um, who are you?”

She asked cautiously. The man answered again in a barely audible volume.

“…Mutabilis.”

“Mutabilis, huh.”

Since there was no correction, it seemed she didn’t make a mistake.

She couldn’t believe that there were other people here besides herself. Mabel continued to ask questions through the wall.

“Mutabilis, why are you here?”

“…”

No response.

He might not want to answer, so Mabel stopped pressing further.

She sat on the creaking bed, contemplating what to do next.

‘It’s frustrating, but I truly don’t have the same value as my sisters…’

Travis’s words pierced Mabel’s heart. But she didn’t have time to be down.

‘Someone must have noticed that I’ve been kidnapped. I need to find a way to escape quickly.’

Mabel bit her lip, swallowing her frustration.

In the West Tower, meals were delivered twice a day.

Travis seemed to think that he still needed to keep Mabel alive, for now.

‘It’s already the third day.’

After finishing her meal, she scratched the wall. Since there was hardly any sunlight in the cell, she had to do this to keep track of the days.

As she placed the dishes near the entrance, she sensed movement from the neighboring cell.

“Mutabilis?”

Come to think of it, they hadn’t spoken since their initial conversation. After confirming that the gatekeepers were far away, Mabel continued the conversation in a low voice.

“We’re both in a tough situation.”

“…”

Still no response. Mabel sighed but quickly smiled.

‘He reminds me of Eugene of the old days’

When Mabel started going to his castle, he never responded no matter how much she called out to him. She wondered why he kept creeping into her mind and continued to speak.

“I came from the Eakes Kingdom. And you?”

“…”

“Are you one of Wiski’s people?”

“…”

She wondered if there was any question he could easily answer, and Mabel opened her mouth.

“Did you get enough food for the day? Is there any food you like, Mutabilis?”

“. . .”

No luck. Mabel furrowed her brows, but then a low voice finally came from the other side of the wall.

“Something sweet…”

Mabel blinked a few times and smiled happily.

“What do you like? Cookies? Cake?”

“…Cookies.”

“Got it. If we can get out of here, I’ll make them for you.”

Mutabilis’s voice suddenly became slightly louder.

“Really?”

“Yeah. So let’s both do our best.”

With that, Mabel returned to the depths of the cell.

That’s right, she could still hang in there. Mabel reassured herself and lay down on the bed to conserve her energy.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟑𝟒

Another day passed, followed by another two, and quickly, a week passed.

Perhaps because they had been conserving their energy, their bodies didn’t seem to have any issues as they moved around.

However, in the confined space and the environment devoid of sunlight, it was their minds that seemed to be screaming first.

“Mutabilis, are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

In the midst of it all, the conversations with Mutabilis, who was in the adjacent cell, provided Mabel with some solace. At first, he didn’t respond to her, but recently, he had started answering her questions, albeit slowly.

“Mutabilis, how long have you been here?”

“A long time.”

“A long time?”

Mabel pondered those words for a moment. She understood that she was being held captive as a hostage, but she wondered why Mutabilis, who was restrained next to her, had been captured.

‘If it was for doing something bad, there would be a regular prison, right? Besides, he doesn’t seem like such a bad person.’

Although they had only talked for a few days, Mutabilis’ answers were simple, and apart from his low voice, he had a childlike innocence.

“Mutabilis, um―if you don’t want to answer, it’s okay, but why are you imprisoned here?”

There was a brief silence.

As Mabel patiently waited, words finally came out, albeit hesitantly.

“They have something important to me.”

“Something important?”

“Yeah. I’m here because I want to retrieve it.”

Mabel tilted her head in response to those words. 

If he wanted to retrieve something, it meant that it had originally belonged to Mutabilis and had been taken away.

Considering the situation of being locked up in this cell, it was highly likely that the person who took it was a member of the royal family of Wiski.

(I wonder what he wants to retrieve. . .)

Mabel encouraged him, saying that there might be something she could do to help.

“Mutabilis, what is it? If it’s okay for me to know, I’m willing to help…”

“―Are you suggesting a prison break between fellow prisoners?”

A sudden voice interrupted, causing Mabel to stiffen.

She recognized that voice. It belonged to Travis.

“…What are you doing here?”

“Why can’t I be here? I am here to bring you some good news.”

Travis stood on the other side of the iron bars, looking down at Mabel. In response, she stared back at him without backing down. Travis twisted his mouth with amusement and delivered his message to Mabel.

“The Eakes Kingdom has made an announcement.”

“W-What?”

“It is the engagement between the third princess, Kathleen Lathra Icus, and the magician Eugene Rava”

Travis laughed again, and Mabel was at a loss for words.

‘What does this mean? Onee-sama and Eugene got engaged?’

“I can’t believe they’re offering the most beautiful princess in the country. It seems that Eakes Kingdom has become desperate.”

Travis snorted, and then Strauss, who seemed to have come to find him, shouted with frustration.

“Travis! So you were here!”

“Your Highness, what can I do for you?”

“What’s going on? Look what happened because of your little slip-up, Kathleen is in trouble now!”

“Oh, you mean her engagement to the mage.”

“There’s no way I’ll let Kathy be handed over to a mage! Come up with a plan to fix this mess!”

Travis was then dragged away by Strauss. As Mabel watched them leave, she once again thought about the announcement made by Eakes Kingdom.

‘So, it’s because she’s Kathleen Onee-sama that she’s getting married’

Certainly, her sister was a beauty beyond comparison to Mabel.

But considering his personality, he didn’t seem like someone who would judge solely based on appearances.

‘Is it all because I–’

Mabel’s vision darkened. At that moment, she heard Mutabilis’ voice from the adjacent cell.

“Mabel?”

“…What?”

“Do you know Eugene?”

Mabel hesitated for a moment, then immediately spoke up.

“I do. I think he was someone I liked.”

“Someone you liked?”

“He rejected me, though. But it’s all my fault.”

If I hadn’t lied and approached him, would he have liked me as Mabel?

It was a pointless hypothetical question now. Worried about Mabel, whose words trailed off, Mutabilis spoke again.

“Mabel, do you also like mages?”

“What do you mean?”

“Mages are feared. They possess powers that ordinary people can’t hope to have, and those powers can harm others. They are dangerous beings.”

Mabel couldn’t help but furrow her brows in sadness.

Indeed, Mabel recalled that she didn’t fully understand what mages were until she had direct contact with Eugene.

“…That’s not true. Eugene may have been a recluse, but he never did anything dangerous. In the first place, he hardly used magic “

“He didn’t use magic?”

“That’s right. That’s why his hair was always messy, and he would forget to eat and collapse. But, there’s no point in talking about this now.”

“…”

Perhaps sensing Mabel’s wry smile, Mutabilis didn’t speak any further.

Once again, silence dominated the prison cell, and Mabel lay down on the bed alone.

Strangely, tears didn’t flow.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟑𝟓

The day was bustling since morning.

Several people, including Strauss, Travis, and someone who seemed to be an aide, had come to the usually guarded western tower.

They hurriedly kicked the stone floor and lined up in front of the cell where Mabel was.

“Mable Ratra Eakes.”

“…What is it, Strauss-sama?”

Mabel, sitting on the floor, looked up at Strauss from below.

“We found a use for you,” with a loud clunk, the lock on the cell was removed.

Without saying a word, Mabel waited for him to continue speaking.

“Stop being so sluggish. I will take you with me to the upcoming engagement announcement. After all, we ‘found’ the kidnapped princess Mable.”

“How audacious…”

“That way, after infiltrating the ceremony, we will kidnap Kathy in your place. How about that? It’s a splendid plan, isn’t it?”

One of the soldiers grabbed Mabel’s arm as she sat, forcibly pulling her up.

She was compelled to walk and was clumsily led out of the cell.

She glared at Travis, who was standing next to Strauss, and reproached him.

“Are you kidding? If I return and tell the truth, it will be exposed immediately.”

“Indeed. If it weren’t for a certain Mage-dono saying strange things, we wouldn’t have to rush like this.”

“There’s no helping it. I can’t allow Kathy to marry him.”

She also directed a contemptuous gaze at Strauss, who was nodding beside her.

“It doesn’t matter how much you speak the truth. It doesn’t matter. Soon, that country will belong to Wiski.”

Upon hearing Travis’ words, Mabel looked at him again.

“As soon as we confirm Kathleen-sama’s arrival here, we will begin the invasion of the Eakes Kingdom; so your testimony means nothing.”

“Eugene won’t let you do such a thing!”

“Yes. Perhaps I should buy some time.”

Behind them, another lock clicked tightly.

When Mabel turned to the source of the sound, she saw that the adjacent cell, where Mutabilis had been, was now open.

“Mutabilis?”

Accompanied by soldiers, a figure appeared, just like Mabel.

A loud clunk echoed as a heavy shackle was attached to his leg.

He was quite tall and had very thin limbs. His clothes were tattered, and the hem was dirty and frayed. His hair was long and tangled, with an unusual color that resembled gray or white.

But Mabel’s attention was drawn to one point, so much so that she couldn’t see anything else.

A white mask.

A long-beaked mask that resembled the face of a bird was on Mutabilis’ face.

“Mutabilis, could it be you?”

“The Shadow Mage. Is that you?

Travis quietly smiled as he announced. Mabel had heard that name before from Eugene.

‘If I remember correctly, when I was attacked by a wolf…’

Mabel tried to say something, but her arm was forcefully pulled by the soldier, and she was made to walk. It seemed that Mutabilis was following from behind, and they were all brought to a room at the edge of the tower.

Inside, there was an old desk and chair, and a slightly larger window than the cell. However, thick curtains covered it, allowing only a faint glimpse of light through the gaps.

“Tie her up.”

Following Strauss’ command, the soldiers tied Mabel’s hands behind the chair in the center. She tried to resist, but they were too strong, and her efforts were in vain.

Meanwhile, Strauss, Travis, and the soldiers accompanying Mutabilis stood in front of her.

“Mabel-sama, I will cast a spell on you.”

“A spell, you say.”

“Yes. More accurately―a curse, might be the right term.”

Saying that, Travis glanced at the soldier holding Mutabilis captive.

Mutabilis was forcibly dragged in front of Mabel, but he stumbled and fell due to the weight on his leg.

With the clinking sound of chains, Mutabilis slowly stood up.

“Shadow, you understand, don’t you?”

“…”

“Use your magic on her.”

Mutabilis stood still for a while.

Mabel stared at him intently, but his expression was unreadable behind the white mask. However, only his mouth, not covered by the mask, was tightly closed.

“Shadow, what are you doing?”

“…No, I don’t want to.”

Travis raised an eyebrow at those words but quickly narrowed his eyes and smiled.

“How unusual. Are you feeling sentimental?”

“…”

“Are you okay with not regaining Melveilleuse’s Heart?”

“. . .”

Mabel held her breath at those words.

―Melveilleuse. That was Mabel’s mother’s name.

“Now, hurry up.”

At Travis’s words, Mutabilis slowly raised his arm to shoulder height.

At first, he murmured something quietly, but gradually it grew louder, eventually filling the room with a terrifyingly uniform song. Mabel could only hold her breath, wondering what was about to happen.

Eventually, Mutabilis pointed his finger at Mabel. Instantly, a high-pitched snapping sound was heard, and strange patterns began to appear around Mabel.

“―Embrace death.”

With those words, the floating patterns converged on Mabel’s body as if sticking to her.

Instantly, she felt her heart tighten as if it were being squeezed.

‘What is this?!’

She had experienced chest pain a few times when she was with Eugene, but this was far worse. She could feel her heartbeat quickening, and Mabel’s breathing became erratic.

Gradually, the pain in Mabel’s heart subsided, leaving only slight discomfort.

She instinctively looked at Mutabilis.

Although her eyes and nose were still hidden, Mabel could tell that his mouth was open in surprise.

“Well done, Shadow. Take her away.”

Following Travis’s instructions, the soldiers captured Mutabilis and tried to leave the room.

At that moment, Mutabilis muttered in a small voice.

“Mabel, you–”

But he was urged to leave by the soldiers, and Mabel couldn’t hear any more of his words.

In the room now devoid of Mutabilis, Mabel remained seated and glared at Travis. Just as she was about to complain, Travis silenced her.

“It’s better if you don’t speak.”

“…”

“I’ve cast a spell that will take your life if you speak the truth. You don’t want that, do you?”

Mabel swallowed hard.

If she spoke, Mabel’s life would be forfeit.

―But if she stays silent, Kathleen and the Eakes Kingdom will be in trouble…

“Well, I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s ceremony.”

A wave of fear washed over Mabel.

‘I absolutely won’t let that happen… But what should I do!’

Mabel desperately pondered what she should do.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟑𝟔

After coming up with a plan, Strauss and his group, excluding Travis who had betrayed the kingdom, were heading towards the Eakes Kingdom’s palace.

The security around the palace was tighter than usual, creating a tense atmosphere. It seemed that entry was prohibited for anyone other than those involved in the ceremony.

When the leading soldier informed the Eakes Kingdom’s gatekeeper of their arrival, he hurriedly ran into the castle. As Mabel observed the situation intently, the gatekeeper quickly returned and answered Strauss.

“The king wishes to express his gratitude. Please come this way.”

Walking through the familiar hallway, Mabel felt the heaviest footsteps she had ever taken.

What should I do? Does Father believe the lies?

The largest door in the palace. It was the room where audiences with the king and national events took place.

The gatekeeper who guided Mabel opened the grand door. The spacious room was adorned with luxurious decorations, and the nobles of the Eakes Kingdom stood in a row along the walls. At the far end sat Licht, the king of the Eakes Kingdom and Mabel’s father.

And next to him were Gertrude, the eldest daughter, Claire, the second daughter, and Fergie, the fourth daughter, each dressed formally. On the opposite side was Kathleen, wearing a delicate white dress. And―

‘Eugene!’

Next to Kathleen sat a slender man.

His messy bangs were neatly arranged now, and his refined appearance was no different from that of a noble youth.

As usual, his forehead all the way to his nose was covered by a black mask, but his attire in a frock coat was completely different from when he secluded himself in his own castle.

“It’s been a while, Prince Strauss.”

“Greetings, King Licht.”

Licht, sitting in the center, spoke familiarly.

In response, Strauss politely bowed in a conspicuous manner. Mabel inwardly gazed at him with bitterness.

“Today is the day of my daughter Kathleen’s engagement. I apologize for the grand reception.”

“No, Your Majesty. It is an honor to be present at the celebration.”

Mabel’s teeth gnashed at the fact that he had come with ulterior motives, but her frustration went unnoticed. Moreover, Licht continued speaking with a delighted expression.

“By the way, I heard that you have safely found my daughter Mabel.”

“There was a thieving gang causing trouble in Wiski. When we recently cracked down on them, I rescued Mabel-sama, who was held hostage.”

“Really. . .Mabel, I’m glad you’re safe.”

Seeing her father’s face filled with relief, Mabel wanted to shout the truth right away.

But if she were to shout here and lose her life, it would only cause panic in this place.

She had to wait for the right moment to disrupt Strauss’s plans, and Mabel bit her lip forcefully.

“…”

“Prince Strauss, I express my heartfelt gratitude. I must thank you.”

He asked if there was anything he desired.

In response, Strauss lowered his well-groomed eyebrows and smiled happily.

“I appreciate your consideration. In that case, there is one thing I would like.”

“Oh, really? What is it?”

“I would like―Miss Kathleen over there.”

Before Strauss finished speaking, the soldiers standing behind him suddenly pointed their swords toward the surroundings. A moment later, there were screams from the ladies and murmurs from the men.

Observing the scene from a high position, Licht’s expression immediately turned stern, and he shouted at Strauss.

“Prince Strauss, what is the meaning of this?”

“Go ahead, but don’t harm her.”

In an instant, Mabel was forcefully pushed from behind. She fell to the floor, and the soldiers ran towards the stage, leaping over her body.

Amidst the sound of tearing silk, Mabel noticed her sisters standing up from their chairs.

Kathleen, the primary target, naturally tried to escape, but the soldiers reached out to grab her first.

However, at that moment, a tornado-like wind rose from beneath their feet, causing the soldiers to stop in surprise.

“―Excuse me.”

There stood Eugene, shielding Kathleen from behind.

The soldiers, bewildered by the extraordinary presence of the masked man, regained their fighting spirit and aimed their swords at Eugene.

While watching that scene, Mabel was struck by a sense of relief that her sister was safe, but at the same time, her heart tightened with a feeling of unease.

(Eugene is protecting Onee-sama. . .)

Has his heart truly drifted away?

Unaware of Mabel’s inner turmoil, Eugene skillfully dodged the attacking soldiers, protecting Kathleen. 

Soon, Eugene wrapped the wind around his arm, turning it into a blade-like form. The soldiers who faced him instinctively flinched. As the commotion reached the ears of the Eakes Kingdom’s soldiers, they began to gather. Perhaps feeling flustered, Strauss raised his voice.

“What are you all doing? Hurry up, or else―.”

The last words were completely drowned out by a thunderous roar as if a cannon had exploded at close range.

“What’s happening!”

Licht shouted to the captain of the royal guards.

Ignoring the startled captain, a gatekeeper who had been guarding the entrance rushed in.

“Excuse me! We’re under attack, Wiski is attacking!”

Immediately after, another loud explosion resounded, causing the room where Mabel and the others were to shake violently.

The guests panicked and scrambled, crowding around the entrances and exits.

“That Travis, attacking earlier than planned!”

Damn it, Strauss muttered and looked at the stage in frustration.

Amidst the chaos, Kathleen was still protected by Eugene, and the soldiers seemed unable to lay a hand on them.

Before they knew it, the soldiers of the Eakes Kingdom were being pushed back. Realizing the urgency of the situation, Strauss grabbed Mabel’s arm as she sat down. A sword was pressed against her throat.

“―!”

“We’re changing the plan. You will become a hostage once again.”

Mabel desperately tried to brush his hand away, but due to the difference in size, she couldn’t resist. With her feet tripping over, she was dragged out of the room.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟑𝟕

In the midst of the crowd, the corridor wall shook with a loud bang, and a portion of it collapsed.

Screams erupted from the group that had been running ahead, causing Strauss to let go in surprise.

In that brief moment, Mabel moved away from him. She thought of escaping quickly, but she ended up being swept away by the crowd.

‘It’s so hard!’

Exhausted from being imprisoned for so long, Mabel felt her consciousness fading.

At that moment, someone grabbed Mabel’s arm again. She was led into a storage room by the side of the corridor.

‘Who?! Who is…?’

The door was forcefully closed and locked.

When Mabel looked up, Eugene was there.

Trying desperately to contain her joy and surprise, she fought back the urge to cry out.

‘No, Eugene is already Onee-sama’s…’

Amidst her hesitation, Eugene grabbed her arm.

The area where Strauss had held her was red.

“What happened?”

He touched it in worry, his body trembling.

Then, it felt slightly warm, and the pain subsided. His touch was so gentle that tears welled up in Mabel’s eyes.

However, hearing Eugene’s next words, her expression quickly darkened.

“So, it was you, Mabel.”

Mabel quietly lowered her head.

She knew she would be blamed for lying.

But when Eugene saw her like that, he suddenly smiled, just like before.

“Are you angry?”

This time, it was Mabel’s turn to be surprised.

“I went ahead and got engaged to your sister all of a sudden.”

“… “

Mabel couldn’t bear it and shook her head vigorously.

She had no right to be angry. But the fact that she was sad couldn’t be denied.

“I’m sorry.”

“…”

She wanted to know everything right away.

She wanted to talk.

She wanted to apologize.

And―

‘I…I like you’

But if she voiced it, she would die.

In this critical situation, she didn’t want to burden him.

With unspoken feelings, Mabel reached out her finger toward Eugene’s chest.

“Mabel?”

Tears overflowed from Mabel’s eyes, beyond her control.

Desperately biting her lip to keep from making a sound.

Seeing Mabel like that, Eugene gently placed his hand on her cheek, looking surprised.

“Mabel, you―”

In an instant, a larger impact than before struck the wall.

It seemed that Wiski’s invasion was getting worse.

“It’s dangerous here. Let’s go quickly.”

With Eugene leading her, Mabel went back into the corridor.

There were more debris and wood scattered than before, and flames ignited by arrows were devouring the red carpet. Eugene tried to go downstairs, but many Wiski soldiers were invading below.

“This way.”

They quickly turned around and ran towards the path leading to the rooftop of the tower.

While running, Eugene spoke to Mabel.

“Are there mages over there? This explosion…”

The word “mage” reminded Mabel of Mutabilis.

But she had no way to convey that to him, and the two of them arrived on the rooftop as they were.

Under the blue sky, several pillars of black smoke rose from the castle town. It had turned into a hellish scene of clashing swords, soldiers’ shouts, high-pitched screams, and children’s cries.

Mabel felt despair and collapsed on the spot. Seeing this, Eugene immediately began a small incantation.

At that moment, right next to them, another explosion occurred.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟑𝟖

“Mabel!”

Eugene hurriedly shielded Mabel.

As Eugene, whose incantation was interrupted, clicked his tongue, they heard the sound of flapping wings above them.

A large shadow raced across the ground, and Mabel followed it with her eyes.

‘Mutabilis!’

What landed in front of Mabel was Mutabilis, wearing a white mask.

Black majestic wings sprouted from their back, and as Mutabilis touched the ground, they disappeared as if bursting.

“So, it’s you, Shadow. This sort of excessive assistance to another country should not be encouraged, right?”

“I am―”

“He is merely supplying magic to our country.”

Travis appeared at the entrance of the staircase, where the two had climbed without anyone noticing.

Perhaps he had boldly entered after the operation had begun.

“Wiski is merely borrowing the power of Shadow and applying it to weapons.”

“Hmph,” Eugene scoffed.

“I see. That explains the strange magical entanglement.”

Eugene’s gaze was fixed on the mask worn by Mutabilis.

“Anyway, I just need to defeat you, right?”

Eugene raised his arm to shoulder height, pointing his finger at Mutabilis.

But upon seeing his posture, Travis exclaimed, 

“Wait, is that really fine with you? After all, if he is dead, Mable will be in quite some trouble…”

“What do you mean?”

“If he’s gone, Mabel-sama will never be able to speak again.”

“…What?”

Eugene turned around and looked at Mabel. 

Seeing Mabel still not uttering a word, Eugene seemed to have realized something.

“You are very cunning for a human, not far from a mage.”

“It’s a pleasure meeting you.”

With that, Travis smiled and clenched something in his hand.

Suddenly, Mutabilis, who was standing opposite them, pressed his hands to his face and began to suffer.

“Now Shadow! Kill that man.”

With those words as a trigger, Mutabilis let out a deep groan from the depths of his stomach and lunged toward Eugene with great force. Eugene reacted immediately, extending his white wings and escaping into the sky.

However, Mutabilis also spread his black wings and flew vertically, closing the distance between him and Eugene.

The two clashed high in the sky, creating a loud, harsh sound.

Eugene lost his balance and slightly descended in altitude. In response, Mutabilis reached out his hand, but Eugene unleashed a curved wind blade from below.

Mutabilis managed to dodge it, but it grazed his shoulder.

Chasing after Mutabilis, who was gliding diagonally with a pained expression, Eugene raised his arm even higher.

Mable held her breath in worry as she watched the battle between the two mages.

Of course, she wanted Eugene to win, but she also had feelings for Mutabilis, with whom she had spent time together in prison, ‘Although I don’t want him to be killed if possible, there is also Travis behind me to consider.’

‘if Mutabilis isn’t stopped, what will become of the Eakes Kingdom…’

Mabel couldn’t put either of those thoughts into words right now.

She looked around for some help.

Then she noticed that Travis, who was also looking up at the sky, was making some strange movements.

Travis’s gaze was fixed on Eugene floating in the air, slowly sneaking his right arm into his clothes. When his arm was pulled out again, he was holding something metallic.

‘It’s the weapon he used when he attacked Cero before!’

It was probably a tool that emitted shockwaves.

Although they were much farther apart this time, could he still shoot it?

Mabel noticed that Travis’s face was turned towards Eugene.

In a panic, Mabel also looked at Eugene.

But he was fully occupied with Mutabilis and didn’t notice what was happening here.

‘I have to stop him!’

Mabel stood up and ran towards Travis with all her might.

However, as Travis glanced at Mabel, he smirked and aimed his weapon toward the sky.

When he pulled the trigger, a beam of light resembling black sparks shot straight ahead.

―And in its path was Eugene.

For a moment, Mable forgot about the cursing and screamed loudly, “Run!”

Eugene immediately noticed the loud voice.

He arched his upper body backward, narrowly avoiding the light.

Relieved, Mabel pressed her hand against her chest, but at the same time, she realized something.

‘I shouldn’t be speaking right now!’

Mabel quickly checked her own body.

But her heart was still beating, and there was nothing strange about her limbs.

With a puzzled expression, Mabel witnessed an even stranger sight.

While Travis was preparing to wield his weapon again.  Mutabilis descended rapidly, leaving Eugene behind in the sky.

Without hesitation, Mabel grabbed Travis’s arm, snatched his weapon, and threw it far away.

This time, it was Travis’s turn to be surprised.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟑𝟗

“W-What are you doing?!”

“I was waiting for you to use it.”

As Travis looked into Mutabilis’s cold, piercing eyes, he panicked and tried to escape.

However, Eugene was hovering above, slowly lowering his index finger towards Travis’s head.

In an instant, the scenery around Travis seemed to distort, and moments later, he suddenly clutched his throat in pain.

‘Wh-What’s happening?’

Travis opened his mouth and eyes wide, writhing in agony.

Soon, he collapsed to the ground and lay there limp.

Seeing this, Eugene made a gesture with his right hand as if swatting something away, and the distortion surrounding Travis vanished as if a thread had been cut.

Before they knew it, the two who had been fighting in the sky had paused their commotion, and Mabel cautiously approached Travis.

As she crouched down and looked closely, she realized he had fainted, his face contorted in pain.

“I removed the essential elements from him.”

With a fluttering sound, Eugene landed next to Mabel.

Mabel raised a question mark at his words.

“Essential elements?”

“In a person’s life, there are indispensable elements that must always be present. Usually, they are everywhere and go unnoticed, but I intentionally removed them only around him. That’s why he temporarily lost consciousness due to the deficiency.”

Mabel was both impressed and slightly frightened by Eugene’s matter-of-fact explanation.

If those elements or whatever hadn’t been restored, Travis would have likely lost not only consciousness but also his life.

After confirming that Travis was alive, Eugene turned his gaze towards Mutabilis, who stood a little distance away.

“Is this satisfactory?”

“Yes. Thank you.”

Mutabilis answered and tilted his head lightly.

“That weapon creates a brief opening once activated. But it was aimed at you. I’m truly sorry.”

“It didn’t hit me, so it’s fine.”

Mabel noticed Eugene’s gaze flicker toward her and felt a slight sense of joy.

But as she recalled a matter, she gave a gasp. She turned to Mutabilis and asked, 

“Um, didn’t you say you cursed me?”

In response to that question, Mutabilis smiled.

“Yes, I did. But it didn’t affect you.”

“Huh?”

“To be precise, I couldn’t cast it on you. Mabel, you―”

“Sorry to interrupt, but there’s still unfinished business.”

Interrupting Mutabilis’ words, Eugene stood next to Mabel.

Indeed, although the explosions had stopped, there were still many soldiers inside the castle.

“Yeah, you’re right.”

Mutabilis nodded and gently approached Mabel.

Apologizing with a wry smile to Mabel, he instinctively distanced himself.

“Mabel, I have a favor to ask.”

“W-What?”

“I want you to remove this mask.”

Mabel furrowed her brows, not understanding what he meant, but Mutabilis looked at her and changed his expression to a smile.

doubtful, Mabel hesitantly reached out her hand towards Mutabilis’s white mask.

When her finger touched the metal near his ear, she felt a slight warmth spreading.

But it wasn’t enough to cause a burn, and Mabel continued to remove the mask.

From beneath the mask emerged pale, translucent skin and eyes as clear as a summer sky.

The eyelashes framing them were silver and unusually long, almost resembling those of a woman.

A slender nose and thin lips exuded an ethereal atmosphere, like a fleeting snow spirit. Mabel couldn’t help but sigh at Mutabilis’ true face.

‘It’s different from Eugene and Row, but it’s also a beautiful face…’

Just as she marveled at this masked mage, Mutabilis smiled and met Mabel’s gaze, unexpectedly looking younger. It sent a slight shiver down Mabel’s spine.

“Thank you. Now everything will be fine.”

“Fine?”

“Because of this mask, I was bound by Wiski’s power. But now I’m free.”

Saying that, Mutabilis spread her wings again and soared into the sky.

Eugene was already up there, observing the raging battle below.

“Sorry for the wait.”

“Couldn’t you have asked someone else to undo it?”

“Sorry, but Mabel was the only one here.”

To lift a curse, the medium on which the curse is placed needs to be removed by someone other than the spellcaster.

Eugene was aware of that possibility, but he was worried that Mabel might see Mutabilis up close and fall in love with him.

Whether Mutabilis knew about Eugene’s concerns or not, he narrowed his eyes. 

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟒𝟎

“It’s okay. Magic doesn’t work on Mabel.”

“Why is that?”

“I’ll tell you after this is over.”

With that, Mutabilis raised his right hand high. As he moved his hand horizontally, waves of white lightning ran through the air.

They fell one after another onto the town below, followed by the soldiers’ screams. Eugene had been glaring at Mutabilis for a while, but now he also extended his gloved hand and lifted the fallen debris and injured soldiers of the Eakes Kingdom.

Mutabilis made the soldiers faint one after the other, and Eugene sent them flying far away to Wiski. Mabel simply stared in astonishment as these supernatural phenomena unfolded before her eyes.

‘So this is the power of a mage…’

At the same time, she noticed that the destroyed walls and shattered windows were being restored.

The soldiers of the Eakes Kingdom who had been fighting in the courtyard watched in wonder as the Wiski soldiers collapsed before their eyes and flew away.

Before long, the enemy’s presence disappeared from within the Eakes Kingdom castle.

The buildings that were supposed to be destroyed were almost completely rebuilt. The broken national flag was raised again at the top of the castle. After confirming that everything had returned to normal, Eugene and Mutabilis slowly lowered their hands.

Finally, the two approached Mabel, who was speechless.

“…”

Mabel, with her eyes wide open, looked at Eugene.

He tilted his head as if asking what was wrong.

“Th-thank you…”

Unable to contain herself, Mabel hugged Eugene.

Taken aback by the sudden gesture, Eugene stiffened. His hands, which had been gracefully conducting earlier, now hovered in the air, unsure of where to go. Mutabilis smirked and lowered his eyelashes.

“Thank you. Thanks to you…the Eakes Kingdom and everyone…was saved.”

It was then that Mabel finally realized she was crying.

Perhaps it was because she had been holding up a facade since her abduction, or because she felt guilty for bringing the enemy into the kingdom. All the pent-up emotions were finally released.

Even if she tried to stop, there was no sign of it subsiding.

Eugene seemed to understand and gently stroked Mabel’s back.

Eventually, with a hint of fear, he cautiously embraced her. It was as if he was handling fragile goods.

“It’s actually me who should apologize. I’m sorry,” he said.

“Why are you apologizing…?”

“I couldn’t read the letter you gave me. I thought you ran away because of what I said…I was scared to open it, afraid of what it might say.”

As soon as Eugene expressed his feelings, Mabel disappeared.

After a while, he received a letter from her, but Eugene couldn’t bring himself to open it.

If it was a farewell letter for good, If it was something that would condemn him as a mage, something terrifying, no matter what was written inside, he couldn’t forget about Mabel. He made up his mind and opened the envelope, prepared for the truth.

Inside was a sincere apology from her.

She apologized for deceiving him, for pretending to be someone else.

Upon reading it, Eugene deeply regretted his actions.

“I blamed you without knowing anything. I was a fool for not seeing for myself.”

He might not be forgiven even if he apologized.

But he had to convey his feelings, so he immediately headed to the royal castle of the Eakes Kingdom. It was there that he finally learned about Mabel’s abduction.

“If I had read it earlier, I wouldn’t have put you through such a terrifying experience…”

“No, it’s okay. I’m the one who lied, I’m sorry.”

Mabel’s eyes filled with tears again, and she quietly closed her eyelids.

Seeing this, Eugene pulled Mabel closer. At that moment, the door to the rooftop swung open loudly.

“Mabel! Are you okay?”

There stood the eldest daughter, Gertrude, armed and shouting with the bravery of a soldier.

As a result, Eugene and Mabel quickly separated from each other.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟒𝟏: 𝐍𝐢𝐜𝐞 𝐭𝐨 𝐌𝐞𝐞𝐭 𝐘𝐨𝐮, 𝐅𝐢𝐚𝐧𝐜é

“Is that…true?”

Mabel, who had finally returned to the castle, stood there with her mouth agape, while her father and Kathleen watched over her.

Seeing her expression, Mabel’s father nodded slowly.

“Yes, I apologize for deceiving you like that.”

“So, Kathleen-oneesama and Eugene-sama are not engaged?”

“No, you can rest assured, Mabel.”

After seeing Kathleen’s radiant smile, resembling a blooming rose, Mabel turned to look at Eugene, who was standing behind her. Eugene, feeling guilty, continued speaking while meeting Mabel’s confused gaze.

“When I heard about the situation where you were taken, I thought there was a high possibility of a mix-up, and that Kathleen might have been the one intended to be kidnapped instead.”

“And the talk of engagement?”

“If your sister was the target, by spreading rumors about the engagement, the culprit would surely try to stop it. We could catch them then, that was my suggestion.”

I didn’t expect it to go so smoothly, Eugene thought, smiling as if mocking the situation.

“I see, I’m relieved…I thought you two were really getting married.”

Mabel let out a sigh of relief, and Eugene stared at her intently through his mask.

But then, he shook his head in exasperation and said with a hint of annoyance.

“There’s no way that would happen. Did you really think my feelings for you were so half-hearted?”

“No, it’s not like that…”

Feeling embarrassed when reminded, Mabel blushed and looked down. The king, who was watching the two, laughed heartily.

“But let me thank you again, Eugene-dono. Thanks to you, the Eakes Kingdom was saved.”

“I didn’t do it for the Eakes Kingdom. I only did it because Mable is here.”

“You’re still as harsh as ever.”

The king nodded in agreement, then looked at Eugene intently and opened his hand, resting it on the armrest of the throne.

“Anyway, we must show our gratitude for protecting our kingdom. Is there anything you desire?”

Upon hearing that question, Eugene quietly gazed at Mabel.

On the other hand, Mabel tilted her head, wondering what Eugene could possibly want.

‘But what does Eugene want? Does he want something?’

The overwhelming power of magic he had shown earlier.

With that, they could go anywhere in the world and obtain anything they wanted.

But Mabel was curious about what he desired, as he didn’t seem to care about food or clothes.

“Well, just one thing.”

With a smile on his lips, Eugene spoke.

“I would like to have…the youngest princess, Mabel Ratra Eakes.”

As soon as those words were spoken, a slight murmur arose from the people gathered in the hall. The four princesses each showed surprise or admiration, and the king, Mabel’s father, furrowed his brow.

But the most surprised of all was Mabel, who was proposed to in such a setting.

“More precisely, I wish to return to our original engagement,” Eugene clarified.

“Hmm, of course, but…”

Saying that, the king looked at Mabel slowly.

“Mabel, what do you think?”

Mabel, who was stunned by the proposal in front of everyone, repeated her father’s words in her head and finally regained consciousness. She looked at Eugene’s golden eyes behind the mask and smiled happily.

“I would be delighted!”

Seeing her response, Eugene’s eyes beneath the mask narrowed with joy.

A week later, Mabel returned to a secluded old castle on the outskirts of the Eakes Kingdom.

Now, she held a large woven basket and a simple picnic mat in her hands, knocking on the door of Eugene’s room on the second floor. Today, Mabel suggested having lunch outside under the shade of a tree outside the castle since the weather was nice.

“Eugene-san, everything is ready!”

“Ah, I’m coming.”

Eugene, called by Mabel, came out of his room and snatched the large basket from her. He then briskly headed downstairs. Surprised by the sudden lightness in her hands, Mabel followed him with a happy expression.

As they stepped outside, they were greeted by the beautiful sky, reminiscent of melted aquamarine, and lush green grass that shimmered brightly. The temperature was not too high, and a pleasant breeze blew.

“Is this place good?”

Eugene noticed a slightly larger tree near the castle and set down his belongings at its base. Mabel spread out a mat she had in her hands and began revealing the contents of the basket one by one.

“First, we have salmon and cheese sandwiches, as well as tomato and chicken ones. We also have potato quiche and roast beef…”

As Mabel excitedly explained and took out the items, Eugene watched with a slightly bewildered smile on his face. He let out a sigh and sat down next to Mabel.

“Can you really eat all of that?”

“If there are leftovers, we’ll have them for dinner.”

Eugene grabbed one of the sandwiches that was offered to him and brought it to his mouth, visible beneath his mask. After chewing a few times, he suddenly smiled.

“It’s delicious.”

“Really?!”

“Yes.”

Relieved, Mabel also picked up a sandwich. The smoked salmon sandwich, nestled between soft bread, filled her mouth with a satisfying flavor, complemented by the saltiness of the cheese. As she quickly finished one and reached for another, Eugene was already holding his third sandwich.

She opened a bottle of low-alcohol wine and poured a glass for Eugene and for herself. While sipping on the slightly bitter and acidic wine, Mabel let out a contented sigh.

“What’s the matter?”

“Oh, nothing. It’s just peaceful.”

Upon hearing that, Eugene put down his wine and leaned toward Mabel. He rested his head on her lap.

“Eugene-san?”

“I’m going to take a short nap.”

“Eh?”

Saying that, Eugene remained facing the other way and settled into a sleeping position on Mabel’s lap.

Mabel was perplexed about what to do, but since she had finished laundry and cleaning, and had no plans for the afternoon, she decided to leave him as he was and chuckled.

Occasionally, as Eugene uncomfortably moved his head, Mabel suddenly had a thought.

‘I wonder if it’s hard for him to sleep. Maybe I should take off the mask…’

Gently placing her hand on the mask, she removed the earpiece.

“Since it seems difficult to sleep, I’ll take off the mask.”

She lifted the mask gently.

And there, beneath the still beautiful contours, long black eyelashes appeared. Not a blemish in sight, Mabel admired the flawless skin. Just as she did, Eugene, who had been sleeping on her lap, looked up at her.

“What is it?”

“Oh, I was just thinking how beautiful your face is, as always.”

“…”

Upon hearing Mabel’s words, Eugene averted his gaze slightly, seeming slightly dissatisfied. His cheeks seemed to turn slightly red. But quickly returning his gaze, he looked at Mabel with a serious expression.

“I prefer your face.”

“Huh?”

His golden eyes, like drops of sunlight, firmly captured both of Mabel’s eyes.

Feeling a slight tightness in her chest at the sight of those captivating irises, Mabel finally recognized the words spoken to her, and steam rose from her bright red face.

“Oh, no, I’m really just an ordinary person.”

“An ordinary person wouldn’t go up to the second floor and break a window, would they?”

“Oh, uh, I thought Eugene-san was in danger and I was desperate!”

As Mabel tried to argue, Eugene extended his right hand, covered in black gloves, and gently touched her cheek. Mabel had no time to escape and was forced to face Eugene directly.

Perfectly arranged eyes and nose, as if crafted by a doll maker.

Skin so translucent, as if not wearing any makeup, and bewitching thin lips.

In the presence of a mage whose appearance could captivate anyone who saw it, Mabel involuntarily held her breath.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟒𝟐

“Mabel. . .”

Eugene propped himself up on his elbow, slowly raising his upper body.

In response, Mabel also slightly bent forward.

Their lips were about to touch―but just before that, a loud flapping sound came from above.

And it was not just one set of wings.

“Oh, maybe I should have come back later.”

“S-Sorry, I’ll make sure not to look…”

“. . .”

As Mabel blushed and moved away, Eugene glared displeasedly at the unexpected visitors descending from above. 

In his line of sight was Row, wearing a deep crimson mask to match his red hair, and Mutabilis, who covered his eyes with his hand over the mask.

“What brings you here?”

“Well, this one wanted to see you.”

“S-Sorry.”

Mutabilis, pointed at by Row, bowed his head even more apologetically. The two changed their flapping pattern and slowly descended to the ground, landing gracefully.

“Nice to meet you again, I’m Mutabilis. My archetype is Shadow.”

“…Eugene. I’m Anima.”

Seeing Eugene sigh, Mutabilis bowed her head again.

“Thanks for your help last time.”

“It wasn’t for your sake.”

“Yeah, I know.”

While Mabel watched them talk, she timidly spoke up when there was a pause.

“Um, Mutabilis.”

“Mabel, what’s up?”

“I’ve been meaning to thank you. You intentionally didn’t cast a spell on me, right?”

A spell that would cause death when one spoke. 

What she had called a curse had, in the end, not affected Mabel.

Perhaps Mutabilis had pretended to cast it for her sake, Mabel thought. However, Mutabilis’ response was unexpected.

“No, Mabel. I did cast it.”

“Huh?”

“But it didn’t work. It was because of the magic you possess.”

At the mention of that word, Eugene reacted this time.

Mutabilis also seemed to notice and shifted his gaze toward him.

“As promised, I came to tell you that. Mable, I think you have magic in your heart.”

“Magic in my heart?”

As Mabel repeated the words, Mutabilis continued.

“Yeah. When I tried to cast a spell on you, it was repelled by a strong magical force. That’s why my magic didn’t affect you.”

“It was repelled…?”

“I became convinced of it when I arrived in the Eakes Kingdom. Your older sisters also have their own magic. Strong bodies, beautiful singing voices, exceptional beauty, and musical talent. I think you have some type of magic, but it resides in your heart.”

Compared to her glamorous sisters, Mabel had no quality of mention.

However, she did have magic. It was in a place no one could see, her heart.

“I see. So that’s why Mabel-chan isn’t enchanted even when she looks at us.”

“Yeah. I think she has the power to nullify all kinds of magic.”

Listening to their conversation, Eugene finally felt that everything had come together.

She passed through this forest, where no trespassers were allowed, and nothing happened even when she saw his true face. With her help, he managed to stay alive after he transformed into a beast. It was all because of the magic in her heart.

Glancing at Mabel, who still seemed puzzled, Eugene chuckled wryly. Seeing the two of them, Mutabilis awkwardly smiled.

“But I’m glad. Thanks to Mabel, I was able to be free too.”

“Because of me?”

“Yeah. You removed my mask and broke the curse. Thanks to that, I was able to find the whereabouts of Melveilleuse’s Heart.”

“Melveilleuse’s Heart?”

She remembered Travis shouting those words back then.

“Yeah. I had been searching for Melveilleuse’s Heart all this time. I heard that Wiski had it and asked him to give it to me. But they said, ‘If you cooperate with us, we’ll consider it,’ and deceived me, sealing my power.”

“I had thought of running away, but I really wanted to retrieve [Melveilleuse’s Heart]. But that was also their lie… because, well, Melveilleuse’s Heart was nowhere to be found anymore.”

Saying that, Mutabilis smiled at Mabel. 

“The Heart of Melveilleuse” was divided among her daughters. It took the form of magic. Mabel, you are one of them.

“…Inside of me?”

“Yes. The Heart of Melveilleuse refers to the concentrated magical power that your mother possessed. She knew she was going to die and decided to share it with her daughters.”

“My mother had magical power?”

To be precise, it was given to her by a mage who fell in love with her, I suppose.

―May your future be filled with happiness.

With that wish, the mage disappeared, leaving his protection behind for her.

After her mother’s death, the magical power seemed to have vanished. Mutabilis had been searching for it.

“Could it be that you were the one who gave it to her?”

“No way! Well, it’s, um, the person who corresponds to my Master, so to speak..”

“Oh, so you are wrapping up your master’s matters…”

After hearing Mutabilis’ words, Mabel gently placed her hand on her chest.

Her mother had cast magic on her daughters.

Each sister had their own talents and beauty, and Mabel had magic firmly embedded in her heart. Knowing this, Mabel naturally smiled.

After being asked various questions by Row and glancing at the flustered Mutabilis, Eugene pointed towards the forest near the castle with his chin.

“By the way, it’s about time you go home.”

“Ah! Look at this guy; as soon as he found a girlfriend, he forgot his friends.”

“Oh! Right, sorry, I didn’t realize.”

“Hurry up and go!”

With that, Row fluttered his red wings and floated up, followed by Mutabilis spreading his black wings. As Mabel bid farewell to the two gracefully flying away, she looked at Eugene and nodded with satisfaction.

“I was surprised, but that’s the reason why I can look at Eugene-san’s face without any problem.”

“Yeah, If there’s magic in your heart, it won’t be so easy for you to be affected…”

Eugene sighed and scratched his head. Mabel watched him, then quietly stood in front of Eugene and took his hand.

“I have to thank my mother.”

“…?”

Thanks to her, I can face Eugene-san like this.

Mabel said so and smiled gently. Eugene returned a slight smile to her expression and held onto Mabel’s fingertips.

“In that case, I feel the same. Thank you for being by my side.”

“Yes!”

The grassy field rustled lightly. Amidst the sound, the two gently pressed their lips together.

There were five princesses in the Eakes Kingdom.

The first princess was a warrior princess. With a sword in hand, she was unbeatable; even ordinary men weren’t her match.

The second princess was a songstress. Her voice was more beautiful than a siren’s.

The third princess was a beauty. She had captured the hearts of many. Even a prince or a knight couldn’t escape her charms.

The fourth princess was a musician. Whether it was the piano or the violin, the music she played was heavenly.

The fifth princess was the Heart Princess. She, who had a kind and brave heart, fell in love with the world’s greatest magician and lived happily ever after.

(The End)

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟒𝟑: 𝐄𝐱𝐭𝐫𝐚 𝐄𝐝𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧: 𝐒𝐰𝐞𝐞𝐭 𝐓𝐡𝐢𝐧𝐠𝐬 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐘𝐨𝐮

Under the large shade of a tree near Eugene’s castle.

Today, a lively party was being held under that shade.

“There’s plenty, so please help yourselves!”

Just as Mabel said, a variety of colorful dishes were lined up on the table.

There were mashed boiled eggs mixed with mustard and pepper, sandwiches with finely chopped beef seasoned with a sweet and savory sauce, and accompanied by lettuce. There was also a salad with fresh vegetables like tomatoes and corn and a whole roasted turkey.

Next to them were cupcakes, baked goods, and most notably, a large plate filled to the brim with cookies.

Starting with ones filled with jam in the center, there were cookies with a mixture of cocoa and vanilla, and thin ones adorned with almonds. From cookies adorned with large sugar crystals scattered throughout to ones shaped like masks, the array of cookies lined up was enough to make the men marvel in awe.

Row and Mutabilis were invited to the party. And since Mable had immunity to their charm, they comfortably took off their masks.

“Well, I noticed this when I had sweets before, but Mabel-chan, your cooking is amazing.”

“I wouldn’t say I’m amazing, but it’s pretty much the only thing I’m good at.”

“Still, aren’t these cookies a bit overbaked?”

As Eugene gazed at the cookies with a somewhat cold expression, Mutabilis, who had been sparkling with excitement since earlier, clenched his fist and strongly retorted.

“Don’t worry! I’ll eat them all properly!”

Upon hearing those words, Mabel narrowed her eyes with a happy expression, saying, “Thank you.”

In fact, this party was held at Mabel’s request.

“Well, you see, when I was captured by Wiski, I made a promise to Mutabilis to make him cookies…”

Eugene, who had been hesitant and troubled, finally came to a conclusion: he would reject the idea! He also prohibited giving the cookies to him as a gift.

“Why?!”

“Can you imagine someone being happy when their fiancée gives something to another man?”

Since becoming officially engaged, Eugene had become more open with Mabel than before. However, he occasionally showed a strict side when it came to the opposite sex, revealing surprising jealousy.

Of course, Mabel understood that it was because Eugene cherished her, so she didn’t feel bad about it. However, Mutabilis was also a benefactor of the Eakes Kingdom. If possible, she wanted to keep her promise.

“In that case, would it be okay if everyone is present?”

―And that’s how the cookie party came to be.

Ignoring Eugene, who frowned, Mutabilis, as he declared earlier, took his place in front of the cookies and began to carefully take one type at a time onto his plate and eat.

“Hey, this is delicious!”

Every time he took a bite, he had a truly happy smile on his face, and Mabel, who was watching, couldn’t help but let her guard down and smile as well.

As the mountain of sweets gradually but steadily disappeared, Row, holding a cup of coffee, spoke bitterly to Eugene.

“But seriously, how could you forgive this?”

“What do you mean?”

“This. I thought you would never do something like this because it’s you.”

“…”

In response to Row’s words, Eugene silently picked up the sandwich that had been left on the plate. As he silently took a bite, Row directed a slightly lowered gaze and said, “Hmm,” with a teasing smile.

“Well, I guess you must have compromised after realizing a certain point.”

Upon hearing Row’s muttered words, Eugene almost choked on his tea. He managed to maintain his composure, but Row’s teasing smile continued.

“If you’re too possessive, you’ll be disliked, you know.”

Listening to Row’s innocent advice that seemed to have a star attached to the end, Eugene quietly turned his gaze toward Mabel.

The cookies that had been so plentiful were now less than half, and Mabel was diligently pouring tea for Mutabilis. Occasionally, Mabel herself would eat a cookie and exchange comments with Mutabilis.

Seeing the two of them laughing together, Eugene let out a sigh.

“I’ll excuse myself for a bit,” Eugene spread his wings and returned to the castle alone.

That night, as Eugene was reading a book in his room, Mabel came to him.

“Thank you for today. Mutabilis and Row-san seemed really happy.”

“I see.”

With a cold response from Eugene, Mabel timidly held out a plate she had with her.

“Um, I thought maybe you haven’t eaten yet.”

On the plate were neatly arranged cookies.

It seemed like she had taken the trouble to separate them by type.

“Weren’t they for Mutabilis? Why are you giving them to me?”

“Well, that’s one reason, but…I also wanted Eugene-san to eat them.”

While listening to Mabel’s almost fading voice, Eugene widened his eyes for a moment.

Perhaps feeling embarrassed by the lack of a response, Mabel quickly said, “N-Never mind,” and tried to hide the plate.

“For me?”

However, Eugene stood up and snatched the plate before her.

Ah, seeing the cookies swaying on the palm of his hand, Mabel let out a scream.

“G-Give it back!”

“I didn’t say I wouldn’t eat them.”

“Huh?”

“Here.”

Saying that, Eugene sat on the sofa at the back of the room, still holding the cookies, and gestured with his chin to the seat next to him.

“. . .?”

Reluctantly, Mabel sat down where she was told, and Eugene raised the plate from earlier in front of her, parting his thin lips.

“Here.”

“Y-You, Eugene-san..?”

“You wanted me to eat them, right?”

Mabel furrowed her eyebrows at Eugene’s smirking expression, thinking, “He’s definitely teasing me.” But if she backed down now, it would play right into his hands. So, she mustered up her courage, took a cookie in her hand, and gently brought it to Eugene’s mouth.

Her hand momentarily paused at the touch of his soft lips. But Eugene quickly bit into the cookie. Crunch. It was gone in an instant.

“One more.”

“…Can’t you eat it yourself?”

Mabel thought, ‘Enough already,’ but it was rare for Eugene, who was usually distant, to be so dependent. They had been talking with Mutabilis and Row all day, so she was honestly happy to have this time alone with him.

The cookies quickly disappeared, leaving only one left. Mabel picked up the one with red jam on it and, with a practiced motion, brought it to Eugene’s mouth.

“Here, this is the last one―”

As Eugene bit down, she felt heat on her fingertip. Eugene had ended up biting her finger.

“Eek?!”

Startled, Mabel dropped the cookie, and Eugene picked it up as if nothing had happened. He continued to munch on it just like before.

Meanwhile, Mabel, who had been bitten, turned bright red and tightly clenched her hand.

‘I-I got bitten on the finger?!’

It was just a gentle bite, so it didn’t hurt. However, Eugene’s body temperature and breath were directly transmitted to her, and even though it was her own finger, she couldn’t forget that sensation.

Eventually, when Eugene saw the empty plate, he chuckled.

“You wanted to eat it, didn’t you?”

“That’s not what I meant!”

Indignant, Mabel stood up forcefully, still holding the empty plate, and ran out of Eugene’s room. After closing the door behind her, she finally let out a big sigh.

‘That surprised me…’

Feeling her heart beating faster than before, Mabel tried to calm herself down and took a deep breath as she descended to the kitchen.

“. . .”

On the other hand, Eugene was also regretting his actions a little. 

He had gone too far. The image of Mabel happily talking with Mutabilis at the daytime party and the words Row had said kept flashing in his mind, causing him to do something mean-spirited.

(Oh god…How old am I to be doing this!)

He had shown such blatant jealousy. 

Moreover, he had directed it toward Mabel, who was much younger than him.

Despite having been older than others, when it came to Mabel, he was completely at her mercy, just like an ordinary young man.

Sighing, Eugene looked at the book that hadn’t progressed a single page since earlier.

‘If I say, “Let’s have another party,” will she forgive me?’

Imagining Mabel’s eyes shining at those words, Eugene instinctively covered his mouth with his hand. If he decided to do it, it would be tomorrow. With that in mind, Eugene stood up and gently closed the book he had been reading.

(End)

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟒𝟒: 𝐄𝐱𝐭𝐫𝐚 𝐄𝐝𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧: 𝐌𝐢𝐝𝐰𝐢𝐧𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝐍𝐢𝐠𝐡𝐭’𝐬 𝐃𝐫𝐞𝐚𝐦

In a  luxurious and splendid sleeping chamber.

“…?”

Mabel slowly sat up.

The soft bed seemed to engulf her entire body, making her feel restless. As Mabel gazed absentmindedly at the shimmering sheets, she noticed that someone was sleeping next to her.

“Huh?”

Soft red hair spread across the pillow. The fluttering eyelashes were lowered, and the person was peacefully breathing in their sleep. As Mabel shifted her gaze, she saw strong shoulders and well-toned arms peeking out from the covers, revealing smooth skin. Huh? Bare skin?

‘―Ah!’

Mabel hastily looked at her own body. She was wearing a high-quality nightdress, and she let out a sigh of relief. It seemed that she and the man next to her were married?

“Good morning, Mabel.”

“Ro-Row-san, what on earth?.”

“What’s wrong? Tell your husband.”

“…”

Husband?! Mabel’s scream echoed through Row’s mansion early in the morning.

“We share the same bed; Live in the same house. What am I if not your husband?”

“Row-san and I… married?”

As they sat across from each other at the table, Row casually said those words. Mabel repeated the words in her mind, but her memories were hazy.

“Yeah, you took quite a while to agree. It was tough.”

Row smiled and Mabel gently tore the bread she had in her hand.

Unable to savor the taste, Mabel desperately tried to gather her thoughts.

(Marriage… Row-san is one of the few masked mages in the world.)

But the more she thought about it, the less she understood why she and Row were in such a relationship. Could it be that she had amnesia?

“Um, Row-san, I’m sorry. It seems like I’ve forgotten everything up until now.”

Upon hearing that, Row widened his beautiful crimson eyes.

“What? So you don’t remember the proposal I made to you?”

“A p-proposal?!”

“Yeah. Like this―”

As Row stood up and approached Mabel’s side, he knelt down next to her chair and gently took her left hand.

“―I want you to be my last lover.”

Row lightly touched Mabel’s ring finger with his lips.

Mabel hadn’t noticed before, but there was a beautiful silver wedding ring shining on that finger, presumably given to her by him. After briefly parting his lips, Row looked up at Mabel.

“Just kidding.”

With a wink that seemed like it would make a sound, Mabel’s face instantly turned bright red. She felt as if she were being drawn into his passionate red eyes, but at the same time, an uncomfortable sensation tugged at her chest. 

(Me, Row-san’s lover?)

Black, gold. . . She felt like she was about to remember something and tightly closed her eyes.

But no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t grasp the answer to what this discomfort was. Row seemed to notice Mabel’s troubled expression as he leaned in closer.

“Are you okay? You seem to be in pain.”

“Eek?! Y-yes, I’m fine, but, um, could you please step back a bit.”

Ignoring Mabel, whose face was about to catch fire, Row continued to hold her hand and approached even closer. It seemed that her body reached its limit before her face did.

“Mabel? Mabel?!”

Somewhere in the distance, Row’s voice echoed.

Being held firmly in his strong arms, Mabel lost consciousness.

She was now on a velvet-covered sofa.

“. . .”

Mabel gasped for breath and quickly sat up. Startled by her sudden movement, Mutabilis, who was reading a book on a nearby desk, trembled.

“M-Mabel?”

“M-Mutabilis…?”

Mabel looked around again. An antique carpet and shelves filled with books. As Mutabilis watched Mabel’s flustered state, she tilted her head.

“What’s wrong?”

“Well, um, it seems like I was having a dream.”

Finally calming down, Mabel let out a deep sigh. Seeing Mutabilis looking puzzled, Mabel recalled the dream she had just had. 

‘I never thought I would dream of marrying Row-san. I probably won’t be able to calm down at all…’

Mabel shook her head vigorously, trying to shake off the vivid memory.

Perhaps finding her reaction amusing, Mutabilis chuckled softly.

“You seem really flustered.”

“Sorry, it’s nothing. By the way, why am I in Mutabilis’ room?”

In response to Mabel’s question, Mutabilis widened his eyes in surprise.

“Mabel came to play and ended up falling asleep here.”

“W-What? Me…?”

“Yeah. I thought you looked happy reading a magazine, and before I knew it…”

Curious, Mabel raised an eyebrow and found a booklet beside her, taking it out and placing it in front of her. The cover read “Happy Marriage Special Feature.”

Blinking several times, she flipped through the pages.

There were articles about how to greet both families, choosing engagement and wedding rings together, and more. Mabel had been looking at them for a while, but she couldn’t remember a thing. Unable to contain her curiosity, she asked Mutabilis.

“Um, why do I have this book?”

“W-Well, It’s for our wedding, I guess.”

Mabel let out a surprised voice. But it seemed that Mutabilis wasn’t joking, as he smiled with his beautiful azure eyes narrowed. His silky platinum hair flowed gracefully.

“But I still can’t believe I get to marry Mable.”

“M-Mutabilis, what. . .?”

“I thought I couldn’t make someone like me, a mage. But Mabel was different. She said she liked me, even though I’m a mage.”

In front of Mutabilis, who smiled somewhat bashfully, Mabel was completely bewildered.

‘What does this mean?! Mutabilis and I? getting married?’

Mabel somehow had a vague recollection of Mutabilis’ words from earlier.

However, she couldn’t remember when it happened or who he said it to.

Mabel, who was holding her head and mumbling, puzzled Mutabilis.

“Mabel?”

“Ah, um, yeah, that’s right.”

Seeing Mabel stumble over her words, Mutabilis’s expression darkened.

He eventually stood up from his chair and sat down next to Mabel on the sofa. He gently overlapped his hand with Mabel’s tightly clenched one and murmured in a calm voice.

“I will cherish you, Mabel.”

“Mutabilis, listen…”

“I’ve been thinking about how I can make you like me more.”

Those words triggered a blurry scene in Mabel’s mind.

‘―How can I make you like me?’

Whose words were those again?

Feeling intensely curious, Mabel repeated it quietly, as if digging into the depths of her memory.

“How can…”

“Huh?”

“How can I make you like me?”

Surprised by Mabel’s sudden silence, Mutabilis seemed taken aback.

But he quickly narrowed his eyes and smiled gently, leaning his forehead against hers.

“I’ve always liked you, Mabel.”

“. . .”

“I want to be with you forever. Eating cookies together, baking delicious cakes. Do you dislike those things, Mabel?”

Mutabilis’s calm voice resonated in Mabel’s heart.

She loved Mutabilis’s pure and gentle nature. She also loved how he enjoyed sweets and ate them with such delight.

‘Why did I forget about that?’

I’ll make sweets for him. From now on, always. that will be–

―But once again, a dark image flowed into Mabel’s mind.

Not just black, but amber, pale skin, and large wings extending from the back.

At that moment, Mabel stood up abruptly.

“―Mabel?”

Ignoring Mutabilis’ call from behind, Mabel found herself running. She opened the door and swiftly descended the long staircase in one leap.

‘No. No!’

Though Mutabilis shouted something from upstairs, Mabel didn’t stop. She grabbed the handrail with one hand and slid down to the entrance.

‘I am…that person’s fiancée,’ However, in her excitement, Mabel tripped and stumbled at the last landing. She hurriedly reached out to grab something, but it was already too late. Mabel’s body fell dramatically down the stairs.

“―Kyaa!”

Mabel gasped for breath and quickly got up, placing her hand on her pounding chest. She found herself on a firm leather sofa. It was still throbbing with her heartbeat. 

‘Where am I?’

She looked around, shifting her gaze from left to right. There was an expensive-looking desk and numerous bookshelves lining the walls. There was no doubt, it was Eugene’s room.

As Mabel caught her breath, she remembered the dream she had just witnessed. She tilted her head, wondering what it could have been.

‘What a vivid dream that was…’

She looked at her left hand again, but there was no sign of the engagement ring with Row. The magazine featuring a wedding special with Mutabilis was also nowhere to be found. Instead, there was only a blanket draped over Mabel.

Then, she heard the sound of the door opening, and Eugene appeared from the back with his tall stature and neatly styled black hair.

“Are you awake?”

“Eugene-san! Why am I here?”

“You were sleeping in the garden after folding the laundry, so I brought you here.”

Eugene sighed, sounding displeased.

Come to think of it, today was a warm and sunny day, and Mabel vaguely remembered dozing off. It seemed she had fallen asleep outside, and Eugene had carried her to his room out of concern.

“Ah, thank you.”

Relieved that it was just a dream, Mabel let out a sigh. However, Eugene seemed even more irritated and sat down next to her, moving her aside.

“So?”

“Huh?”

“What kind of dream were you having?”

At that question, Mabel paled.

She forced a giggly smile, but Eugene narrowed his eyes.

“―Row-san.”

“…”

“What did you say about Mutabilis?”

“Um…”

It seemed she had accidentally blurted it out while being carried.

“Well, it was just a dream.”

“I see. Tell me more. Right now. Here.”

‘Could this also be a dream?’

Eugene’s perfectly handsome face transformed into a smile.

Mabel realized there was no escape.

(End)

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟒𝟓: 𝐒𝐢𝐝𝐞 𝐒𝐭𝐨𝐫𝐲: 𝐈𝐭 𝐁𝐞𝐠𝐢𝐧𝐬 𝐖𝐢𝐭𝐡 𝐚 𝐒𝐢𝐥𝐞𝐧𝐭 𝐁𝐞𝐥𝐥

In the Eakes Kingdom, a year is divided into twelve months.

Among them, the day when the Snow Month Nivose transitions into the Rain Month Pluviôse is considered the start of the new year, and celebrations are held throughout the country.

“So, there’s a party at the royal palace on the last day of the Snow Month.”

“I’m not going.”

Facing Eugene’s firm refusal, Mabel’s shoulders dropped in disappointment.

The New Year celebration banquet was attended by members of the royal family and nobles, and Mabel and her sisters had been attending the party held at the palace every year. Last year, Mabel was single, so she only thought of it as an opportunity to enjoy dressing up and delicious food.

But this year, she had Eugene, her official fiancé.

In social circles, it was considered proper etiquette to attend events with one’s partner.

‘But if Eugene comes, it might become quite troublesome…’

Mabel asked with a slight hope, but as you can see, the answer was as expected.

As a mage, he strongly disliked appearing in public. It was not only because of his aversion to troublesome matters but also because his beautiful face, when seen without a mask, had a captivating effect.

However, wearing a mask to an ordinary party, not a masquerade, would surely attract unwanted attention. Imagining Eugene being subjected to curious gazes, Mabel couldn’t bring herself to insist.

“I see…it’s a bit disappointing, but I don’t want you to force yourself.”

“…”

Mabel quickly smiled and ended the conversation as if nothing had happened.

The last day of the Snow Month. It was almost midnight.

The window turned dark, and in the sky, small stars twinkled many times.

Mabel had returned to the palace yesterday to attend the party. Walking through the silent and empty castle, Eugene was lost in thought.

‘The royal palace, huh’

Eugene had lived as far away from people as possible.

In addition to his long lifespan, he traveled to various places on the continent to avoid being feared for his unchanging appearance. He had been thinking that it was time to leave Eakes as well when he happened to meet Mabel.

‘Perhaps I should have gone after all…’

He had only gone to the royal palace once, and it was for her sake.

At that time, he was truly desperate and didn’t even think about his own dignity or how he would be perceived.

But now, things are different.

If he went to the palace, he would be introduced as Mabel’s official fiancé.

At that time, there might be people who would object to a mage being her fiancé. In Eugene’s experience, those privileged classes such as the royal family and nobles were often stubborn and particular about bloodlines and origins.

If that happened, it would hurt Mabel, not Eugene.

Mabel being laughed at or ridiculed as the princess with a strange fiancé was something he couldn’t bear.

“Ah,” Eugene placed his hand on his forehead and let out a deep sigh.

Then the sound of the large entrance door opening was heard, and Row peeked through the gap quickly.

“Oh, good. There you are.”

“…What are you here for?”

“Well, I got some good liquor, so I thought we could have a big celebration for the New Year.”

“Mabel isn’t here.”

Huh? Row’s face turned despairing.

“What, really? I wanted her to make some delicious appetizers. Did she finally get tired of me?”

“It’s not that!”

Perhaps irritated by Row’s smirk, Eugene explained the situation. Hearing that, Row put a hand to his mouth, deep in thought.

“Well, then who will Mabel-chan share a New Year’s Kiss with?”

“What?”

“A New Year’s Kiss. It’s when you kiss someone nearby the moment it turns midnight today.”

Eugene was at a loss for words at this unfamiliar custom. Whether Row noticed or not, he nodded to himself with his arms crossed.

“I see, I see. You see it quite often in the town. Well, it’s a celebration, so you don’t have to worry too much―”

Immediately after, a loud flapping sound passed by right next to Row. When he looked up, Eugene had disappeared.

“Well, I don’t know if they do it at the palace though.”

For now, Row casually headed to the kitchen to prepare the liquor for when Eugene returned.

Meanwhile, Mabel sighed alone.

‘Phew, I’m a bit tired after all.’

Mabel was wearing a pale yellow evening dress with a wide open collar. She had left the dancing circle and was leaning against the wall by herself.

Looking around, she saw the distinguished members of the Duke and Count families enjoying discreet conversations in between waltz songs. Feeling a bit lonely, she searched for her sisters’ presence.

The first princess, Gertrude, stood out even in her dress and was currently engaged in a conversation with her fiancé, the crown prince of a neighboring country. The second princess, Claire, had just finished her singing performance and was enjoying a dance with her beloved.

She noticed a crowd gathering in one direction.

In the center, of course, was her third sister, Kathleen.

Since the start of the party, she had been continuously asked to dance one after another. Whenever she tried to take a break, someone would ask if she wanted food or a drink, and the people never stopped coming.

Unable to bear it any longer, George, the knight commander who was assigned as Kathleen’s escort, approached her. The men surrounding her scattered in fear of his imposing presence. Mabel felt relieved seeing Kathleen’s joyful expression.

The fourth princess, Fergie, was on stage playing the piano. Mabel smiled as she watched a man who was eagerly captivated by her performance. It was Prince Wissa.

All her sisters were busy in their own ways. Mabel took a sip from the glass she held.

She felt a little envious of her sisters.

She understood Eugene’s feelings and didn’t plan to force him. However, she couldn’t help but wish that he would be here with her, even if just for a little while.

As if scolding her own timid self, Mabel shook her head vigorously.

‘Tomorrow, let’s go back to the castle and bake a Galette des Rois! Invite Mutabilis, who loves sweets, and Row-san too.’

Imagining that lively scene, Mabel felt a little more energized.

The party was still going strong, and to escape the heat, Mabel headed towards a balcony at the edge.

As she pushed open the large window, the cold night breeze seeped in through the gaps.

Without hesitation, she fully opened it and stepped out onto the balcony railing.

“It’s beautiful…”

The sky was filled with countless shining stars as if they were about to sprinkle down at any moment.

As she exhaled, her breath floated up in a white mist. The chilly air cooled Mabel’s flushed face.

Midnight was approaching. There was unlikely to be anyone else coming here.

Finally feeling at ease, Mabel let out a sigh. Just then, from the bell tower in the center of the town, the sound of bells rang out, announcing the arrival of the new year.

The sound of the bells spread throughout the capital of Eakes like ripples.

Feeling the clear waves throughout her body, Mabel instinctively closed her eyes.

―Flutter, white wings fluttered in the night sky.

When Mabel opened her eyes at the familiar sound, Eugene was there.

Strangely, he wasn’t wearing a mask even though they were outside, and he seemed to be breathing heavily.

“Eugene-san?! Why are you here―” But Mabel’s words were cut off right there

Eugene, who had landed beside Mabel, immediately embraced her in his arms and kissed her without hesitation.

The sound of the bell, which was supposed to ring twelve times, was completely inaudible to Mabel.

She was simply surprised by the situation she found herself in, her eyes wide open as she spent the silent moment.

Eventually, Eugene’s lips parted from hers.

Ding, the elongated sound of the bell returned, but Mabel’s heart was pounding even louder than before.

(W-Wait, did I just…get kissed?! Why?! And why is Eugene-san here?!)

Seeing Mabel’s confusion and blushing face, Eugene let out a sigh of relief as if he had completed a task.

“I made it in time..”

“Made what in time…?”

“I heard there is a custom where you kiss the person nearest to you at midnight.”

As Mabel gradually calmed down, she pondered Eugene’s words in her mind.

“Could it be…the New Year’s kiss?”

“Yes.”

Indeed, she had heard that such events were popular recently. But just as Mabel was wondering what to do, she hesitantly spoke up.

“Um, we don’t do that at this party…”

“…”

“After all, most people here are already married or engaged.”

As Mabel explained, Eugene finally understood and slowly covered his face with both hands. Seeing Eugene squatting down cutely, Mabel desperately tried to make excuses.

“But, but! I was really happy.”

As she spoke, Mabel remembered the eternal kiss from earlier and her face turned red like a boiled octopus, losing her assertiveness in her tone. Eugene, who had been watching her from below, chuckled softly and finally stood up.

“Well, that’s good then.”

Saying that, Eugene smiled shyly, causing Mabel’s heart to tighten. She gently reached out her hand towards Eugene’s chest, wanting to return to the castle together.

Through their clothes, Mabel could hear her heartbeat pounding in Eugene’s chest.

Feeling embarrassed by the heat, Mabel hesitated to touch him with her fingertips.

But as if to stop her, Eugene grabbed Mabel’s hand and pressed it against his own body. It seemed like he had rushed here, as his slightly sweaty state was directly transmitted to the palm of her hand. Mabel couldn’t help but look up at Eugene.

Thinking it was a second signal, Eugene bent down again.

Mabel gently closed her eyelids. Slowly, their faces drew closer――

At that moment, a voice could be heard from the direction of the window.

Startled, Mabel opened her eyes and realized that Eugene had already disappeared.

‘Oh right, it would be troublesome if he was seen without his mask.’

Although Mabel felt somewhat unsatisfied and disappointed, Eugene, who had been reluctant, had come to the palace.

Just that fact alone made her feel incredibly happy.

The next day, when Mabel’s Galette des Rois was ready, Mutabilis and Row visited the castle.

“So, this is the Galette des Rois?”

“Yes, inside there’s a figurine called a ‘fève,’ and if it’s in the piece you cut, that person will have good luck for a year.”

“Oh, I see. So the one who finds it is the king!.”

Mutabilis eagerly examined the cake that was brought to the table. On the other hand, Row, who seemed to know the game, picked up a paper crown and spun it around.

“By the way, Mabel-chan, did everything go well yesterday?”

“Huh?! W-What do you mean, well?”

“Well, Eugene looked pale and rushed out, so I thought―”

But Eugene’s cough interrupted the continuation of the sentence.

Mabel skillfully cut the cake and placed a piece in front of each person. After the toast, they enjoyed a pleasant meal. At that moment, Mutabilis let out a disappointed sigh.

“Mabel, There was no figurine in mine…”

“Oh, what a shame. I wonder about mine.”

But there was no figurine in Mabel’s cake either. With that, the atmosphere shifted to Eugene or Row. Just as the air was becoming tense, Row spoke up first.

“Oh, it looks like I am the lucky fella.”

Mutabilis frowned sadly at the figurine placed on his plate. 

Mabel looked around the table for the crown to give to the king but couldn’t find it. As she looked around, she felt something was off.

‘I don’t remember the figurine looking like that?’

Upon closer inspection, the figurine Row had taken out didn’t seem to be the one Mabel had prepared. She tilted her head, wondering if she had forgotten. At that moment, she heard Eugene’s calm voice.

“I see, so you’re the king.”

“Uh, Eugene?”

“It’s well-made, but the execution is lacking.”

As he said that, Eugene took a ceramic figurine from the plate with a clatter. It was the same one that Mabel remembered, and everyone’s attention focused on Row.

“Well, I was joking, I was joking.”

“Well, whatever. In any case, I am the king.”

Before they knew it, Eugene had a paper crown in his hand. While playing with it lightly, he narrowed his eyes as he looked at Row.

“Rownensolfa Antranze. Let me thank you for yesterday.”

“I had a feeling it would turn out like this!”

In the next moment, Row disappeared.

Almost simultaneously, Eugene also vanished, and in their place came the sound of explosions and Row’s screams from the garden.

“Mutabilis, do you want the rest of the cake?”

“Yeah! I’ll eat it.”

And so, the beginning of the new year started with a lively atmosphere.

(The End)

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟒𝟔: 𝐍𝐞𝐰 𝐅𝐢𝐚𝐧𝐜é

Mabel had her mouth agape and couldn’t close it

“I’m sorry. Can you repeat that?”

“Well, you see, Mabel-sama’s new fiancé is going to visit Eakes soon…”

“…What do you mean by “new fiancé”?”

Several days after the Wiski invasion incident, Mabel, who had become Eugene’s official fiancée, was called to the royal palace. She was told it was an urgent matter, but she didn’t expect to be summoned to the office and hear this.

“Actually, we had originally chosen someone as Mabel-sama’s fiancé candidate. . .However, communication with that person, who is from a distant country, hasn’t been going smoothly. And then, there was Travis’ proposal…”

“To have a masked mage as a fiancé to protect you from Wiski, right?”

Indeed, the bald man who bowed apologetically and lowered his head was Reed, the chief advisor. He was currently in charge of the parliament in place of Travis, who was under arrest for the crime of foreign aggression against Eakes.

“Yes. It was our short-sightedness that caused Mabel-sama a great deal of distress. We sincerely apologize.”

“N-No, it’s, it’s fine”

As Reed said, Mabel’s engagement had started as a result of a plot by the parliament. 

However, Mabel couldn’t bring herself to blame Eugene, who was standing there feeling down, considering that she was able to meet with Eugene thanks to this arrangement.

“That’s enough about that. But I am officially engaged to Eugene-san. Could you please decline the new suitor for me?”

“W-Well, you see, the suitor is His Royal Highness, the Prince of Kytha. A messenger arrived a few days ago, saying that he had already set sail towards here.”

“From Kytha? Crossing the sea just for this?”

Eakes and Kytha were from different continents; a great distance separated them.

Kytha is said to be the most prosperous country in that region, known as a commercial powerhouse. 

It enjoys a warm climate and abundant agricultural products, and I’ve heard that it has a different civilization from Eakes. However, due to the obstacle of the sea, the interaction between the two countries is still limited.

Certainly, if he is coming from Kytha, there may be some miscommunication. But the issue at hand is different from the fact that Mabel has a new suitor.

“Of course, I would be happy to receive a greeting. However, I have no intention of getting engaged to anyone other than Eugene-san. Could you please convey that properly?”

“Y-Yes.”

Mabel bowed her head, then stood up straight and left the room.

‘A new suitor? It feels a bit too presumptuous.’

Suppressing her frustration, Mabel walked briskly down the long corridor of the palace.

It couldn’t be helped that there was a delay in communication with Kytha, but why didn’t they immediately decline the other party when Mabel’s engagement was decided?

It was rumored that the parliament, now without Travis’ intellect, was still not functioning properly. But to think that Mabel’s engagement was still being involved in all of this.

Taking a deep breath to calm herself, Mabel sighed. Then, she heard her younger sister, the first princess, Gertrude, calling out to her from the other end of the corridor.

“Mabel, it’s been a while.”

“Onee-sama! How have you been?”

Ah, Gertrude returned a refreshing smile. She was still radiant and dignified. Her glossy black hair, tied up behind her, suited her male attire perfectly. There was no man who could match her in appearance or swordsmanship.

“I heard you came back, so I was going to your room, but are you leaving already?”

“Ah, yes. I have to prepare food.”

“Mabel’s cooking is so good. Eugene-dono is lucky.”

By the way, Gertrude continued.

“I’m really grateful for your help the other day. If possible, I would like to thank Eugene-dono directly. Could you let me know when he can come here or when I can visit?”

“W-Well, um…”

But after thinking for a while, Mabel hesitantly spoke. 

“Well, Eugene-san is not very comfortable going out in public or meeting people. He prefers to avoid encountering others as much as possible, so it might be difficult.”

Eugene, who is also Mabel’s fiancé, is a very rare mage in the world. They are generally seen wearing masks, hence they are sometimes called Masked Mages.

Though not widely known, due to the influence of their magical powers, they all have incredibly beautiful faces. It would be fine if it were just about appearances, but in reality, when you see their true faces without the masks, it has a captivating effect, making one’s heart enchanted or even losing consciousness.

That’s why Eugene rarely shows himself in public. It is also the reason why Mabel doesn’t bring her personal maid to the castle.

Upon hearing Mabel’s response, Gertrude lowered her gaze slightly, looking a bit lonely.

“Well, if that’s the case, there’s nothing we can do. If there’s a chance, please convey my regards to him.”

“Understood!”

One good thing about Gertrude is that she accepts such situations without saying anything. Mabel felt grateful for her sister’s kindness, whom she hadn’t seen in a long time, and decided to hurry back home.

Eugene’s castle is located deep in the forest beyond the outskirts of Eakes.

When Mabel first came to meet Eugene, it was a challenging journey, struggling through the forest, getting covered in wounds. At that time, she thought it would be a one-time thing, but now that she has become his official fiancée, she will have more opportunities to travel between the castle and the royal palace.

Every time she entered the forest and got covered in mud, Mabel was troubled. However, Eugene had set up teleportation circles for transportation.

There were magic circles installed at the entrance and exit of the forest. When Mabel stood on one of them, she could pass through to the other magic circle. 

It condensed space to zero distance, making it easier for transportation and supply of goods, or at least that’s what Eugene explained. Mabel didn’t fully understand the principle behind it.

As Mabel passed through the magic circle with a familiar gesture, she saw several figures near the castle.

‘Why are there so many people?’

Eugene had cast a magic spell on the forest, allowing only those with special permission, such as merchants with business in the castle, to pass through. Mabel was the only one who could use the magic circle.

Upon closer inspection, she noticed Cero, who always brought food supplies to the castle, among them.

If that’s the case, they must be from the trading company, Mabel wondered, tilting her head. As she did, one of them noticed her presence and approached.

He was a tall man, with tanned skin. Well-toned muscles adorned his arms and shoulders, giving him a physique comparable to knights and soldiers.

His hair was a bright dull color, a mix of silver and white, and his irises were a beautiful orange, like the sunset sinking into the sea. His straight nose accentuated his handsome features.

He wore clothing with geometric patterns and loose sleeves, which were not commonly seen here. Unusually for a man, he also wore colorful earrings.

He had a colorful cloth wrapped around his head, and at the end of the string that tied it, small glass beads in shades of light blue and purple swayed.

When the man saw Mabel, he smiled, revealing a set of perfectly aligned white teeth.

“So, you must be Mabel. I’ve been waiting for you.”

“Huh?”

“I’ve come to pick you up. Let’s return to Kytha together.”

Saying that, the young man took Mabel’s hand and pretended to lightly kiss the back of it. Surprised, Mabel quickly withdrew her hand.

“W-Who are you?!”

“What’s the matter? Hasn’t the message reached you? I am Amane Hiragi. I am your fiancé.”

In front of Mabel was the face of a man with narrowed eyes and a lifted corner of his mouth, leaving her speechless.

Blinking her eyes a few times, she slowly began to process her thoughts.

‘Engagement? Does that mean this person is the infamous Prince Kytha?’

The man, who introduced himself as Amane, seemed to notice Mabel observing him and once again carved a refreshing smile on his face.

“I heard you were here. They said I needed a guide to get through the forest, so I asked that man over there to show me the way.”

Mabel looked towards the man referred to as “that man,” Cero, who appeared exhausted. He weakly smiled at Mabel.

Today was not the day for him to come to the castle, so Mabel silently hoped in her heart that he hadn’t been forcibly dragged out by Amane.

‘Or rather, I didn’t hear anything about him coming to the castle!’

Furthermore, it seemed that news of Mabel’s engagement had not reached him.

Mabel, who was in a state of confusion, cleared her throat and realized that she needed to convey her message properly.

“I heard about the conversation with Kytha earlier. However, I’m truly sorry, but I already have an arranged engagement with another fiancé. I appreciate your effort in coming all this way, but could you please return to the palace?”

Upon hearing this, Amane narrowed his eyes.

“I know.”

“Yes, so please– You know?”

“Yes. I overheard people speaking about this matter at the harbor. You haven’t gone through the formal engagement ceremony yet, have you?”

“Not yet, but–Wait, so you do know I have a fiance!.”

“What on earth is all this noise about?”

As Mabel desperately tried to steer the conversation back on track, a loud flapping sound echoed above her. Immediately after, Eugene, wearing a black mask, landed next to Mabel.

Upon witnessing the sight of a person flying in the sky, Amane seemed momentarily speechless. However, he quickly regained his composure and confronted Eugene with a cold gaze, provoking him.

“Could it be you’re the Masked Mage Eugene?”

“Who’s this guy?”

“He’s Amane-san, who came from Kytha. But now is not the time for introductions.”

“Perfect timing. Eugene, I challenge you to a duel!”

Mabel paled, wondering what he was about to say. But her unpleasant premonition came true as Amane thrust his fist toward Eugene.

“I will propose to Mabel. I will make her fall in love with me more than you and take away the position of the official fiancé!”

Mabel closed her eyes in her mind.

However, sensing an unusual pressure emanating from beside her, she timidly turned to look in that direction.

There, she saw a sinister and eerie aura rising from behind Eugene. It was clear that he was filled with anger.

“Oh, really.”

Soon, the golden eyes behind the mask narrowed like a predatory beast.

A graceful smile even appeared on his lips, and as Mabel observed Eugene in anticipation, she let out a deep sigh.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟒𝟕

And so, Amane’s Operation Mabel’s Downfall began.

The day after the completely uneasy meeting, Mabel went downstairs to do the morning cleaning when suddenly the front door opened.

Before Mabel could even think about what was happening, boxes of clothes were being carried into the reception room one after another.

Among the group was Cero, who weakly raised his hand when he spotted Mabel.

“Good morning, Mabel. . .”

“Cero! What’s going on? What are all these packages?”

“Well, you see…”

Before the exhausted Cero could continue speaking, a cheerful voice from behind interrupted.

“Mabel, perfect timing! Come over here.”

Mabel was half forcibly taken to the reception room, and what she saw in front of her made her dizzy. The room was filled with piles of dresses that far exceeded ten or twenty in number.

There were pale yellow afternoon dresses adorned with delicate white lace, and deep navy evening dresses designed to expose the shoulders.

There were dresses with mermaid lines that traced gentle curves, with pearls sewn in a way that resembled waves. And there were also kimonos made of layers of brightly colored silk threads, woven together with shining silver threads, which seemed to be Kytha’s traditional clothing.

The sight of Amane’s attendants lining up one after another, displaying magnificent fabrics, was like magic and would captivate any young woman.

But Mabel suddenly snapped out of it as if she had just woken up.

“W-What is all this?!”

“Oh, it’s just a little gift.”

Mabel, with her mouth wide open, couldn’t find words, and Amane casually replied. Meanwhile, the beautiful dresses continued to multiply, filling up the reception room with great force.

“You can wear as many as you like.”

“But…”

“As for me, I think this light blue organza evening dress or the deep crimson dress with black tulle lace would suit you.”

As Amane said that, the dress he held in his hand was made of an extremely soft silk fabric that shimmered as if it were transparent. It was a masterpiece that Mabel had never seen in Eakes.

Indeed, being a commercial powerhouse, there were many fabrics and textiles that had not yet circulated on this continent.

Caught up in the novelty, Mabel instinctively reached out for the dress, but then quickly shook her head.

“I can’t accept something so expensive.”

“Why not? You’re going to be my fiancée, so it’s only natural.”

“I said I can’t! Besides, I can’t do the cleaning or cooking in such a dress.”

“You can leave that to the servants, can’t you?”

What’s the problem? Amane seemed to say with his expression, and Mabel murmured in her mind that it was indeed a typical reaction for a member of the royal family. In the first place, it was rare for someone like Mabel, who did all the housework without any maids, to exist.

“I want to do it myself. Also, can you please clean up this room for me?”

“But―.”

Amane, who was still trying to persuade her, suddenly jumped at the sound of the door being forcefully opened.

Furthermore, Amane suddenly floated up as if weightless and was carried towards the open door.

“W-What is this?”

Ignoring the surprised Mabel, Amane’s attendants also floated one after another and flew in a line, following him. Cero was the last one floating.

The dresses that were spread all over the place also rushed into the boxes, one after another, and the lids closed in order from the ones that were filled up. The locks clicked neatly, and as soon as the preparations were complete, they swiftly passed through the room, chasing after Amane and the others.

Mabel was speechless at this overwhelming sight.

Then, the culprit behind all of this―Eugene, appeared from the other side of the door. He was wearing a mask, but Mabel could sense deep vertical wrinkles between his eyebrows.

“What’s going on? Why is this guy here since morning?”

“T-Thank you.”

Mabel, with a dry laugh, gazed absentmindedly at the clear sky spreading high above through the window of the reception room. 

But Amane was not likely to give up so easily.

The day after the forced repatriation, while cleaning the windows on the second-floor corridor, Mabel turned her attention to the commotion downstairs. She saw a large number of flowers being brought into the hall on the first floor.

She hurriedly ran down the stairs and called out to the servants who were piling up the flowers diligently.

“Um, what is all this?”

“Oh, Mabel, it’s been a while.”

As expected, Amane appeared from the end of the line, followed by Cero, who seemed even more exhausted than yesterday.

Relieved that there were no injuries, Mabel shifted her focus and asked Amane about the scattered cut flowers at her feet.

“There are so many flowers. What are you going to do with them?”

“Women all love flowers, don’t they? As an overflowing expression of my feelings, I thought you could accept them.”

Amane, with a cheerful smile, held out a particularly eye-catching deep red flower to Mabel’s nose.

Frowning at the splendid flower that seemed to reflect his passionate heart, Mabel spoke up.

“I do like flowers. But this, it just seems so pitiful…”

“Pitiful? The flowers?”

“If they weren’t picked, they could have lived a little longer. Yet…”

Cut flowers could only be beautiful for so long.

If only they had taken just the necessary amount, they could have brought joy to more people’s eyes. Mabel knelt down on the floor and began picking up the stems that had been cut short, one by one.

Amane was slightly taken aback by her actions.

“Flowers don’t have emotions. I just thought you would be happy.”

“I do like flowers, and I would be happy to receive them. But I dislike this method.”

Amane swallowed his words.

Mabel thought he might get angry and leave, but contrary to her expectations, Amane squatted down on the spot. After hesitating for a while, he followed Mabel’s lead and started scooping up the flowers, bending his waist.

Mabel was slightly surprised by his attitude.

‘I guess he understands some things after all.’

At that moment, the entrance door opened with a loud noise.

Before she could react, just like yesterday, Amane and his entourage were all thrown out. It seemed they were being taken much farther today, perhaps to the royal palace.

Mabel, no longer surprised, looked up at the landing of the staircase.

There stood Eugene, with a displeased expression on his face as he faced the sudden appearance of a flower garden in his own castle.

“So persistent. And what is all this?”

Coming down the stairs briskly, Eugene casually picked up the flowers that Mabel had been picking up.

They were much smaller and less noticeable than what Amane had brought, plain white flowers. Eugene rolled them between his fingertips as if he were examining something rare.

“Amane-san brought them. But if left like this, they will wither soon.”

“That’s how flowers are.”

“But the flowers are not at fault.”

Seeing Mabel looking downhearted, Eugene let out a deep sigh. He raised his right hand lightly, and the flowers on the floor rustled and stirred in response to his movement.

“They may not last forever, but with my magic, they should endure for a while. I’ll have them taken to the icehouse outside, so you can pick them up whenever you like.”

True to Eugene’s words, the vividly colored flowers, such as red, yellow, and orange, swam through the air for a moment before being guided out of the window and into the castle grounds.

Mabel surveyed the now restored hall, her face beaming like flowers in bloom, and turned back to Eugene.

She rushed over and tightly held both of his hands.

This time, it was Eugene’s turn to blush.

“Thank you! I didn’t know what to do.”

“Hmph, I can always do something like this.”

‘He definitely thinks it’s cute…’

Cero, who had been left behind for some reason today, quietly watched the scene.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟒𝟖

There is a saying in Kytha: what happens twice will happen thrice.

Amane came to Eugene’s castle for the third day in a row. Cero, the guide, seemed to be getting used to it as well, as he appeared more energetic than yesterday.

During the leisurely afternoon, Mabel sat on the sofa in the reception room, facing Amane.

“Yesterday, I didn’t consider your feelings, and I apologize.”

“No, as long as you understand.”

“That’s why today, I prepared some accessories!”

“. . .”

The slightly noble attitude he showed yesterday was nowhere to be found.

When Amane snapped his fingers, one of the attendants who had been on stand-by quickly crouched down and spread out a small wooden box with delicate decorations on the table.

On the fabric-covered pedestal, there were precious metals like gold, silver, and platinum, ranging from simple rings to large gemstones like emeralds and rubies, shining brightly.

As Mabel was at a loss for words, another person opened a different box.

Inside were luxurious necklaces adorned with countless diamonds, tear-shaped aquamarine earrings, hair accessories carved with amber, and bracelets embedded with gemstones of five different colors. If noble ladies were to see them, they would surely let out a collective gasp of admiration.

Of course, Mabel didn’t dislike them. Seeing the numerous gemstones that were sent to Kathleen, she often felt envious.

However, Mabel tightly clenched the hand on her lap and shook her head vigorously.

“I’m sorry, I can’t accept them.”

“Why is that? If you don’t like flashy things, then how about this―”

“I am not your fiancé, nor do I have any intention of becoming one in the future.”

“Oh, is that so? Well, take your time to consider the engagement. Just accept it as a mere gift. If you don’t like it, you can sell it off.”

“This is the tax collected by the people of Kytha. It shouldn’t be used in such a manner.”

As members of the royal family, Mabel and the others mostly relied on the taxes paid by the citizens to sustain their livelihood.

Of course, there was a high standard to uphold as representatives of the country, but they were educated not to indulge in excessive decorations or luxuries. With the scrutiny of the parliament, even the royal family could become the target of criticism for extravagant and wasteful spending.

Of course, Mabel didn’t think that Kytha, where Amane lived, was in the same situation as the Eakes Kingdom. However, considering her own principles, she couldn’t accept his way of doing things.

Amane finally seemed to understand what Mabel was trying to convey. He slightly raised his right hand, and the attendants gently closed the lid of the jewelry box.

“So, this is also not acceptable, huh? Hey, Mabel, Can you tell me already?”

“What is it?”

“Why don’t you like me?”

This exchange felt familiar to Mabel as if she had experienced it somewhere before. 

She searched her memory and finally recalled the day when Eugene took off his mask for the first time. Back then, Mabel had made a disgusted face and replied with a “Huh?” It was similar to her current state of mind.

“You don’t want new dresses. You don’t need flowers. And you are not interested in jewelry. All the women I have met until now, if I did just any one of these, would be throwing themselves at me. What else do I need to do?”

“I have a question as well. Why… why are you going this far? Amane-san, we only met the other day, and honestly, I don’t understand why you’re doing all this.”

“Of course, it’s for the engagement.”

“―But that’s not all, is it?”

Amane met Mabel’s gaze head-on for a while.

Eventually, as if giving up, he raised both hands and crossed his long legs.

“The engagement is just a facade. My Kytha wants to start trading on this continent, and this is the first step.”

Due to the continent being separated by the sea, Kytha’s supplies are still subject to high tariffs and inspections. Therefore, by starting with an alliance with Eakes they could initiate free trade between the two countries.

Once they gained a foothold in the market, it would be all about the commercial powerhouse, Kytha.

With their inherent technology, they could quickly expand their sales channels on this continent, or so the idea went.

“But it seems that this continent is quite conservative, and it’s not easy to get a marriage proposal accepted. That’s where your story came in. Well, if I had waited a little longer, I would have been easily snatched away by a vulture.”

“A vulture?”

“Ah, I guess they don’t say that here. Anyway, it means that an obstacle would have appeared.”

In front of Amane, who laughed, Mabel sighed in confusion.

“I understand your point. However, I still believe that I wouldn’t be of much help.”

“Why is that?”

“In this continent, Eakes is not a country with much authority or military strength. Moreover, as the youngest princess, I have little influence over the country’s politics and diplomacy.”

“…”

“Besides, even if I am a member of the royal family, I don’t intend to fall in love with someone I don’t even like just for the sake of the country.”

“And you find that okay?” Amane interrupted.

“Well…”

Mabel faltered as she faced Amane’s smirking face.

In a way, Amane’s argument was correct.

Royal marriages were conducted for the sake of the country, and Mabel herself understood that. However, Mabel had resisted and gone against it in the past.

But thanks to that, she had the opportunity to interact with Eugene honestly.

Even as a member of the royal family, one’s own will and feelings undoubtedly existed. Not just for oneself, but also for the other person.

If they simply accepted the predetermined engagement as purely a job from the beginning, their feelings for each other would never grow closer.

While observing Mabel in this state, Amane leaned back on the armrest of the sofa and let out a sigh.

Resting his chin on the back of his hand, he chuckled.

“I really don’t understand.”

“…”

“In our country, only the results matter. There is no room for personal feelings or pity. In fact, if I cannot go through with this marriage, there is a possibility that I will be stripped of my royal status.”

“W-What do you mean?”

“We have a large number of siblings. I am the eighth prince, but there are countless members in the royal lineage, both male and female, above and below. Each of them may have the opportunity to serve the country once in their lifetime, if at all.”

In Kytha, polygamy is common, and even among the royal family, there are numerous lovers.

Naturally, there are many children born, so there is no shortage of heirs. However, Mabel recalled the words of her tutor, who said that there is a constant battle and intrigue over who will be the successor.

“It’s fortunate if we’re not disposed of. Well, even if I fail, there will be another prince or something.”

“This is too cruel…”

“To the king, we are nothing more than pawns on a board. So, rather than being disposable, it’s human nature to try and survive, don’t you think?”

Saying that, Amane’s smile was not his usual challenging one, but rather a slightly melancholic one. Seeing his face, Mabel found herself unable to speak any further.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟒𝟗

There was a knock on the wall.

Eugene, who was sitting at his desk, turned around to see Mabel timidly peering in, wearing a simple dress and a cardigan.

“Eugene-san, I’m sorry. Are you okay now?”

“Yeah.”

With permission granted, Mabel happily stepped further into the room. Eugene hurriedly closed the book on his desk, as if hiding something.

Curious about his flustered behavior, Mabel sat on the sofa and asked.

“Are you studying?”

“Well, um…doing a little research.”

Eugene turned the chair around and faced Mabel. Perhaps illuminated by the desk lamp, his golden eyes had a faint orange tint.

Since it was his private room, he had taken off his mask, revealing his perpetually stunning face.

Feeling her face grow warm, Mabel quietly spoke.

“Today, I talked to Amane-san.”

“I see.”

“You know, I was really lucky to meet you, Eugene-san…”

The royal family existed for the sake of the country.

Although she thought she understood that, Mabel found herself being swayed by her own engagement. 

Hearing of the determination displayed by Amane and the members of the Kytha royal family made her realize how trivial her own struggles were.

Eugene silently watched Mabel, who had become completely dejected.

But then he stood up quietly and sat down next to her, with a firm posture.

“It’s not just luck. It’s because you’ve worked hard.”

“…You think so?”

“Have some confidence. I fell in love with the determined and courageous Mable who always tried her best.”

Eugene’s arm wrapped around Mabel’s waist. Aware of their close proximity, Mabel tried to divert the conversation by saying, “By the way…”

“Oh, there’s going to be a Flower Festival soon.”

“A Flower Festival?”

“If you’d like, Eugene-san, I was thinking maybe we could go together…”

Eugene silently observed Mabel, who was cautiously testing the waters, but eventually, let out a sigh.

“Sorry, but I’ll pass.”

“Is there a particular reason?”

“It would cause a commotion if I were to go out.”

If he wore a mask, Eugene’s enchanting magic wouldn’t cause any harm. However, his appearance, which clearly indicated he was a mage, would certainly attract attention.

“I suppose that’s how it is, then…”

“…”

Perhaps feeling sorry for the dejected Mabel, Eugene tightened his embrace. Eventually, he placed one hand on Mabel’s cheek and pulled her closer, their lips meeting.

Mabel, who had been frozen for a while, let out a short sound before finally being released from the kiss.

“Don’t hold your breath.”

“W-Well. . .”

Eugene exerted more force, wanting to kiss her again.

However, noticing that Mabel’s face had turned bright red, Eugene couldn’t help but burst into laughter. Mabel turned away, feeling teased.

“Sorry. I won’t do it again.”

“It’s because I’m not used to it!”

“Don’t pout like that. By the way, did you receive any jewelry?”

Mabel’s cheeks puffed up even more as Eugene whispered in her ear, “From him.”

“I didn’t receive any! There’s no reason for me to accept it.”

“I thought so.”

Mabel struggled to escape from Eugene’s arm, but she couldn’t break free. Perhaps finding her actions amusing, Eugene pulled Mabel’s body closer once again.

“As an apology, I’ll prepare something for you. What would you like?”

“What do you mean?”

“A necklace, earrings, or anything else…I’m not very knowledgeable about these things, but I’ll figure something out.”

At Eugene’s suggestion, Mabel’s face instantly lit up.

‘A gift from Eugene!’

The accessories that she didn’t feel any radiance from when they were presented by Amane suddenly became dazzling in her mind, just by thinking that they were from Eugene. She didn’t want anything flashy, but if possible, she wanted something she could always wear.

Then, Mabel suddenly imagined herself wearing a white dress.

The location was a church deep within the royal palace, and standing next to her was Eugene, also dressed in white. 

They faced each other, and Eugene took Mabel’s hand. He removed her gloves, and a platinum ring snugly fit on her exposed finger.

Lost in this illusion, Mabel unintentionally said, “A ring…”

“A ring?”

But at the sound of Eugene’s voice in reality, Mabel suddenly snapped out of her dream.

Even though they were engaged, the wedding was still a long way off.

“N-No, it’s nothing!”

Feeling suddenly embarrassed, Mabel squirmed and managed to escape from Eugene’s embrace. She quickly bid him goodnight and left the room as if running away.

Eugene watched her and smiled affectionately. 

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟓𝟎

“That should’ve been enough for Amane to give up,” I thought with relief the next morning.

Mabel, who came outside to hang the laundry, held her head.

“Why are you still here…?”

“I’m not one to give up so easily!”

The grassy lawn sparkled in the sunlight.

In one corner, a magnificent tent had been set up.

It was not a simple makeshift shelter but a special thick fabric with waterproofing applied, supported by sturdy pillars. There were even entrances and separate sections. Mabel was once again impressed by Kytha’s craftsmanship.

Amane, the owner of the tent, was still smiling brightly.

“It seems you’re not a woman who can be swayed by material possessions or money. In that case, I thought the only way for you to truly understand my worth is by living together.”

“Living together, you say?”

Mabel felt a headache coming on.

While she was relieved that Amane had given up on the quantity strategy, now it was about cohabitation. As she understood that Eugene was the owner of this castle, she assumed they were camping in the garden.

She pondered how to convey the message for them to leave when Eugene, hearing Amane’s laughter, descended from the sky with a flutter.

Though his face was hidden behind a mask, it was likely composed of the highest level of frustration.

“Don’t create strange things in my castle.”

“With such vast land, why are you nitpicking? Ah, perhaps you’re worried.”

As Mabel closed her eyes in dismay, Eugene remained silent, extending his long arm towards Amane.

Mabel tried to stop Amane, fearing that she would be blown away again, but strangely enough, Amane didn’t get blown away. Instead, he remained calm and smiled.

“What a shame. Is that a magic tool?”

Amane pulled out a necklace from his clothes, adorned with large metal decorations.

The mention of a magic tool reminded Mabel of the weapon Travis had. 

A “magic tool” referred to a special mineral infused with a mage’s power. 

It was a remarkable item that allowed even non-mages to utilize magic. However, they were extremely rare, making them highly valuable even in Eakes.

It seemed that Amane had taken measures against Eugene’s magic.

“The same thing is attached to that tent. Give up.”

Amane smirked triumphantly, causing Eugene’s anger to simmer. Worried, Mabel glanced at him, and Eugene muttered bitterly in a voice that crawled along the ground.

“A magic tool of that level? If I go all out…I think I can still do it?”

“Please, just stop…”

Mabel heard Eugene’s short click of the tongue.

From that day on, their strange cohabitation began.

“Mabel, is there anything I can help with?”

In the evening, as Mabel peeled potatoes in the kitchen, Amane appeared, peering over her shoulder.

True to her words of wanting to be known, Amane diligently followed Mabel around. If Mabel was cleaning the windows, Amane would sit next to her and help. If Mabel was hanging laundry, Amane would pull the rope. Surprisingly, she was quite skilled at these tasks.

“Amane-san, really, you don’t have to do anything.”

“Well, don’t say that. I just want to show you how reliable I am as a man.”

With a confident smile as always, Amane sat down on the chair next to Mabel. She grabbed a potato, wondering if she should peel it, and skillfully peeled off the skin with a small knife.

Impressed, Mabel blinked. At that moment, whether it was good timing or bad timing, Eugene also appeared in the kitchen. As soon as he spotted Amane, his face twisted in discomfort.

“Why is this person here?”

“As you can see, I’m here to help with dinner. I can’t bear to leave Mable-san alone.”

Amane answered proudly, and Mabel couldn’t help but sweat nervously.

Surprisingly, Eugene didn’t make any sarcastic remarks. He remained silent, his mouth forming a straight line as if lost in thought for a while.

Eventually, he sat down on the chair opposite Amane, sandwiching Mabel between them.

“Y-You, Eugene-san. . .?”

“Sorry, could you lend me a knife?”

With trembling hands, Mabel handed Eugene a spare knife, and he began peeling the potatoes with awkward movements.

Witnessing this rare sight, Mabel couldn’t believe her eyes, but it seemed that Eugene had his own thoughts about it.

Seeing his clumsy yet well-intentioned efforts, Mabel couldn’t help but smile.

―That was all fine, but…

“Hey, what’s that? You’re barely leaving any flesh on it.”

“Shut up. The sprouts are poisonous. What’s wrong with peeling them properly?”

Mabel was caught in the middle of the two, as they argued back and forth. Looking closely, Eugene’s hand was clutching fragments of a potato that had almost lost its original shape.

“Well, there won’t be anything left to eat at this rate. Look at my perfectly peeled ones.”

“…”

Eugene stared at the potatoes held by Amane for a while, then let out a sigh and placed the potato and knife he had been holding on the kitchen counter. Just as Mabel was about to stop him, Eugene said something.

And then, the potatoes that had been packed in a basket suddenly floated in the air.

“Huh?!”

In front of Mabel’s astonished eyes, the potato skins were smoothly peeled off, revealing the white flesh in an instant. It was as if a thin blade of wind was passing through, and the peeled potatoes piled up in the empty basket.

“Using magic is cheating!”

“It’s my power. I can use it however I want.”

“Hmph! If that’s the case, I have an idea too.”

As soon as he said that, Amane stood up and shouted, “Hey!” towards the outside of the kitchen. Shortly after, his attendants who were waiting in the tent rushed in all at once.

“Peel all the potatoes here. Don’t fall behind!”

With a synchronized command, several adult men lined up in the hallway and started peeling the potatoes with single-minded focus.

One by one, the potato flesh piled up on the table, and perhaps feeling the pressure of the speed, Eugene tried to float more spare potatoes from the back of the kitchen―

“Both of you, stop!”

Unable to bear it any longer, Mabel stood up.

At the desperate tone of her voice, Eugene and Amane involuntarily stopped their hands.

“Just how many are you planning to peel? We can’t eat that much!”

Finally realizing it, Mabel shouted, “Attention!” to the two.

Pushing the backs of Eugene and Amane, who stood up reflexively, she then firmly closed the door that was usually left open.

With her back against the locked door, Mabel furrowed her brows at the mountain of potatoes that had been piled up.

“What should I do with this amount!”

Letting out a sigh, Mabel finally began preparing dinner.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟓𝟏

For dinner that day, there were fried potatoes mixed with ground meat, mashed potatoes, potato and bacon quiche, and potato salad. It was a meal filled with potato dishes from one end to the other.

During the meal, Eugene and Amane would appear together and start arguing about this and that. Mabel ended up giving them an earful; if they didn’t quiet down, they would go without dinner.

Mabel was a little unsure about how to handle Amane’s meal, but considering the favor he had done by helping her, Mabel decided to let him eat normally.

Since there were too many dishes prepared, Mabel also sent some to Amane’s attendants who were waiting in the tent. She received polite gratitude, saying “Thank you very much,” which left Mabel with mixed feelings as she returned to the reception room on the first floor.

‘Phew, I’m tired.’

Mabel sat on the sofa as if buried in it, but then she gathered her determination and sat up straight.

With a sewing box and an unfinished handkerchief in hand, she continued sewing with small, precise stitches. Amane suddenly appeared again, peeking in to see what Mabel was doing.

“Mabel, what are you doing this time?”

“Um, I’m embroidering the handkerchief for the upcoming Flower Festival.”

Before Mabel could finish speaking, Amane took a seat next to her. With a slight smile on his lips, he held a newly framed handkerchief and peered into the sewing box on the table.

“I’ll borrow this.”

“Uh, ah, yes!”

Taking a small needle in his hand, Amane skillfully threaded the red embroidery thread and began stitching. Mabel was slightly surprised by his skillful movements.

There was no sign of unfamiliarity as he held the needle. Amane smoothly embroidered flower patterns onto the fabric.

While Mabel was taken aback, Amane continued embroidering for a while. Then, he calmly opened his mouth.

“What kind of festival is this Flower Festival?”

“Well, It’s a celebration of the arrival of spring. It signifies the end of the cold winter and the beginning of a warm season.”

The Flower Festival is held once a year during this season. 

During this festival, many tourists from other countries visit, and the streets are lined with stalls. Performers fill the streets, and plenty of food and drinks are served. It’s a bustling day for the city of Eakes.

What Mabel was making was also a product to be sold at the bazaar on the festival day.

“On the morning of the festival, we scatter paper flowers throughout the city. People then hang them on their chests and walk around the city; so it’s called the Flower Festival.”

“Hmm, interesting. But why artificial flowers? Wouldn’t real flowers be better?”

“W-Well, real flowers are expensive.”

Mabel smiled wryly, and Amane seemed to genuinely question it, tilting his head repeatedly.

Even during their conversation, their hands never stopped.

At first, Mabel was skeptical if Amane could really embroider, but he was steadily completing it.

“Amane-san, you’re quite skilled. It’s somewhat surprising.”

“There’s nothing I can’t do.”

Amane maintained his arrogant attitude as usual, but then he loosened his lips and continued, “I used to do it often, you know.”

“Even though I’m a prince, I’m still the eighth in line. When I was young and had no right to succession, I was no different from commoners. I didn’t even have servants and had to mend my own clothes.”

“T-That’s quite impressive.”

“You’re not that different either, are you?”

Mabel widened her eyes in surprise.

“Cooking, laundry, cleaning, It seems quite different from the princesses I know.”

“W-Well, yes.”

Mabel blushed and smiled shyly.

“I’ve always been told that I have no special talents compared to my sisters. So, I naturally started doing these kinds of tasks because I wanted to be useful, even just a little.”

“Weren’t you dissatisfied with being compared to others?”

“I used to hate it, of course. But my sisters are kind, and I love them.”

Besides, Mabel knew that she had her own magic. It wasn’t an exceptionally beautiful face or strong power, but it was something essential to be with Eugene.

Saying that, Mabel smiled and Amane quietly watched her. Eventually, he muttered, “You’re strong.”

“I’m still scared of my brothers,” he added softly.

“Your elder brothers?”

“Yes. They are like monsters, several levels above me. Honestly, if they were to appear, I wouldn’t be able to resist anything.”

‘Why are you so scared,’ Mabel swallowed her words, but Amane, who had finished embroidering, handed her a handkerchief with a gentle smile. On the white fabric, a large red flower bloomed proudly.

It was the first time she had seen such embroidery. Perhaps it was a unique pattern of Kytha.

“Th-Thank you.”

“Even though you don’t want clothes or jewelry, you accept this happily.”

“W-Well, that’s because…you went through the trouble of making it.”

Amane chuckled. 

His expression was kinder than any she had seen before――maybe he originally had a very simple personality, Mabel speculated.

Beside Mabel, Amane continued speaking.

“Hey, Mabel. Don’t you feel like we can understand each other?”

“W-What do you mean?”

“We are similar. We have surpassed those above us and have come this far by doing what we should.”

As Mabel looked into his beautiful orange eyes, she instinctively averted her gaze. When she tried to create some distance, Amane closed the gap.

“Even though you refuse gold and jewels, you accept this amateur embroidery with joy. Your attitude is truly admirable. I thought it was for the sake of the country, but my feelings have changed. I have genuinely become interested in you.”

“You don’t have to be! Really!”

“Even if you’re the eighth princess, you’re still a member of the royal family. I won’t let you suffer.”

“Can you listen to me?!”

Ignoring Mabel’s outburst, Amane chuckled.

Mabel furrowed her brows, trying to figure out whether he was teasing her or being serious, while Amane squinted his eyes.

“Besides…I am human.”

“…?”

“I did some research. Mages are quite long-lived, aren’t they?”

The atmosphere in the room suddenly changed.

As Mabel remained silent, Amane continued speaking calmly.

“Whether it’s a hundred years or two hundred, even as you age, they won’t change.”

“That’s…”

“They might grow tired of you as you grow old and love another woman. Can you endure that?”

Mabel couldn’t say anything in response to Amane’s words.

Because it was something that had been on her mind as well.

When I become an old lady, Eugene-san will surely remain the same. I don’t know if he will still love me like he does now. 

Nevertheless, Mabel wanted to believe in her feelings for Eugene.

“Honestly, I don’t have confidence. But I love Eugene-san. I can’t abandon the present out of fear of an unknown future.”

“I see…”

With a wry smile as if he had been rejected again, Amane finally stood up from the sofa.

He turned to Mabel, who was pouring out her frustrations, and flashed a bright smile, revealing his white teeth.

“Let’s give up for today. But I’ll come back to woo you.”

“I told you, I don’t want that!”

As Amane waved his hand playfully towards Mabel, he left the room.

Left alone, Mabel tightly gripped the handkerchief Amane had made, her face showing a complex expression. But eventually, she quietly lowered her gaze.

The flashy embroidery seemed to reflect his vibrant personality. However, each stitch was carefully sewn, and it seemed that there was no falsehood in the words that he had experience in sewing.

‘I can tell he is a good person, but…’

Having only seen Amane’s flamboyant side, Mabel felt a slight sense of familiarity with the simple handkerchief.

“…”

At night, Eugene became anxious about what Amane might be doing to Mabel and went downstairs. There, he discovered the two of them in the parlor.

Feeling irritated, he turned his feet away, but upon hearing their conversation, Eugene couldn’t move from that spot for a while.

After Amane left the parlor, Eugene rushed up the stairs as if escaping. 

(Is being a mage really that long-lived?)

As if shaking off Amane’s words, Eugene walked quickly down the long corridor. 

Finally reaching his own room, he closed the door and went straight to his desk. He roughly opened the thick book that had been closed. The sound of flipping pages echoed, but what he was looking for didn’t appear, and he found himself biting his lip.

‘No, it’s not here, something else…’

Hastily closing the book, Eugene stood motionless in front of the towering bookshelf, neatly lined with no gaps.

However, Eugene knew that the answer he was seeking was nowhere to be found.

‘What should I do…’ He covered his face with his palm in thought.

It felt as if he was trapped in an inescapable darkness worse than the New Moon

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟓𝟐

Since that day, Eugene had become prone to seclusion in his room.

Although he didn’t reject everything like before, he would have his meals in his room and wouldn’t come out at all during other times.

Mabel once suggested having lunch outside, but he only said, “I have something I want to research,” and didn’t respond further.

“Has he finally become sick of me?”

“That’s not true! And besides, my feelings haven’t changed!”

At first, Amane laughed, thinking it was convenient for him, but he also felt lonely without someone to compete with, so he started asking, “Is he still holed up in there?” from time to time.

Mabel was also worried, and she called out to him several times a day, but sometimes he would give vague answers or not respond at all, showing no signs of coming out of his room.

‘It feels like we’ve gone back to how things used to be.’

But unlike back then, it shouldn’t be an act of dislike towards Mabel.

Surely, he really had urgent research to do, and Mabel decided to wait positively.

―However, one day, Cero rushed into the castle in a panic.

“Mabel, are you here?”

“Cero, what’s the matter? You seem so flustered.”

“It’s an urgent matter. Kathleen-sama wants you to return to the palace immediately.”

Something must have happened, and Mabel panicked, but she couldn’t help but think of Eugene, whom she hadn’t seen for several days. 

Although it felt awkward to leave him in that state and depart from the castle, Eugene probably wouldn’t come out of his room for a while.

“I’ll head there right away! Cero, you go back first.”

After seeing off Cero, Mabel made her way to Eugene’s securely locked room.

Through the locked door, she spoke to Eugene.

“Eugene-san, um, I’ve been summoned to the palace, so I’ll be going for a bit. I’ll come back as soon as I’m done.”

“Mhm.”

Though it was a small response, Mabel felt relieved to hear it. She briefly looked for Amane as well, but for some reason, she hadn’t seen him since morning.

There was no helping it, so Mabel hurriedly set off for the palace.

However, what awaited Mabel upon her arrival at the palace was Kathleen with a troubled expression and a multitude of dazzling dresses lined up in the closet.

“Onee-sama, I heard there was an urgent matter, so I came here.”

“Oh, yes! Suddenly, a ball has been decided for tomorrow.”

“Why don’t you just choose what you want to wear?!”

It was no wonder Mabel was at a loss.

She had rushed over after being called by a frantic Cero, only to find out that the matter at hand was Kathleen’s dress selection.

“No, George-sama will be accompanying me tomorrow! That’s why–.”

“I understand! I understand those feelings!!”

“I’m sorry. And, um, I haven’t been able to see Mabel lately…I just wanted to see your face, even if it’s just for a little while.”

Kathleen’s eyes were moist, and she seemed on the verge of tears.

Mabel couldn’t resist her beautiful sister’s tears, even though magic didn’t work on her.

Moreover, she was even told the killer phrase of “I wanted to see you,” so she couldn’t treat her rudely.

“Even if you didn’t make up an excuse, I would always come back to see you. Anyway, let’s try matching this green dress with white high heels for now.”

At Mabel’s words, Kathleen smiled like a rose blooming.

Mabel accompanied Kathleen in trying on various outfits, and finally, they settled on a combination that satisfied them. At that point, Mabel was finally released.

Sighing with relief, Mabel had a sense of fulfillment, but just as she left her sister’s room, she was stopped by a man.

“―Excuse me, Mabel-sama. Do you have a moment?”

She was led to a reception room in a corner of the palace.

As Mabel entered the room as guided, two men who had been waiting there bowed their heads.

“Please, have a seat.”

Although they indicated the sofa, Mabel became more cautious due to the unusual atmosphere.

She sat down hesitantly, and the two men also sat facing her. Mabel recognized the white-haired man sitting in front of her.

(I think he’s the secretary-general of the parliament. . .)

In the parliament, there is a hierarchy with the Prime Minister as the first, the Speaker as the second, and the Secretary-General as the third position under the Speaker. 

After Travis’s downfall, Reed was promoted to the position of chief advisor, making him the de facto second-in-command in the parliament. Why would someone like him have business with Mabel?

“I apologize for stopping you. However, if I were to be honest, I didn’t think you would return to the palace, so I used Kathleen-sama’s name.”

Upon hearing the secretary’s explanation, Mabel grew even more suspicious.

Kathleen was just an excuse.

It seemed that they wanted to meet with Mabel all along.

“I heard that you are living together with Amane-sama.”

“Well, it’s more like he just barged in without permission. . .”

“I’m relieved to hear that you get along well. Although he is from a different continent, he has a pleasant personality and comes from a prestigious family that is no less than yours, Mabel-sama. As a partner, there is nothing to complain about.”

As the secretary praised Amane, Mabel furrowed her eyebrows.

“Um, may I ask why I was called here? It’s not just to talk about Amane-san, is it?”

Perhaps sensing Mabel’s frustration, the secretary cleared his throat.

“I apologize for the rudeness. I will be straightforward, Mabel-sama―we would like you to dissolve the engagement.”

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟓𝟑

Suppressing the desire to say “What?” Mabel showed a puzzled expression.

“Breaking off the engagement? If it’s about Amane-san, I’ve already declined.”

“No, it’s about Eugene-dono.”

“What?”

Mabel swallowed her words, realizing she had said too much.

Then, as if finally able to get to the main point, the secretary began speaking rapidly.

“We truly appreciate your efforts in protecting this country during the recent Wiski invasion. However, this is a different matter.”

“A different matter? In the first place, the engagement with Eugene-san was proposed by your council, wasn’t it?”

“Indeed, we believed it was the best course of action. But looking back now, we cannot deny that we were swayed by the cunning words of the traitor, Travis.”

As Mabel recalled the words Travis had directed at her with contempt when she was captured by Wiski, she finally remembered.

“Those who cannot think for themselves are troublesome.To think I would still be manipulated by those words.”

“But logically speaking, the other party is a mage. Their lifespan, power, and everything is different from ours. They are not human. It is unthinkable for the royal family of Eakes to have ties with such a person.”

“It’s true that Eugene-san has a long lifespan and incredible power. But he is no different from us. He catches colds, gets fevers, and even gets injured. Besides, Otou-sama has already given his permission at that time! Are you going to pretend that never happened now?”

“His Majesty is kind. He always said that when deciding the princesses’ engagements, he wants to prioritize your feelings. Moreover, there is also the fact that you were saved by that extraordinary power.”

“So why–”

“But as the council, who holds the final say, we must make the appropriate judgment. Even if His Majesty allowed it, the council does not approve of Mabel-sama’s engagement.”

Upon hearing the clear declaration, Mabel bit her lower lip.

But the secretary continued as if chasing after her.

“This is also for Mabel-sama’s sake. As I mentioned earlier, the difference in lifespan between us humans and mages is too great. On the contrary, Mabel-sama’s existence may take away Mage-dono’s freedom.”

Mabel’s eyes widened at those words.

“What will happen to Mage-dono after Mabel-sama passes away? Can you tell them to find another partner? By that time, it will be too late to realize it was a mistake. And do you know what the people of Eakes are saying about Mabel-sama? They all―.”

“Secretary, that’s enough.”

The final words were restrained by the person next to them.

The secretary cleared his throat shortly and once again met Mabel’s gaze directly.

“That’s all for today’s matter. If you understand, could you please convey it to Mage-dono, starting with Mabel-sama?”

“This is… too sudden.”

“. . .I understand your pain. If Mabel-sama cannot bring herself to say it, we can convey it from our side as well. But please don’t forget. For the sake of your happiness, this is the best method.”

Eventually, the two council members stood up from their seats.

Mabel, who was left alone, had tears welling up in her eyes, and with a blink, a single drop ran down her cheek.

‘I…I understand.’’

Before the next tear could fall, Mabel wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.

Why does it have to come to this? Why is this happening?

Mabel quickly left the room as if escaping, wanting to see Eugene as soon as possible.

She walked briskly through the corridor, heading towards the entrance hall.

Then, at the corner, she collided with someone coming from the opposite direction.

“Ah, excuse me.”

“―Ah, I’m sorry.”

Fortunately, they noticed just in time, so they didn’t collide head-on.

But feeling guilty for startling the person, Mabel quickly apologized.

The person there was a young man with a beautiful face. His skin was well-tanned, and he had long, beautiful silver hair braided and gathered on the right shoulder side.

“I wasn’t paying attention either. Are you hurt?”

“N-No, I’m fine. . .”

Relieved, the young man narrowed his eyes.

His eyes were a deep blue, reminiscent of the southern seas, and Mabel found herself captivated by them.

But soon, the young man walked in the direction Mabel came from, and Mabel took a step forward as well.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟓𝟒

At the same time, the royal aide, Reed, who had visited Eugene’s castle, made a clear statement.

“―Please disregard the engagement.”

Just as Mabel left the castle, they appeared as if it had been planned.

They claimed that they had something to discuss with Eugene alone, which is why Mabel-sama was asked to return to the palace.

“Indeed, His Majesty promised to reinstate you as her fiancée during that occasion. However, the parliament has reached a consensus that this engagement should not be recognized.”

“…”

“Fortunately, Mabel-sama also has a proposal for a new fiancé. Of course, it does not mean that you should simply step aside.”

With that, Reed gave instructions to the servant behind him. With a soft sound, a thick wooden box was placed on the table, and when the lid was lifted, a large number of gold coins peeked out.

After glancing at it, Reed continued with a solemn voice.

“If it’s not enough, please let us know. We would like to settle this matter.”

However, Eugene stared at it contemptuously, “It’s not necessary. It holds no value to me.”

“In that case. . .”

“I have no intention of breaking off the engagement.”

Staring at each other, Reed trembled slightly. But perhaps thinking that he couldn’t show any hesitation at this point, he spoke to Eugene with determination.

“This is also for Mabel-sama’s sake.”

“What do you mean?”

“Currently, do you know what the common people say about Mabel-sama? They say that the pitiful youngest princess was sacrificed for the sake of the country, and was given to the mages. That’s what they whisper.”

Eugene stared at Reed without blinking, as he let out a deep sigh.

“We were saved by you during the Wiski invasion. However, not many people know the details. Many citizens speculate that some secret agreement was made in exchange for the engagement.”

To actually have aimed for that, but now that peace had arrived, they acted as if they had never intended it. Eugene’s anger began to boil at the attitude of the parliament.

But they couldn’t cause a commotion and worsen Mabel’s position. Eugene desperately tried to restrain themselves.

“If we allow the engagement to proceed, we will be condemned as a parliament that is subservient to the mages, a pathetic one. At that time, our―and the king’s position―will not be stable. Above all, the people fear you, someone whose background is unknown.”

Eugene couldn’t say anything in response to the final words.

Seeing that, Reed lowered his gaze to the table and spoke calmly.

“Mage-dono, our lifespan is too different. No matter how much you love her, you cannot become a human.”

“…”

“If you truly care about Mabel-sama’s happiness, could you please consider breaking off the engagement?”

Eugene quietly looked at Reed, who deeply bowed his head.

As if enduring something, Eugene lowered their eyelashes quietly.

Having finally returned to the castle, Mabel felt a different atmosphere.

It wasn’t something specific that had changed, but rather a subtle difference that couldn’t be expressed in words, a stagnant or gloomy feeling.

First, Mabel went upstairs to meet Eugene and knocked on the door to his room.

After receiving a response, she entered the room, and Eugene was sitting at the desk as usual.

“Sorry for being late.”

“No, don’t worry about it.”

It was then that Mabel noticed that Eugene was wearing a mask.

Since they often took it off in their room, she was slightly curious, but she continued the conversation without consciously paying attention, thinking it was just a coincidence.

“I was called in a hurry, but when I went, it turned out to be Kathleen-onee-sama’s dress fitting. Don’t scare me like that.”

Eugene silently watched Mabel puffing up her cheeks.

Feeling a slight sense of loneliness in their appearance, Mabel felt a hint of unease.

But Eugene quickly changed their expression to a smile and asked Mabel.

“That must have been tough. Was that all you needed?”

“Y-Yeah.”

It was Mabel who nodded, but the talk of breaking off the engagement from the secretary-general crossed her mind.

She didn’t want to cause unnecessary worry to Eugene.

But if she lied here, Eugene might see through it. Above all, Mabel didn’t want to keep any secrets from Eugene. With a short exhale, she quietly began.

“I’m sorry, but there’s actually something else I need to talk about.”

“…?”

“They told me to break off the engagement…”

Silence filled the room.

Unable to bear the atmosphere, Mabel quickly denied it.

“Of course, I have no intention of doing that. I’m trying to persuade them somehow, but…”

“Did they say something to you?”

Perhaps noticing that Mabel was struggling with her words, Eugene quietly spoke up.

Mabel could feel her eyes welling up again at his gentle voice.

“No. It’s nothing.”

“…Really?”

“…”

From behind his mask, Eugene was gazing at Mabe with his beautiful amber eyes, and firmly sealed lips.

Although Mabel could only see that expression, she painfully understood just how much Eugene was worried about her.

That’s why Mabel forced herself to smile and answered,

“Um, Eugene-san, If I were to disappear, would you find someone new to love?”

“. . .”

“Since I’ll die before you, I don’t want to leave you alone. So I was thinking, maybe it wouldn’t be so lonely if you found someone else to love.”

As she spoke, Mabel felt a sharp pain in her heart.

Her body was screaming, realizing that her feelings and words were not in sync, unlike when she blocked the magic.

‘But, it’s because of me that Eugene-san will be left alone’

Their lifespans were different. Mabel accepted that she would be gone and that Eugene would live with someone else. Without that resolve, she couldn’t protect this engagement.

“Are you telling me to find someone else to love?”

But what Mabel heard was Eugene’s strained voice.

Startled, Mabel raised her head and was speechless when she saw Eugene’s face. His slanted eyes looked pained, and his mouth was tightly shut.

Seeing Eugene’s pained expression, she realized how terrible her words had been and quickly shook her head.

“I’m sorry, that’s not what I meant.”

“I understand. I’ve been struggling with it too. Wondering if it was really a good thing for me to be engaged to you.”

“…What do you mean?”

“You and I are not the same. Even if we’re together, we can’t be happy. In that case, it might be better to pretend it never happened.”

Before Eugene could finish his words, Mabel couldn’t help but ask why.

But the tears that she should have held back in the palace began to flow uncontrollably.

Yet, even in front of Mabel like this, Eugene never uttered words of correction.

Feeling lost, Mabel ran away from the scene, escaping. She hurriedly descended the corridor and stairs, but there was no sign of Eugene following her.

‘Why, why did this happen?!’

Her throat hurt.

Her tears distorted her vision.

It was already dark outside, and it would be difficult to return to the palace now.

Where should she go at this hour?

‘But I don’t want to stay here…’

While choking on her silent tears, Mabel pushed the entrance door with all her strength.

To her surprise, it opened much lighter than expected, and Mabel’s unbalanced body was thrown outside. But then, strong arms caught her.

“―Oh, I was surprised. Where are you going at this hour?”

“Row-san…”

Looking up, Mabel saw Row’s beautiful face, and once again, she cried with a pitiful voice.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟓𝟓

Eugene’s room was pitch dark, with no light.

Row took out a small metal box from his pocket and plucked a cigarette from inside.

He put it in his mouth and flicked the tip with his finger. The fire ignited slowly, and white smoke began to escape from the slightly parted lips.

Row held the smoke floating in the air and infused it with magic. Then, with a popping sound, a sphere of light appeared in his palm. Along with the floating sphere, Row stepped further into the room.

“How about turning on some lights?”

Ignoring Eugene, who didn’t respond, Row walked towards the window. He opened the closed curtains, revealing a pale blue moon shining brightly in the night sky.

At the same time, the figure of Eugene, sitting on the sofa and looking down, was illuminated.

“I brought her safely, so you can relax.”

Row unlocked the window latch and slid it open slightly. A cool breeze entered through the gap in the wooden frame, slightly dispersing the stagnant air in the room. Ignoring Eugene, who remained silent, Row leaned against the desk and once again put the cigarette in his mouth.

“Mabel-chan was crying.”

“…”

Row let out a long sigh. The white smoke mixed with the darkness and eventually disappeared. The silence continued. Row patiently waited for the interrupted conversation to continue.

In a world where sound was stolen, Eugene finally spoke.

“I asked if we should break off the engagement.”

“I see, I understand.”

With a wry smile, Row exhaled the smoke he had inhaled. From the mist, a white flower was gently plucked. While comforting himself with it, Row continued speaking.

“Well, honestly, when I heard that you were engaged, I felt uneasy.”

“…”

“We have long lives. She will surely die before you―can you endure that?”

The white flower dropped from Row’s hand. Eugene, looking down at the flower on the floor, uttered a hoarse voice, “I don’t know.”

“I might not be able to endure it. But still, I was fully prepared for us to be together.”

It was his first love.

But it was a love that was destined to be lost.

Eugene would inevitably have to witness Mabel’s death. He couldn’t imagine what would become of himself when that happened.

Still―even if it was just for that brief moment, he wanted to be by her side. He wanted to be by Mabel’s side. That’s why he sought the certainty of an engagement.

“But maybe that would separate Mabel from the human world..”

Mages were not human. Eugene had been called a monster countless times.

It would have been fine if it was just him. But if things continued like this, not only would he be seen as a princess who married a monster, but Mabel would also be criticized.

“I searched for ways to abandon magic or shorten my lifespan. But I couldn’t find any. There are magic spells that consume a large amount of magic, but even then, they can’t catch up to her lifespan…I can’t die with Mabel.”

In the past, Eugene had never felt dissatisfied with being a mage. His astonishingly long life and the mysterious power of magic had satisfied his intellectual curiosity.

But then, there was one person.

The moment he met Mabel, someone dear to him, everything turned against Eugene.

He never expected it to affect her as well.

“I never even considered falling in love with someone. Let alone feeling so helpless and tormented like this.”

Eugene covered his face with both hands and tightly gripped his own bangs. Seeing this, Row buffed a ring of smoke.

“If only I hadn’t fallen in love with her? Is that what you’re thinking?”

A calm voice escaped from Row’s slightly parted lips.

Eugene slowly shook his head from side to side.

“No. I never regretted falling in love with her.”

Perhaps it was a sin for someone like him, who was called a monster, to harbor such feelings.

Because he loved her, he truly wanted her to be happy.

If that meant he didn’t have to be by her side―he was willing.

“…You’re amazing, Row. To be able to bear such complex and troublesome emotions, time and time again…”

Upon hearing Eugene’s murmurs, Row raised an eyebrow in surprise.

But as he lifted the corners of his mouth, he gently lowered his long eyelashes. The sparkle in his red eyes dimmed slightly.

“Not really. When it comes to someone I truly love, I’m nothing but a coward who can’t even say ‘I love you.'”

Row once again created a white flower from the smoke and rolled it onto the desk. The beautiful moon depicted the vibrant shadows of the two.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟓𝟔: 𝐓𝐫𝐮𝐞 𝐅𝐞𝐞𝐥𝐢𝐧𝐠𝐬 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐃𝐞𝐬𝐢𝐫𝐞𝐬

―Mabel was having a dream.

Outside the castle.

Mabel stood in a vast grassland.

In her line of sight was Eugene, and Mabel tried to call his name while running toward him.

But her legs wouldn’t move as she wanted.

Curious, she looked down and saw that her legs were thin, weak, and she was sitting in a wheelchair. Desperately, she tried to push the wheels with unfamiliar movements, but she couldn’t move properly. Even her hands, which exerted force, were marked with many wrinkles.

Unable to bear it, Mabel and Eugene shouted.

But their mouths moved without making any sound. Eventually, a shadow of someone appeared beside him. Long hair. Was it a woman?

Then Eugene gently took the hand of the woman standing next to him. There was no mask on his face, and his beautiful countenance had a serene smile.

‘No!’

What had been directed only at Mabel until now was being dedicated to someone she didn’t know at all.

Mabel continued to try to get closer to them, but the distance didn’t shrink at all.

Eventually, Eugene embraced the woman and brought his face closer.

“Stop!”

Mabel blinked her eyes wide open several times.

In Mabel’s own room in the palace.

Confirming the familiar ceiling, Mabel slowly raised her upper body while exhaling a deep sigh. Her eyelids had become swollen from crying continuously since yesterday. She felt a stinging pain in her eyes.

‘That’s right. Yesterday, Row-san gave me a ride.’

Mabel had been vaguely thinking about expressing her gratitude, but soon the conversation she had with Eugene yesterday came back to her.

‘Why did I say such a thing…’

―If I’m not here anymore, I want you to find someone else you love.

Despite saying it for Eugene’s sake, Mabel herself hadn’t made that resolution at all. She cried just from dreaming about it.

‘I made Eugene-san angry because I thoughtlessly said such a thing.’

But there was something that Mabel couldn’t forgive either.

―To nullify the engagement.

Remembering the words Eugene was about to say, Mabel vigorously shook her head. She didn’t want to hear those words.

It was also because the conversation about dissolving the engagement had just happened.

Mabel couldn’t deny that there was a part of her that was angry at Eugene for easily saying something she absolutely didn’t want.

“But, that’s a separate matter.”

Just thinking about apologizing and being forgiven made tears well up in the corners of her eyes. But crying wouldn’t solve anything, so Mabel closed her eyes tightly, desperately trying to push away her sadness.

However, she didn’t have the courage to return to Eugene immediately.

With a clouded mind, Mabel headed to the library in a corner of the palace, holding a book about mages and carefully flipping through the pages.

Perhaps there would be records of people who married mages, and she had a slight hope as she took this action. But the reality was harsh.

‘As expected, they’re all fairy tales and legends.’

The book only contained tales of mages from a time when mages were less rare than now, and anecdotes about the magic they displayed. It further emphasized how special and different mages were from ordinary people, and Mabel continued reading the next section.

But no matter which part she read, there was no mention of anyone marrying a mage.

Was there really no one until now, Mabel thought dejectedly, but then she remembered the white mask depicted in the illustrations.

“What about Mutabilis’s master?”

Melveilleuse, Mabel’s mother, fell in love with Mutabilis’s master.

They fell in love, but the mage bid farewell and offered his own magical power instead. If she understood his feelings, maybe she could understand Eugene’s feelings too.

“I want to find a way to ask him…”

If she asked Eugene or Row, it should be possible to contact Mutabilis. 

However, Mabel is not yet prepared to return to that castle. Besides, if asked why she wanted to contact Mutabilis, she wasn’t confident that she could answer well. 

Mabel, who once again held her head, suddenly lifted her face.

‘If I ask Luxen Trading Company, maybe I can get in touch.’

Cero was delivering supplies to Eugene’s castle.

Similarly, there might be merchants with connections to Mutabilis. Realizing this, Mabel couldn’t sit still and stood up from her chair.

She quickly wrote a letter addressed to Mutabilis and headed to the Luxen Trading Company in the city. However, just as she left the palace, she was called out by a familiar voice.

“Mabel! You’re back.”

“Amane-san, what are you doing here?”

Amane waved his hand and approached Mabel. Seeing his energetic appearance after a long time, Mabel felt relieved.

“I was called here for a bit. Are you going out?”

“Yes. I’m going to the town for a bit.”

“I see. Well, I’ll accompany you.”

“Huh?! It’s okay, really!”

“I’ll be your escort. Don’t worry about it.”

Without wasting any time, Amane took Mabel’s hand and started walking, pulling her along. Mabel was surprised by his forcefulness, but she also found comfort in Amane’s brightness at the moment.

They descended to the town and headed towards the main street. As they walked through the bustling city, the heart of Eakes, they arrived at a massive brick building. There, they found double doors at the entrance, proudly displaying the sign of “Luxen Trading Company” above.

After being called by the receptionist, Cero appeared in a fluster.

“Mabel, what’s the rush?”

“I’m sorry for coming suddenly. Actually, I have a favor to ask.”

Mabel explained the situation, and Cero immediately agreed. It seemed that, as Mabel had expected, Luxen Trading Company had connections with mages in various places and promised to pass the message to a merchant who could contact Mutabilis.

“But wouldn’t it be faster to ask the master?”

“Well, that’s…”

In response to Cero’s honest question, Mabel blinked a few times and then lowered her face quietly. Perhaps sensing something from her attitude, Cero quickly shook his head and said, “Ah, never mind, never mind.”

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟓𝟕

“―Are you done with your errands?”

“Yes, I’m sorry for keeping you waiting.”

After finishing her business and leaving the trading company, Mabel thanked Amane, who had been waiting outside dutifully.

Noticing Amane looking around anxiously, Mabel asked him what was wrong. He pointed to the artificial flowers displayed on the eaves of houses.

“Are those preparations for the festival you mentioned before?”

“Oh, yes! The festival is tomorrow.”

As they walked back to the palace together, Mabel looked around with curiosity.

“People decorate their houses like this, and they put them on shop signs too. The flowers distributed on the day of the festival are made by everyone about a month in advance and stored in a warehouse at the harbor.”

“It takes that long?”

“We need a lot of them. Every child in Eakes knows how to make them.”

Mabel walked with Amane, her heart filled with excitement for the long-awaited festival. However, at the same time, she couldn’t help but think of Eugene and felt a pang in her chest.

‘I wish Eugene-san could come to the festival.’

Although she had been turned down at that time, she had actually planned to invite him once more. 

Eugene had been hesitant, saying he didn’t want to trouble her, but Mabel thought it could be an opportunity for him to see how wonderful he was.

‘Now that I think about it, that was presumptuous of me.’

Remembering her thoughtless actions, Mabel felt down. And then, as if in response to her feelings, she sensed a somewhat restless atmosphere around her.

―Was it just her imagination, or were the people passing by and the shoppers glancing at her?

Mabel felt uneasy, but when she checked herself out, her attire and face, there didn’t seem to be anything particularly strange. 

She wondered if it was because Amane, a flashy handsome man, was next to her, but it seemed that the gazes were directed at Mabel.

Some people even covered their mouths and whispered to each other.

‘I wonder what’s going on…’

Feeling anxious, Mabel raised her head as she heard a voice saying, “Ah!” from a distance. Then a little boy ran towards her and hugged her tightly.

“Mabel-sama!”

“Lid! It’s been a while!”

Seeing the familiar boy, Mabel’s anxiety from earlier vanished in an instant. Amane tilted his head curiously as he watched the two of them giggling.

“Do you know each other?”

“Yes. Lid and the others sell the handkerchiefs we made the other day.”

The orphanage in Eakes is managed by the country, and Lid is one of the children living there. To raise funds, the orphanage holds bazaars regularly, and they will also be held at the upcoming Flower Festival.

“Mabel-sama, you haven’t come to visit us lately.”

“I’m sorry. I’ll come to see you again.”

Mabel gently stroked Lid’s head. Lid, who had been enjoying it, suddenly looked up at Mabel and smiled innocently.

“Hey, Mabel-sama, are you sorry for yourself?”

“Huh?”

“Everyone is saying that Mable-sama is–.”

“Alright, alright, that’s enough.”

Mabel was about to ask what he meant, but Amane suddenly intervened. He took Mabel’s hand and forcefully walked ahead, separating her from Lid. Perplexed, Mabel called out to him.

“A-Amane-san?! What’s the sudden rush?”

“Oh, nothing. I thought I’d have you show me around the Eakes harbor.”

Apologizing to the boy, Amane continued walking with Mabel along the main street. People around them exchanged glances and whispered, but Amane didn’t seem to mind at all.

At first, Mabel was surprised by Amane’s sudden actions, but she lost the will to argue and smiled wryly at his confident attitude.

As they descended the long brick road, the scent of the sea breeze tickled Mabel’s nose.

There was the entrance to the sea, connecting Eakes with other continents―the harbor. The stone-paved streets led to the deep blue sea, and small and large sailing ships were neatly lined up at the pier.

When they reached the nearby warehouse district, Amane finally let go of Mabel’s hand.

“What’s the matter? Why the sudden rush?”

“I told you. I wanted to see the harbor.”

‘He did say that…’

“You wanted to see the harbor…Didn’t you come here sailing?”

“That’s right.”

“If that’s the case, you should have seen it at that time.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

Confused by Amane’s response, Mabel raised an eyebrow. Perhaps noticing Mabel’s confusion, Amane loosened his lips which were tightly sealed.

“Just kidding. Even without a guide, I’ve seen everything there is to see.”

“Then why are we in a place like this…”

“―What happened with Eugene?”

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟓𝟖

Mabel’s heart skipped a beat.

Perhaps noticing her momentary unease, Amane continued speaking.

“Why are you here? Why aren’t you in his castle?”

“Well, um…”

“Does it have something to do with you crying?”

Mabel quickly lowered her face in a panic.

She had thought she could go unnoticed, but it seemed that Amane had seen through her.

She thought that trying to deceive him would only lead to being exposed again, so Mabel took a short breath, lifted her head, and forced a smile.

“I was asked to cancel our engagement.”

“Why?!”

“Because…I said something insensitive.”

“Something insensitive?”

“I told him to find someone else he liked if I were to disappear. Although…I actually didn’t want that.”

Mabel had been thinking about the words the secretary-general had told her.

She wanted Eugene to be happy.

I wanted him to keep smiling all the time, even if I am not by his side. I desperately convinced myself.

Because I love him, I really want Eugene to be happy, even if that means leaving him.

I believed that thinking so was true love and kindness.

―But actually, I want to be the only one he loves…

she didn’t want him to find someone else to love even if she isn’t around anymore.

“I don’t want Eugene-san to smile at or be kind to anyone else. I can’t bring myself to like such a thought.”

Mabel, who had fallen in love for the first time, didn’t know about possessiveness.

She had believed that love was sparkling and beautiful. But in reality, she realized that it could also create such ugly feelings.

It brought confusion and guilt to Mabel.

“It’s terrible, isn’t it? That I can’t wish for the happiness of the person I love…”

She understood that the happiness of the person she loved was of the most importance.

But the current her couldn’t even possess such gentle feelings.

She felt selfish and self-centered.

“T-That’s why Eugene was mad at me, right?”

The sediment that Mabel had been holding inside her heart was now being released along with her tears.

Amane, who had been silently observing until Mabel finished speaking, let out a sigh of exasperation and stared at Mabel with a piercing gaze.

“What’s wrong? Is that all?”

“W-What do you mean?”

“I thought you had grown tired of that man.”

Saying that, Amane gently placed his index finger on Mabel’s forehead.

With a strong push, Mabel was forced to look up. Her tears receded in surprise, and she blinked her large eyes.

“It’s not a bad thing. Everyone feels that way.”

“…They do?”

“Wishing to be the only one someone loves. What’s wrong with that? At least I won’t allow any other man to fall for you.”

Before she realized it, it was already evening.

The setting sun sinking into the horizon illuminated the sea and the harbor vividly. With the light behind him, Amane showed his usual smile, revealing his white teeth. His silver hair was dyed orange, and his eyes of the same color gazed slowly.

“You are beautiful.”

“Huh?”

“When we first met, I thought you were just an ordinary girl. Your sister was still more charming.”

Mabel chuckled at his words, acknowledging that it was indeed true.

Then Amane suddenly smiled gently and looked at Mabel as if he were seeing something dazzling.

“But your heart is more beautiful than anyone else’s―It seems I was the one who couldn’t see it.”

Saying that, Amane took Mabel’s hand.

As he tightly held her hand, Mabel looked up at Amane in surprise.

“Mabel, won’t you come with me?”

“Eh!”

“You lack greed. When you want something, you cry like a child, thinking that it’s a selfish wish. But I can grant you as many of those wishes as you want.”

Amane spoke with a slightly hoarse voice, smiling at Mabel as if praying.

“Choose me, Mabel. Please, won’t you come with me?”

Amane’s expression was serious, and Mabel hesitated for a moment with her words.

But she quickly shook her head.

“Thank you. But I still want to be by Eugene-san’s side.”

Amane’s words touched Mabel’s ears gently.

But she knew that none of those words meant anything if they weren’t from Eugene…

“Even if we can only be together for a short time, even if you come to love someone else, I, I…”

Mabel swallowed the rest of her words, and Amane let out a short “I see.”

Mable looked down and couldn’t see Amane’s face anymore. 

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟓𝟗

When the two returned to the royal palace, the sun had already set.

They passed through the illuminated main gate and bowed to Amane in the entrance hall.

“Um, thank you.”

“Don’t worry about it. I said I would be your escort.”

“Not just that, thanks for worrying about me.”

Amane was perceptive. Perhaps he had noticed the traces of tears on Mabel when she left the palace.

As Mabel tilted her head, Amane widened his eyes, but then quickly narrowed them and smiled, saying, “It’s just a coincidence.” Mabel couldn’t help but smile in response―and that’s when it happened.

“―Amane.”

At the sound of a voice echoing from the corridor, Mabel instinctively straightened her back. When she turned around, she saw a tall man. She recognized him from his long silver hair braided into three strands.

The man walked gracefully towards them and stood in front of Amane.

“Where have you been?”

“I accompanied Mabel-sama as she went down to the town…”

At that moment, Mabel noticed that Amane’s voice was unusually tense. When she glanced at her, she saw the usually cheerful Amane looking down, with sweat on his forehead.

Without showing any concern for Amane, the man shifted his blue eyes toward Mabel.

“I see. Did my foolish brother cause you any trouble?”

“N-No.”

“That’s good.”

The man narrowed his eyes and it seemed like a smile, but Mabel sensed that he wasn’t truly smiling inside, causing her to shudder.

“I apologize for the late introduction. I am Kairi, Amane’s older brother.”

“Kairi-san…”

While the two were conversing, Amane, who stood beside them, kept his face lowered. He seemed pale, and Mabel wondered if it was just her imagination. To add to Amane’s distress, Kairi spoke to her in a gentle tone.

“Amane, I understand what happened yesterday.”

“Of course, Onii-san…”

With a curt response, Kairi once again bowed his head towards Mabel.

As Kairi walked away and disappeared from sight, Mabel finally exhaled the breath she had been holding.

‘…There is something really frightening about him.’

Mabel trembled, feeling threatened, even though she hadn’t experienced any violence or harsh words thrown at her.

Managing to calm her racing heartbeat, Mabel called out to the pale Amane.

“Amane-san, are you okay? You’re sweating a lot.”

“Ah, sorry…”

Letting out a deep sigh, Amane took deep breaths as if to reassure himself.

“Was that person your brother?”

“He’s Kairi Hiragi, the second in line. Damn, I can’t believe he saw me like this.”

Kytha had heard about the stark disparities within the royal family, but judging by Amane’s demeanor, it seemed even harsher than what Mabel had imagined.

“I’m sorry, but he was… really scary.”

“Well, yeah. We can never go against him. He’s someone who resides above the clouds. If we displease him, there’s a possibility of being killed on the spot.”

“T-That’s, that’s just absurd!”

“As I said, the royal family of Kytha is just like that. If we don’t achieve results, we can’t survive. We can never escape…”

Finally, Amane’s heart rate seemed to calm down as she closed her eyes tightly. Mabel could only gaze at Amane with concern.

That night, a visitor arrived at Eugene’s room.

“You’re quite careless not to lock the door.”

It was Amane who appeared.

There was no sign of the guide, Cero, or the attendants who usually accompanied her. His usual elegant attire was torn in places and stained with mud. It seemed that he had forcibly crossed the barrier forest with the power of a crude magic tool.

“What did you come here for?”

“Why…did you say something like breaking off the engagement?”

At first, Eugene had his back turned, but upon hearing those words, he slowly turned to face Amane. In the dimly lit room, his golden eyes behind the mask glimmered like jewels as he coldly glared at Amane.

“It’s none of your concern.”

“Then, can I have her?”

Tension filled the air.

However, Eugene remained seated in his chair without making any move. Perhaps feeling frustrated, Amane reached out and grabbed Eugene’s collar, lifting him up.

“What’s the truth? Tell me clearly!”

“―What the hell is wrong with you?”

“I don’t know! I can’t understand the feelings of such a spineless man!”

Clearly angered, Eugene gritted his teeth and tightly grasped Amane’s wrist, who in turn showed no attempt to hide his emotions and fiercely confronted Eugene.

“Get a grip! I need you, and only you can do it…I couldn’t do it myself.”

Finally, Eugene noticed that something was different about Amane. Gradually, Amane’s tone weakened, and the strength in his grip around his collar diminished.

Eventually, Amane spoke in a strained, fragmented voice.

“When I first heard that there was a princess engaged to a monster, I came this far…”

“…”

“I thought that she, like me, carried a fate that couldn’t defy the country. I can’t escape; so, at least, I wanted to help that princess.”

But what Amane, who had confidently barged in, saw was a couple full of happiness.

The mage who was called a monster loved Mabel, and the pitiful princess, too, cherished him dearly.

That’s why he couldn’t forgive Eugene. He found it unbelievable that he wanted to destroy this kind of happiness.

“I don’t know your thoughts. But don’t make Mabel sad!”

“I know that without you telling me!”

“After making her cry, what do you understand!”

“I–”

“You can do anything, go anywhere. Moreover, you can receive love from the one you truly love. Despite being blessed with all that, why do you run away?”

Amane’s bright eyes pierced through Eugene’s moon-like gaze.

Eventually, Eugene forcefully shook off Amane’s hand.

“I really envy you, I really do. You can spend your entire life with Mable. You can grow old together and die together.”

Gripping his hand tightly, Eugene closed his eyes tightly.

“But just by being by her side, I hurt Mabel. Being with me is the same as being with a monster, causing her pain…”

Upon hearing that, Amane blinked in surprise.

“Did Mabel say that?”

“She, she–”

“It’s not true, right? Mabel surely wouldn’t say something like that.”

Amane demanded a proper conversation. His demeanor was so serious that Eugene hesitated to argue further.

“Why are you suddenly talking about this?”

“…”

“I should only be a hindrance to you. If the engagement is dissolved, wouldn’t it be a relief for you?”

“―I’m no longer her fiancé.”

This time, it was Eugene’s turn to widen his eyes in surprise.

But it seemed that Amane’s words held no lies, as he quietly lowered his eyelids.

“That’s why I came to you, swallowing my pride.”

“What do you mean?”

“Please, help me. I can’t protect Mabel on my own.”

Observing the change in Amane, Eugene furrowed his eyebrows slightly. Then, he shifted his gaze to his own desk.

He stared at what was left there, and he sighed.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟔𝟎

That night, Mabel was gazing absentmindedly at the sky from her room.

‘I should apologize properly to Eugene-san…’

Talking to Amane had made her more aware of her own feelings. She decided to express her true feelings and if Eugene ended up hating her, then so be it.

‘But I don’t know how to face him…’

At that moment, the glass window in front of her made a rattling sound.

Startled, Mabel quickly unlocked and pushed open the window with both hands. Above the balcony, she heard the flapping of wings. A large shadow fell at her feet.

“―Good evening, Mabel.”

“Mutabilis!”

There stood Mutabilis, wearing a white mask. With his beautiful white hair flowing and his wings fluttering softly, Mabel blinked her eyes in surprise and spoke.

“Wow, the letter arrived so quickly.”

“Letter?”

Confused, Mutabilis tilted his head, and Mabel also blinked and said, “Huh?”

“That’s why you came here, right?”

“No, when I went to the castle to meet Mabel, Row told me to come back here.”

With a disappointing answer, Mabel felt relieved. Upon reflection, the item she had sent earlier in the day couldn’t have arrived so quickly.

“So, you sent me a letter?”

“Yeah, I did.”

“I’m happy. I wonder what it says.”

Facing Mutabilis, who smiled as if savoring the moment, Mabel felt a slight confusion. But regardless, she realized that the letter would eventually arrive, so she asked Mutabilis again. 

“Well, I wanted to know about your teacher. I remember…he fell in love with my mother, Melveilleuse.”

“Yeah, that’s true.”

“Well, why did he give up on her?”

Mutabilis was initially taken aback, but eventually closed their eyes as if pondering.

“Maybe he thought that It would make Melveilleuse happy”

“For Okaa-sama’s happiness?”

“Yeah,” Mutabilis gently gazed at her with his large eyes. A jewel-like, blue radiance shimmered in the darkness.

“We mages are feared beings. Because we’re not human.”

“That’s not true, Mutabilis. You’re no different from us.”

“Yeah, thank you…”

Mutabilis smiled, his lips curling up.

“It makes me happy to hear Mabel say that. But we’re often told that we’re not human. I’m sure other mages feel the same way.”

“. . .”

“That’s fine, we’re used to it. But if Mabel starts to fear me, that would be really, really unpleasant.”

Indeed, the reactions from those around them when their engagement was announced were far from positive.

Mabel hadn’t paid much attention to it until she heard about it, so she hadn’t been aware of how they were being perceived.

“I think my master was also troubled by that. And because we live a long time, we can’t age or die until our magic runs out.”

“Yeah, that’s right.”

“My teacher couldn’t decide until the end. But I think he wanted to be with the person he loved. That’s why he created the magic tool Heart.”

Saying that, Mutabilis quietly turned her gaze towards Mabel.

“Have you ever seen a magic tool?”

“Y-Yes.”

“A magic tool is birthed when we infuse our magic into an existing object. When the magic power runs out, the tool becomes useless.”

But Heart is different, Mutabilis placed his hand on his chest.

“Heart is the manifestation of a mage’s magic. I don’t think Mabel has seen it, but the magic becomes a beautiful crystalline gem. And even if we’re not around, it continues to weave magic.”

“What kind of magic is it?”

“Well, the most common one is ‘Protection’ Of course. It’s impossible to defy death or the laws of nature. But we can give good luck or a body that can overcome illness. Most of the time, it’s about wishing happiness for the recipient.”

“That’s amazing! It’s really magical.”

“Yeah. But it takes an incredible amount of magic to create. Since magic and lifespan are the same for mages, creating Heart greatly shortens our lifespan. That’s why we can only create one Heart in our lifetime.”

Still, it was already quite long, and Mutabilis smiled sadly.

“For mages, the Heart is like a vow―or perhaps, a prayer. Usually, it’s something they create when they find something they want to protect even at the cost of their lives.”

“And Mutabilis’ teacher gave it to my mother…”

Mutabilis’ teacher must have been truly conflicted until the end. However, he made the decision to leave her mother’s side and disappeared, leaving behind his magic in his place.

A prayer to continue protecting her even after they separated.

Mabel once again held her breath at the realization that her own mother had possessed such a precious item. At the same time, a question arose in her mind.

“When Okaa-sama passed away, didn’t the magic disappear?”

If it was magic cast to protect her mother, its power should have been lost when she passed away. However, the fragments of the [heart] that transferred to her daughters still retained that magic.

The strong power possessed by her sisters, stronger than any man, and their captivating beauty that could manipulate people’s hearts, were evidence of that. Of course, Mabel herself lived as someone with a strong heart that triumphed over magic.

Mutabilis furrowed her eyebrows at that question.

“Well, Melveilleuse’s Heart is a bit unusual, you could say. Somehow, it seems that the magic is still lingering.”

“It’s still there?”

“Yes. Generally, as Mabel said, most magic becomes meaningless once the owner passes away and disappears along with them. But Melveilleuse’s heart somehow maintained its magic and was inherited by Mabel and her sisters.”

“So, the magic cast by your teacher is still alive.”

“Most likely. I think it’s the result of Mabel’s mother wishing for her daughters to be protected. I just couldn’t sense it and mistakenly believed that the magic―the Heart―was left unattended. I was anxious to retrieve it.”

“And in the middle of that, I was captured by Wiski.”

“Yes. It was only after that point that I learned the truth. I was able to confirm that the remaining fragments of the Heart were with Mabel and her sisters. It’s concerning that the magic is still there, but each fragment holds a small amount of magic and is stable, so I don’t think there’s anything to worry about.”

While listening to the story, Mabel placed her hand on her chest. She confirmed, once again, that the existence called magic filled people with complex feelings

“What kind of magic is it, exactly?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t know. My teacher had passed away before I had the chance to ask.”

At the sudden confession, Mabel was at a loss for words.

“I’m sorry. I said something rude.”

“It’s okay. My teacher didn’t have much magic left. He was fully aware as he created the Heart.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Mutabilis smiled, but Mabel lowered her eyelashes apologetically. Then, Mutabilis quietly asked while looking at Mabel.

“What does Mabel think?”

“Huh?”

“I’ve never fallen in love with anyone; so I can’t imagine what kind of feelings my teacher had when he created the Heart.”

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟔𝟏

Mutabilis, with a white mask covering his face, spoke in a manner that Mabel couldn’t discern. However, his voice felt very fragile, and Mabel took both of Mutabilis’ hands to encourage him.

“Surely, it’s gentle magic. Thanks to it, I can be by Mutabilis’s and Eugene-san’s side.”

“Is that so? I see, that’s nice.”

“I’m sure it is.”

Upon hearing Mabel’s words, Mutabilis smiled happily. Mabel couldn’t help but smile in response. Eventually, Mutabilis softly spoke.

“Mabel, can a mage and a human who fell in love…be happy?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Before my teacher passed away, he was crying. Mabel and Eugene are very important to me…I don’t want you to end up like that.”

The scene flashed in Mabel’s mind, causing her to bite her lip. Mutabilis understood it too. The countless obstacles that mages and humans had to overcome to be together.

Mabel lifted her lowered gaze and looked directly at Mutabilis.

“I want to say it’ll be alright, but I’m sorry, I’m not confident.”

“…I see.”

“I will definitely die before him, and not only that, Eugene-san might come to dislike me. We even had a fight yesterday, and I left on my own. But still, just being with Eugene-san makes me happy…”

Such concerns were meaningless when it came to a relationship between a human and a mage.

Mutabilis, relieved by Mabel’s answer, smiled with the corners of their mouth raised.

“―I envy Eugene.”

“Huh? Why?”

“To have someone like Mabel think so highly of him. It’s really enviable.”

With a soft and gentle smile, Mutabilis looked at Mabel with an affectionate gaze, like a boy in love. Mabel, who knew that Mutabilis simply spoke his thoughts honestly, couldn’t help but blush. 

At that moment, the sound of knocking on the door echoed.

“―See you later, Mabel.”

In an instant, Mutabilis jumped up and swiftly ran through the starry sky. As Mabel responded towards the door, Wimmie peeked in and tilted her head, saying, “Oh?”

“Did you come to look at the sky?”

“No, a mage friend of mine was here.”

Upon hearing that, Wimmie gasped and asked in a concerned voice, “A mage?! Will they come back again?!”

“I don’t think he’ll come back. What’s wrong? Why are you so flustered?”

“B-Because, they say if you see their face, you can fall unconscious or even go crazy!”

Seeing Wimmie’s anxious gaze darting around, Mabel smiled and said, “It’s okay.”

“That’s just a rumor. It’s true that it’s a little dangerous to see their true face, but they won’t take your life. They all wear masks and are very cautious about this point.”

“I-Is that so?”

Seemingly relieved by Mabel’s reassurance, Wimmie let out a sigh.

“You don’t have to be so scared.”

“But they’re mages, you know? We don’t know what kind of people they are, and they’re said to have mysterious powers.”

“With those powers, they protected this country, didn’t they?”

“That’s true, but still…”

With a troubled expression, Wimmie continued.

” The townspeople are afraid. There are even people saying that Mabel-sama was forced into an engagement for the sake of the country.”

Mabel widened her eyes in surprise.

“What do you mean?! I’m not being forced into anything!”

“Of course, I know that. But when they hear ‘mage,’ many people tend to believe it…”

As Wimmie struggled to find her words, Mabel recalled the uneasiness she felt in the town today. The stares and whispered conversations. They were directed at Mabel, who was rumored to be forced into an engagement with a mage.

‘It’s all a misunderstanding…’

In hindsight, she should have realized it.

When she was interrupted by the Secretary-General’s words. When Reed said, “You poor thing…”

And also when Amane took Mabel away from the urban area, it was surely to protect her from the curious and pitying gazes of those around her.

Then it all hit Mable…

‘Eugene-san must have heard of this…that’s why he wants to break off the engagement.’

As Mabel stepped closer to the closet, she began to remove the indoor clothes she was wearing. Wimmie panicked at the sight of Mabel changing.

“Mabel-sama?! What’s happening all of a sudden?”

“I’m going back to Eugene-san. I want to apologize for leaving without permission and hear his true feelings.”

Changing her shoes, Mabel opened the door. She smiled sweetly at the bewildered Wimmie, who didn’t know what to do. Then, she turned around and walked confidently down the dimly lit corridor.

‘f Eugene-san is suffering like Mutabilis’s teacher…’

If he had grown tired of Mabel and wanted to break off the engagement, there was nothing she can do. But if, by any chance, he is trying to give up for Mabel’s sake…

Her restless feelings manifested as long strides.

But before the hurrying Mabel, a familiar man appeared. It was Kairi, Amane’s brother, with his beautiful silver hair. He had attendants behind him.

“Oh, if it isn’t Mabel-sama. Where are you going at this hour?”

“I’m planning to return to my fiancé. I need to properly convey my feelings.”

Mabel nodded at Kairi, who repeated the word “feelings,” and turned her toes towards the outside, intending to end the conversation.

However, the words that escaped Kairi’s mouth were beyond belief.

“That’s troublesome. Because your fiancé…is me.”

In the next moment, one of the men accompanying Kairi grabbed Mabel from behind, restraining her.

A thick cloth was pressed against her mouth, and as Mabel struggled in surprise, she gradually felt a drunken sensation and suffocating pain, causing her head to grow hazy.

Soon, her consciousness faded, and Mabel slumped limply.

Seeing the attendant carrying her, Kairi’s beautiful smile blossomed.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟔𝟐: 𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐀𝐪𝐮𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐜 𝐇𝐨𝐫𝐬𝐞 𝐑𝐮𝐧𝐬 𝐭𝐡𝐫𝐨𝐮𝐠𝐡 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐒𝐤𝐲

When Mabel woke up, she found herself in a dimly lit room.

Despite the small size of the room, there was a rather splendid bed, with a luxurious canopy adorned with pale purple and crimson curtains. Mabel was lying on clean sheets beneath it.

She managed to sit up, but her head felt numb, and she was overwhelmed by a terrible sense of fatigue. There seemed to be a small window on the wall, but it was tightly sealed with wooden planks, preventing her from seeing the outside.

Furthermore, the room was filled with the scent of flowers, or medicine. It was spread across the room.

Mabel desperately tried to gather her thoughts, but each breath made her mind wander. However, as she struggled to organize her thoughts, she heard the sound of a door opening from behind the partition beside the bed.

After a while, Kairi appeared with the attendants.

“Oh, you’re awake.”

“Kairi-san…why…is this happening?”

“I received instructions from our homeland, Kytha. I have been appointed to accompany you in place of the incompetent Amane.”

“In place of?”

“I have informed Amane, and the members of the Eakes Council were quite enthusiastic about the engagement with Kytha, so it went smoothly. Although I myself have no interest in a princess from such a small country, I suppose you can become the fourth lady.”

With a gentle smile, Kairi played with her long braid using his fingertips.

“I absolutely refuse.”

Mabel didn’t back down and stared back at Kairi with a strong gaze. However, Kairi not only showed no fear but also raised the corners of his mouth and behaved elegantly.

“No matter what you say, this is already an accomplished fact, there is nothing you can do about it.”

Mabel felt an indescribable fear when she heard Kairi calmly say, “No one would want to marry a princess who has become damaged goods.” A shiver ran down her spine at the wretchedness of her situation. However, she couldn’t give up.

Observing Mabel’s stern expression, Kairi placed his hand on her chin.

“It seems the effect is still weak…”

Kairi gave some instructions to the man who stood behind her. The servant took out a small vial and began pouring some liquid into a dish on a candlestick. Instantly, the scent filling the room became stronger.

“Let’s have you sleep a little longer. Well then, see you later.”

Mabel desperately tried to keep her eyelids from closing. But a strong drowsiness spread throughout her body, and she let her throbbing head sink into the bed.

‘No, I…can’t fall asleep’

However, the effect seemed to have become much stronger than before, and her consciousness became increasingly fragmented. Furthermore, there were two of Kairi’s subordinates left by the bedside, making it impossible for her to escape.

Mabel searched for something in her clothes, hoping to find anything useful. But there was nothing that could serve as a weapon or aid in her escape.

‘What should I do…’

Gradually, it became difficult for her to think.

Knowing it was futile resistance, she forcefully dug her nails into the back of her hand. For a moment, she felt a sharp pain, but it quickly faded, replaced by a dizzying sensation.

‘Help me, Eugene…’

The thread of consciousness, stretched thin to its limit, snapped.

At that moment, one of Kairi’s subordinates, who had been emanating an intimidating presence, collapsed onto the floor with a thud. Startled, Mabel quickly opened her eyes.

Then, the other subordinate also disappeared from her field of vision, muttering something indistinct.

‘What is…going on?’

Mabel was confused by the sudden turn of events, but if she let her guard down even for a moment, she felt like she would lose consciousness. In that state, she heard a familiar voice enter her ears.

“Are you alright, Mabel?”

“Amane-san?”

Though his mouth was covered with a black cloth, his sunset-colored eyes visible through the gaps left no doubt that it was Amane. He approached Mabel, who was still in a daze, and pressed something dry and grass-like into her mouth.

“I’m sorry, bear with it.”

Mabel clenched her teeth, enduring the unbearable stench. Then, an unimaginable bitterness and foulness spread through her mouth. Unable to bear it any longer, she coughed and spat it out.

Tears of revulsion welled up in her eyes, and Mabel desperately held back, blinking rapidly. But as the haze that had clouded her mind until now cleared, she gradually regained her senses.

“Why…am I here?”

“I was keeping an eye on my brother.”

While efficiently tying up Kairi’s subordinates who had fallen, Amane calmly spoke.

“We need to escape. My brother is a ruthless person who would easily take our lives if we don’t comply with his wishes.”

“But, if we run away, Amane-san will–”

“It’s fine.”

As if time was running out, Amane took Mabel’s hand. At first, Mabel’s steps were unsteady, but realizing that there was no other choice but to escape from here, she desperately moved her feet to avoid stumbling.

Beyond the door they escaped through was a narrow and pitch-dark corridor. Mabel noticed that the entire building was slightly shaking. Amane continued to move straight ahead.

“Um, thank you….”

“Save your gratitude until we’re safely out.”

Amane’s steps were resolute, clearly seeking the way out. They managed to bypass several guards along the way and climbed up and down steep stairs. Eventually, through the scent and sounds coming from outside, Mabel finally understood where they were.

“This is a ship?”

The smell of the sea. The swaying corridor. It seemed that they were inside the ship’s structure.

“It’s my older brother’s merchant ship. It’s on a different scale than mine, but the interior structure is similar.”

“I-I see…”

Perhaps feeling a bit relieved, Amane responded to Mabel’s murmurs. Looking at the hand that was still firmly held, Mabel couldn’t help but ask Amane.

“Why did you save me?”

“…”

“Even though you were so afraid of your brother, you still helped me. If you were found out, Amane-san…”

“It wouldn’t end well for me. But if I didn’t help you now, I thought I would regret it for the rest of my life.”

Amane’s calm and straightforward voice continued.

“I thought I would spend my entire life following the arrangements made by my father and brothers, and end my life for the sake of Kytha.”

The engagement with Mabel was just one of those arrangements.

However, Mabel seemed to be living happily. Despite not possessing the beauty or talent of her sisters, she didn’t resent her own circumstances and disliked being given things.

“That’s why I was truly surprised when you rejected me. Until now, there hasn’t been a single thing that didn’t go my way, thanks to the country’s arrangements. So I had no idea how to persuade you, how to make you turn to me. I spent so much time thinking about it, and it was enjoyable, but also frustrating.”

“…”

“With you, I thought I might still be able to be free. It was a bit too late, though.”

If it was anyone else that he fell in love with, he was confident that could obtain her: If it was just unrequited love, he had the confidence to take it by force; If it was a political marriage, he was determined to break it with his own power. However, Mable and Eugene were simply in love.

Even when faced with the difference between a mage and a human, her feelings didn’t change. Eugene, too, was suffering and agonizing like any other human.

Amane was envious.

No one had ever thought of him that way, nor did he have anyone he wanted to think of him that way.

“Mabel, don’t worry. I properly conveyed your feelings.”

“Conveyed? to Eugene-san?!”

“Yes, be clear about it. That’s why it’s okay. He, Eugene, still genuinely likes you.”

Mabel was on the verge of tears upon hearing those words. When she looked up, she saw Amane, who had been walking in front, turn back and give her a gentle smile. After confirming Mabel’s firm nod, Amane continued to walk with determination.

Eventually, in front of the two who emerged from the stern tower, a massive mast appeared. Behind it were two more masts, and currently, the sails were folded due to being docked.

The sky above them still retained the appearance of night, and it seemed like it would take a little more time until sunrise.

“We can blend into the darkness now, quickly―.”

However, Amane suddenly stopped in his tracks. Mabel, following suit, stopped and looked ahead, wondering what was going on. There, Kairi stood with many subordinates, wearing a wry smile.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟔𝟑

“Who would have thought that a little rat would sneak in and plot against a family member.”

“…Kaire.”

“Who gave you permission to call my name?”

With a cold expression, Kairi approached quietly. Amane stood in front of Mabel, as if protecting her, but Mabel noticed that his arms and shoulders were trembling.

“You are useless, Amane.”

With a slight metallic sound, Kairi prepared something.

Seizing the opportunity, Amane took out a dagger from his sleeve and threw it toward Kairi. At the same time, he pulled Mabel’s arm strongly. The two moved away from the center of the ship’s deck and ran toward the edge of the ship.

“There’s a small boat I came on below. We’ll go there―”

Amane pointed towards the sea surface and instructed Mabel to escape. But in the next moment, a loud explosion occurred, and a muffled voice fell right next to Mabel.

“You have no sense of self-preservation.”

Kairi’s cold words echoed in Mabel’s ears. She turned around and looked at Amane with fear.

At first glance, she couldn’t understand what was happening.

But there was a black hole in the clothes Amane was wearing, and fresh blood was seeping from it. Amane himself seemed unable to comprehend what had happened, his eyes wide open.

As Mabel focused her gaze, she could faintly make out what Kairi was holding. It was a long metal tube with a handle, similar to the one Travis had before. She didn’t understand the principle, but something was shot from that tube, piercing Amane’s body.

Furthermore, Kairi launched a second attack on Amane.

This time, a hole appeared in his shoulder, and Amane couldn’t help but scream.

“Amane-san!”

Mabel desperately tried to hold onto Amane’s collapsing body, but his upper body tilted heavily and slipped down from the ship’s deck. Mabel hurriedly leaned out and searched for Amane’s whereabouts.

But all she could see were the white splashes that jumped high on the sea surface, and Amane’s body was swallowed by the dark depths of the water. As if confirming that sound, Kairi smiled quietly.

“With that wound, it’s unlikely he’ll resurface. Now, Mabel-sama, come here.”

As Kairi said this, he took a step forward, then another. Mabel was gradually closing the distance and making a firm decision.

I have to help him quickly!’

Mabel grabbed the rope ladder that Amane had prepared. But there was no time to leisurely descend.

Before making up her mind, Mabel’s body moved on its own.

“Stop, you won’t be saved either.”

Ignoring Kairi’s attempt to stop her, Mabel climbed onto the ship’s edge.

The sea breeze blowing from below and the pitch-black waves with no visible bottom were terrifying, but considering Amane’s safety, there was no time to hesitate even for a second.

Taking a deep breath, she shifted her weight forward.

Her body swayed, and an unpleasant sense of floating, as if being sucked in, attacked Mabel―which quickly turned into a suffocating sensation and the sound of water rushing in.

‘Amane-san! Where on earth are you?!’

The night sea was dark.

Between the tiny bubbles, Mabel strained her eyes, but she couldn’t see any human figures. Amane should have fallen just now, but had he sunk even deeper?

Mabel dove further towards the bottom of the sea. However, the water currents were strong, and she couldn’t swim well. But she had to find Amane quickly and give him first aid.

‘What should I do, I can’t breathe!’

Enduring the increasing discomfort, Mabel tried her best to find Amane.

But it seemed that her limit had finally been reached. Mabel let out a large bubble from her mouth. With the sensation of her chest being crushed, her vision blurred.

‘Just a little more. Amane still needs…’.

As her breath ceased, her brain gradually succumbed, and Mabel’s limbs lost their strength, slowly floating up.

During that time, she looked around, but Amane’s figure was nowhere to be seen.

‘I’m sorry, Amane-san.’

In the fading consciousness, Mabel gently closed her eyes.

―Somewhere, the sound of crashing water could be heard.

To Mabel, who floated in the water like a lifeless doll, a black aquatic horse appeared gracefully. 

Of course, it was not a mythical creature. As it approached Mabel, it immediately took on a human form. The person with black hair and a black mask gently reached out their hand to Mabel’s cheek.

As Mabel, who was touched, vaguely opened her eyes.

Beyond the silver sparkling foam, Eugene was there.

His swaying hair was very beautiful, coupled with those enchanting golden eyes, even in the darkness of the deep sea, they shone like the sun.  

(‘Eugene, are you there?’ 

Mabel thought that this must be a dream one sees on the brink of death.

‘I couldn’t apologize properly, I’m sorry…’

But the last thing she remembered before the end was Eugene, and Mabel smiled.

Then, even Eugene, who should have been a hallucination, narrowed his beautiful eyes.

He gently placed both hands on Mabel’s cheeks, tilted his head, and softly pressed his lips against hers.

As they sank into the water, with Eugene holding Mabel’s relaxed body, the two slowly merged. As bubbles overflowed and rose toward the sky, it felt as if time had stopped, and the two exchanged a long kiss.

How long did they stay like that?

Mabel realized that she was still breathing.

Although she didn’t have the freedom she had on land, she finally awakened to the fact that she could maintain consciousness with just a slight breath.

At the same time, she once again recognized that she was being kissed by Eugene, and she hurriedly pounded his chest. Eugene, who had released his lips, smiled and held Mabel, skillfully swimming towards the water’s surface with one arm.

As the bottom of the ship came into view, Eugene held Mabel sideways in the water and sprouted wings on his back. With three powerful flaps, they quickly ascended, breaking through the water’s surface in an instant. They surpassed the ship’s hold and the tip of the mast, soaring high into the sky. Finally, they gracefully spread their white wings in the night sky.

Mabel, who had moved from underwater to the sky in an instant, was astonished as she looked at Eugene, who was carrying her. His wet hair glistened, but when Eugene lightly shook his head, all the water droplets scattered like mist.

Along with that, Mabel’s clothes and hair also dried, and her body temperature, which had been taken away by the cold seawater, gradually returned. Ignoring Mabel’s confusion, Eugene held her hand and looked down at the back of her hand. He furrowed his brows at the deeply engraved, painful scars.

“Eugene, why are you here?”

“I received a message from Amane telling me to come right away”

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟔𝟒

It seemed that Amane, who had chased after Mabel, had sent a messenger using his subordinates. Faced with the sudden appearance of Eugene, Mabel searched for the right words to say.

“Um, I…”

“―Are you the rumored monster?”

However, upon hearing Kairi’s voice coming from the deck, Mabel immediately felt nervous.

Looking down, she saw Kairi’s subordinates lined up, aiming their arrows at the two of them. Kairi examined Eugene’s wings with great delight, his mouth curling up in a pleased smile.

“How rare. Capture him alive.”

With those words as a signal, countless arrows were released.

Mabel instinctively closed her eyes, but just before the arrows touched Eugene’s body, they were deflected as if protected by an invisible shield, falling to the ground like rain.

Despite being astonished by the extraordinary sight, the subordinates desperately continued to draw their bows. However, no matter how skilled they were, they couldn’t harm Eugene.

“What are you doing? He’s not human, so even if you get a little rough, he won’t die.”

Kairi seemed to feel a sense of urgency as well. The attacks intensified, and even arrows with ignited tips began to fly. Perhaps due to their panic, their trajectories interfered with each other, and arrows started falling onto the deck and warehouse roofs.

One of them pierced the deck and quietly started to burn. Seeing this, Mabel looked up at Eugene. 

“Eugene-san, we need to leave here. The harbor will be in great danger from the fire.”

But just as Eugene was about to respond, there was a massive explosion that shook the air. Surprised, Mabel looked down and saw a metal cylinder installed at the bow of the ship, its black mouth aimed toward them.

A moment later, screams could be heard from the direction of the harbor, and Mabel could see a corner of the warehouse on the waterfront being crushed by iron balls.

“A cannon. It’s completely different from a gun.”

From Eugene’s tone, it seemed that what they were facing was indeed a cannon. It appeared to be an enlarged version of what Kairi had, so the smaller one was probably called a gun. However, Eugene showed no signs of fear and calmly surveyed the scene below.

Then came the second shot.

However, whether it be due to a lack of accuracy or something else, the projectile landed on the sea surface in an arc, creating a high water column before disappearing. Mabel was relieved that there was no further damage and noticed that the surface of the water, which was swaying from the impact, was brighter than before.

It seemed that dawn was approaching.

As the sky began to brighten, the momentum of the arrows gradually subsided. Faced with Eugene, who showed no reaction to the attacks, the men on the deck seemed to be reaching their limit as well.

“How pathetic. Let me show you an example.”

Perhaps feeling frustrated by the fear and weakness that had emerged, Kairi himself finally aimed the gun. 

However, the barrel was not directed at Eugene, but at Mabel.

“If you can’t hit the monster, then aim for the woman.”

With those words, a light gunshot rang out.

Mabel immediately tensed up, but she felt a sensation of being tightly embraced. Without pain, she cautiously looked up and saw Eugene turning his body to protect her.

It seemed that the bullet had grazed the edge of his mask, causing the fastening fixture to click and come loose. After a short pause, the black and delicate mask fell off Eugene’s face.

“As expected. Next, the head―”

Kairi’s face, which had a half-smile, froze as if it had been stuck in place. In his line of sight were Eugene’s shining golden eyes. With the mask removed, Eugene’s revealed appearance―it was truly beautiful.

With a perfectly calculated bone structure and amber-colored radiance.

His straight nose led to thin lips, which were now pressed together. Even a single strand of his long eyelashes and a cluster of glossy hair seemed to have been created by a god’s love. Kairi was momentarily breathless, unable to put into words the beauty of his features.

But it wasn’t just because of Eugene’s beauty alone.

Kairi realized this when his subordinates around him began to collapse one after another. 

They all clutched their chests, curling up in pain. Surprised by the sight of his writhing subordinates, Kairi finally felt the suffocation and fell to his knees. 

Desperately trying to inhale air into his lungs, Kairi’s heart was pounding so intensely that he couldn’t breathe properly. His mind was filled with the image of Eugene as if it had been burned into his memory.

Love, longing, and many other emotions filled his mind. It was clear that he was being consumed by terrifying and wicked emotions.

‘Is this magic?!’

Eventually, Eugene appeared before the crouching Kairi. He narrowed his eyes at him, who was desperately trying to lift his face while enduring the palpitations.

“Are you satisfied?”

“Ah, uh!”

“This is the monster you desired. Is it still not enough?”

With those words, Eugene directed a cold sneer at Kairi.

Instantly, Kairi’s trembling intensified, and unpleasant sweat began to trickle down his forehead and chest. It felt as if his heart was being directly grasped, almost being crushed.

Despite having that devilish face right next to her, Mabel, who was embraced by Eugene’s arms, calmly looked back at him and Kairi. Finally, Kairi realized that he should not have laid a hand on Mabel.

‘How can she endure this! Unbelievable!’

Eventually, Kairi collapsed to the floor, losing consciousness.

Quickly after he fell unconscious, the magic was also lifted. as Kairi’s body moved slightly up and down. Mabel let out a sigh of relief.

‘Amazing. Just by taking a look at Eugene’s face, he was knocked out cold…’

Of course, it was partly because he had used a genuine spell, but Mabel was once again reminded of Eugene’s greatness.

However, before she could catch her breath, Mabel exclaimed, 

“Ah! Amane-san fell into the sea! We have to save him!”

“―Calm down.”

As Mabel struggled to get down to the deck immediately, Eugene furrowed his brow.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟔𝟓

“Amane…san…?”

Led by Eugene, who had put on his mask again, Mabel visited a warehouse in a corner of the harbor and stood there in astonishment.

“Mabel, are you alright?”

There sat Amane, smiling brightly.

He had taken off his jacket, revealing white bandages wrapped around his tanned shoulders and sides. Mabel’s legs gave way, and she knelt down, gently touching Amane’s body with her palm.

Feeling his warm body temperature and the firm muscles, Mabel’s eyes welled up with tears.

“You’re alive…”

“You’re quite forward. Have you finally realized that I’m the better choice?”

“N-No! But I’m just relieved that you’re safe…”

Unable to hold back any longer, Mabel laughed and cried at the same time, and Amane calmly narrowed his eyes. Affectionately, he reached out his hand to wipe away Mabel’s tears―but halfway through, Eugene grabbed his wrist.

“I haven’t given you permission to do that.”

“This guy…”

Unaware of the sparks flying between the two, Mabel wiped away her overflowing tears and raised her face again.

“After falling into the sea, how on earth did you survive?”

“Oh, well―”

“I helped him.”

Sensing someone standing up from the back, Mabel widened her eyes once again.

With red hair and a red mask, Row, holding a cigarette, walked towards them with a smile.

“Row-san? Why are you here?”

“Well, I guess it’s my way of thanking my spineless childhood friend for giving me a wake-up call.”

Glancing briefly at the somewhat displeased Eugene, Row exhaled white smoke. Seeing Mabel’s puzzled expression, not understanding what was going on, Amane came to her rescue.

“He helped me with magic.”

“Magic…from Row-san?”

“Yeah. Ah, I haven’t properly shown it to you yet.”

Saying that, Row gently extended his finger toward the remnants of the white smoke he had exhaled earlier. The smoke disappeared as if being sucked into Row’s hand.

“Archetype: Trickster. My specialty is creating illusions.”

Row opened his hand, and white flowers fluttered out.

It resembled the magic Mabel had seen in the palace performance, but there were no seeds or tricks involved. Amused by Mabel’s bewildered expression, Row took another puff on his cigarette.

“Just before he fell into the sea, I created a fake body. All that was left was to switch it when it disappeared from sight.”

Indeed, what Mabel saw was Amane after he fell into the sea, but she couldn’t clearly confirm it. The body she thought had sunk into the water was actually a product of Row’s magic.

“I-I see…”

“Yeah. It’s truly an amazing technique.”

Seeing Amane’s cheerful laughter, Mabel smiled slightly, somewhat exasperated.

But then, as Row muttered while exhaling purple smoke. . .

“Your brothers undoubtedly think you’re dead. However, explaining the situation to them won’t end well.”

“Yeah…”

Amane fell silent, deep in thought. But as he slowly raised his face, he declared with a determined gaze.

“I won’t go back to Kytha anymore.”

Amane’s expression was clear and bright as if a burden had been lifted. Seeing this, Row and Mabel were initially surprised, but soon they smiled happily.

Eventually, the light streaming in through the doors and windows grew brighter.

Eugene, who had depleted his magical power, and Amane and Row both seemed to want to hide in this warehouse for a while. However, the timing of their departure would be crucial.

Mabel decided to secretly go outside to gather information. As she did, she noticed a commotion in a corner of a distant warehouse.

“I wonder what happened?”

Approaching, she saw that among the row of warehouses, the one at the far end was partially destroyed. In the scene, the cause, a black iron ball, laid stationary.. Mabel felt like she was about to scream.

“I heard a loud noise in the early morning, and this is it. There was even a small fire.”

‘Oh, that’s right!’

Mabel, who knew the cause, turned pale.

Furthermore, the items stored inside were in a terrible state. Due to the impact of the arrows, there were only charred remains before her eyes. 

As Mabel managed to see what was barely left, she was even more speechless.

“Could it be that these are…the ones planned to be used for today’s festival?”

They were artificial flowers made of paper. They were soon to be distributed throughout the town to decorate the festival.

However, most of them had been burned, and there were only a few intact ones left.

“This is a problem. Looks like we’ll have to do the festival without flowers this year.”

“But how can the Flower Festival be a Flower Festival without flowers!”

Ideally, it would be appropriate to have Kairi and his accomplices take responsibility and fix it. However, with their current condition, it was uncertain if that was possible. On the other hand, the festival was starting in a few hours.

‘What should I do? I have to do something!’

“Please wait a moment,” Mabel said, as she hurriedly returned to the warehouse.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟔𝟔

“So, I’m really sorry to ask, but could you lend me your help.”

“Well, I don’t know.”

Row made a serious face as Mabel bowed her head in front of him.

“My magic has its limits in terms of quantity and size. It would be quite difficult to create a large number of flowers that would spread throughout the entire kingdom.”

“I see…”

“Also, it’s not something that can be maintained for a long time. It would be unfortunate if it disappeared in the middle of the festival.”

Mabel’s shoulders drooped at Row’s reasonable opinion.

Unable to come up with any plans, she headed toward the direction where the partially destroyed warehouse was located.

‘For now, I’ll protect what’s left…’

While pondering, Mabel remembered Lid’s smile she had seen in town.

The annual spring festival.

She had indirectly ruined it.

‘No matter what, if there is ever a chance, I have to recreate it’

But Mabel’s troubled thoughts were drowned out by the cheers of the people.

Something must have happened again, so Mabel hurriedly ran back to the warehouse, where she saw the iron sphere floating in the sky.

‘The only doing this must be…’ Mabel thought as she pushed through the crowd. And there, in front of the warehouse, she spotted Eugene standing with his right arm raised.

“E-Eugene-san! What are you doing here?!”

Naturally, there were many people around.

Since he was wearing a mask, it seemed that the effects of his charm were not present. But in the first place, Eugene was supposed to dislike appearing in public. So, why is he doing this?  Mabel’s eyes widened in confusion.

Meanwhile, the collapsed warehouse was rising up as if reversing time, gradually returning to its original form perfectly restored. The vibrant sequence of events elicited admiration from all around.

“That’s amazing. Is that, by any chance, the power of a mage?”

“Yeah.”

“I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s incredible.”

A burly man, perhaps a fisherman, sighed in admiration. The reactions of the other people were similar. Witnessing the power of a mage, which they had only heard about in rumors, seemed to evoke more surprise than fear.

On the other hand, despite the continuous praise, Eugene remained calm. Eventually, he noticed Mabel’s presence and maneuvered through the strong men, approaching her.

“Are you okay?”

“Ah, thank you.  Are you okay with appearing in public? I thought you didn’t like it.”

Then, Eugene shifted his gaze away from Mabel, who was looking up at him and muttered softly.

“…If it means you won’t feel uncomfortable even a little bit, then so be it.”

“Huh?”

“―It’s nothing. Anyway, what are we going to do about that?”

Eugene glanced sideways. At the end of his gaze lay the remains of the burnt artificial flowers.

The problem was still unresolved, and Mabel furrowed her brow again―but then, Eugene’s face, the remnants of the flowers, and Amane, who was unharmed, flashed through her mind one after another.

“That’s right! Maybe, with that, we can do something!”

As if she had suddenly come up with an idea, Mabel widened her eyes.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟔𝟕: 𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐅𝐥𝐨𝐰𝐞𝐫 𝐨𝐟 𝐕𝐨𝐰𝐬 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐘𝐨𝐮

Lid, who lived in an orphanage, woke up slightly earlier than usual.

The other children around were still asleep, so Lid carefully got out of bed, trying not to make any noise.

Today was the Flower Festival.

In the early morning, flowers would fall from the buildings and bell towers, and people would wear them to enjoy the festival.

The sight of the city being filled with flowers in the early morning was always beautiful, and Lid couldn’t wait for the festival to begin. They ran to the window in their room. Opening the curtains to block the moonlight, they peered through the transparent glass window.

Then, a beautiful sun fell right in front of Lid’s eyes.

Surprised, Lid instinctively opened the window. Looking down at the ground, it wasn’t the sun but a large orange-colored flower that had bloomed. And from above, one by one, more flowers fell.

“Wow! Amazing!”

Startled by Lid’s loud voice, the other children who were still half-asleep gathered by the window. They looked up at the sky and exclaimed, “Wow!” and “How beautiful!”

The children’s eyes were filled with a rainbow of colors falling from the blue sky.

Crimson, deep red, peach, eggshell, ultramarine, and white―flowers of various sizes and types flowed down to the ground like a wave. Bathed in the morning light like pearls, a flood of flowers covered the sky of Eakes.

“Oh, are those birds?”

One of the children eventually pointed to the front where the colors were originating from.

Indeed, there were large white wings spread out, occasionally flapping. The bird-like figure circled around the bell tower in the center of the square and then flew back toward the direction of the orphanage where Lid and the others were.

Seeing the approaching figure, Lid shouted with joy.

“Oh, it’s Lady Mabel!”

What they thought was a large bird turned out to be a person with white wings on their back.

Their entire body was covered in black, with half of their face hidden. In their arms, the youngest princess, Mabel, was being held sideways. She happily took the overflowing flowers in her hands and gently scattered them to the ground.

Soon, Mabel noticed Lid by the window and waved her hand. Seeing her, Lid opened his mouth wide in excitement.

“Is that magic?!”

“But isn’t it forbidden to see magic?”

“But Mabel-sama was there, and we saw it, and nothing happened.”

“That’s true, but…”

“Mabel-sama looked so happy.”

The children’s laughter filled the air like blooming flowers. Just then, the director of the orphanage appeared, likely hearing the commotion. The children noticed and eagerly shared the story of “The person with the big bird.” 

And so, a special day in Eakes began in a lively manner.

“Eugene-san, aren’t you tired?”

“Nah.”

As Mabel scattered flowers in the eastern part of the city, she asked Eugene.

“I never thought Amane-san’s flowers would be useful in a place like this.”

On Mabel’s smiling lap, there was a magic tool necklace that Amane used to wear. However, the protective magic effect had already been weakened, and instead, Eugene had engraved a [teleportation magic circle] on it.

Another magic tool, set up in a tent, had the same design and was placed in the warehouse of Eugene’s castle. The warehouse floor was sloped, gradually drawing the stored flowers into that magic circle.

And that’s how the flowers came out from the magic circle Mabel had.

At first, Mabel had some reservations about using real flowers instead of artificial ones.

However, since Eugene had enchanted these flowers, they wouldn’t be damaged even if they were dropped. Moreover, Amane himself had asked Mabel to use them if they could be helpful. So, instead of keeping them in the warehouse and letting them go to waste, Mabel made up her mind to use them.

Eugene, who was flapping his wings, changed direction slowly.

As Mabel dropped flowers in sync with the turn, the people below cheered. Noticing a child waving their hand vigorously, Mabel waved back.

Then, one of the excited children pointed at Eugene and exclaimed, “It’s an angel!”

The white wings on their back indeed resembled the angels depicted in religious paintings.

“An angel, you say.”

“Don’t joke around. Let’s finish distributing and go back.”

Eugene, who looked up at Mabel with joy, showed his displeasure.

However, Mabel noticed that the edges of Eugene’s ears, which were not hidden by his mask, had turned red, causing her mouth to involuntarily loosen. Eugene, realizing this, stared intently at her eyes beneath the mask.

“What are you laughing at?”

“N-Nothing at all! Oh, right, we still have to go to the palace!”

“Let’s go,” Mabel said, turning her face away as if trying to divert attention. Eugene let out a sigh and tilted his long wings.

The people in the town who witnessed this scene couldn’t hide their confusion and astonishment.

“Could that be the masked mage everyone’s talking about?”

“I saw it up close, will I be okay?”

“By the way, why are the flowers real this year?”

Then, one of the sturdy men in the crowd spoke up. 

“Ah, that’s because the prince of Kytha accidentally burned the festival flowers. It seems Mabel-sama provided the replacement flowers.”

“Wait, does that mean these flowers are magical?! Is it safe to touch them?”

Feeling uneasy, one of the flustered women discarded the flower by the roadside. But the girl next to her immediately picked it up and tried to return it to the woman.

“Okaa-san, it’s pitiful to throw it away. It’s so beautiful.”

The girl had many flowers adorning her head and her pockets were overflowing with them. Perplexed by her own daughter’s words, the woman picked up the discarded flower once again.

In front of the smiling girl, the people around her also found themselves unable to handle the flowers roughly.

“Well, they look like ordinary flowers. If it’s only for the festival, it should be okay, right?”

“Mabel-sama touched them too, so they should be safe.”

Those who were initially hesitant about the magic noticed that the colors were more vibrant than real flowers, and they showed no signs of wilting. They began to say that it wasn’t so bad after all. The man who had explained about the flowers earlier smiled while holding a pale yellow flower in his rough hands.

“It seems the warehouse that stored the flowers was also damaged, but thanks to that masked mage, it seems the warehouse has been repaired.”

“Oh, I heard about that too. It was restored in an instant.”

The adults nodded in agreement. They had heard rumors that mages were terrifying, but seeing it firsthand, no one collapsed or was cursed.

Furthermore, Mabel, who was supposed to have been forced into an arranged engagement, was now happily smiling in the arms of the mage. Remembering that sight, the people in the town pondered silently.

Soon, the sound of bells announcing the beginning of the festival echoed throughout the entire capital.

In the cloudless blue sky, a giant fish swam, dropping sparkling rainbow-colored particles.

Eugene flew alongside it, leading the way with his pure white wings, while Mabel created flowers by his side, letting them fall to the ground.

The sight of the two of them was filled with indescribable blessings and happiness, fitting for the start of the Flower Festival.

“But my, they truly look so happy.”

“Perhaps this mage isn’t as strange as they say.”

Women with deep red flowers pinned to their chests watched the two flying towards the palace, their faces blossoming with smiles.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟔𝟖

Mabel and her companions arrived at the royal palace, scattering flowers just like they did in the town.

The soldiers stationed in front of the castle gate and in the corridors looked up at the sky, wondering what was happening. But when they saw the flowers falling, they smiled.

In the courtyard, more soldiers were preparing for the festival, led by the first princess, Gertrude. Mabel stopped scattering flowers for fear of getting in the way. 

However, Gertrude noticed a giant shadow running towards them and looked up at the sky.

Surprised to see Eugene appearing in the palace, especially at such a bright hour, Gertrude stood there with her eyes and mouth wide open. Mabel waved her hand at her sister, and finally, Gertrude managed to respond with a wry smile.

Then, Gertrude shouted to Eugene, making sure her voice reached him.

“Eugene-dono, please come to the castle next time! I’ll prepare some delicious sake!”

Naturally, there was no response. With a fluttering sound, the two flew away toward the depths of the palace. Seeing their departure, Gertrude raised the corner of her mouth in relief.

As they passed through the courtyard, Mabel and her companions could see the residence and garden where they lived.

Among the rose bushes in the garden, the third princess, Kathleen, stood with a smile, waving both hands. Next to her was George, the knight commander who served as her escort. He had a stern gaze directed toward Mabel and the others in the sky.

After waving back at her sister, Mabel carefully selected a pale pink and deep blue flower, one by one, and threw them towards the two. George swiftly caught them in mid-air before Kathleen could reach out her hand. Mabel couldn’t help but smile as she watched George confirm the flowers before handing them to Kathleen.

As Kathleen thanked her with a raised voice, Mabel also raised her clenched fist high, filled with the encouragement of “Do your best!”

Having finished delivering flowers throughout the town, the two returned to the bell tower standing in the center of the square.

The top of the tower was open on all sides, with decorative columns evenly spaced. In the center, a bronze bell sat silently, waiting for its next performance.

Eugene landed between the columns, gently setting Mabel down and retracting his own wings.

“It seems like all the flowers are gone.”

After the last yellow and white flowers appeared, the magic circle that Mabel had been holding lost its radiance. Mabel held out two flowers with both hands and Eugene, after silently staring at her for a while, reluctantly took the white flower.

With the remaining yellow flower inserted in her hair, Mabel looked down at the bustling city during the festival.

Buildings and signs were adorned with colorful bouquets, and the hair and clothes of people laughing on the streets were also adorned with fresh flowers. Looking into the distance, she could see a line of sailing ships in the harbor, with many bouquets arranged on the masts and decks.

Finally, Mabel let out a sigh of relief, filled with joy at successfully welcoming the Flower Festival. She turned around and slowly lowered her head to Eugene, who was playing with the white flower with his fingertips.

“Eugene-san, thank you very much.”

“It’s not a big deal.”

Although Eugene said it coldly, Mabel couldn’t hide her happiness.

‘I am really happy.’

No matter how much she wished, Eugene remained closed off.

But whenever Mabel was in real danger, he always came to her rescue immediately.

Whether it was when she was captured by Wiski or this time, Eugene didn’t hesitate to show himself or appear in public if it was for Mabel’s sake.

Flying around the city with flowers was probably the kind of job he disliked the most. The reason he put up with it, despite complaining, was for Mabel’s sake.

“Um, I wanted to apologize to Eugene-san…for a while now.”

“Apologize?”

“I lied. The truth is, I don’t want you to find someone else to love.”

Mabel understood that she was being selfish. But even so, she mustered the courage to speak up after Amane assured her that it was okay.

“As long as I’m alive…or even after I am gone, I want you to love only me, forever and ever.”

If she truly wished for Eugene’s happiness, she shouldn’t say such things, even  so…

“These are my honest feelings. At that time, I thought, “This is what I have to do for Eugene-san’s sake,” and forcefully deceived myself about my own feelings. But now, I’ll stop pretending to be a good girl.”

Mabel gazed at Eugene and asked, “Would you be disappointed in someone like me?” Accepting her green, unwavering gaze, Eugene quietly shook his head and said, “Of course not.”

“If anyone should apologize, it’s me. Because of our engagement, I heard that you’re being called a pitiful princess. I regret what I’ve done.”

He thought that because he had wished for the engagement, he alone should bear the burden of the rumors, but now he realized that it had hurt Mabel as well.

“So I thought that if we broke off the engagement…if I were no longer here, you could be happy,” he said, recalling the words he didn’t really mean.

Hearing those words, Mabel felt pain in her chest.

Eugene had known all along. He knew how she was being talked about.

“That’s not true at all.”

“I, I can’t be happy without you, Eugene-san!”

As Mabel firmly asserted, Eugene’s lips relaxed into a slight smile.

“…Just as he said.”

Confused, Mabel tilted her head, and Eugene crossed his arms with a hint of dissatisfaction.

“Amane told me, “Did Mabel say that?” Looking back, I realized I was just running away…”

As Mabel wished for Eugene’s happiness, Eugene also wished for Mabel’s happiness.

Although they both wished for each other’s happiness, they didn’t express it honestly. They kept it in their hearts, assuming and misunderstanding each other―as a result, they almost lost each other.

“I was scolded a lot. I made you feel uncomfortable,” He paused for a moment and continued, “”It made me angry, but it also opened my eyes.” 

Eugene had wished to become like Amane. But in reality, he had only been thinking about it and hadn’t taken any action. 

If he wanted to change, if he wanted to make a difference―he had to take action himself. 

If Mabel was in a difficult position, it was because his existence was feared. 

So if Eugene could convey that he was not some evil and terrifying being, it might reduce the strange looks directed at Mabel. 

“I won’t let them say you are a pitiful princess that was sacrificed to a monster. That’s why…I want to change,” Eugene said hesitantly, then lowered his head. Mabel approached him and gently placed both hands on Eugene’s cheeks, peering into his face. 

“Well then, I’ll do my best too,” Smiling happily, she added, “I’ll properly refute that I’m a pitiful princess or a sacrifice to a monster. No matter what others say, I’ll say that I truly love Eugene-san.” 

Surprised, Eugene blinked his eyes, and Mabel smiled gently as usual. She reached for his mask and removed it. 

Eugene’s revealed face was still perfectly beautiful. 

But his frantic expression showed that he was not a frozen demonic being, but that of an unmistakable young man. His fair skin was now flushed red. 

“Whether you’re a mage or a human, it doesn’t matter.” 

“Mabel…” 

“I love you, Eugene-san. I want to be closest to you and be together forever.” 

Mabel let go of his arm and tightly held Eugene’s hand, covered in black gloves. Feeling the strength in her grip, Eugene raised his eyebrows and smiled gently. 

“I, I love you too. Stay by my side,” He blurted.

In response to his answer, Mabel smiled with satisfaction. 

Eventually, the shadows of the two merged seamlessly. 

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟔𝟗

“―Oh, right.”

After a while, Eugene took Mabel’s hand.

Gently opening it, something dropped into it. Curious, Mabel looked and saw a shining platinum ring.

At the top, a highly transparent gemstone, polished like ice, was set, and when tilted, it reflected a rainbow on its cross-section. It was intricately crafted in the shape of a flower, resembling a rose made of crystal.

“It’s a bit late, but here.”

“Oh, you remembered?!”

“Of course.”

It was a promise Eugene made when he was attacked by Amane’s proposal. Overwhelmed with joy, Mabel gazed at the beautiful ring, turning it left and right.

“That stone is made with my magic.”

“Huh?”

Mabel recalled hearing a similar explanation somewhere. But she quickly remembered and shook her head in a fluster.

“W-Wait a minute?! Eugene-san’s magic, is it by any chance…a Heart?”

“You could say that.”

“And a Heart, if I remember correctly, can only be created once in a lifetime?!”

“Yeah.”

“And because it uses a lot of magic, it shortens the mage’s lifespan, right?”

“You know it well. That’s right.”

Mabel muttered in her mind, ‘He must be lying,’ in response to Eugene’s calm demeanor. She then pushed the ring she held back into Eugene’s hand.

“I-I can’t accept this! I don’t need…a ring like this. More importantly, Eugene-san, I want you to live a long life.”

Seeing Mabel on the verge of tears, Eugene lowered his gaze to his own palm. As he looked at the returned ring, he gently lowered his eyelashes and smiled.

“This is my vow.”

“Your vow…?”

“I choose to live and die with you, rather than live forever. I value the thirty years I can spend with you more than the three hundred years without you.”

Mabel timidly raised her face at the quietly spoken words. When their eyes met, Eugene’s face blossomed with relief. Like a young man of his age, he smiled happily. Mabel could feel her heart pounding strongly in front of Eugene’s joyful expression.

Eventually, Eugene gently pulled Mabel’s confused left hand towards him. He placed his own hand as if offering it and put the ring on Mabel’s ring finger. Quietly lowering his eyes, he opened his mouth.

“I will love only you, Mabel Ratra Eakes, for the rest of my life. Even if you’re gone, I will continue to think of you forever. I swear not to love anyone else.”

―Because this will be my first and last love.

“So, will you also do the same and love only me for the rest of your life?”

At that moment, Mabel finally realized that she was crying.

Tears flowed incessantly, one drop after another. But unlike before, they were not filled with frustration or sadness. They were an overwhelming joy that made her heart warm and fulfilled.

Mabel managed to open her mouth, wanting to give an answer, but only a muffled sound came out.

“Really….”

“Yeah?”

“Is it really…okay for me?”

“Yeah.”

“I…will die before you. Much earlier than you.”

“…Yeah.”

“Won’t you be all alone?”

“If I hadn’t met you, I would have been alone for every second of my life.”

Unable to argue, Mabel finally wiped away the tears that had been flowing incessantly and blinked her eyes several times. She smiled at Eugene without hiding her reddened eyes.

―I swear. Mabel Ratra Eakes will love only Eugene Lava for as long as her heart beats.

Satisfied with the answer he finally received, Eugene reached out his arm around Mabel’s waist and hugged her as tightly as he could. With his hand still on Mabel’s cheek, he tilted his head and their lips met.

The town was filled with the lively voices of the citizens and the noise of festival floats passing by.

But Mabel couldn’t hear any of those sounds. In a world dominated only by their breaths, body heat, and the sound of their breathing, they existed as if they were the only two people.

“…Mhm.”

Eventually, Mabel let out a short voice, as if feeling suffocated. When Eugene released his lips, Mabel gently raised her eyelashes. As he gazed back into her captivating green eyes, Eugene embraced her body once again.

“H-Hey, Eugene-san?”

“I want more…”

“Huh, um…”

Despite Mabel’s futile resistance, a second kiss descended upon her.

With his hand pressing against the back of her head, as if not allowing her to escape, Mabel felt a sense of panic in her heart.

Mabel could only surrender herself to Eugene’s alluring touch and the teasing kisses that varied in intensity. She tried pushing Eugene’s chest with both hands, but he showed no signs of releasing her.

‘What should I do…?’

Come to think of it, Eugene had lived much longer than Mabel.

Perhaps he was overwhelmingly accustomed to such experiences.

While feeling on the verge of losing herself to embarrassment, Mabel could only desperately endure and prevent herself from collapsing.

Eventually, the Flower Festival came to an end, and the normal days returned to the Eakes Kingdom.

Kairi, the mastermind behind the turmoil, and his subordinates were taken to the knights while still bound. It seemed that Eugene’s enchantment had not yet worn off, as some people remained unconscious or plagued by nightmares. The knights were perplexed about what to do.

Initially, Kairi had been treated with caution due to being a guest from another country. However, testimonies from Amane’s subordinates, who were also citizens of Kytha, and men from the port who had witnessed parts of the incident led Eakes to officially protest to Kytha. They were scheduled to receive a substantial amount of compensation and a formal apology.

There were also rumors leaking from somewhere that they called him Mabel’s new fiancé. Despite being asked for an explanation, the parliament remained silent. However, the citizens, outraged by Kairi’s outrageous actions, sent numerous complaints to the parliament, questioning their connection with such a country.

As a result, the parliament was unable to proceed with the engagement between Mabel and Kytha.

On the other hand, people who had seen Eugene during the festival were buzzing with the topic, “Perhaps Mabel-sama actually loves that mage and got engaged for real.”

In addition to the shock of the mage appearing in broad daylight, it seemed that the cause was Mabel, who was being held in his arms, looking incredibly happy.

Above all, despite half of his face being covered by a mask, Eugene’s handsome features captivated countless women. Of course, it wasn’t due to an enchantment spell, but the fact that Eugene, who was thought to be incredibly old, turned out to be a young man with unparalleled beauty. It was only natural for the ladies to start making a fuss.

And so, in just one night, Mabel transformed from a pitiful princess forced into an engagement with a monster into a princess who entered into a blissful engagement with a stunningly beautiful man.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟕𝟎

A few days later, Mabel and Eugene arrived at the harbor. Among the crew members who were unloading provisions and cargo, Mabel spotted Amane and waved her hands while calling his name.

“Amane-san!”

“Mabel!”

Amane, with a delighted expression, excused himself from the crew member next to him and rushed over to Mabel. He had a flashy turban wrapped around his silver hair, and his originally tan skin was now even more radiant from the sun.

“You came.”

“Yes. I believe today is the day of departure, right?”

Amane, who had suffered a serious injury that night, had recovered at an astonishing speed thanks to Row’s treatment. Once he was able to move normally again, Amane had secretly become an apprentice to the men of the Eakes sea, concealing his true identity.

“Ah, being used by others can be quite interesting. Sometimes I get scolded right away, and even those smaller than me raise their chins as seniors.”

Fortunately, it seemed that no one recognized his face clearly, allowing Amane to work as an ordinary young man. Remembering Amane’s former arrogant attitude, Mabel couldn’t help but complain, but she couldn’t help but smile at his cheerful appearance.

Perhaps once Amane’s subordinates returned to Kytha, news of their master’s demise would reach them. Based on that, his ties to Kytha would be severed, and he would truly be free.

“Are you really okay? Um, maybe we can find a way for you to return to Kytha even now.”

“It’s fine. I no longer want to be bound by that country or the royal family.”

Amane looked straight into Mabel’s slightly anxious eyes.

The color of the magnificent sunset sinking into the sea. His eyes seemed to exude a calmness as if he had been freed from heavy shackles.

Seeing that, Mabel smiled, lifting the corners of her mouth.

“…Alright. I’ll support you.”

“Yeah.”

Saying that, Amane also turned his gaze to Eugene, who was standing behind Mabel.

“I caused you trouble too.”

“Indeed.”

“You know, you should say something like, “It’s not a problem,” even if it’s a lie.”

Amane burst into laughter. Eugene frowned beneath his mask, but Mabel, who was by his side, sensed that it wasn’t just disgust like before.

“Well, it’s fine. ―It seems like you’ve finally let go.”

“…Yeah.”

After briefly looking at Eugene, Amane turned his gentle gaze toward Mabel.

“Mabel, I have one favor to ask.”

“Yes?”

“I’m no longer a prince of Kytha. So, could you call me Amane?”

Caught off guard, Mabel stumbled over her words, and Amane challengingly smiled at her. His face had a gentle expression, free from the constraints of royalty and heavy responsibilities. Mabel could only smile wryly and softly put her words into sound.

“Take care―Amane.”

“… Ah, I’ll be right back.”

As if savoring the name he was called, Amane narrowed his eyes.

At the same time, he pulled Mabel close and quickly planted a kiss on her cheek.

“Huh?!”

“Oopsie.”

Before a startled Mabel could even utter a sound, Amane released her embrace and swiftly crouched down in that spot. Then, a sharp, white blade of wind flew towards the place where Amane’s face had been just moments ago.

When Mabel turned around, Eugene was extending his arm straight ahead with a menacing glare. Amane, who had stood up, raised one corner of his mouth in a smirk.

“Heh, too naive.”

“I missed on purpose. I didn’t want Mabel to witness that scene.”

“Is that so?”

Once again, a swift wave of white passed through the air, and Amane deftly dodged it. Feeling as if she could hear Eugene clicking his tongue from behind, Mabel made a gesture to calm the situation, as it would be undesirable for the damage to spread any further.

Amane, who had started running, returned to the ship as the senior crew members called out to him. From the top of the elevated deck, he waved his hand vigorously toward Mabel and the others.

“Mabel! I’ll come back as a man who’s a size bigger! When I return, I’ll propose to you again!”

Be prepared! Amane laughed boldly, and Mabel, still blushing, shouted back, 

“That’s impossible!”

“He’s gone…”

“He still likes to mess around, even now…”

As they bid farewell to the ship Amane had boarded, the two of them reminisced about the storm that had passed, each wearing a complex expression.

“Shall we go back too, Eugene-san?”

“. . .”

Mabel urged him to turn back and head home, but strangely, Eugene remained motionless, not making any attempt to move. Instead, he stared intently at Mabel.

“W-What’s wrong?”

‘Is he annoyed that I addressed him formally?’

Ah, Mabel stammered.

Indeed, she still used the honorific “san” when addressing Eugene. But it felt embarrassing to change it now, so Mabel glanced at Eugene, trying to gauge his reaction.

However, Eugene continued to wait patiently behind his mask, silently anticipating Mabel to call him by his name. It seemed there was no option but to do so, and Mabel resigned herself to it.

“Eu-Eugene…”

“…”

No response. It seemed he still wanted to be called more.

“Eugene…”

“…”

“Eugene!”

Mabel, now blushing, half-desperately shouted.

In response, Eugene placed a hand over his mouth and began to secretly laugh, as if holding back. Realizing that she was being teased, Mabel turned on her heels, leaving Eugene behind, and started walking briskly.

“I won’t call you anymore!”

“Just kidding. I’m sorry.”

Finally, when Eugene’s laughter subsided, he followed after Mabel.

A gentle ripple spread softly as if blessing the future of the two, as they walked together.

(The End)

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟕𝟏: 𝐄𝐱𝐭𝐫𝐚 𝐄𝐝𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧: 𝐒𝐞𝐜𝐨𝐧𝐝 𝐘𝐞𝐚𝐫, 𝐖𝐢𝐭𝐡 𝐘𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐖𝐢𝐧𝐠𝐬

You may have heard before that a year in the Eakes Kingdom is divided into twelve months.

Among them, the last day when the month changes from Snow Month Nivose to Rain Month Pluviôse marks the celebration of the new year and a grand festival is held throughout the country. Of course, the royal family is no exception, and every year a luxurious banquet is held at the palace.

Last year, as expected, Mabel was rejected and felt down. However, during the brief moment when the New Year’s bell rang, Eugene visited the castle.

She was very happy about that, but as Mabel reminisced, she found herself clasping her hands in front of Eugene again this year.

“Eugene, about this year’s party…”

“. . .”

“I won’t force you if you don’t want to. But if it’s alright, Gertrude-oneesama also wants to meet you…”

“…”

With Eugene sitting in a chair with his arms crossed, looking sullen, Mabel’s heart was already on the verge of breaking.

It seems that last year’s visit was almost like a surprise attack by Row, which only heightened his wariness. 

Eventually, Eugene sighed and stood up. Mabel continued to plead.

“It’s fine if you keep your mask on. Just for a little while…”

“―Alright.”

“Huh?”

“I guess I should go, right? I’ll clear my schedule.”

Unable to believe that Eugene actually said that, Mabel blinked in surprise. Seeing her reaction, Eugene furrowed his brows, looking displeased.

“What’s with that face?”

“Huh?! Um, well, I just didn’t expect you to really come…”

“I am your fiancé. I’ll do at least that much.”

Upon hearing those words said so casually, Mabel felt like pinching her own cheeks. But unable to contain the slowly rising joy, she instinctively hugged Eugene.

“Thank you!”

“What’s the big deal? You’re being overly dramatic.”

“Well, because I thought it was absolutely impossible.”

Then Eugene let out a tired sigh and gently wrapped his arm around Mabel’s back. As he pulled her close as usual, he whispered in her ear with a slight smile.

“I’ve been prepared since the time I flew through the palace sky for your sake.”

“Huh?”

“I will become a suitable fiancé for you. If necessary, I’ll go anywhere, whether it’s a social gathering or a party.”

“Eugene…”

Overwhelmed with emotion, Mabel’s eyes welled up with tears. Seeing this, Eugene let out a slightly exasperated smile and kissed her temple.

“Go to bed already. You have business at the palace tomorrow, right?”

“Oh, right!”

Mabel quickly released herself from Eugene’s embrace and, blushing slightly, smiled and bid him goodnight as she left the study. Left alone, Eugene let out a sigh.

‘Really…I never thought a day like this would come.’

He chuckled wryly as he remembered himself from a year ago.

But strangely, it didn’t feel like an unwelcome change.

And on the day of the party.

When Mabel and her fiancé appeared at the venue, the guests couldn’t help but cause a commotion.

The youngest princess, who was rumored to have become quite beautiful recently, was wearing a mature deep blue dress. Instead of covering her neck, both of her arms were exposed up to her shoulders, giving her a very glamorous appearance.

Standing next to her was the mysterious masked mage of the rumors.

As the name suggests, a jet-black mask covered half of his face, and his expression could only be seen from the mouth. But from the golden eyes and the well-defined contours glimpsed through the mask, it was easy to deduce that they possessed a remarkably handsome appearance.

Although the guests were interested in the two who had become the talk of the town at the Flower Festival, they kept their distance in fear of the terrifying mage. Sensing this, Mabel lowered her eyebrows and apologized to Eugene.

“I’m sorry. It seems like it’s become an unpleasant atmosphere.”

“It’s within my expectations. Don’t worry about it.”

Soon, Gertrude appeared before the two in a stunning manner. Her deep red dress and her glossy black hair left down gave her a dignified impression.

“Eugene-dono! Thank you for coming.”

“Yeah.”

“I wanted to have a leisurely conversation with you. Can you handle alcohol?”

“To the standard of an average person, yes.”

Upon hearing this, Gertrude grinned with delight. Seeing that, Mabel discreetly tugged on Eugene’s sleeve.

“Eugene, um, Gertrude-oneesama is really strong when it comes to alcohol. And she likes to drink with someone else, so, um, please don’t push yourself too much.”

“I see.”

Ignoring Mabel’s desperate advice, Eugene casually accepted the glass without showing any concern. He swiftly drank the amber-colored liquor, creating delicate bubbles.

“Oh, you have an amazing drinking capacity. Well then, I’ll join you.”

“Onee-sama, please don’t drink too much―”

“By the way, Mabel, Kathy was looking for you. She wants you to help her choose a hair accessory.”

“Huh?! Why again…”

“George-dono suddenly decided to visit as a guest. As soon as she heard that, she hurriedly returned to the main residence.”

Mabel pouted in annoyance. She glanced at Eugene and he spoke up.

“You can go.”

“Huh, but…”

“If you’re worried about me, it’s unnecessary. I’ll talk to your sister.”

As if he could read her mind, Mabel timidly looked at her sister. Gertrude also smiled, lifting the corners of her mouth, and Mabel finally smiled.

“I’m sorry. Well then, I’ll just step out for a little while.”

After Mabel left, Gertrude poured more alcohol into Eugene’s empty glass. As soon as her sister was gone, his demeanor became distant, as if his body temperature had dropped.

“Is everything alright? You can escort her.”

“What do you mean?”

“Didn’t you come here as her escort, so that she wouldn’t be taken by another man?”

With a second glass in hand, Gertrude smirked. Eugene sighed as if it was all trivial.

“I’m not that narrow-minded. Besides, it’s a pity to keep making her worried.”

“A pity, you say.”

“Yes. In a situation like this, we can’t even enjoy ourselves.”

Receiving Eugene’s implied gaze, Gertrude quietly surveyed the surroundings.

With Mabel gone, the attention of the guests had shifted more towards Eugene. Curiosity, suspicion, fear…Although no one voiced it, the atmosphere surrounding Eugene was clearly abnormal.

“If it were just me, I could handle this level. But Mabel  shouldn’t have to endure this.”

If her fiancé were an ordinary man, surely, she wouldn’t attract such curious gazes, and Mabel would have enjoyed the party. In fact, last year Eugene hesitated to attend out of fear of this happening.

But after going through misunderstandings, Eugene made up his mind to be her fiancé and even dedicated his life to her. Mabel was working so hard, and he couldn’t just keep running away.

“―A mage is not a human. We understand that we can’t fully understand each other. But still, I want to give her happiness as a human.”

For example, being able to introduce her beloved sister to someone she loves.

For example, being able to spend the end of the year together.

Eugene understands that these small things are what make Mabel the happiest. That’s why, even if it means becoming a clown――despite feeling uncomfortable being treated as a spectacle, he can’t help but want to make it happen.

“Thank you. If I could tell her directly, my sister would be happy too.”

“If you say something like that, Mabel will immediately want to go home. It would be counterproductive after going through the trouble of dressing up and coming all the way here.”

Indeed, Gertrude chuckled wryly. But after taking a sip from her glass, she suddenly smiled with the expression of an older sister.

“I truly appreciate your desire to protect that child. However, she is not as weak as you think.”

“…”

“If you were to accompany her, Mabel knew that she would attract curious gazes like this. And yet, she still wanted you.―To introduce you as her fiancé, without a doubt.”

There was a gap between humans and mages without a doubt.

Since the Flower Festival, the understanding of the citizens towards Mabel and Eugene is slowly changing. However, there are still nobles who avoid Eugene’s presence, and Mabel continues to struggle desperately, not giving in to their criticism and sarcasm.

“Now that Mabel has become your official fiancée, the two of you will be much more exposed to public scrutiny than before. Among that, there may be moments where you will be looked at with even more curiosity and strangeness.”

“I see…”

“Nevertheless, she will surely continue to hold your hand. As long as you don’t let go, Mabel will never give up standing by your side. Please, remember that.”

It was Gertrude’s heartfelt wish as an older sister. Eugene, upon receiving those words, slightly curved his lips.

“I understand….”

“That’s good to hear.”

Playing with the empty glass in her hand, Gertrude also smiled mischievously.

“Of course, I will wholeheartedly support the path you two choose. I want her to be happy, you know.”

“It’s good to have a strong ally.”

“Think of it as gaining another annoying sister-in-law.”

At Gertrude’s joking words, Eugene also smiled as if he was influenced. Soon, the third glass of alcohol was poured into their empty glasses.

“Now that it’s settled, we need to have a frank conversation, dear brother-in-law.”

“I’ve been thinking since earlier, but is this alcohol safe? It feels quite strong.”

“Oh, yes. If an ordinary person drinks half a glass, they would collapse. Oh my, mages are truly powerful!”

“…”

Seeing his sister-in-law’s slightly flushed cheeks, Eugene clearly showed on his face that he thought, “This is going to be troublesome.”

A few moments later when Mabel returned, her mouth hung open in surprise.

“I can’t believe it! Onee-sama, drunk like this…”

Gertrude, who had the bad habit of offering alcohol to various guests and knocking them down one after another, had collapsed on the sofa before the new year. Her fiancé was by her side, taking care of her and saying, “Oh my, oh my.”

Mabel, who witnessed that scene, also looked up at Eugene, who stood next to her with fear and hesitation.

“Eugene, um, are you okay?”

“What’s wrong?”

“Well, um, as long as you’re safe. . .”

Eugene stood there, hiding his expression behind the mask, appearing as usual. Relieved, Mabel took his arm. But the moment she took a step forward, Eugene’s body swayed.

“Eu-Eu-Eugene?!”

” I’m fine. There’s nothing… wrong.”

“You’re clearly drunk!”

Without time to worry about the concerned and curious gazes around them, Mabel supported the swaying Eugene and moved towards an empty area. The hall was still filled with heat, so she brought him to the balcony, hoping it would be a little more comfortable.

They opened the large window and stepped outside. 

As they entered, exhaling white breaths in the cold air, they found themselves in the very place where they had exchanged a kiss last year. Mabel felt a little embarrassed, but she leaned Eugene’s body against the railing.

Eventually, Eugene raised his head with a groan.

“I’m sorry…I didn’t mean for this to happen.”

“Don’t push yourself. It’s amazing that you didn’t lose to Gertrude-oneesama.”

Seeing Mabel teasingly smile, Eugene also raised the corners of his mouth. Perhaps because the enclosed heat was making him uncomfortable, he confirmed that there was no one around and removed the mask from his face.

From beneath his black hair, his shining golden eyes peeked out, revealing an otherworldly beauty. However, his cheeks were redder than usual, and Mabel lowered her eyes in surprise at the rare sight.

“I’m sorry for being late. My third sister was being uncooperative.”

“I see.”

“Oh, it’s not that I don’t like it when she’s nitpicky while choosing various things, It’s just that because of that, I left Eugene behind.”

“It’s not a big deal. Don’t worry about it.”

As Eugene gave a curt response, Mabel narrowed her eyes again. She rested her head on his shoulder and whispered in a softer voice than before.

“Thank you for coming today.”

“…”

“I knew Eugene doesn’t like these kinds of gatherings. But, you came here, and we were able to talk with Onee-sama…I’m really happy.”

A pleasant silence flowed between the two.

Soon, small snowflakes began to fall from the sky.

“Wow, it’s snowing!”

“Yes.”

From the starry sky, as if fragments of stars were falling, Mabel’s eyes sparkled with excitement. But the next moment, she let out a cute sneeze.

“Ex-excuse me!”

She hadn’t noticed it while indoors, but her bare shoulders were quite exposed to the cold. Though she wanted to spend a little more time alone with Eugene, there was no helping it. Mabel looked up at him.

“If we stay like this, we’ll get cold. It’s about time we go inside―”

Then, something soft gently enveloped Mabel’s shoulders. It was fluffy, pure white wings―and their owner, Eugene, was calmly gazing at the town below.

“E-Eugene, this…”

“Just a little longer.”

“Huh?”

“Just a little longer, stay here.”

Though Eugene’s gaze didn’t meet hers, Mabel happily smiled and said, “Okay!”

“These wings are warm.”

“Yeah…”

“It’s the first time I’ve touched them.”

“It’s the first time someone has touched them, for me too.”

“Is that so?”

“Of course.”

Hehe, a laugh escaped from both of them unintentionally. Their breaths mixed within the wings, and the cold from earlier disappeared as if it were an illusion. Mabel, wrapped in that warmth, gently leaned against Eugene.

Before long, as if on cue, the pure sound of a chaste bell echoed from the center of the capital. The sacred melody, as if purifying the town, swept over the houses and people like ripples.

The long year came to an end and the sound of a new time echoed.

“Mabel.”

“…?”

Eugene, who was beside her, suddenly looked down at her. Mabel raised her face, wondering what was going on. Then, Eugene gently placed his hand on her chin with practiced ease and tilted her face upwards.

And then―as if to hide it with his large white wings, he gently kissed her.

Surprised by the sudden action, Mabel quickly closed her eyes and accepted his affection. Meanwhile, the twelve bells continued to ring at regular intervals, and just as the final melodious note was fading away, Eugene finally pulled away.

“We’re in the same place as last year.”

“Huh?”

“Last year, it was here, right?”

He remembered?! Mabel blushed belatedly. But Eugene, too, seemed satisfied, as if last year’s encounter had been unsatisfying. He smiled contentedly.

“I won’t be leaving early this year; so rest assured.”

“Eugene. . .”

Unable to contain her emotions, Mabel clung to Eugene. She pressed her body in indescribable affection against his chest and glanced up at him for just a moment.

“Eugene. I’ll do my best.”

“Do your best?”

“Well, with various things! So… let’s be together again next year.”

Mabel, pumping herself up, was silently observed by Eugene for a while. But soon, he pulled her slender shoulders closer and enclosed her within his majestic white wings.

“Next year, and every year from now on. I will always be by your side.”

“A promise, right?”

“Yeah.”

Eugene’s pinky intertwined with the pinky Mabel offered. Wrapped in warmth as their body temperatures mingled, the two quietly laughed within the wings.

And so, the new year began peacefully.

The path ahead for the two of them would certainly not be easy.

But the future that awaited them―would surely be warm and filled with happiness.

(The End)

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟕𝟐: 𝐁𝐨𝐨𝐤 𝐫𝐞𝐥𝐞𝐚𝐬𝐞 𝐠𝐫𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐭𝐮𝐝𝐞 𝐒𝐒: 𝐍𝐨𝐭 𝐦𝐚𝐠𝐢𝐜, 𝐣𝐮𝐬𝐭 𝐥𝐨𝐯𝐞

This is a story from a certain day at Eugene’s mansion.

“…”

“…”

Mabel and Mutabilis sat facing each other on the sofa in the reception room, gazing into each other’s eyes. Moreover, Mutabilis had taken off the white mask he always wore.

Eugene, who arrived late to the room, furrowed his brow upon seeing the scene.

“What are you two doing?”

“Oh, Eugene.”

Row, who was also sitting on the sofa, waved his hand lightly.

“Well, we’re just testing if Enchantment really doesn’t work on Mabel-chan.”

“What are you thinking, seriously…”

“Well, for now, it’s just a staring contest.”

The faces of those known as “Masked Mages”, had the power to make anyone, regardless of age or gender, fall in love. 

However, it was discovered that Mabel, due to her unique circumstances, remained unaffected no matter how much she looked at them.

Thanks to that ability, they were able to solve various problems, but it seemed that they wanted to properly test how far she could endure it in the future.

As Mabel and Mutabilis continued their staring contest under the watchful eyes of the others, Mutabilis eventually blushed and lowered his head.

“I’m sorry, Mabel, I can’t take it anymore…”

“M-Mutabilis-san?!”

“I’ve never had such direct eye contact with a girl before, it’s too much for me.”

As Mutabilis covered his face with both hands, Row burst into laughter, while Eugene frowned as if it was all nonsense. Eventually, suppressing his laughter, Row spoke up.

“Well, how about I try next?”

“Y-Yes! Please, go ahead!”

“Hehe, sure thing.”

With that, Row stood up and gently placed his hand on Mabel’s chin. He tilted her face towards him. Placing his red mask on the table, his beautiful face was revealed.

“Now, how does it feel?”

“Y-Your face is beautiful. . .”

“Well then, let’s try a bit stronger.”

“…?”

Just as Row smiled mysteriously, a glint flashed in his red eyes. Mabel’s heart skipped a beat, and she involuntarily held her breath. At that moment, Row forcefully pressed the red mask onto his own face.

“Ouch!!”

“R-Row-san?!”

“Don’t get carried away, idiot.”

Eugene, who was standing right beside them, continued to press the mask onto Row’s face. Row, taken aback by this sudden action, protested.

“But it’s an important matter! What if even Mabel-chan can’t resist it and gets hit with strong magic?”

“I’ll deal with it immediately when that happens. And stop using the -chan honorific.”

“Ugh…If you’re going to say that much, Eugene, why don’t you try it?”

“What?”

Surprised by the unexpected nomination, Eugene slowly turned to face Mabel.

Mabel, who had been anxiously watching their exchange, smiled happily as their eyes met.

“C-Can I ask for your cooperation?”

“Damn it!”

In frustration, Eugene took off his mask and plopped down next to Mabel. In silence, the two of them stared straight into each other’s eyes.

“…”

“…”

“……”

“……”

“Hey, Row, do you think this will settle it?”

“Well, Mabel-chan’s defense is top-notch; so even Eugene might not be able to do it…”

Before long, Mabel’s face turned red. It seemed like she had been holding her breath for a while, but she suddenly stood up from the sofa.

“Oh, by the way, I haven’t served tea or snacks yet! I’ll go prepare them!”

Without wasting a moment, Mabel quickly left the reception room.

Mutabilis, who saw Eugene calmly putting his mask back on, sparkled with excitement.

“Amazing! Maybe it worked?!”

“Well, it’s more like…”

Row glanced briefly at Eugene. Although his expression didn’t show anything, Row noticed that his ears were turning bright red and couldn’t help but smile.

“…Mutabilis, shall we take our leave soon?”

“What?! B-but, I was going to treat you to Mabel’s sweets.”

“I’ll treat you instead. See you later, Eugene―I’ll leave the rest to you.”

Dragging the sorrowful Mutabilis, Row leaped out of the reception room window. After a while, Mabel returned with tea and sweets.

“Sorry, I have kept you waiting―wait, huh?”

“They have already left.”

“W-what?!”

Eugene, who had stood up, approached the dejected Mabel.

Bending slightly forward, he whispered in her ear.

“From now on, if you want to test someone, test only me.”

“Huh?!”

“…I don’t want other men to see that expression on your face.”

Receiving the emphasis from Eugene, Mabel nodded repeatedly, blushing once again.

(End)


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