In my mind, I tried to guess what he wanted to convey.


“The Healing Stone is an ancient magical artifact…… right?”

“Yes.”

“It must be such an important item to be hidden in a secret chamber.”

The existence of a secret chamber and the use of an ancient artifact are obviously sensitive matters, so I wondered if he was trying to convey that he didn’t want Duke Bledel to know.

As if reading my thoughts, he spoke up a moment later, his voice dry.

“It doesn’t matter if you tell the Duke.”

“I won’t do that.”

“Then all the best.”

When the story of the secret chamber came out, I remembered the existence of hidden treasures.
I coughed unnecessarily and carefully cleared my throat.

“The secret chamber…… What’s in there?”

He turned his head slightly and glanced at me.
My heart raced, feeling as though he had discovered my hidden desire for treasure.

“There are magical tools like the Healing Stone and things that should never be shown to others.”

Surprisingly, he answered me gently and there seemed to be no lie in what he said.

For a moment, he seemed like a normal person, someone I could greet and exchange pleasantries with, not the terrifying male lead I knew.

Drawn by his gentleness, I asked him a question out of pure curiosity.

“Is it okay to show such an important place…… to others?”

“It doesn’t matter who sees it.
Even if someone intrudes, they won’t be able to open it.”


He continued calmly when I looked at him with a questioning eye.

“It’s protected by security magic.
The secret chamber cannot be destroyed by force, nor can anyone create an identical key.”

So that’s what it was.
His words, as if he knew all of my thoughts, pierced through me, leaving me somewhat embarrassed.
Nevertheless, it was still puzzling that he freely confided in me about matters related to magic.

There was a calm silence again.
I found it stifling to be around him.
With the intention of leaving after a rough conversation, I also asked him how he was doing.

“You’ve been through a lot lately.
Are you okay now?”

“I’m fine.”

“You seem to be having a nightmare.”

As I casually uttered those words, Ian stopped walking.
His expression subtly changed, and he seemed a bit flustered.
Is it because he was afraid that he was caught suffering from nightmares while shedding tears?

Suddenly, the name “Siana” popped into my head.
Judging from his reaction, I had heard something that day that I shouldn’t have.
I regretted bringing it up unnecessarily.

“Oh, I just happened to…….”

“You heard something.”

“It’s…”

It was a fleeting moment, but a hint of uneasiness flickered in his deep eyes.
Was it a secret he didn’t want to be discovered?

“There’s no need to lie.”

After a little hesitation, I told him frankly.

“……Siana.”

His face hardened even more.
It wasn’t the name of a significant character in the original story, so there was no reason for me to care.

I tried to reassure him.


“There’s nothing we can do if I already heard it, but you don’t have to worry about me going around and talking about it.
Besides, I don’t even know who that person is…”

His expression, once emotionless like a mask, gradually transformed into confusion.
Just like when he stabbed me that night.

I was puzzled by his reaction, but somehow I had a hunch that this “Siana” was very important to him.
When I looked into his eyes, which showed no emotion, I could feel the Lethenia in me stirring to action.

Still, I felt very uncomfortable talking to him face to face.
I was hesitating whether to mention that I should return to the Empress’s Palace when he made a meaningful remark.

“That’s a relief.”

“…….”

“Because you don’t know her.”

His voice sounded somewhat self-help, which made me feel strange.

***

Ian’s nightmares were always the same.
Some nights he was covered in blood from head to toe, others he was falling from a great height and his body was shattered.

He was forced to relive the moment of death in so many different and brutal ways.
The most distressing thing was that it was always his parents who were the victims of the disasters.

And always, near the end of the dream, his mother’s last words were like a chain around his neck.

You must not trust anyone.
You must destroy those who made us like this and become the greatest emperor Asha has ever known.
Do you understand?>

When Ian opened his eyes, there was nothing but blackness and silence.
Empress Ramelia, who was benevolent and gentle, had become a cold and strict mother from the moment her husband was assassinated.
Her severe teachings eventually converge into one.

Do not trust anyone.
That was the only inevitable way to protect her vulnerable son, or so she believed.
She would not hesitate to slap Ian if he showed the slightest sign of weakness.

Ian had grown accustomed to closing his heart, hiding his feelings, and not revealing his thoughts as his mother wished.
But he knew he could never follow his mother’s wishes to destroy anyone connected to the Bledel family.

It’ll never be possible for him to kill Lethenia.

It wasn’t long before Empress Ramelia herself met a mysterious death.
Yet her mission did not disappear and continued to suffocate Ian.


He cursed Duke Bledel for taking everything from him.

Every time he looked at Lethenia, he saw the faces of his parents, dying in agony.
It feels like an insult to them who died unjustly to treat her like he used to.

His hatred towards his enemies turned into a dagger that relentlessly pierced Lethenia, and the once dazzling her gradually lost her light.

Whenever Lethenia saw Ian, she would cling to him pitifully, or scream and rage at him, but nothing would change.

Ian was sometimes tormented by the thought that he had caused Lethenia’s destruction, but he saw it as an inevitable process.

Over time, he had become somewhat numb to it.
However, he could not avoid marriage to Lethenia.

Duke Bledel noticed that some of the nobles on his side had turned to the emperor’s side.
Feeling threatened by power, the pressure for a state marriage intensified.
It was a wedding arranged by the former emperor himself.
Even the ministers, who had sworn loyalty to the emperor, could find no reason to prevent it.
Instead, they requested Ian to step back.

If Lethenia became the Empress, they would undoubtedly kill her.
But in the end, no change occurred.
It was a marriage that happened in an instant, regardless of one’s will as if it were sacrificed to an angry sea.

It was also a day where Ian felt an unspeakable helplessness and a desire to murder somehow.
The words Duke Bledel whispered to him shattered the doll-like expression he had practiced so many times.

You must not forget the favor I have done you by keeping you alive this long.
Why should a child have to follow the wrong path chosen by his foolish parents?>

He clenched his fists so tightly that his nails dug into his flesh.
An uncontrollable rage was filling him.

One day he will tear out the tongue of that wicked serpent, tear off his skin, and throw him to the beasts as food.

His wedding day to Lethenia became the most disgraceful day of his life.
As if to retaliate against it, he left Lethenia alone in the empress’s palace for a long time, treating her as if she were not there.

She visited the Emperor’s Palace day after day, but he didn’t meet her under the pretext of being busy.

Unable to bear it any longer, Lethenia suddenly began complaining of ill health, constantly bothering Ian with her attempts.

Using this as an excuse, Duke Bledel’s demand to replace the palace attendants with his own people became more overtly expressed.


The ministers began to suspect that the Empress had been cooperating with Duke Bledel.

He was becoming increasingly annoyed by her stubborn behavior.
He stopped attending the formal dinners with the Empress.

Whenever the Duke of Bledel showed excessive words and actions at a political meeting, the arrow went to Lethenia.

As opposed to Duke Bledel, Lethenia, who was naive and innocent in politics, was a perfect prey for the nobles of the Emperor’s faction.
Without the shadow of the Bledels, she would be hard-pressed to defend herself.

He never wanted Lethenia to die because of the Bledel family.
Perhaps it would be better if she could quietly live in a distant countryside, using the excuse of being weak.

The thought crossed his mind that it might be possible to avoid a major conflict.
He imagined the palace without Lethenia.

He felt a pang of loneliness, like it was empty, but he didn’t realize it.

***

He had been informed that Duke Bledel was in contact with members of the Xenos Rebellion.
The Duke’s involvement with Xenos was a golden opportunity to accuse him of treason.
To prepare for any unforeseen events, he had decided to keep Lethenia outside the palace for a while.

Lethenia wouldn’t sit back if her father was being investigated for something unsavory.
The ministers were anxious to find fault with the Empress, so it would be better to keep a low profile.

It’s been a while since you’ve seen your family.>

Although she seemed willful, Lethenia had always yielded to his wishes in the end.
But that day, she stubbornly insisted.

The sadness in her violet eyes touched his guilt, but he looked away, as he always did.
Lethenia hesitated for a moment, then spoke in a grassy voice.

Will that do?>

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