“Duke Izbe?” 


I received the newspaper from Hierian.
It was filled with all sorts of rumors surrounding me.
Among them were rumors that Astita was aiming for the position of Crown Princess using me as a pretext, and even rumors that I aspired to enter politics because of this incident.

‘Now they’re even insulting my father.’ 

People can be so shameless.
They say that spreading gossip in high society is nothing out of the ordinary, but it seemed like they were inflating the rumors even more without any guilt.
I couldn’t just sit back and watch.

Above all, the noble ladies of House Izbe were my precious source of money.
I couldn’t afford to lose that source because of the Duke’s interference.

‘I have to put a stop to the Duke and keep the ladies unaware.’

I looked at Hierian, and he seemed to guess my intention as he asked, 

“Should I put him in his place?”

He gestured towards the newspaper.
Understanding my words perfectly, I nodded immediately.

Then Therid stepped forward with a worried expression. 

“Hold on, are you planning to confront Duke Izbe? Our family might suffer if you make a mistake.”

“Well, Hierian can use illusion magic to put him in his place.”

“Don’t you know? Therid, you really are a fool.”

“Why am I a fool…! Anyway, what if our family gets hurt in the process?”

If our family gets hurt, we’ll deal with it when it happens.
As Hierian and I looked at each other and smiled, Therid sighed and rubbed his forehead.
Adandito, who had been quietly observing, patted Therid’s shoulder as if to console him.

* * *

Duke Izbe was leisurely sipping his tea.
Everything was going according to plan, and he was in a good mood.

The gossip that was sent to the newspaper had spread throughout the streets in just a couple of hours.
For those familiar with gossip in the central nobility, it might not be a big deal, but for those experiencing this for the first time, it was quite intimidating.


‘I guess the warning was sufficient.’

A satisfied smile formed on Duke Izbe’s lips.
He raised his head and observed his reflection in the mirror placed across from him.
His appearance was reflected on the mirror’s surface.
Duke Izbe absentmindedly stroked his beard and hummed a tune.

“Hehe, I’m so handsome.” 

Although he always maintained a dignified appearance as a Duke, Duke Izbe secretly enjoyed being enamored with his reflection.
After all, it was only natural to feel good when you had a handsome face.

However, his carefully groomed hair, which he had combed diligently since morning, suddenly started sticking out uncontrollably.

“Huh?” 

Startled, Duke Izbe quickly got up from his seat and approached the mirror.
He held onto the mirror and reevaluated his appearance.
Not a single strand of hair was out of place.

“Did I see it wrong?” 

Duke Izbe sighed and looked at the mirror once again.
This time, his face was wrinkled all over.

“Ugh.” 

Duke Izbe anxiously took a step back, clutching his chest.
The reflection in the mirror became increasingly grotesque.
Suddenly, mushrooms sprouted and his dyed hair turned gray.
His teeth fell out and his lips became shriveled. 

His hands trembled in disbelief at the unimaginable situation.

“This… This can’t be happening.” 

He quickly rushed to the dressing room, leaving behind the mirror he had been holding.
However, the reflection in the dressing room mirror was the same.
No, it became even more grotesque.
The Duke groaned as he covered his cheeks with both hands.
His already hideous face became even more distorted.

“No, this can’t be happening!”

He screamed, unable to tear his eyes away from the mirror.
It was due to a glimmer of hope, hoping that what he saw was an illusion.
But his hope shattered into pieces, swallowed by fear.
The reflection in the mirror had a sinister smile as if its lips were tearing apart.

The Duke in the mirror laughed, his mouth ripped apart.


“I quite like kids like you.
Shall we go to the forest together?”

“W-Who are you?”

“I am the Demon King residing in the Forest of Evil.”

“That’s impossible! The Demon King is sealed, so who the hell is doing this to me?”

“Don’t you believe me?”

Crash!

With a loud noise, the wardrobe behind the Duke collapsed.
The fine clothes he had collected over the years were all in ruins.
This time, the Duke saw himself in the mirror.

“Should I make you like that too?”

The question, which seemed far from a joke, made the Duke urgently raise his head.

“I-I’m sorry! I was wrong! If you tell me what you want, I will give it to you!”

“What I want… It’s better if you continue to make mistakes.”

“What…?”

“Seeing people like you, who have no qualms about committing evil deeds, excites me.
Surely, even if you die, your soul won’t reach the divine realm of Eora, but instead, you’ll end up in the Forest of Evil as my special grotesque prey.”

The Duke in the mirror chuckled sinisterly.
It was a chilling laugh that sent shivers down his spine.
The Duke’s complexion turned pale, and he hurriedly left the room as if escaping.

He found himself in the place where the Duke’s wizards gathered.
He went to their research lab and spoke in an urgent voice.

“You, all of you! I think I’ve been cursed!”

The sudden intrusion of the Duke startled the bewildered wizards, who subtly displayed a mixed expression upon seeing his face.
It was a look that one would make when seeing something extremely difficult to witness, yet they did not show it openly. 

Normally, anyone who laid eyes on the Duke’s face would be mesmerized, regardless of age or gender.
But this kind of expression… The Duke, taken aback, asked the wizards.


“Is there something strange about my face right now?”

“Apologies, but you look quite different from usual.
You mentioned being cursed.
What happened?”

“Suddenly, someone who looked exactly like me appeared in the mirror and said strange things! I urgently request you to lift this curse from me.”

Trembling, the Duke pleaded while his uneasy situation made the wizards carefully observe him.
The wizards of the Izbe noble family were renowned for their magical abilities, second only to the court magicians.
So the Duke believed that they would somehow be able to lift the curse, and he rambled on with this hope.

“Someone must have been jealous and wanted to torment me.
That’s why they did this, right?”

Contrary to the Duke’s hopeful conjecture, the expressions of the wizards grew increasingly rigid.
They exchanged glances among themselves and finally gathered the courage to address Duke Izbe.

“Your Excellency, um…”

“Yes! Isn’t there any way? Someone must have played a prank on me, isn’t that right?”

“…Your Excellency, we cannot lift the curse placed upon you.”

“What do you mean?”

The Duke exclaimed in horror, raising his voice towards the wizards.

“Considering the money I’ve generously spread among you, you mean to say that you can’t even resolve this one thing?”

“We apologize.”

The wizards bowed their heads, seemingly having no response other than apologizing.
The Duke’s strength seemed to vanish, and he sank to the floor, sitting in despair.

“What am I supposed to do now?”

Suddenly, one of the wizards approached cautiously and spoke.

“It seems that there are separate conditions for lifting the curse.
Would you like us to look for a solution?”


“…Conditions?”

“Yes, didn’t you hear anything different before you were cursed?”

The Duke quickly turned his head, searching his memory.
And soon, he recalled the words spoken by the one who claimed to be the demon king.

‘Seeing people like you, who have no qualms about committing evil deeds, excites me.
Surely, even if you die, your soul won’t reach the divine realm of Eora, but instead, you’ll end up in the Forest of Evil as my special grotesque prey.’

The evil deeds mentioned; they were all nothing more than what the Duke had done to lead his family.
Moreover, it wasn’t just a couple of things that came to mind but rather, he couldn’t grasp where to start correcting them.

While the Duke was in confusion, one of the wizards, astonished, swallowed a breath and fixed his gaze upon the Duke’s face.
The Duke quickly rose from his seat and looked into the mirror.
His skin had now become disfigured as if burned.
In desperation, the Duke tried to reason with himself.

“No, I haven’t done anything wrong!”

But this time, pus began to ooze from his disfigured skin.
It was so horrifyingly transformed that it was difficult to even look in the mirror.
The Duke stood frozen, with a face that had lost everything, before hastily leaving the laboratory as if escaping.

He hurried toward his office, his footsteps filled with urgency.
He glanced at his face and spoke in a breathless voice.

“Undo all the evil deeds I have done recently!”

“Evil deeds?”

“Anything that seemed a bit too much, or rather, just make everything I have done disappear!”

The Duke’s evil deeds ranged from trivial things like pre-emptively reserving dresses for the daughters of rival noble families and not informing them, making them unable to attend the parties, to more severe acts that directly threatened the family’s standing. 

How many women had he made cry with his face, and how many scandals had he caused? The chamberlain, who realized that the matters that came to mind were not just a few, let out a sigh.
At that moment, something came to the Duke’s mind, and he murmured hesitantly.

“Siara… She has connections with the Imperial Court, right?”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

“First, let’s sort out the rumors that have been spread about her.”

Having decided on one of the many tasks, the Duke felt somewhat relieved.
The chamberlain bowed and hurried away.

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