“No, you dare to use futile tricks.”


“I’m not trying to do anything.
I just…”

Collis toyed with the hefty dagger in her hand, pulling up the corners of her mouth to smile.
Just as I was looking at Collis’ face reflected in the window, she must have been looking at my face reflected in the glass as well.

“You’re right, I lived a meaningless life.
I coveted a love that wasn’t mine.
I was happy.”

“Boldly boasting about theft, I see.”

“Since I’ve already stolen it, let me be happy one more time.
Let me recall the moments of happiness for the last time before I die.
You can grant me that much, can’t you?”

“No, I refuse.
Why should I? Why should I show consideration for the wretched woman who has enchanted my beloved brother?”

“I’m not asking for consideration.”

“Then what is it?”

As I made my decision to die, I became strangely calm.
The things I had feared no longer frightened me.

“It’s a threat.
I’m asking for time as a condition for quietly dying according to your wishes.
If you desire a messy and noisy commotion, I will gladly comply.
I’m curious to see what expression Lucerne will have when I appeal to his sympathy with the face of the woman he loved.”

“How dare you threaten me…!”

Collis’s repetitive use of the word “dare” since earlier was starting to grate on my nerves.
I wondered how I had strayed so far off-topic.

I didn’t become Astia by my own will.

I didn’t love Lucerne by my own will.

…I did desire Lucerne’s love, but it wasn’t because he was the Emperor.

Seeming displeased with my threat, Collis turned her back after a stern expression and walked across the reception room towards the door.
Suddenly, she turned to face me and struck me with her gaze.

“Until sunrise.
Organize your thoughts and end your life before then.
Otherwise, the children will not be unharmed.”

My previously calm heart began to tremble again.

The children.
I had forgotten about the children.
I hadn’t considered their well-being.

“No! Wait, Collis.
I don’t care what happens to me, but don’t harm the children!”

“If the children mean that much to you, then die.”

With that final statement, Collis left the reception room.


“Ah…”

The thought that the children might come to harm because of me filled me with a terror greater than death.

Not the children.

While it was certainly enjoyable to be immersed in the novel and share my heart with Lucerne, the time I spent with the children was also precious.
The happiness I felt during those moments living with the little star was because the small cat loved me unconditionally.
The little star loved me the same, whether it was on days when I made mistakes at work or on days when I received my salary and bought treats.

It was a pure love that I thought I would never experience again.
But after becoming Astia, I was loved as a matter of course.
The children loved me.
They loved me whether I ate the soft bread and drank the milk alone or shared it with them.

Every time I showered the children with love, they expressed their joy without reservation.
I didn’t realize how fulfilling those moments were.
Just thinking about the children brought a smile to my face.

“Geo, Marley, Rie, Seti.
How are you feeling right now?”

“We’re happy! We’re happy because we make you happy, too!”

“Me too, Mom.
I want to worry about you even more from now on!”

“Me too, me too! I want to be the person who worries about you the most in the world!”

We loved each other wholeheartedly and received love in return.

For the sake of those children, I would give up my life without hesitation.

I lifted my trembling hand.
I brought the sharp blade of the dagger under my chin.
My heart pounded uncontrollably.
Tears threatened to fall, so I tightly shut my eyes.
It was a fleeting moment when I felt a sinister sensation and tried to gather strength in my hand.

A large hand forcefully seized my wrist.

“Ah!”

Startled, I blinked my eyes open.

I blinked my eyes open in surprise.

There, standing in front of me, was Lucerne.
His once radiant opalescent eyes appeared deep and dull, devoid of their usual luminosity.

* * *

As Lucerne entered the bedroom, he leaned against the wall, taking a deep breath.
It was unfathomable that Astia was not Astia.
It was beyond belief.
I had witnessed it with my own eyes, yet it seemed impossible.
I had never heard of such magic.

“So, you go by Hyerim?” he uttered.

A sense of betrayal ignited a fiery heat in my chest.
Anger surged within me.
A bright blue light emanated from Lucerne’s body, illuminating the dim room.

“How dare you deceive me? Pretending to be her, assuming the form of Astia? Right now…”


Right now.

What should I do immediately? Should I, like the tyrant Lucerne of the past, tear her apart while still alive? Or should I compel her to mutilate her own body? Or perhaps, should I command the children whom she finds abhorrent to kill her?

Lucerne’s lips trembled.

No.

I couldn’t do that.

Why? Has my heart grown weak after living a kind life following the encounter with the transformed Astia?

“Weak? Me? Lucerne?”

He found it inconceivable.
Even he, who had committed ruthless acts without hesitation against the rebellious nobles for years before he came of age,? He couldn’t believe it himself.

A sharp headache pierced through his mind.

“Ugh.”

Pressing his forehead with his hand, he leaned his shoulder against the wall.

He had believed that he had finally obtained Astia, the one he had longed for and desired.
Finally, he thought he had her in his hands.
Finally, he thought he had her in his hands!

The image of Hyerim, with Astia’s face, smiling widely, flashed in his mind.

She claimed to have lost her memories? It wasn’t entirely untrue.
She had never been Astia, so it made sense that she wouldn’t remember her past.

A bitter, hollow laughter escaped his lips.

“Yes.
Even if she lost her memories, Astia would never smile at me like that.
Even if she lost her memories, died, or was reborn, she would undoubtedly hate me.”

He had been deceived by the face he had desired and yearned for.

Looking back, there were oddities from the beginning.

“Are you alright? Thanking me for receiving the rose… There’s something strange.”

It began when she came in, blowing off the roof, and thanked him while accepting the rose.

Lucerne had always wanted Astia.
That was all he desired.
If he could exchange himself with her, he would gladly give up everything he possessed.

But in that moment, when he saw Astia shyly looking at herself, everything turned upside down.
His heart pounded in an unbearable manner.

Enough.

Although it was suspicious how Astia suddenly recovered from her illness and selectively lost her memories, I didn’t question it properly.
I didn’t investigate.
I didn’t examine it.


Everything lost its value except for the image of Astia calling me Lucerne and smiling at me.
I couldn’t bring myself to kill the woman who imitated Astia, who was practically a replica of Lucerne’s world.

“Perhaps I’ve been enchanted, as you said, by a woman who doesn’t even know how to cast magic.”

I let out a deep sigh when a sudden chilling sensation ran down my spine.

Lucerne’s defensive magic had been activated.

Did Collis attempt an attack?

I was about to turn around and rush out of the room but stopped in my tracks.

If I couldn’t kill her myself, perhaps I should let Collis do it.
That woman who imitated Astia should disappear, after all.

Once again, the gentle voice calling me Lucerne resurfaced in my mind.
It choked me.

Can I continue living without hearing that voice?

After a brief moment of contemplation, Lucerne’s body suddenly emitted a bright light.

I found myself back in the parlor where she revealed his true form.
He gripped the wrist of the woman who had a dagger against his neck with a firm grip.

* * *

I struggled to free my captured wrist, but Lucerne remained as firm as a statue, unmoved by my attempts.

“Let go, please… Please let me go.”

There was no response.

As Lucerne glanced at me out of the corner of his eye, the solid dagger turned to ashes and dispersed into the air.

“Ah…”

Now that it was gone, how was I supposed to die?

In that momentary confusion, I realized that the person who had captured me was none other than the tyrant Lucerne.
A bitter smile formed on my lips.

So he wouldn’t allow me to take my own life so easily with a mere dagger.
Did that mean I had to meet a painful end at the hands of someone I had briefly cherished?

Sadness and emptiness washed over me.

“…Fine.
Do as you wish.”


When I loosened my grip, Lucerne finally released my wrist.
He opened his mouth with a deep, resonant voice.

“Why did you do such a thing to me?”

A bitter smile surfaced on my face.

“Lucerne.”

Just as I was about to apologize, pretending to be remorseful, the parlor door swung open with a loud creak.
Startled, I instinctively recoiled.
But to my surprise, it wasn’t Collis who entered the room.

“…Astia?”

Standing in the doorway was me, or rather, Astia who looked exactly like me.

Could it be that the real Astia had appeared now?

I looked at Astia as she entered the room, her face filled with anger.
She strode across the parlor towards Lucerne, her blond hair and green eyes striking.
However, something was off.
Surprisingly, she appeared translucent, half-transparent with the background partially visible.
She moved through the furniture like a ghost.

Wearing the appearance of Astia, identical to me, I remained unseen and walked directly towards Lucerne with determination.
As she stopped in front of him, without hesitation, she swung her hand.

Crack!

A tremendous sound echoed, and Lucerne’s face swiftly turned aside.

“Lucerne!”

Startled, I yelled out, looking up at him.
He stood there, his face still turned away, unable to recover.

Simultaneously, the parlor grew dark.
The flickering magical lamps and the furniture that had been shaking disappeared, and the walls, ceiling, and floor turned completely black.
It was as if everything vanished, leaving only darkness.
If it weren’t for Lucerne, Astia, and me being visible, one could have mistaken it for closing their eyes.

Despite striking Lucerne, Astia’s anger didn’t subside.
She trembled and shouted.

“Accursed Lucerne, who dares to threaten me using the children? Instead of seeking your help, I’d rather die with the children!”

Whether it was due to the pain from being struck or the pain in his heart, Lucerne strained to speak.

“Astia…”

“Do not dare to address me with your filthy mouth!”

Astia swung her hand again, aiming for the opposite cheek of Lucerne.

I intervened, blocking her path and gripping Astia’s arm.
I couldn’t let her hit him again.
Earlier, I was shocked and unable to react, but I couldn’t let her strike him once more.

I didn’t want to see harm come to Lucerne, the person I cherished.

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