Tap, tap, Collis opened the door as if waiting for it.


“Lucerne, come in.
I’ve been waiting.
What’s the matter today? Come in and let’s talk little brother.”

Collis greeted her younger brother with a kind smile, as always.

It was bittersweet.
How could his sister smile so genuinely after trying to harm the person he loved the most? Perhaps it was because she believed he hadn’t done anything wrong.

“Sister.”

“Yes.”

“Return to Martop, please.”

“…Lucerne.”

Collis’s bright smile stiffened on her face.

“I have no intention of returning yet.”

“You must return.
I know everything about what you did to Astia.
I cannot let you stay in the palace after endangering Astia.”

“What do you mean by ‘what I did’?”

“I’ve extracted all the memories of the servants.
Only you, as a magician, are capable of such things.
Denying it won’t help.”

Collis bit her lip and hesitated for a moment before forcing a smile.

“…That… I’m sorry, Lutz.
Was I too excessive? It was an impulsive act out of anger.
I won’t do anything like that again and will live quietly…”

“It wasn’t an impulsive act.
It wasn’t meticulously planned, but it was intentional.
And your claim of not doing anything in the future is also a lie.
You had no intention of leaving the palace until you separated Astia from me.”

“…So?”

“I won’t let you continue to torment Astia.
Please return.”

“No.
I’m not going.”

“Sister


The kind mask Collis initially wore faded, revealing his sharp and menacing true self.

Lucerne sighed inwardly.
That face, the same face that argued for the annihilation of the nobility, was still there after all these years.
No, it was even more sinister than back then.

“If you refuse to return, I have no choice but to use forceful measures.”

“Hah! You? Daring to use forceful measures against me?”

Lucerne’s eyes sharpened in a voice filled with conviction.
Collis’s hand, resting on her thigh, emitted a blue light.

“You can’t use forceful measures against me! Because I am your sister! After being abandoned by our parents, we struggled through life and death, and I even risked my life to save you! To use violence against me means hurting yourself as well.
Understand?”

He understood.

If he were to overpower Collis by force and send her back to Martop, Lucerne would be wounded.
To him, Collis was a parent, a benefactor of life, a teacher, and the only pillar he had ever relied on.

Inflicting harm on his only support would also mean inflicting harm on himself.

Of course, it would be painful, but it was better than leaving Collis behind, causing pain to Hyerim.
He knew that her pain and absence would shake Lucerne’s entire existence.
He had admitted that she mattered.
There was no other choice.

Hyerim had to live safely and for a long time with the children she loved.
That was the only thing Lucerne wholeheartedly wished for.

“Sister, I ask you one last time.
Quietly leave the palace.
Right now.”

“No.
I won’t leave! Don’t even think about using a teleportation bead on me!”

Lucerne closed his eyes.

Collis stubbornly met his gaze.

When Lucerne opened his eyes again, his hand, which had been shining blue, moved.
In a quick motion, the light emitted from his hand drew a long trail in the air.

Lucerne grabbed Collis’s neck.

“Urgh!”

“I won’t ask for forgiveness,” Lucerne said in a determined voice.
“As you said, using forceful measures against you would also cause me harm.
But that doesn’t matter.
I must send you away from the palace.”

“Kuk! Lucerne…!”

“It’s better if you don’t scream.”

The sharp blue light coiled around Collis’s body like a rope.


With his only sister restrained like a criminal, Lucerne pulled her towards the carriage he had prepared outside the castle.
Calib was waiting in front of the carriage.

“I will escort you to Martop.
As for Astia… leave a gift for her.”

“Understood.”

“Lutz, is this really what you’ll do? Lutz, Lucerne! Snap out of it, snap out of it!”

The blue light that bound her body tightened, sealing Collis’s mouth shut.

“I specifically asked for you to remain quiet.”

Collis was pushed by Lucerne and boarded the carriage.

Although it was called forceful, Lucerne had done his best to consider his actions.
Not a drop of blood was shed, and the binding was done with intangible magic, so there were no wounds from the rope.
The carriage was of the highest quality, and they were destined to travel together to Martop.

However, Collis, experiencing such treatment from his younger brother for the first time, trembled, feeling so humiliated that tears threatened to fall.

“That Lutz treats me like this because of a woman!”

Curses swirled through her clenched lips.

“I won’t let it go.
I will eliminate that Astia, the woman who made Lutz treat me like this, with my own hands.
I won’t forgive her.”

Throughout the journey to Martop, Collis brooded over her anger towards the woman who had changed her younger brother.

* * *

On the night when Lucerne left the hall, intending to send Collis away, sleep eluded me once again.
I drifted in and out of a daze until a strange noise, unrelated to the usual summons of Asilis and the maids, startled me awake.
Unfamiliar sounds filled the bedroom, sounds that were rarely heard in Santuris.
The low murmurs, the dragging noises, the clattering of objects, all mingled together in a disorienting cacophony.

I looked out of the window and saw that it was still early morning, the outside world bathed in a hazy light.
What could be happening at this hour? I donned my cloak, which was draped over the bed, and opened the bedroom door, only to be taken aback.
On one side of the parlor, an enormous amount of books was piled up.
Books of various sizes and colors, numbering in the hundreds.

I widened my eyes and struggled to find words.
“Asilis…”

Asilis, with her sleeves rolled up and carrying books, finally noticed me and turned around.
“Yes, Lady Astia.
Did the noise disturb you?”

“What are you all doing so early in the morning? And what are all these books?”

The two maids, who were bringing in thick books and mumbling to themselves, brightened up upon seeing me.

“Good morning, Lady Astia.”

“You’re up early.
I’ve always wondered when you would wake up.”


“Iris, Rosalie, have you changed your duties today? Why are you bringing in so many books?”

It was Asilis who answered.
“His Majesty instructed us to bring them in.”

“Why does Lucerne want this?” I asked.

“It’s a gift for Lady Astia,” Asilis relayed.

“…A gift? For me?”

Just as the servants finished organizing the books, they quickly disappeared, leaving only Asilis, Iris, and Rosalie in the parlor.

Asilis spoke with a composed expression.
“His Majesty instructed us to clear the space for a while because Her Majesty Collis will be staying.
Since the space will be vacant for an extended period, he ordered us to bring in popular books from the city, categorized by genre.”

Clear the space and bring in books? Was it really necessary to go to such lengths?

I took a deep breath and surveyed the books stacked in the parlor.
Some had flashy covers, while others were worn, but they all seemed to be novels that I enjoyed.

Why?

Why was he going to such great lengths for someone like me, who was simply pretending to be Astia? Was it just a habit for him to treat me well, as he did with Astia? I felt like I was going to delude myself again…

As I examined the books piled on the shelves, I had to remind myself several times that these books were intended for Astia, not me.

I tried to keep my heart tightly shut, but it wanted to open.
I tried not to accept Lucerne’s love for Astia so easily.
I knew how much it would hurt me.

As I perused the titles, a few books caught my eye.
They were books tied with pretty ribbons, adorned with red bows.
I raised an eyebrow.

“What are these ribbon-tied books?”

“Oh, those books…,” Asilis hesitated for a moment, and I slyly untied a ribbon and glanced at the book’s title.

“The Emperor’s Woman…”

What kind of title is this?

“These books were personally chosen by His Majesty.
He thought they would suit Lady Astia’s taste and requested the ribbons to be added,” Asilis explained.

“What did you say?”

I rummaged through the bookshelf and found the books tied with red ribbons.

“I Have a Child, but I Love You” and “How Did That Emperor Love?”


The stories seemed to depict relationships similar to mine and Lucerne’s.
I gazed at the books with a wistful expression, and the maids politely greeted me.

“Well then, Lady Astia, we shall take our leave.
Please feel free to ring the bell if you need anything,” the maids said as they exited the parlor.

“Ah… Yes, you’ve worked hard since morning,” I replied.

After the maids left, the books tied with ribbons were spread out on the table.
With trembling hands, I opened the first page of the book at the front.
As I flipped through the pages, a small piece of paper fell out.

“Huh?”

The paper that fell out was different from the book pages.
It was thick and elegant, adorned with beautiful flowers and faint traces of gold.

Why is this paper inserted here?

I picked up the fallen paper from the floor and discovered writing on the back.

“May your time without me not be lonely.”

“What…”

Even though no one had told me, I instantly recognized the writing.
It was a neat and tidy handwriting, resembling its owner—Lucerne.
The handwriting was clear, devoid of any clutter, and beautiful.
It was unmistakably Lucerne’s penmanship.

Oh my.

I quickly opened another book.

“Lee Hyerim.”

“Why…”

Why would he give me such a gift?

Why did he write my name instead of Astia’s?

Was it just something he tried once? Then why insert it between the pages of a book as a gift for me?

He told me to live by his side as Astia, but now he’s shaking me like this.

After reading all the other notes I found between the pages, I let out a deep sigh.
My feelings for Lucerne swelled up like an overinflated balloon.
I knew it couldn’t get any bigger, yet I couldn’t help but lose control.

The reason I first fell in love with Lucerne was because he treated me kindly.
But now, I had to admit it.
Even if he didn’t love me, even if he loved Astia instead, I still liked him.

I missed Lucerne.

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