It was a tranquil night, but Jin Ye quietly walked to her chamber without letting out the sound of her footsteps.
The moonlight veiled by the clouds drew a long shadow behind her.
Jin Ye saw that thing that was following her in silence, and then she was reminded of one day that flashed past her mind.

The young enemy that was so naive.
The young Jin Pyeong, who was now Prince Hwa, tripped when he walked past the gate to the backyard as he wanted to see the duck he brought in that had just given birth to its ducklings, and Jin Ye got punished.
While she was transcribing the Collection of Commentaries on the Doctrine of the Mean (TN: 中庸章句大全; a book written by Hu Guang) into 10 volumes as punishment, she didn’t leave the library.

“I don’t get hurt…”

Jin Pyeong muttered that and took Jin Ye’s side for a moment, but the emperor didn’t even bat an eye and told Jin Ye to bring brush, ink stone, and ink stick, ordering her to reflect.

“Isn’t treasuring a brother also a virtue of the monarch?”

“…”

It was a speech that sounded like she was the one who harassed her little brother.
Although she felt wronged, Jin Ye brought an ink stone that weighed almost 24 kilograms and then headed to the library.
It was the place where Jo Seoyeob sat just a while ago.

Jin Ye sat there and then copied down the Collection of Commentaries on the Doctrine of the Mean that was dense with Chinese Characters, skipping meals.
Her hands got dirty because of the ink stick, and when she finished a volume, her arms hurt and she got thirsty.
It was hard for her.
However, there was no one to help her.

She returned in the morning, and the one who welcomed Jin Ye, who left that place around dusk, was Seoyeob.
He saw Jin Ye’s wrists and arms turn black because of the ink stick and then quickly took away the ink stone.

He pulled a wry face as if he was unhappy seeing Jin Ye massaging her painful wrists even though she was in the Crown Princess Palace, then he brought her wet towel and warm water.
Seoyeob wiped Jin Ye’s blackened arms, compressed her wrists, and asked as if he was upset.

“Are you okay, Your Imperial Highness?”

At that time, Seoyeob was the only one who treated Jin Ye this gently.

A girl that was the crown princess yet out of the emperor’s favor.

There was no one who sincerely worried about that Jin Ye.
The power inside the imperial palace was proportional to the emperor’s favor.
No matter how high a position someone had, the one who didn’t get the emperor’s love was no more than a puppet.

Despite this, Seoyeob always stayed next to Jin Ye and took good care of her.
The only warmth around her, and the only person the isolated Jin Ye could lean on.

Listening to Seoyeob’s worried-filled-question, Jin Ye recalled her father’s expression that she saw in the morning.

An expression that looked tired, or very bored rather than loathing her.
She might have thought that it would be better if he got angry or spent such energy on her.
That meant at least he was hoping for improvement from her.

However, the emotion on her father’s black eyes was boredom.

Jin Ye was rather in despair looking at those emotionless eyes.
She felt that she was really nothing.
She felt like she had become a mere grass.

However.

“The situation doesn’t change even if I’m not okay.
So, I’m okay.”

Seoyeob’s hand stopped for a moment as he heard that answer.

“… I don’t like that answer, Your Imperial Highness.”

“Then?”

The warmth that touched her hands and wrists carefully, worrying if she would get hurt.
Kneeling before her, Seoyeob looked up at her and said,

“Please just say that it hurts.
So that I… so that I could wipe your tears.”

Jin Ye laughed.
She both liked and hated this side of Seoyeob.
Romance that she didn’t have.
A passionate feeling that she had never had.
Seoyeob occasionally showed this appearance that she couldn’t find in the members of the imperial family and the people working in the imperial palace.

When she looked at him, she had a subtle thought, wondering if there was a hope for her.
A hope that if she tried her best, obeyed her father’s words, even though she was now abandoned by her father, one day, he would open and welcome her in his arms.

Therefore, Jin Ye liked this safety net that Seoyeob spread under her feet.
She didn’t turn him down and made a joke to Seoyeob.

“Looking that you’re worried about me, it seems like you are indeed older than me.”

She deliberately said it with a light tone.
As it was an unforeseen response, Seoyeob’s face subtly turned red.

“Pardon? What do…”

“Seoyeob orabeoni?” (TN: orabeoni; archaic version of oppa)

Seoyeob’s pupils quaked and his hands trembled.
He showed a quite cute response as if he was really flustered and he couldn’t continue his words properly.

“Please… please don’t be like this.”

It was a response that was worth the teasing.
Therefore, Jin Ye tried to do it once again.

“Orabeoni, do you love me?”

Seoyeob dropped his head with a bright red face.
He couldn’t bring himself to answer that.
He even could not keep his hands that were wiping her wrist steady and dropped the towel.
Looking down at that, Jin Ye thought it was enough so she stepped back.

“Why are you so flustered like that?”

Seoyeob bit his lips and then refuted with a trembling voice.

“You-your joke is too far… You’re too wicked.”

“Isn’t it because you act like this that makes you look like you really love me?”

Back then, Jin Ye didn’t know about the real feelings Seoyeob had.
He was a man from a noble family that had a good relationship with the imperial family for generations.
Therefore, she thought he stayed next to herself just because of loyalty, or maybe he was comforting the crown princess that was denied by the emperor because he felt pity about her.

That was why she said that.

However, Seoyeob’s eyes dimmed in an instant when he raised his head back.
Even so, the story contained in those eyes got richer.
The black eyes that held a subtle light as though he had a lot to say stared persistently at Jin Ye.

Silence permeated in the room.

Although it was only for a short moment, serene filled in as if the whole world stopped.

However, Seoyeob didn’t move the story he had on his eyes to his mouth.
He only closed his mouth tight, took back the towel, and then earnestly wiped her wrists.

“…”

Amidst the atmosphere that turned awkward, Jin Ye too couldn’t say anything more.

As she looked back, Seoyeob of that time looked like he had already fallen deep.
It was just she couldn’t notice it because she was too young, the time when she didn’t know the strong potential of someone’s recklessness.

Jin Ye muttered low as she walked past the threshold to her chamber.

“Slow-witted and innocent… both you and I back then.”

However, she wouldn’t get tricked anymore.

By anyone.

Jin Ye loathed foolishness.
Her heart was not even hot enough for her to be reckless and believe in romance.

“Then I, will I die here today?”

That foolishness to speak out his desire.

“Then, before I die… I would like to have you.”

While holding the word of death in his mouth.

Such a romance that wasn’t logical at all.

That was the reason she could never acknowledge Yeon Mugeon.

She hated that naiveness that was like that of the young child.
She didn’t like those clear eyes.
She herself once had that kind of eye, so it was even more disgusting.

Ignorance couldn’t be forgiven.
Thus, Jin Ye decided to kill Yeon Mugeon no matter what.

If it’s Seoyeob, he will do it well.

Jin Ye believed his passion towards her.
Paradoxically, that was her coldest judgment.

***

“Then I’ll be waiting for Yeon Mugeon’s head to be presented before me.”

Seoyeob was still strongly denying the fact that Yeon Mugeon was alive.
He was questioning what on earth did that person do to escape from Eupju.
He didn’t even think of the possibility of Yeon Mugeon surviving on his way back after throwing him.

However, he heard that Jin Ye’s name seal got even darker.
As soon as he heard that, Seoyeob felt like he was swallowing a thick thorn down his throat.

He practically never felt such a feeling recently.

Except for one time.

That was when he erased the name seal from his body.

His messenger delivered the news that he found Yeon Mugeon.
The next day, he was changing his clothes in the early morning, and he saw the name seal that was inscribed very faintly on his left arm.

As soon as he saw the name seal, Seoyeob felt like he couldn’t breathe.

However, he only felt it for a moment, and then he was glad that no one was around because it was very early.
If that wasn’t the case, he might end up killing someone who had been following him for a long time.

He brought over a searing iron to his body in order to erase the trace of the name seal.
He didn’t have any hesitation even when the heated iron burned his body.
When it came into contact with his flesh, he clenched his teeth out of pain but didn’t even let out any groan.
He did so because he regarded it as the thing he had to do.

And fortunately, this time too, there was a method for him to take out the thorn.

Yeon Mugeon’s head.

That thing that Jin Ye wished for was the exact thing that Seoyeob wanted the most.

Seoyeob went home as soon as he left the library.
He entered his home, disguised himself, and then once again came out by climbing over the wall.
Wearing black clothes, he ran into the dark and not long after, he stood above the wall in Prince Hwa’s residence.

As it was the residence of the only surviving emperor’s sibling, it was showing off a scale that didn’t lack to any concubine’s palace.
It had four big gates to the center, around twelve buildings whether it was big or small, a wide and beautiful garden just like the one in the Empress Palace that was still well known even though it was abandoned because it had no owner.

The only residence of the emperor’s sibling in the capital for the time.
Perhaps because of that, it was well organized and the security also looked tight.

Looking down at that place, Seoyeob scanned with his eyes to find where Yeon Mugeon might be staying.
Two giant guardian trees planted at the entrance, and the guest quarters, a small building next to it.

If there was a place for a guest to stay, then it must be that place.

After deciding his target, Seoyeob drew the scenario for him to take care of the people guarding the guest quarters in his head.
When he got the idea how to seize them, he finally jumped off the wall.

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