The servant who received Ares’ command bowed his head and turned around.
Surprised, Cynthia jumped up from her seat.
“I-I’ll get her.”
“You stay here.”
“I came here saying that I’ll bring her back, but if I suddenly say that, she’ll be very surprised and scared.”
“She should be surprised and scared. She stole something.”
“But she’s still young and–”
“Are you planning to convince her with your words when you bring her back?”
“If not, there’s no need for you to go.”
Cynthia clenched her fist at Ares and Ixion’s words.
But she couldn’t insist on bringing the girl when she heard those words.
In the end, the servant left alone.
Dana followed the servant with a worried face, hunching her shoulders tightly.
Before the girl could say anything, Cynthia hit her first.
“You stole Ruru’s hair accessory.”
Dana looked at Cynthia with a puzzled face.
“You went into Ruru’s room secretly and stole the hair accessory. You can’t do that even if you want it so much.”
“I-I didn’t do that…”
“Haa, Dana. I tried to protect you, but it’s hard if you’re not honest.”
At the sound of Cynthia’s sigh, Dana trembled and shook her shoulders.
“You kept insisting that you didn’t do anything wrong earlier. In the end, you admitted it to me so now I had to return it for you. Right?”
Dana looked up at Cynthia blankly and then lowered her head slightly.
Cynthia turned around with a deep smile.
“Ruru, forgive Dana. She doesn’t know anything yet.”
“I’ll forgive her when there’s something to forgive.”
I responded coldly before asking Dana.
“You tell me. Is what Cynthia saying true?”
“Haa, is there more to hear? Even when she was at our house before, she had bad habits. And she’s always been lying. I should have supervised her well.”
Dana, who was only looking at the ground, blushed deeply.
“Cynthia, stop blaming Dana all the time. It only makes you look petty.”
“When did I blame her?”
“Quiet down. She’s scared.”
I approached Dana and tightly held her hand.
“It’s okay, you can be honest.”
Dana’s gaze shifted towards my face and then towards my back.
She looked at Cynthia and flinched, lowering her gaze.
“You don’t have to create an unjust situation.”
At my words, tears welled up in the corners of Dana’s eyes.
She bit her lip and swallowed a few times before finally speaking up.
“C-Cynthia, Miss Cynthia is right.”
“I, I stole it….”
Tears streamed down Dana’s face.
“See, I was right, wasn’t I?”
Cynthia exclaimed triumphantly.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
Sniff, sob, hiccup.
Large teardrops rolled incessantly down the child’s big eyes.
“Ruru, even if Dana did something wrong, it’s too harsh to make her cry like this.”
Cynthia approached and embraced Dana, speaking softly.
“Of course she would be angry. It’s understandable. But we found the item and Dana agreed to return it because of my persuasion.”
Though Cynthia’s face was adorned with a look of pity, her eyes were filled with joy and a sense of victory.
“Forgive Dana… I’ll scold her lightly, okay?”
I clenched my fists.
‘This is the end of me being lenient with you.’
How could you accuse someone much younger than yourself of being a thief?
There is a significant difference between Cynthia, a noble young lady, stealing something, and Dana, the daughter of a maid, stealing something.
Cynthia may be able to brush it off as a mere incident, but even if I forgive Dana, it would be difficult for her.
‘And you thought such flimsy testimony would be enough?’
Do you think I’m stupid?
Or did you think I wouldn’t be able to tell?
“If that’s true, you should be able to answer my question.”
I asked Dana.
“What was the hair accessory you stole? What did it look like?”
Cynthia had purposely hidden the hair accessory in her pocket.
Cynthia’s face, which had been full of triumph, suddenly hardened.
Dana hesitated to speak.
“Well, it was…a ribbon.”
“It wasn’t a ribbon, was it? Speak properly.”
“Cynthia, if you say one more word, I’m going to think you’re going out of your way to create false testimony.”
“Just one word.”
“Say one more word, what did the cotton ball say again? That you admit to lying?”
Ares gently cut off Cynthia’s words, and Ixion bared his teeth and snarled.
Cynthia had no choice but to close her mouth.
“Don’t say that she won’t remember it because she’s a child. If she was willing to risk her life to steal it because she wanted it so badly, of course she would know what it looked like. She would have even matched the color.”
I asked Dana.
“Isn’t that right?”
“Ah, miss, please, please…”
Dana kneeled down and clung to the hem of my dress.
“I did it, I stole it. I’m sorry, I was wrong, I’m sorry…”
The fear in the child’s large eyes was palpable.
I stood still and looked at the child’s face.
I wondered why this little girl was shaking so badly.
Desperate, panicked, repeating over and over again that she had done something wrong.
My chest hurt like it had been cut.
Dana’s appearance was just like mine when I knelt before Marquis Tarenka and begged for forgiveness for my wrongdoing.
“It’s okay. It’s okay, so get up now, okay?”
I crouched down and tried to lift Dana up by the arm.
And then it happened.
Blood dripped from Dana’s nose.
I caught Dana’s swaying body.
Ares came over and checked Dana’s condition.
“…It’s the influence of magic. We should separate from her.”
Ixion frowned and stepped back at his words.
“Why didn’t you put up a shield? There’s no way His Excellency would have refused just because the child is of low status.”
At that moment, the words Cynthia had shouted with joy in the past flashed through my mind.
“You don’t know anything. Receiving protection from Duke Phaeraton is a very, very special thing. Everyone will envy me!”
“I’m the only one who’s been protected like this!”
“I’m dying to be protected by His Excellency just once, but I’m the only special one!”
It felt like fire flashed before my eyes.
Just because she wanted to be the only one receiving that special treatment?
Just to become a special existence that everyone envies?
And for such a reason, to risk the life of a child…!
I gritted my teeth.
“Move her to the infirmary immediately. And call Father. Put up the protective barrier and see if there’s any way to purify her.”
A servant cautiously held Dana in his arms at my command.
Cynthia grabbed my arm all of a sudden.
“She just spilled a little bit of blood from her nose. Everyone spills blood at least once in their life. It’s nothing to bother your Father about.”
“He doesn’t mind me bothering him.”
I looked at Cynthia without hiding my contempt.
“My father enjoys it when I bother him.”
I roughly shook off Cynthia’s arm and followed behind the servant.
At that moment, an alert sounded.
[A new quest has arrived.]
⟨Rescue the child!⟩
This is truly an unbearable situation!
Dana is still young, much younger than Cynthia.
But signs of ongoing emotional abuse can be seen in Dana.
As a romance fantasy novel reader, you would never tolerate child abuse under any circumstances!
However, the problem is whether the emotionally unstable Dana can accept the hand you extend.
The situation is so serious that she feels more comfortable taking the blame for Cynthia’s behavior.
Please rescue poor Dana from the hands of evil!
— Condition: Rescue Dana from Cynthia’s hands.
— Reward: 2000 cash lottery ticket, Dana’s shy gratitude, future fame
‘I’ll do it even if it’s not a quest.’
[You have accepted the quest.]
I moved forward, disregarding the notification window.
* * *
Dad arrived at the ward in no time when I called him.
Lady Aphelia followed behind Dad with a slightly pale face.
Dad frowned as he examined Dana.
“We almost had a big problem if we were any later. She hasn’t been feeling well for a while.”
I recalled Dana’s appearance, who’s always saying she was fine whenever we met.
As Dad reached out to Dana, a dark energy escaped from her body.
Dad waved his hand to disperse the energy and created a protective barrier for Dana.
“Why didn’t you ask for a protective barrier earlier?”
Cynthia hesitated, fidgeting her feet.
Then Lady Aphelia stepped forward.
“I thought she would be fine. Since Dana doesn’t have to encounter His Excellency or the young masters. I’m sorry for causing you trouble over such a matter…”
“Is this a matter of trouble?”
“I was planning to ask for your help if any problems arose.”
Dad clicked his tongue and sighed.
“Is this child okay now?”
Dad hugged me lightly.
Then he gently tapped his forehead against mine.
With his eyes tightly closed, Dad seemed exhausted.
‘Why is he acting like this?’ I thought and then realized.
‘Because it could be me who’s lying down due to magic.’
The duration of the protective barrier varies depending on age, but for my age, it usually lasts about a week.
But Dad puts up a protective barrier for me every single day.
Sometimes two or three times a day, like someone with an obsession.
When I woke up from sleep and sensed his presence, my dad would often be quietly watching over me.
During those times, he would put up the protective barrier again.
I wondered why he did that.
‘He came to check if I’m safe.’
He was afraid that I would get sick like Dana.
I wondered how my dad felt when he came every night to make sure his daughter was safe.
I hugged my dad tightly.
“It’s okay, I’m safe.”
And Dana will be okay too.
* * *
As I came out of the room, I saw Ixion and Ares.
“Dana will be fine. Don’t worry.”
Even though they said that the two of them didn’t come close to me.
“I’m fine! Dad puts up the protective barrier for me every day!”
After hearing that, they approached a bit closer.
Just about five steps away.
“I hurt my throat shouting because you guys were so far away!”
Finally, they came close to me, but there was a subtle gap between us.
It felt like four people could fit between us.
I ran towards them and bumped into them with a thud!
“See, I’m perfectly healthy!”
As I hugged them and looked up, smiles returned to their faces.
“You’re not a cotton ball, but a rock.”
Ares, who was patting my head, said with a serious expression.
“You don’t have to worry about Lady Aphelia.”
Even though she might become the new Duchess and Ares’ stepmother, so why don’t I have to worry?
And the new Duchess could also have an impact on the succession line.
I had doubts, but Ares’ words were not yet finished.
“We tried to restrain our magic as much as possible when we heard that it would be good for you to have girl friends.”
I thought he was subtly tolerating Cynthia, but was it because of that?!
“But if anyone dares to upset my little sister, the story will be different.”
Ares’ gaze became deep and dark.
Ixion whispered quietly.
“Should I kill them?”
Startled, Ixion furrowed his brow.
“You’re too kind.”
“That’s not it!”
I stomped my foot and rolled my eyes.
“They’re my prey. Don’t touch either of them.”
It doesn’t suit my nature for someone else to bring me cider.
I’d feel more refreshed if I opened the can myself with a satisfying ‘chhik!’
“He got in my way.”
I spat out my saliva and pinched my thigh.
“My little sister is really fragile.”
“She takes after you when it comes to being a weakling.”
Ares and Ixion patted me on the cheek.
Neither of you should feel proud about this!
* * *
I held my breath and gently pushed the edge of the book.
Then, I could see inside Lady Aphelia’s room through a tiny gap.
It was originally prepared for when intruders came, but I never thought I’d use it for eavesdropping.
‘Well, it depends on the person using it.’
I waited a bit. Lady Aphelia and Cynthia entered the room.
“What the hell!!”
Cynthia stomped her foot and became irritated.
“It’s clearly that annoying brat who caused trouble! Otherwise, why would older brother and Ixion avoid me like this?!”
“Let them avoid you if they want. They’ll get closer eventually.”
Lady Aphelia sat on the sofa and leaned against the backrest.
“What’s fortunate is that we can use Dana’s illness as an excuse not to move.”
“Dana. That annoying girl can be helpful sometimes.”
“His Excellency has been forcing us to go back because our job is done, but now there’s no need for that.”
Lady Aphelia slapped Cynthia’s cheek.
“Well done, my daughter. I never thought you would come up with such a cunning plan to take advantage of Dana’s illness. How did you learn such a thing from me?”
“I learned everything from you, Mother.”
The mother and daughter giggled and laughed heartily.
“If we stay longer, will I also get to know my brother and Ixion better? What should we do if that girl keeps getting in the way?”
“How many times do I have to tell you? Your target should be the youngest lady, not those two gentlemen.”
Cynthia pouted as if she didn’t like it.
“Why is she so special? What’s so great about her? I don’t understand. In fact, for a Phaeraton, there’s nothing special about her!”
“What do you mean?”
“She’s practically a deformed child of Phaeraton, isn’t she? She has no magic.”
“Then… shouldn’t we hate her more?”
“A child born with deficiencies is like a sore finger. Of course, His Excellency will treasure her even more.”
Lady Aphelia smiled.
“Of course, I know that girl is annoying. I want to squeeze her when she talks back. But even if she’s annoying, you have to endure it.”
“Have ambition and paint a bigger picture!”
Lady Aphelia grabbed Cynthia’s hand.
“If you wait a little longer, this huge dukedom will be ours. Not just the dukedom, but also vast territories and countless treasures! Everything will be in our hands.”
“But… His Excellency doesn’t seem to be reacting well.”
“Well, there’s a way!”
Lady Aphelia smiled slyly and swept her long hair back. Her white and even neck and collarbone were revealed.
“Men are stupid creatures who can’t separate themselves from women. Besides, His Excellency is so strong and hates people, so he has no guards in his bedroom.”
Her red lips drew a seductive curve.