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Mariella returned to her room and took out all the books she had.

She had to find out about the dark mage.

‘There must be a way.’

She tried to suppress her growing impatience, but the more she did, the more ominous the thoughts became. The image of her family’s shaky feet lingered in her mind, as if it were Marianne’s future.

The wounds of her past, which she had tried to bury, touched her present. Her vision was unsteady and she couldn’t make out the words. The letters bounced up and down violently, making her dizzy. It was like reading a book in a moving carriage.

‘I have to find a way.’

Mariella forced herself to read, tracing each letter with her fingertips.

Crying and giving up just because it’s difficult was only allowed for those who had someone to take care of their problems for them.

As a maid and an orphan, Mariella had none of that, which only made her suffer more. With so little time left, it was a luxury to collapse in exhaustion.


…It was called ‘black magic’ because it emitted a black light when performed. The ability to use black magic runs in the blood, and is most commonly found in women. (In very rare cases, male dark mages are born.) For this reason, dark mages are sometimes referred to as ‘witches.’ Dark mage families are usually matriarchal societies…

The most famous dark mage families are all centred in the capital city of Verdan. They are the House of Han, known for their mastery of the element of fire; the House of Leberg, masters of healing magic; the House of Ladarsi, known for their ability to manipulate the human mind; and the House of Farni, masters of defensive magic.

When people think of ‘dark mages,’ they think of large-brimmed black hats, similarly black cloaks, and long wooden staves, but this is all fiction. In reality, dark mages were not dressed in costume, and the wands they carried were aids to magical accuracy, not essentials for manifesting magic. However, there was one exception to the need for a magic staff: male dark mages. They lacked the innate magical power of their female counterparts and needed specially designed wands to help them channel their power. However, their numbers were extremely small and…


She closed the book she was reading roughly and threw it to the floor.

She’d read everything she could find on witches, but most of it was trivia or generalities that everyone else knew. It wasn’t the kind of information Mariella needed.


She chewed nervously on her fingertips. Instinctively, she shrank back.

‘This isn’t going to save Marianne.’

Defeat wrapped around her like a blanket.

Mariella curled up in bed, her body weak from days of skipping sleep, not eating properly, and reading.

She couldn’t think of anything else to do.

She laid down on her bed in exhaustion, and the accumulated fatigue overwhelmed her.

‘I don’t have time to waste like this…’

With that thought, she blinked and drifted off to sleep.

When she opened her eyes again, the sun was high in the sky. She blinked a few times through stiff eyelids, trying to focus her blurry vision. Her body was still curled up in a fetal position.

The despairing realisation that she had no chance against the nobles drained her of what little life she had left. As her eyes moved helplessly, something caught Mariella’s eye.

It was lying in the corner.

She rose from her seat and approached it silently, like someone possessed.

It was a corkscrew.

The corkscrew from the bottle of champagne the prince had brought her to toast a few weeks ago.

Mariella wordlessly took it in her hand and stood up. I remembered what the prince had said when he came to my room with the champagne.

‘You may not know this, but the queen’s or king’s quarters are connected to the rooms of their trusted servants. Sometimes they need them to work in secret, for one reason or another.’


She said to herself through dry lips.

“Maybe I’ll be able to meet Josef.”

* * *


The darkened chamberlain’s room. The sound of an unwelcome guest rummaging through the place is loud.

It turns out to be Mariella.

The owner of the room, the chamberlain, was fast asleep in a chair. Thanks to the sleeping pills Mariella had secretly slipped in, he had not noticed this commotion.

“Not here, either.”

Mariella sweated as she checked every nook and cranny of the walls, cabinet handles, behind bookcases, and under the bed. She looked around the room one more time, just in case she’d missed something, but there was nothing.

She sighed heavily. This was her fourth room. She had looked in the room used by the prince’s nanny, the room of the attendant who was his playmate, and the room of the queen’s personal maid, but no matter how far she looked, there were no signs of a secret passage leading to the prince’s room.

She could not leave the chamberlain’s chambers without regret. But that didn’t mean the passageway would fall away.

‘What would I do if I were queen?’

She decided to think from the queen’s perspective. If she were the queen, what choice would she have made to protect her most precious and beloved child?

Firstly, She would have chosen a room with a secret passage, just in case the child needed to escape.

However, she wouldn’t have connected the room to any other room, as there is nothing more untrustworthy than a person.

No matter how well you know someone, or how much you trust them, you can never know what they are hiding inside. Moreover, the moment someone is known to be close to the queen, there will be many who will approach with ill intentions.

‘I wouldn’t trust anyone.’

Mariella had a very low opinion.

She knew it didn’t do anything to solve the problem, but no matter how much she thought about it, it was the only conclusion she could come to.

‘I really don’t think anyone will believe me.’

She stopped thinking about it and looked up at the closet.

There was something she needed to check.

* * *

In the middle of the night, in a corner of the queen’s quarters where not a single ant had fled, there was a commotion. There’s a creak, the sound of something being pushed away, and a kksks, the sound of dry fabric rubbing together. The unidentifiable noise grew louder and louder.


A woman stepped out of the closet with a harsh push and a squeak.

The woman dressed as a maid was named Mariella.


She spat out a sound she couldn’t tell if it was a sigh or an exclamation, looked around the spacious queen’s quarters, took out a hair tie, and pulled her hair into a tight bun.

“Let’s get started.”

What happened next was a repeat of what had happened before. She pounded her fists on the walls, rummaged through closets, and looked behind the furniture, such as under beds and behind bookcases. But nothing came up.

Mariella took a hair tie into her mouth to tie her dishevelled hair back. Unconsciously, she turned her head to look in the mirror and realised something was wrong with the queen’s dressing table. An empty jewellery box was exposed above the vanity. It was immaculately maintained, without a speck of dust.

A noblewoman might have wondered, ‘What is this?’ But Mariella, who had spent most of her life as a maid, knew. When a room is unoccupied, it’s best to keep small items out of the way to make it as easy to clean as possible. Like in a dresser or drawer.

But a jewellery box with no jewellery in it, just sitting there on the dresser?

And in a crooked way?

Mariella shook her head. It couldn’t have happened. Especially for the maids of the royal castle whose motto is to be thorough.

She stepped up to the dressing table. She smiled in spite of herself.

“Found it.”

Mariella cautiously lifted the jewellery box. As she had expected, it didn’t sit snugly against the vanity. It seemed to be one with the vanity. Undaunted, she turned the jewellery box to the right, like turning a doorknob.

With a click, the sound of something opening came from behind her. Mariella turned around quickly.


But nothing had changed.


Mariella panicked and looked around. She circled the same spot in disbelief. She felt like someone was playing a trick on her, to the point of irritation.

And then it happened.


The candle in the candlestick flickered with the sound of the wind.

Mariella looked to where she guessed the wind must have been blowing from the movement of the candle.

There was a portrait of the queen.

Queen Anna Turzi Derschabach, dressed in a simple gown, looking back at her.

She stared into the queen’s face.

A gentle, good-natured face, similar to Josef’s. No, more precisely, it reminded her of Master Jay.


Mariella wordlessly walked over to the portrait and gave it a gentle push.


The large portrait was very gently pushed aside, and a black passageway opened up.

Mariella still didn’t know whether Josef will be in the place beyond, but there was an inexplicable certainty in her heart.

‘This time it’s real.’

Mariella swallowed hard and moved into the darkness.

She walked for a long time by the light of a single lamp. As she walked through the dank, dark tunnel, Mariella thought.

The key to this fight is Josef Heisen Derschabach.

If he gets up, Marianne will live.

How to get him to move.

‘Do I bluff him into thinking I can do it all?’

She quickly shook her head.

Politics is a war of information. If she could get the prince’s help and get the information he had, she might be able to do something. But it was only a possibility, and a slim one at that. Mariella didn’t want to gamble on something that might get Marianne and herself killed.

‘What if we catch him in a weak spot and shake him?’

There weren’t many weaknesses. When you get your hands on something the other person wants to hide, that’s a weakness.

The fact that he was hiding his true colours, and the information that he had been wandering the Riedenburg estate blind for three months, would be excellent bait.

‘If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to get away with Marianne in the meantime.’

Mariella’s brow furrowed slightly. Something was bothering her.

It was better than the previous idea, that was for sure, but it didn’t seem to be the best option.

‘Then what should I do?’

Her head ached.

While she sees three moves ahead, Josef sees through her heart and is ahead by ten moves.

He was the most difficult person in the world for her to deal with.

She took a deep breath and quietly pushed aside the door in front of her.

Familiar scenery appeared in front of her eyes. She was so moved that her eyes became red. It was Josef’s dwelling. She hurriedly came out.

The place echoed with the quiet chatter of people. One step, two steps, she walked towards the direction of the voice. She pulled back one of the curtains that separated the space and saw Josef’s face.

“Who are you!”

One of the nobles who recognized her presence faster than anyone else pulled out the sword that was wrapped around his waist and aimed it at her neck. She stared at the prince unfazed.

“Your Highness Josef.”

Josef called her name, slightly surprised.


With a gesture of his chin, he signaled the noble to sheath his sword.

“Mariella, what are you doing here? I thought I’d made it clear enough that I wanted you to stay out of this.”

Rather chilling words.

Sitting at the head of the large table, the prince looked like a powerful monarch, complete with majesty and authority.

She thought it was a little unfamiliar. The Josef she knew was arrogant, quick on the uptake, brutal, and yet somehow compassionate.

But this Josef seemed to be a man who made too many distinctions.

She felt like he wouldn’t help her.

“Your Royal Highness, Prince Josef Heisen Derschabach.”

Mariella slowly approached him.

People tried to stop her, but he stopped them.

“Please save the princess.”

She knelt before him.

Up until this point, she had planned it out in her head. Step by step, how she would convince him.

First she would get down on her knees and get low, and if that didn’t work, she would whisper words that would twist his throat.

Few people would know that the prince was hiding his true nature, but few would know that he had travelled to Schwalding to find ‘something connected to Greta.’

She stood before the prince prepared. In truth, she hadn’t had time to prepare much more than that. She didn’t have enough time or information, so she could only hope that her nervous instincts would do their job and spit it out.


But the outburst of tears was not what she intended.

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