Josef had reached the front of the room.

He could hear the nobles’ conversations without even opening the door.

“After everything that’s happened, when the hell is the messenger coming!”

“Magic, I never thought I’d see black magic running rampant in the capital again with my own two eyes!”

“How is it that no one knows what the hell is going on?”

“And what the hell are those knights doing besieging the Marquis of Arell’s manor!”

“The authority of the royal family seemed meaningless to them, as if it were just barking like a dog. The behavior of those who couldn’t distinguish what to say and what not to say in the bustling Luxenthook castle made the veins on the chamberlain’s face turn red with anger.

“Ahem. The Pri-“

The lesser servant tried to announce Josef’s arrival in a loud voice.

Josef held out a hand to stop him.

“No, never mind. Let’s go in quietly. There’s something else I’d like to ask of you.”


“I want you not to open the door until I say so.”

He pulled one corner of his mouth into a smile.

“No matter what the fuss.”

* * *

The door opened, and Josef, Julian, and a few knights entered the room.

“I see I have kept you waiting too long.”

“Your Highness Josef!”

“Your Highness the Prince!”

His subjects chanted Josef’s name over and over again, as if calling for a saviour. They weren’t really doing it out of respect for him, just to bend him to their will with words.

Just as they had always done.

Their pretence so obvious. Josef greeted them gently, as if they were strangers.

“We’ve taken too long, and I’m sure you’re all frustrated. I know what it’s like, but you don’t have to worry too much about what happens next.”

He smiled further, folding his eyes.

“Now, the time has come to end it all.”


The conference room door slammed shut.


The sound of a key being turned in a lock outside the room.

But none of the nobles paid attention to the sound.

No one.


* * *

Josef was having his own way with the screaming nobles.

Mariella was shaking the witches in her own way.

The place: a study in the Marquis of Arell’s mansion.

At Mariella’s blunt question, the Farni matriarch smiled.

“You have a knack for making rude remarks seem effortless.”

The wind blew around them, causing the table across from them to vibrate slightly.

It was a friendly threat.

Mariella was nonchalant to the end. She knew they couldn’t hurt her. It was the witches of Farni who were at a disadvantage the more threatening they appeared.

They needed to prove to Josef that Mariella was safe before their plan could move forward.

“You’ve managed to lure Josef in with such an outlandish charm, but I still haven’t heard what I want to hear.”

“Do I owe you an answer to that?”

“Yes. You’ve ruined the plan that was going so well for us. You’ll have to take some responsibility for that.”

The conversation went back and forth between the two of them, Farni’s matriarch and Mariella.


The matriarch was intrigued by her use of the word plan. Mariella saw this as an opportunity.

She had two missions to complete if she was to survive the witches of Farni.

One was to discover the witches’ true purpose, and the other was to create a divide between the Greenards and the witches.

She decided to take advantage of what she could.

“May I tell you a secret?”

The witches stared at each other in confusion as she spoke, her eyes twinkling and her expression innocent, as if she were revealing a surprise.

She announced with the cheerfulness of one revealing a surprise.

“The woman before you, Mariella Coburden, is a witch.”


The witches gasped.

They were too stunned to speak.

Sierra, who had been standing stiffly behind the matriarch, lunged at Mariella, her eyes wild with rage and madness.


Sierra grabbed Mariella by the throat and she fell backwards into her chair.

A black aura rose around Sierra’s right hand, which was drawn back into a fist.


Sierra was about to slam her fist into Mariella’s face when the Farni matriarch stopped her with a loud voice.

Sierra’s right hand flailed in the air.

She glared at Mariella with bloodshot eyes. The look in her eyes made her want to kill her right now, if the situation allowed it.

Sierra clenched and unclenched her right fist.

Then, succumbing to reason and reality, she dropped her clenched hand.

Sierra put her mouth to Mariella’s ear and warned her.

“You… If you keep acting like that, you’ll end up dead in my hands. Do you understand?”

She sounded like she was swallowing his anger.

Mariella didn’t stop smirking at the threat.

“It’s not like it manifested through blood and flesh like you all, but well, there are occasional cases like that. The Archmage Greta is one such case.”

“How are we supposed to believe that?”

Sierra glared at her, her anger more subdued. The two were still facing each other at close range.

Mariella shrugged her shoulders smugly.

“I suppose you haven’t heard that the prince’s mother died covered in blue spots?”

She pushed Sierra off of her, who scurried to the side at her touch.

The Farni matriarch gestured to the witches behind her to assist Mariella. The witches hurried over and reached for her. With their help, Mariella rose to her feet and first tried to smooth out her crumpled clothes.

She wanted to establish her dominance over them, even if she had been kidnapped here.

If she’d learned anything in the nearly year she’d worked for Josef, it was that people were creatures of atmosphere.

An unspoken current that builds within a group.

To manipulate people, you have to be able to ride that silent current, or better yet, take it in your hands and bend it to your will.

In reality, she was a paper doll, swayed by the prince and bent by the duke, but for this moment, she had to look like a key player, a person who held a great deal of information.

Mariella smirked at the witches.

“Apparently you have some means of communicating with the outside world besides magical parchment, and if that’s not enough, I suggest you investigate, what symptoms the Count’s servants were dying of nine years ago.”

Then she confessed her deepest sin.

“You can burn a body, but you can’t burn a memory.”

The witches who heard her add that last sentence chattered among themselves.

“That’s impossible.”

“No, it’s not impossible, it’s ‘that’ Riedenburg.”

“But the times… don’t match the age range.”

“Maybe it’s a case of sudden onset, as you claim.”

“What’s the point of talking about it? If she’s a real witch, let her work her magic.”

Mariella pretended not to hear the last one. After all, it was Farni matriarch she had to deal with, not a bunch of little girls who hadn’t grown up yet.

“I wonder if you’re willing to talk to me now.”

“I’ll make that decision after you’ve given me an important explanation. Though I’m curious about your plans.”

Just as Mariella was about to open up the dialogue, the matriarch cut her off. To Mariella, it sounded like she was buying her time to think.

‘Not good.’

Mariella laughed softly, hiding her sharp expression.

“Oh, that’s the thing.”

“I just don’t like the way you make it sound like there’s an organisation. The Marquise of Coburden was lucky enough to manifest in the countryside, but your colleagues… it is known that most of the dark mages were killed, so how…”

The matriarch couldn’t finish her sentence. She was trying not to show it in front of Mariella, but the thought that there might be other families that had survived shook her to the core.

Mariella was quick to pick up on the emotion.

‘They’re taking my word for it.’

Mariella twirled her hair, showing off her arrogance. She was trying to leave a bad impression on them.

It’s human nature to belittle and push away those who try to make themselves look good. Sometimes even denying the other person’s strengths and advantages.

It was to her advantage to be seen as a haughty, arrogant woman who wanted the opposite.

“Isn’t the situation similar to having Farni, whom I thought was gone, right in front of my eyes?”

She smirked, then muttered in a low voice.

“How you are the only survivors.”

Sierra, who had been holding back so hard earlier, exploded once more.

“How dare you try to taunt us with your tongue! If you really are a witch like us, why didn’t you react to my attack earlier?”

Mariella returned the favour without blinking an eye.

“It’s the result of years of training. How would you expect someone who has to hide her identity and live in the heart of her enemies to react to every little thing?”

Sierra scowled at her and glared at Mariella. Suddenly, a trick flashed through Sierra’s mind.

“I need to prove you’re really on our side. I’m going with a variation of Plan D. Bring me a piece of the truth!”

At those words, the young witches scurried away.

They carried small glass vials of black ore and glass artefacts with sharp needles that she couldn’t quite identify.


Mariella tilted her head at the glass artefact, and Sierra smirked at her.

“You’re from the country so you’ve never seen one before. It’s called a ‘syringe,’ and it injects magic potions directly into the blood for immediate effect. It was made by Leberg, and favoured by Ladarsi.”

Sierra first poured some water into the vial of red minerals, and soon the minerals dissolved into the water with tiny bubbles.

She smirked at Mariella, who watched her action in silence.

“Fragment of truth. I’m going to place it inside you, and if you tell me the truth, nothing will happen to you, but if you lie, your skin will turn blue. The pain will be excruciating. I originally prepared this for Prince Josef, but I don’t think anything will happen if I use one on… his mistress.”

Sierra used a syringe to inject the potion with the fused fragment of truth into Mariella’s arm. She even used a clean, sterilised cloth to lightly rub the spot where the syringe had pricked her, staring at Mariella with narrowed eyes.

Sierra’s test was a kind of taunt.

“Now, why don’t you tell me about that brilliant plan?”

Dumbfounded and injected with a sliver of truth, Mariella looked down at her injected arm and took a moment to think.

Considering which answer would turn the tide in her favour, she made a decision and slowly opened her mouth.

“We’ve been infiltrating everywhere, from the Verdan royal family to the Vatican, where the Pope resides.”

Currently, she was assisting the dark mages Julian in his rise to power.

It was a coercive relationship, driven by threats to her life, but at least it wasn’t a lie that they were in the same boat.

“If it were a lie, it would break my heart.”

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