In situations where no one else is willing to help, the assistance of witches was crucial. However, if there were alternative solutions available, it was best to postpone the involvement of witches as much as possible. There was a significant possibility of the dark mage-sensitive Church getting involved in Grenard’s war for independence, and there was also a high likelihood, as in the case of Bverdan in the past, that witches infiltrating the political arena could cause various issues.

“And the nobles? Their families were screaming at the gates the other day.”

“They’re being interrogated in the dungeons to see if they’re connected to Duke Pakal. We’re going to wipe out all but a few of them, and now we need to find out who’s in charge. We’ve waited too long.”

‘The boss is over there.’

A subtle look crossed Mariella’s face as she recalled Julian’s tears. She hadn’t yet shared everything she knew to Josef.

Not only was she not inclined to wear her heart on her sleeve, but there were things about Julian’s behaviour that were too suspicious to share with confidence.

‘I’m going to go see him as soon as this conversation is over, and hopefully he’ll tell me the truth. I’ve got a pretty good hand.’

She thought of Greta’s book, still sitting on her bookshelf. And then her eyes met those of Josef, who was staring at her.

“What are you looking at?”

“Aren’t those words too cold between us? Even the witches of Farni now know that you are my lover.”

At the blunt reply, Mariella hesitated before delivering a sharp remark. Because in the sincere gaze directed at her, she saw the last of the Marquis of Arell’s features.

“I want to ask you something.”

“Tell me.”

She hesitated for an uncharacteristically long moment, then forced herself to hurry.

“Why… did you reveal your true nature to them? There must be a more appropriate time.”

At the seriousness of the question, Josef let out a disembodied laugh.

He clutched his bandaged heart and gave a rueful sigh.

“It’s a shame. My Lady Marie tramples on my innocence until the end.”

But his eyes said otherwise. He found Mariella adorable.

Judging by his unhurt expression, he had probably been vaguely expecting her to ask this question at some point.

Mariella’s face flushed to her ears. She clamped her mouth shut and avoided his gaze.

Josef bent down to make eye contact with her, but she turned away from him the entire time.

With the playfulness wiped from his face, he spoke truthfully.

“You’re in danger, what would I possibly be hiding? I can give up all the advantages I possess for your sake. I’ve even prepared myself to sacrifice my life, so this is nothing compared to that.”

He took Mariella’s hand. His thumb traced her fingers, and then he squeezed her hand tightly. As if he would never let go of her hand once he had it.

“I know we didn’t exchanging fancy words and sweet nothings like you’d find in a romance novel. But there was still a certain amount of sincerity going on, wasn’t there?”


Mariella turned away from him and said nothing.

Her unwillingness to open up to him, no matter how hard he knocked, made Josef somewhat disappointed.

He bowed his head and lightly brushed his fingertips against her stone-like knuckles. Then, he let out a shallow sigh and forced a bright expression as if what had just happened meant nothing. It was a forced display of determination.

“Okay, if it’s an emotion that can only be resolved through words, then I’ll go ahead and say it.”

Mariella interrupted.

“No, please don’t–”

“I love you.”

But Josef was a step ahead of her.

He looked up at Mariella with earnest eyes and confessed his feelings.

“From the moment we met in the country estate of Riedenburg, you have been everything in my life.”


“Even if you don’t feel the same.”

Even the dark shadows and fears cast in the heart.

* * *

“You’re late.”

The rebuke was the first word Mariella heard as she entered the Duke of Bayer’s house.

There was anxiety in Julian’s eyes, and Mariella read it and made an excuse.

“I have a place to visit first.”

Soon regaining her composure, she realised that this was not the time for her to be swayed by him.

She could no longer coddle his weakness. Not only did she have no reason to use him, but her mind was clearly made up.

Showing sympathy for someone who has no heart is no different than playing with it.

She gave him a cold look, trying to play it cool.

“Actually, there’s no need for me to come back here. The warmth I promised the Duke was only for one day.”

Julian’s head shook at that.

“Up until now, I’ve been deliberately ignorant of the Duke’s mind out of necessity, and for that I apologise. But I can’t do that now, and you know why.”

“Have you made up your mind…?”

“I’m not going to reveal my personal feelings here. What I want to make clear is that I can’t accept your heart. I know the Duke’s heart is genuine, but I’ll leave that here.”


A short gasp escaped his mouth, neither a denial nor an affirmation.

The sight of it convinced Mariella.

Now she understands. That this Julian is real.

“I’m here because I want to ask you something. But before I do, let me say this, I think I’ve found a way to break Josef’s curse.”

His head snapped up at the words.

Mariella pulled a blank, unmarked book from the bag she’d brought with her.

“It’s Greta’s book.”

His face contorted. He seemed confused by the information, which was different from what was widely known in the world.

“But Greta is…”

“She’s supposed to be dead, but she’s not. She’s been hiding out in the countryside for a very long time. I only found out a few days ago that the countryside is none other than Riedenburg.”

Julian’s fingertips drifted to the book’s cover. He gingerly ran his fingers over the cover, then opened the book and looked inside.

Finding nothing, he asked, puzzled.

“So, how am I supposed to use this?”

She shook her head.

“I don’t know, but it can’t have been that difficult to operate. I was raised by Greta as a child, and she knows what I’m like, and the fact that she handed this book over to me means that she made it easy enough for me to handle. I don’t think it would be a bad idea to call in Farni’s matriarch to find out with me.”

Julian fiddled with the book wordlessly.

Mariella took the book from him and said.

“Now that I’ve shown you my hand, it’s your turn to show me yours.”

“My hand?”

“You want to protect Josef, and at the same time you’ve threatened and antagonised him. The fact that you’ve alternated between these two behaviours, which cannot co-exist, means that one of them is not your real intentions. Am I right?”

He was silent for a moment, as if she’d hit the nail on the head, and she used this momentum to push him.

“Tell me who our real enemy is, the one who manipulated you behind your back to keep you in line with Josef?”

After a long pause, he let out a shallow chuckle.

“…It’s ironic.”

It was a smile that seemed to be a mixture of desperation and disillusionment. A laugh that wasn’t aimed at laughing at anyone, but at his own situation.


He muttered to himself, rubbing his forehead.

“Fate… it’s truly despicable. Those things that were nowhere to be seen when I went to great lengths to save Josef, come to me as soon as I give up on him.”

“Give up, why suddenly, no, why before, why now…”

Mariella’s head spun at the strange words that made no sense.

Unlike before, when he hadn’t revealed his true intentions, which had made her suffer, his answer came immediately.

“To save you.”


Mariella was at a loss for words for a moment.

She knew all too well that his demeanour had changed since his imprisonment by the witches of Farni in the Marquis of Arell’s mansion.

There was a difference as great as heaven and earth between being made aware of one’s own heart when one’s beloved was in danger, and abandoning all one’s convictions to save one’s beloved from harm.

While she was overcome with guilt, Julian spoke.

“To rescue Mariella Coburden, I had to give up everything I had built to protect my dear friend, and I made that choice. You only have to look at the state of affairs in Luxenthook now to see that I am completely out of politics. I can no longer protect Josef from him.”


But guilt is guilt. She had other things to do now.

Mariella’s expression sharpened at the third person that came out of his mouth. Julian nodded and spoke.

“That person wanted to assassinate Josef. There was no obstacle as formidable as Derschabach to swallow Verdan whole. I convinced him that I would manipulate Josef and the nobles from behind the scenes, and the result was…”

“You can explain later, just tell me who he is, if you don’t mind…”

Mariella cut Julian off. As she gripped his forearm, cautiously prodding at the person Julian might be thinking of, she heard an urgent servant’s voice at the door.

“Your Grace, the carriage containing the Holy Father is now arriving at the Duke of Bayer’s house, ah, Holy Father…!”

Thud, thud, thud.

There was the sound of heavy footsteps.



The door swung open.

Mariella stared at the new guests in awe.

A middle-aged man she had never seen before greeted Julian with a kindly smile.

“Long time no see, Julian.”


Pope Roberto Gardin.

The ‘real enemy’ she’d been expecting was now here.

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