“Oh? Duke Everett isn’t coming?”

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Thanks to the crown prince quickly stepping forward, Owen and Hessen’s sharp eyes were directed away from me.

As Theodore was standing next to me, he wrapped an arm around my shoulders and hugged me closely.

The fact that he was trying to protect me now made me feel conflicted.

With the past and the present intersecting, the dissonance made my mind go blank.

Before I knew it, Owen and Hessen were talking to the crown prince.

It was mainly Owen who was talking to him, while Hessen looked at me from time to time and glared at me.

As though I didn’t know who he was, I averted my gaze.

But at that same moment, one person’s unusual presence in this event heightened my already taut nerves.

“……?”

When I felt someone else’s gaze on me, I turned my eyes.

And unexpectedly, the person who I felt peculiarly about was someone I’m meeting for the first time.
He’s standing a little behind Owen.

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‘Who’s that?’

Somehow, I had a bad feeling.

I frowned slightly, then the man raised his head and stared straight into my eyes.

At that moment, I unconsciously froze up.
His eyes were empty—as if there was truly nothing within him.

Like a dead man.

“Madam, that’s the new mage working under Young Duke Owen.”

Charlotte whispered behind me.

I nodded wordlessly and stared at that person.

Because his face was covered by a hood, all I could see was part of his face and his thin wrists at the end of his long sleeves.
His skin was exceedingly pale.

No matter how much I looked at him… He didn’t look like a normal mage.

‘He’s the mage who started working under Owen around the same time Theodore suffered that head injury…’

The military records I read through a while back… There was nothing unusual about anything.

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However, there was one part that bothered me.

That day, there were many monsters pouring out of the rifts.
Apart from their numbers, those monsters had also been very vicious.

‘I knew it, there’s something suspicious about that mage.
I have a bad feeling about this.’

It was just a hunch, but I couldn’t help but keep paying attention to this matter.
I couldn’t ignore my intuition.

“Hello, Lily.”

My train of thought suddenly broke apart as the languid voice entered my ears.
After finishing his chat with the crown prince, Owen came to greet me.

He was glancing down at me while standing with a haughty posture, his demeanor boasting of a ruler’s superiority, just as usual.

I always felt helpless in front of Owen, but at the same time, I was overcome by a murderous intent towards him.

Owen smirked crookedly and bowed lightly with his head.

“And, Duke Valentino.
How have you been?”

It was as if all the air around me had become frozen.
This must be quite the spectacle for the others to watch.

Then came Theodore’s cold voice.

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“I have been well, thanks to you.”

“Right.
You must have liked my gift.”

…Gift? What gift? This was the first time I’m hearing about this.
I grimaced and glanced at Theodore, but he looked at me with a complicated gaze and whispered.

“I’ll tell you later.
After the hunting party.”

His memories were faulty—well, only regarding me—but what on earth happened between him and Owen?

I glanced at Theodore and tried to speak, but a high-pitched voice pierced my eardrums.

“Big Sis! Ah, I mean, Your Highness.”

This loud-mouthed woman was none other than Rozenne Delacroix.
She had a pleasant greeting with her older sister, the crown princess, then she turned her head and started waving wildly at someone else.

When I looked to see who it was, it was someone I recognized at first sight.

Zenedier Delacroix.

“Brother! Zen! Hurry, come over here!”

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Rozenne’s older brother, while the crown prince’s younger brother.
He was the successor of House Delacroix.

Queen Ellemiel arrived as well, and soon after she presented to everyone the coral bracelet, which would be the prize of today’s winner.

Looking closely, I saw that the bracelet was not only adorned by corals, but also diamonds and pearls.
It was truly an iridescent piece, but it was an accessory that could be worn by anyone regardless of their gender.

“Now then, let the hunt begin!”

The crown prince clapped his hands together once as he proclaimed.

Until the very end, Hessen didn’t come to greet Theodore at all.
And he just glared at me as though he was about to devour me whole.

Ignoring Hessen, I looked around instead.
I saw that Marquis Chester was here, but his brother, Lennon Chester, was nowhere to be found.
Perhaps he’s absent from today’s event.

In any case, as I mounted my horse, I thought about how it’s nice that I wouldn’t have to see his disgusting face.

Those who were participating in the hunt were supposed to take the lead, and then the spectators would follow behind.
In other words, we would be divided into two groups.

It would be difficult for the participants to concentrate on the hunt if the spectators would be wandering around the perimeter, so it’s imperative to be separated like so.
This way, the participants wouldn’t be distracted.

There should be nothing to worry about, especially since the Ashridge forest was not a habitat to any dangerous animals.

That is, unless a rift suddenly appears…

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