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    I watched the mansion engulfed in flames in a daze.

    They say fire is faster than wind, and it was true. The bright blue flames grew endlessly, approaching me.

    The mansion, once splendid and grand, now looked pitiful, as if it had never flaunted its beauty.

    I had put so much effort into preparing the mansion for the bride who was to arrive tomorrow. I had even stayed until just now, adjusting every little detail, but all my efforts had turned to naught.

    “It’s hell.”

    The holy blue flames, born of sacred power, would not extinguish no matter how much water was poured on them.

    As the blue flames seemed to swell with a will of their own, the servants screamed and ran away. Some collapsed unconscious, while others yelled loudly, searching for the owner of the mansion.

    “It’s a disaster.”

    The owner of the mansion was on the very top floor, a place that would soon be engulfed in flames.

    And that was me.

    I laughed hollowly as I looked at the mansion, now just a skeleton ablaze.

    Who would consider this a honeymoon home, looking at this state? More like a cursed house.

    The flowers that were colorfully decorated had disappeared without a trace, and the garden, which the gardener proudly claimed would be green all year round, was scorched black. Amidst the enormous amount of smoke and raging flames consuming the mansion, this place alone remained calm.

    “Marriage?”

    It was so quiet that the voice of the man gripping my neck, as if to break it, was starkly clear.

    My face, smashed against the window, contorted as I struggled.

    Having missed the chance to escape and having inhaled too much smoke, my mind was already dizzy. With oxygen not properly supplied, water started to leak from all holes, and my vision began to blur.

    Even then, I tried to look straight at the person who twisted my neck. I saw a hand wrapped tightly in dark blue bandages, densely inscribed with glowing characters. Following the bandages, the first thing that caught my eye was his beautiful appearance.

    His delicate and graceful beauty, as if carved by an artisan, could enchant anyone. He had developed well, considering the harsh environment he had grown up in. He was as beautiful as he was noble, symbolized by his deep, ocean-colored eyes.

    “Za, chary…”

    Zachary Thaddeus.

    At my call, his blue gaze turned towards me. The moment our eyes met, I felt a shiver run down my spine as if feverish, and my fingers involuntarily curled up.

    Just looking at him was overwhelming, a face so captivating that one could forget the situation. If someone pointed out that this was some absurd exaggeration, I would counter them.

    ‘The protagonist.’

    How could one not shudder seeing the center of the world awaken?

    Zachary was the protagonist of the book I reincarnated into, the greatest driving force of this world.

    However, I couldn’t just be an extra clapping for the protagonist’s actions. After all, Zachary, true to his role, had a life full of ups and downs, and the greatest obstacle in it was our own family.

    Zachary was unlucky.

    Extremely so, he was unfortunately noticed by our Solaris Kingdom, which was always looking to break free from the control of the Holy Empire and was sharpening its blades. Regrettably, the king of Solaris despised the Holy Empire for having nothing to boast of but faith in their god while acting noble.

    To make matters worse, the current king had a complex against the Emperor of the Holy Empire, who had taken the woman he loved. So, he kidnapped Zachary, the son of the woman he loved, and handed him over to our family, known for dealing with people through sorcery and curses, against the will of the gods. The king ordered us to make him our hunting dog and treat him like a dog.

    The king was really a lunatic.

    Why not try to negotiate with Zachary instead of this senseless act?

    No matter how much he despised the Empire, what fault did the young Zachary have?

    But even if the king was a lunatic, he was still our superior. Following his orders, our family took Zachary in, and just like that, I ended up living with Zachary, the center of the world…

    “I worked so hard to free you.”

    Having read the book to the end, I couldn’t just stand by and watch.

    Because Zachary, who awakened his overwhelming powers after being tortured here, not only destroyed the kingdom but also brutally annihilated our family.

    He tortured the family head, gouged out his eyes, his wife was torn to pieces, and before their deaths, their sons were brutally killed in front of their parents. Thus, the Serpentine family was annihilated.

    I couldn’t remember the detailed contents of the book, but that part was an exception.

    For a fantasy novel with a hint of romance that preached good triumphing over evil, the author seemed to harbor particular animosity towards the Serpentine family, given the detailed and brutal descriptions. That’s why, even though I had read this book in my previous life, I remembered that part vividly. After encountering Zachary in our family, I realized I had entered the world of the book and since then, I struggled to escape the bloody future it foretold.

    I had tried everything to get Zachary out of the Serpentine family safely.

    The plan was to save him and beg for the lives of me, my family, and the innocent people of the kingdom.

    ‘Why is he burning down our house?’

    Looking at the mansion, my would-be honeymoon home, burning fiercely… I was somewhat perplexed.

    Although our family had once tortured him harshly and cast mind control spells to enslave him, it was all under the king’s orders, and I thought I had cleared up that misunderstanding. Since then, I had done everything possible to sneak him out. And I succeeded in helping him escape.

    Of course, my parents and elder brother didn’t know that I had released Zachary. The risk to our family would have been tremendous if the king found out we had let him go.

    I had gone through so much trouble secretly undoing layers of mind control spells.

    “I released you… why…?”

    I never expected him to return like this, a boomerang hitting my own feet.

    My voice, tinged with unresolved resentment and a hint of sorrow, trailed off, and at the same time, Zachary furrowed his brows.

    “Oscar.”

    His low voice was chillingly sharp. My body involuntarily flinched at the unfamiliar address.

    During our time together, Zachary had never once called me by my name. He always referred to me as ‘Young Master’. Even that was mostly in front of others, where he acted as if he couldn’t see or speak, so eventually, he rarely addressed me aloud.

    But now, hearing Zachary utter my name for the first time, it was clear he was angry. Though I didn’t know why, he must have been the one to bring the inferno upon this mansion.

    ‘Why?’

    What could have made Zachary so angry that he set fire to the mansion that was to be my honeymoon home?

    Throughout the long years I knew him, I had never seen Zachary this furious.

    The Zachary I knew was always too busy bowing his head, and in the gloomy atmosphere of the mansion, he would only occasionally speak up in a timid voice to protest.

    I tried to give him freedom, to get him out of the Serpentine family. Shouldn’t he at least not repay me by arson, if not gratitude?

    I was really wronged.

    I never tortured him; I just worked my stupid brain hard to help him escape… Oh.

    ‘Well, after breaking free from the mind control, it must have been horrifying.’

    Thinking about it, his anger is understandable.

    Even though I didn’t mistreat him and was kind to Zachary, the essence of the Serpentine family was rotten to the core.

    It took a whole seven years.

    Even though he was freed earlier with my help compared to the original story, it must have been hard for him to return to his normal life.

    So, for Zachary, from age fourteen to twenty-one was almost like lost time.

    Bound by sorcery for such a long time, he had to forget that he was a prince of the Holy Empire and live as a servant of a ducal family in the Solaris Kingdom.

    Probably, the more he dwelled on it, the more his anger boiled over, and he must have decided to burn down my easy target of a honeymoon home and me.

    “…I’m sorry.”

    How could I ever compensate for the seven years he lost?

    I didn’t know what expression I had on my face, or what tone my voice carried as I begged him. I was completely out of my mind.

    My neck was being strangled, my ears were ringing, and my head was muddled from inhaling too much smoke. Already feeling like a fool, and fearing my body would break any moment, I just started begging.

    “I apologize on behalf of our family. Even though it was under orders, it was my fault… for not freeing you earlier, cough, for not… releasing you sooner…”

    Quite pathetic. I wonder how pitiful and wretched I must look in Zachary’s eyes.

    But survival made such thoughts a luxury. Even in a world from a novel, I hated pain. I hated the thought of dying young.

    So, if I could just appear pitiful enough, beg for his sympathy, and survive…

    “Fuck, you say you released me?”

    …maybe?

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