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    The duke smoothly left Zachary in my room and exited, leaving me alone with this ominous figure entirely wrapped in bandages.

    In that suffocating silence, I glanced at the door, hoping the duke might return, but there was no sign of him coming back.

    Before leaving, the duke hadn’t given much explanation. He simply told me to give Zachary a new name and instructed that his face must be covered when outside. He also mentioned that Zachary couldn’t speak due to being muted…

    “All of this is centered around you. He was made for you,” he had said in a perplexingly vague and confusing way, smiling as he left the room.

    The duke, as he left, looked more haggard than before. The area beneath his eyes was darker, and he seemed to have lost weight. His complexion was paler than ever, almost corpse-like. Somehow, I felt it was because of Zachary.

    But now, left alone with Zachary, I couldn’t afford to dwell on the duke any longer.

    As soon as I turned my gaze, I found myself directly facing Zachary.

    “……”

    I wasn’t even sure if this could be considered a proper face-to-face encounter.

    While my eyes wandered, not knowing where to rest, the silence continued, unbroken by any words.

    Should I say something?

    Zachary remained completely motionless, standing still in the same position as when he entered. His overwhelming presence made it difficult to breathe, so I looked away, trying to ignore him.

    But even when I turned my head, his presence was too intense to ignore. I glanced sideways, expecting him to move, even slightly.

    “……”

    But he remained completely still, except for continuously wriggling his fingertips.

    It seemed almost too difficult for him to stand so motionless, like a doll. How could he remain so still?

    Finally, I decided to make the first move. Cautiously, without letting down my guard, I began to approach him.

    Step by step… As I got closer, he seemed bigger and more intimidating. I couldn’t shake the anxiety that he might suddenly move as I neared him.

    Now, only a single step separated us.

    I closed that gap, standing right in front of him, close enough to see his face. Normally, anyone would have stepped back in surprise at such proximity.

    “……”

    Even as time passed, he made no movement.

    I wondered if he couldn’t see, but that wasn’t likely with the ‘Eye of the Ghost’ paper attached to his face. This paper, named for the 102-eyed monster whose blood was used to draw the enchantment, allows the wearer to see even when their eyes are covered, albeit in black and white.

    The duke used it to cover the servants’ faces, probably because most of them had ghastly appearances and crazed eyes due to the effects of powerful spells.

    ‘So, Zachary should be able to see me. Why is there no reaction? Can he really see?’

    I moved closer, experimentally narrowing the distance until our noses were almost touching. The paper bulged slightly at his prominent nose.

    Even this close, I couldn’t hear any breathing from Zachary; he was eerily silent except for the slight trembling of his hands.

    Ah, the smell of blood is stronger up close.

    The freshly drawn ‘Eye of the Ghost’ paper shimmered slightly. It seemed to have been redrawn today, the scent of the monster’s blood in the spell was overpowering. The distinct, repulsive smell of the beast almost made me nauseous, so I sighed and stepped back.

    I wanted to peel off the paper and talk face-to-face with Zachary, but I knew that wasn’t allowed.

    ‘He might be under orders to report.’

    Even though the servants are ostensibly loyal to me, their ultimate allegiance is to the duke.

    This would be no different for Zachary, even under the influence of brainwashing spells. There was a possibility he could report everything we discussed to the duke. I was frustrated not being able to openly ask him if he was alright, or if he had completely lost himself.

    “Zachary.”

    I dared to softly call his name, albeit quietly. The duke had forbidden using Zachary’s real name, but I took the chance.

    Still, Zachary remained unmoved, only trembling his hands more than before. Carefully observing his face, I slowly reached out and took his hand.

    Considering how he used to resist my touch, and now he allowed me to hold his hand so submissively…

    “I’m sorry.”

    It seemed I hadn’t been able to save him.

    What would have changed if I hadn’t collapsed then? I apologized with a heavy heart, but of course, there was no response.

    What exactly is the purpose of these bandages?

    The bandages were wrapped so meticulously that even his fingertips were covered, and his hand’s tremors continued unabated.

    Why has his hand been trembling like this since earlier?

    ‘Maybe it’s an aftereffect.’

    I thought it impossible for him to have retained his sanity through such a transformation. Watching his constantly trembling hand made my heart ache and my chest feel constricted. I let go of his hand and ruffled my hair in frustration.

    Sighing softly, I suddenly felt a wave of heat through my body. As if to escape reality, I turned away and looked out the window. It seemed like it had snowed yesterday, turning the world outside into a white expanse.

    The snow piled high on the branches appeared frozen in place, with long icicles occasionally glinting in the sunlight, though showing no sign of melting. I watched the luminous outdoors and let out a bitter laugh. I dislike winter. Despite the beautiful scenery, it’s the season when I can hardly go outside.

    When will winter end?

    It seemed ridiculous to think this when winter had just begun, but this winter felt longer somehow.

    ‘I need to restore Zachary to his original self.’

    Trying to cool my mind and ventilate my heavy heart by looking at the cold landscape only made my chest feel tighter.

    Knowing I couldn’t just sit and lament my own powerlessness in this situation, I steeled my resolve to take action.

    Of course, Zachary might eventually break free from the spell on his own.

    However, I couldn’t recall exactly when that would happen. All I remembered was that he suddenly awakens his powers, breaks free from the Serpentine family’s control, and goes on a rampage, leading to a merciless slaughter. After that, Zachary begins to suffer from an uncontrollable madness, beyond even his own control.

    ‘I need to prevent that from happening.’

    I must find a way to release Zachary from the spell before it reaches that point.

    That became my new objective.

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