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    Looking at the situation now, it all seemed utterly ruined.

    So, I just held Zachary in my arms for a long time, not saying anything more, until his hand stopped trembling and the blood ceased to flow. Thankfully, as time passed, Zachary’s hand stopped shaking, and like magic, the bleeding halted.

    ‘The bleeding has stopped.’

    But even seeing the blood stop brought no relief. The duration felt like an eternity of hellish torment. Slowly pulling away, I noticed my top soaked in bright red. Both of us were a mess. I just stared blankly at Zachary’s blood-stained face.

    “…So it really happened because I wanted to talk to you.”

    A hollow expression formed on my face. The fact that the bleeding stopped as soon as he ceased his trembling was proof enough that this catastrophe happened because he was trying to communicate with me. I muttered vacantly and looked out the window, only to realize it had grown dark. The pungent smell of blood incessantly assaulted my nose, causing a throbbing headache. As I clutched my head, Zachary pulled away from me.

    The departure of our shared warmth brought a fleeting sense of loss, but it was momentary. Zachary, as if habituated or trained, pulled out a handkerchief and offered it to me, and I just bowed my head in resignation.

    “……”

    Are you kidding? He should be wiping himself with that handkerchief, not offering it to me.

    Zachary, who hadn’t thought to wipe the blood from his own mouth, now promptly offered a handkerchief to me at the slightest sign of discomfort… I knew it was due to the Duke’s conditioning, but it twisted my insides.

    But what would expressing anger here achieve? It wasn’t Zachary’s will, after all.

    Sighing, I snatched the handkerchief, soaked it in water from the jug beside my bed, and turned around holding the damp cloth, only to find Zachary standing close behind me as if he had been waiting.

    “Come here. Lean on me a bit.”

    But Zachary didn’t lean on me. He just quietly, very slightly, brought his face closer to mine.

    His face, seen up close, was a total mess. Apparently, my tight embrace had smeared not just his lower face but his entire face with blood.

    I began to carefully wipe his face with the damp handkerchief. The white cloth started to clear away the blood. It didn’t take long for the handkerchief to turn red, and Zachary’s face gradually became cleaner.

    ‘What’s the use of just wiping away the bloodstains? The smell of blood is overwhelming.’

    I placed the handkerchief on the table and cautiously grasped Zachary’s blood-stained clothes. It was my first time touching a servant’s attire. Instead of feeling the soft texture of the fabric, I was met with the damp, blood-soaked sensation. Unconsciously, my grip on the fabric tightened. The dark color hid it, but if I wrung it, blood would surely drip.

    After hesitating for a moment, I made up my mind and looked up.

    “Take off all your clothes.”

    As I tugged at Zachary’s clothes, he lowered his head to meet my eyes.

    “Hurry up.”

    Instead of immediately undressing, he just stared blankly at me. The blood-smeared bedroom, the appearance as if a beast had been torn apart, the pungent smell… In this wholly abnormal situation, I wondered if even my thoughts were becoming deranged.

    I stared blankly at Zachary, who showed no sign of movement, and found myself asking without even realizing it.

    “Are you… embarrassed?”

    Was it just my imagination, or did his eyes seem to tremble slightly?

    ‘…Or not?’

    It seemed like my misperception, as Zachary’s face appeared calm again.

    After all, how could that make sense? If he couldn’t even express his own will properly, the idea that he was hesitating just because he was embarrassed was just a figment of my imagination.

    As expected, soon after, Zachary began to undress without any hesitation, as if he had never faltered. The attire of the Serpentine family’s servants was peculiar. Unlike regular clothes, it had no buttons on the front but was tied with a ribbon at the back. It looked difficult to put on or take off by oneself.

    “Oh, um… that’s quick.”

    I had thought to help him if he struggled, but it was an unnecessary worry. Zachary, as if he had eyes on his back, deftly untied the ribbon and began to smoothly remove his clothes.

    He even neatly folded his blood-stained clothes and placed them on the floor. As I pondered why he would bother to fold them so meticulously, the white undergarment he wore beneath became visible.

    His body was unusually sturdy and well-built for his age. The white garment clung tightly to his upper body, and the neck area was stained red with blood. He began to remove the rest of his white garment in a measured manner, following my instruction to undress completely.

    ‘It’s a bit embarrassing.’

    The rustling sound felt awkward.

    ‘I can’t quite remember, but in my previous life, I don’t recall ever feeling awkward about seeing a man’s naked body…’

    After all, I had attended an all-boys school. I was used to, and even comfortable with, the sight of rowdy, undressed boys, almost like monkeys. But somehow, now, it felt embarrassingly different.

    ‘I must feel awkward because I haven’t socialized much.’

    Noble children, unless they attend academies or engage in social activities, rarely have chances to interact with peers. Typically, family gatherings provide opportunities to become acquainted, but I had been too physically frail to debut in society and grew up in a secluded family environment without playmates.

    Despite the embarrassment, I stiffened my neck and continued to watch Zachary. He pulled the clinging garment over his head, revealing a body that seemed too mature for a child. The sight made me consciously avoid thinking about my own unimpressive physique.

    “……?”

    When I saw Zachary’s fully exposed upper body, my face involuntarily scrunched in confusion.

    Zachary was running out of time. He was already in a state where he couldn’t express even the smallest will. It was crucial to find a way to undo the spell as soon as possible.

    To help him, it was necessary to check for any magical sigils on his body and memorize them. Since he needed to change his blood-soaked clothes, I thought it was a good opportunity to ask him to undress.

    ‘Why?’

    I had never seen the bare body of any servant except for Erhan, and I had naturally assumed that Zachary’s sigils, like Erhan’s, would be marked on his back, abdomen, or chest…

    ‘But he’s clean.’

    There were no marks on Zachary’s body that I could see.

    Only his pale skin and well-built physique were before me, with no trace of any spell. Overwhelmed by the unexpected sight, I impulsively reached out to feel his body.

    ‘Could there be an invisible spell?’

    Like a hidden door in the Serpent’s Pathway that doesn’t open unless you knock six times, perhaps Zachary, with his unique status, had his spell concealed. Even though the Duke had shared some spells with me out of affection, it was likely just the tip of the iceberg. The Duke easily could have cast a spell on Zachary that was invisible to my eyes.

    ‘It’s strange. There must be something… there must be…’

    The biggest drawback of a spell is that it always leaves a trace. That’s why I was so perplexed. Without a trace, a spell could not be activated. The symbol of the Serpentine family being a snake was for this very reason.

    A snake leaves no footprints in its wake. Only a close examination reveals the slight trail where the snake dragged its belly. The Serpentine family chose the snake as their symbol to signify leaving the most discreet traces of their spells.

    ‘No matter how much they aim to conceal the traces, it can’t be this absent.’

    But no matter how thoroughly I looked, there were no signs. The level of brainwashing Zachary had undergone couldn’t have been the result of a single sigil in his mouth. Spells are more complex than that, often combining multiple types to form a complete one. So, I naturally assumed that Zachary’s body would be marked with numerous sigils, but his skin was just pale and unblemished.

    Bewildered, I kept feeling his firm body. His back was hard but devoid of any markings. The chest and abdomen were the same. I kept probing, hoping to find even the slightest anomaly, when suddenly I lifted my head.

    “……Ah.”

    Our eyes met. Only then did I realize that I had been frantically searching his body.

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