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    Did I say something wrong? Worried that I might have dredged up unpleasant memories, I snuck a glance at his expression. However, Erhan simply spread his hand out further, as if to show it off.

    Since I had brought up memories that left scars on his body, I thought he would naturally have an unpleasant expression.

    ‘Why is he like that?’

    But Erhan’s current attitude was not like that. If I only looked at his face filled with satisfaction, it didn’t seem like I had touched upon a traumatic experience for him.

    It was confusing. I was curious as to why he had such an expression, but there was no way someone like me could understand Erhan. As I stared intently at his face, which was smiling to himself, our eyes suddenly met.

    As I looked at him with confusion in my eyes, Erhan took out a new pair of gloves from inside his outer garment and put them on, speaking as usual.

    “See you at the mansion soon.”

    His tone was so casual that even I could reply with a careless “Yeah, sure,” despite the content of his words being far from ordinary.

    “…Coming back?”

    Even though our eyes met, there was no denial.

    “Why are you coming back?”

    I looked at Erhan with a perplexed face.

    Erhan is coming back? Why? While it’s natural for Erhan to return to the mansion someday since it’s his home, I never thought it would be anytime soon. I was caught off guard, not expecting to hear news of his sudden return like this.

    “You don’t like it?”

    Suddenly, the atmosphere changed, and goosebumps rose on my arms. The warm and cozy summer night weather abruptly turned chilly, making my spine shiver. As if encountering an unexpectedly freezing wind, I stood frozen, looking at him as Erhan took a big step closer to me.

    “Oscar, you don’t like it?”

    He asked me again.

    Before I knew it, the smile and playful look had disappeared from Erhan’s face. Looking at his coldly sunken face and icy gray eyes, all the jokes from a moment ago felt like lies.

    “Just…”

    It’s scary when he’s like this. I spoke carefully as I shrank back.

    “I want to know the reason.”

    It can’t get any worse than this. I really looked pathetic just now.

    I found myself biting my lip at my own pitiful appearance.

    ‘Is he coming to officially take over the position of heir? Or is there another reason?’

    No matter the reason, as someone who never talks about the Duke and the family, my ability to speculate is limited.

    As I was trying to gauge why he had declared his return to the mansion…

    “Right, the reason… The reason, hmm.”

    On the other hand, Erhan looked like he was in a good mood again. He repeated the word ‘reason’ a few times as if he himself didn’t know, and at the same time, a glint flashed in his eyes as he raised one corner of his mouth.

    “Because I haven’t been doing well.”

    A twisted smile, but strangely looking pleased. However, my expression soured upon seeing that smile.

    ‘…I have no idea what he’s talking about.’

    What does he mean by not doing well and coming back to the family?

    Unlike my troubled state, he looked refreshed. With the corner of his mouth curled up and his eyes lightly creased, I wanted to ask what kind of absurd thing he was saying. However, as if he had no intention of giving any further answers, he just stepped back.

    “Where are you going?”

    “To prepare to go home.”

    Where is your home? As I looked at him in bewilderment, Erhan chuckled as if finding my reaction amusing and walked past me without any farewell.

    The direction of his unhesitating steps was towards the main gate of the mansion.

    “…Huh?”

    He’s leaving like this?

    Unlike me, who had turned stiff like a rock in astonishment, he left the place leisurely.

    Did he really leave? There was no farewell. There were no words to conclude the conversation, and the cryptic things he said remained like a riddle. It was infuriating how Erhan left riddles without giving me time to solve them.

    I belatedly followed after him, but Erhan was nowhere to be seen.

    “Let’s go back.”

    “Yes, young master.”

    Having come this far, I didn’t feel like returning to the banquet hall, so I found my coachman and chose to head home.

    The carriage departed, cutting through the pitch-black night. The surroundings were enveloped in darkness, and nothing could be seen outside the window. After looking at the dark scenery outside, I pulled down the curtain and closed my eyes.

    ***

    I had arrived at the mansion while dozing off. Pacing in front of the mansion door, I grabbed the door handle and opened it.

    Creak, the door lets out another spine-chilling scream. Because of this sound, I get nervous every time I open the door for no reason.

    So even while opening the door, I couldn’t let my guard down. Perhaps when I opened the door, like last time, Zachary…

    “…Right.”

    Zachary isn’t here.

    There’s no way he would be here. He said he would coldly distance himself.

    It was empty from the front gate, and the path to my room was the same. No one walked alongside me. Even if I turned around abruptly while walking, it was the same.

    Still an empty spot. Looking at that spot, my heart feels strangely chilled. The saying that you may not know the value of something, but you know its absence was not wrong.

    ‘I didn’t have to say it to that extent…’

    He really kept his word well. I sighed and washed my face, recalling the resentful words I had poured out that day.

    I know. I know that Zachary is suffering greatly because of the power of the curse. But that day, I felt particularly suffocated.

    ‘Is it because of guilt?’

    However, it wasn’t simply because of guilt.

    When he calls me young master and says that I am the meaning of his life… Seeing Zachary spewing out words that clearly show he’s under a spell, I was scared.

    The pressure was immense. I felt like I would run away from everything, even though I knew I shouldn’t, if I kept witnessing such a scene.

    “Haa…”

    My head throbbed and ached.

    A lot happened today. The banquet I attended on a whim had a very strange atmosphere, and then there was Erhan’s sudden appearance and his declaration of return.

    Although Erhan said he would return, I couldn’t gauge when he would be back. I think I need to somehow make time and hurry to break Zachary’s curse.

    Since I have free time tomorrow, even if I’m not feeling well, I should try to tamper with Zachary’s curse. To do that, I thought reconciliation should come first.

    ‘Reconciliation?’

    Is that even a fitting word for our relationship?

    If I say let’s reconcile, Zachary, who is bound by brainwashing, will only be able to say yes. Can I really call that reconciliation?

    There’s no way. A bitter smile naturally formed at the momentary skepticism, but I quickly came to my senses and moved diligently.

    For now, let’s hurry up and go to sleep for tomorrow. I changed into my pajamas, almost throwing my clothes off, and crouched at the corner of the bed.

    ‘I need to wash up.’

    Why am I so tired when I didn’t even do much?

    Maybe it’s thanks to washing up diligently in the morning to prepare. I don’t think I smell bad, but I feel grimy.

    Closing my eyes slightly, I resolved to rest like this for just 5 minutes and then go wash up. Really, just 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, I’ll wash up, study curses a bit, and then fall asleep…

    ‘Drip, drop.’

    Then, a strange sound like liquid falling onto the floor was heard. It didn’t sound like rain, more like the sound was coming from inside. As if droplets were falling from a wet object…

    But my body was too lazy to properly check. I didn’t want to move a muscle.

    I tried not to pay attention to it since I was tired, but the sound continued. The dripping sound of water seemed to grow louder once I became aware of it.

    ‘What’s going on? Something strange again?’

    In the end, I had no choice but to open my eyes, unable to keep resting. Suddenly, fear struck me. The story I heard from Erhan at the banquet hall kept coming to mind… With my body tensed up, I widened my eyes and lifted my head.

    Gasp…”

    And as soon as I raised my head, I almost fainted on the spot. Thump thump thump, my heart was beating crazily fast from the shock. Strength drained from my hands and feet, and even as my body trembled, I stammered out.

    “Y-Y-You… What are you doing there?”

    Behind the door, there’s a small space, you know, the secluded corner that gets hidden when the door opens. Zachary was standing there blankly.

    Until now, I was too tired and it was dark at night, so I didn’t check that side… But as soon as I lifted my head from the corner of the bed, that space was right in front of me, so we faced each other directly.

    This time, I really almost fainted.

    How can someone have so little presence? No matter how tired I am, it’s a problem that I didn’t notice him, but Zachary, who didn’t make any sound to the point of not even making me think to check, was too spine-chilling.

    I barely held onto my pounding heart and quietly looked at Zachary. Come to think of it, have Zachary and I been apart for this long before? It had never happened since he became my servant.

    ‘Is Zachary doing well?’

    It was a ridiculous thought, even to myself. What freedom does a servant have? They will never be doing well.

    A life without one’s own will, lived in complete obedience…

    ‘What is that?’

    I froze upon discovering something on Zachary.

    “Zachary!”

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