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    Even if I appeared a bit unsightly, I had no choice. I kept struggling and shouting at him to let me go.

    Of course, I could have directly shaken or grabbed Erhan to stop him in his tracks. However, knowing that Erhan disliked physical contact, I didn’t want to do that.

    As I flailed about, Erhan swiftly moved me to the doorway.

    “Hurry up and go.”

    Setting me down with a thud, Erhan tried to firmly close the door as if he had nothing more to say to me. Erhan’s attitude was very cold. He seemed eager to hastily chase me out, as if I had caught him doing something shameful that he didn’t want to be seen.

    It also felt like he was further fortifying the wall that had been on the verge of crumbling.

    “That…”

    If I let this moment slip away, it seemed like our relationship would truly become awkward.

    I urgently grabbed the door that was about to close. I peered at Erhan through the slightly open gap, but he was merciless.

    “If you’ve come to the mansion, we can at least talk for a bit. You asked me to help unpack, but you’re chasing me out like this? I said I’d help you unpack, didn’t I?”

    “I can handle the unpacking myself.”

    “It’ll be faster if we do it together.”

    “You really don’t listen.”

    Erhan spoke with a slightly agitated voice.

    “Are you enjoying taking advantage of my weakness right now?”

    Taking advantage of his weakness and enjoying it? I couldn’t understand his intention behind those words.

    I had no idea what weakness Erhan was referring to. But Erhan didn’t seem inclined to explain. He just waved his hand as if brushing away a nuisance and tried to close the door. Just before the door slammed shut, I shouted.

    “…Worried!”

    Ha ssi.

    “I-I’m worried!”

    It was embarrassing. My face naturally turned red, and my ears heated up. I didn’t want to get caught. I quietly covered my ears and glared at Erhan.

    I know. Erhan and I aren’t close enough to exchange such awkward words. But as a decent human being, I couldn’t help but worry.

    Isn’t it natural to feel concerned when you see someone throwing up everything they ate after finishing a meal with a perfect face?

    “If you force yourself to vomit like that, it’ll hurt your stomach a lot. You must be exhausted from having nothing left to eat, so at least drink some water. I’ll leave after I see you drink.”

    Erhan abruptly halted his resolute action of closing the door.

    His expression as we faced each other was strange. Strange enough to make me, who was trying to stop him, feel perplexed. He was staring at me with a dumbfounded look, as if he had heard something bizarre and incomprehensible.

    Erhan with a dumbfounded expression? It really didn’t suit him.

    ‘Can’t I even worry…?’

    Why is he looking at me like that? What’s so odd about being worried? Or did I perhaps cross a line? In a way, worrying could be considered meddling.

    In the ensuing silence, I pondered over what to say first to avoid any strange misunderstandings.

    “Oscar.”

    It was Erhan who broke the silence first. His voice had noticeably lowered, so I carefully gauged the atmosphere, stealing glances at him. Erhan had already returned to his solemn and slightly cold expression. He also quietly observed me for a few seconds, as if studying me.

    ‘I’m going to get scolded.’

    Seeing his coldly lowered eyes, his senses had returned. He would undoubtedly snap at me, asking why I was interfering in unnecessary matters.

    Unlike me, Erhan was healthy, so throwing up a few times might not be as painful for him. However, I had many memories of feeling miserable all day whenever I retched like that. That’s why I had intervened without realizing it.

    Even nagging should be done while considering the other person, and it must have been unpleasant from Erhan’s perspective. When he scolds me, I should also apologize and quickly back off, I decided.

    “I didn’t call you to help with unpacking.”

    Erhan abruptly added an unexpected remark.

    “I called you because you looked troubled.”

    It was a completely unanticipated statement. Utterly baffled, I couldn’t help but make a stupid expression.

    Hoping for an additional explanation, I looked at him, but that was all he said. Erhan promptly closed the door, leaving no room for me to say anything more.

    “Brother.”

    Bang, I belatedly knocked on the firmly closed door, but there was no sign of it opening.

    It seemed unlikely to open again today. In the end, I had no choice but to turn around.

    ‘With so much luggage.’

    Behind me, there were countless boxes stacked up, seemingly moved by the servants in a short while. With so much luggage, he could only misunderstand that he called me to help with unpacking. However, Erhan disliked me touching his belongings and acted as if asking why I was following him.

    No matter how much I thought about it, Erhan’s contradictory behavior was incomprehensible. Yet, I didn’t feel bad about it.

    I moved my steps, suppressing the strange emotion I couldn’t quite express.

    The first thing I checked upon returning to my room was Zachary’s safety.

    As soon as I entered, I locked the door again and opened the snake’s passage. Fortunately, Zachary was in the same state as when I had left.

    His well-defined features were neat without any dishevelment, and his eyes remained closed with no sign of opening. Honestly, it was worrying to see Zachary showing no indication of waking up even after several days had passed.

    ‘There’s no major issue, so why won’t he wake up?’

    I slowly reached out and brushed his forehead. The tidy forehead with slightly stubborn-looking thick eyebrows. How many days had it been since I last saw the beautiful eyes beneath those long, dense lashes?

    Suppressing the rising anxiety, I carefully examined the spell circle again today.

    The spell circle was still dormant. Rather, it only repeatedly faded in color as if it were about to disappear. This signified that there was nothing wrong with Zachary’s body.

    ‘If something goes wrong with the host’s body, the spell circles go wild.’

    Spells are like parasites. In other words, if the host, Zachary, dies, they perish together. That’s why, when the host’s life is in danger, the spell circles thrash about frantically, as if seeking another host. This could potentially manifest in the form of seizures.

    Keeping that possibility in mind, I had been watching over Zachary, but fortunately, nothing of the sort happened. Sometimes, it was said that if a spell drained too much energy, one could fall into a deep sleep.

    ‘…It must be cold.’

    Isn’t he sleeping a bit too long?

    Despite it being summer, the snake’s passage was cold. I had covered Zachary’s body with various things, but the floor was cold and hard. I considered moving Zachary elsewhere but soon gave up on the idea.

    There was a possibility that I might have to leave in a hurry or that Erhan might enter my room without my permission.

    ‘What should I do?’

    I knew in my head. The fact that staying in the snake’s passage was the safest option until Zachary regained consciousness. However, as someone who had frequently explored the snake’s passages, I felt uneasy leaving Zachary here alone.

    What could I do? If I left Zachary here and slept on the bed by myself, I didn’t think I would have pleasant dreams.

    In the end, I dragged the bedding all the way to the entrance of the snake’s passage. Then, I cleared the objects blocking the front and made space for me to lie down. Next, I carefully opened the entrance, wedged a small box into the gap, and pulled Zachary’s hand out.

    Zachary’s hand, protruding just enough to go unnoticed unless closely examined. I positioned his large hand to hang towards me and grasped it tightly. Holding hands with a wall between us, what an embarrassing posture for two men.

    ‘If I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t see anything, it’ll be startling.’

    The snake’s passage was dark even during the day, but at night, it was pitch-black. I wanted to prevent the situation where Zachary, who might have woken up while I was asleep, would be startled.

    ‘It’s getting warm.’

    Warmth blossomed from our touching hands. As if leaning into that warmth, I rested my cheek against it and closed my eyes.

    “Let’s make sure to see each other tomorrow.”

    At my words, it seemed like Zachary’s hand, which I was holding, moved slightly. I wanted to wake up and properly check, but I was already overcome by a terrible drowsiness, unable to move a single finger.

    But as expected, it was just my imagination.

    Because even the next day, Zachary remained asleep.

    ***

    I looked up at the sky.

    Chirp chirp, a bird chirped and tried to land on the roof of the Serpentine mansion but fluttered its wings in surprise. Well, it was understandable. This mansion exuded an eerie atmosphere even on a sunny day. Not only that. Although the sky was clearly cloudless and bright, strangely, it felt like the Serpentine mansion was the only place where sunlight didn’t reach well.

    The bird couldn’t easily settle on the roof. Watching it circle aimlessly in the air and disappear into the distant sky, I lowered my head.

    ‘What kind of combination is this?’

    An unbelievable, dreadful scene unfolded before my eyes.

    The antique and colorful table and chairs, which undoubtedly belonged to Mother, were the first to catch my attention, clashing with the gloomy Serpentine mansion.

    On the table, there were lavish desserts that the chef had poured all his effort into making. However, the eerie and disorderly feeling couldn’t be erased. Unlike the bright-colored teacups and tableware, the teapot was abruptly and solitarily black, completely mismatching the color scheme.

    Moreover, the men of the Serpentine family huddled there…

    “Our family’s first tea time!”

    …I must have attended a place called a tea time but pronounced as a funeral.

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