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    With my face diligently buried in both hands, Karhan, who was sitting next to me, put the mirror down on the floor and lifted his hand to grasp my wrist. He held it gently with a very light force, just like how he used to tenderly stroke me when I was Cheep. The hands covering my face fell away due to the coercive yet gentle strength.

    “Will you clear up the misunderstanding now?”

    Although it wasn’t a noticeable expression, Karhan, with kind eyes that I could discern after continuously facing him, was looking at me.

    “I was just… unsure of how to treat you.”

    “What about now?”

    “…I still don’t know.”

    It was an honest answer. I nodded at his response, which hid nothing. He, too, needed time. The difference between a pet that could be unconditionally adored and me, who, although not an old man, was still a person, would be significant.

    Nodding, I gazed into his silver-gray eyes. They were a similar color to my hair, albeit much darker.

    Slightly twisting my wrist, which Karhan was still holding, I grabbed his hand instead. Unlike mine, I could feel his firm and angular bones. Perhaps due to the sudden contact, he flinched slightly. Ignoring this, I looked into Karhan’s eyes and spoke.

    “You don’t dislike me, right?”

    Feeling the need to know this for sure, I looked at him earnestly. My heart was beating faster than usual, perhaps because I had asked an important question. Karhan, who had been examining my eyes seriously, twitched his eyebrows, and his silver-gray eyes narrowed.

    “Yes. You’re still cute.”

    “Huh?”

    That’s not what I said. And I was more of a tough bird than a cute one. Blinking at his odd remark, I stared at Karhan, but he only reached out and stroked my hair.

    Since it was his first time with both a bird and a Zoic, he must have chosen the wrong word. Feeling better, I decided to be lenient. I didn’t mind this touch of him stroking my hair. Just like when I was a bird, I closed my eyes and accepted his caress.

    As my mind became at ease, drowsiness found me even while sitting. Although I tried hard to resist slumber, wanting to be with Karhan after a long time, the sweet temptation that approached was powerful. Nodding off, my body went limp, and I leaned against something as I fell asleep.

    🐤

    “This can’t be. This can’t be! He’ll definitely help me. He said he’d come soon.”

    A man imprisoned in a cell muttered to himself while sitting in a corner. He laughed foolishly and suddenly got angry. The soldiers watching him clicked their tongues and shook their heads, saying he wasn’t in his right mind.

    “The nerve of him. Embezzling in the territory of the Barthes ducal family.”

    “I know, right? He still hasn’t come to his senses even in this state.”

    The news of Viscount Valdez embezzling in the Barthes ducal family, known for their thorough and cold-hearted nature, had already spread widely even to rural territories. Everyone was interested in how he would be dealt with.

    Currently, Viscount Valdez was imprisoned in the imperial underground dungeon. Usually, even if nobles broke the law, they wouldn’t be transferred to the underground dungeon, but he committed an unforgivable crime, and under the Barthes ducal family at that, so he ended up in the underground dungeon as a special case.

    The soldiers guarding the underground dungeon in a dull atmosphere turned their heads at the sound of footsteps approaching from the front. Tap. Tap. The sound of walking on the hard stone floor gradually drew closer. The two soldiers tightened their grip on the spears they were holding, feeling the tension.

    In the first place, not many people visited the underground dungeon due to the difficulty of access and the damp atmosphere that enveloped the entire underground. Very rarely, some high-ranking nobles would visit in secret, but in such cases, they would notify their visit in advance.

    As the footsteps grew louder, one of the two swallowed his saliva with a gulp. And from beyond the dark corridor, a figure slowly emerged, starting from the feet.

    The clothes made of luxurious fabric that looked glossy even at a glance, and the flashy gold brooches, necklaces, rings, and various accessories captivated the eyes. As he completely emerged from the shadowy corridor, his splendid platinum-blond hair came into view. Although it was a damp and gloomy place, his magnificent appearance illuminated the surroundings.

    The soldiers straightened their backs even more, growing tense at the sight of the man who appeared to be a nobleman.

    “From here onwards, you need a verification pass.”

    “Verification pass? What verification pass?”

    The platinum-blond man smiled slyly, curling his eyes. The soldiers, slightly flustered by his seemingly clueless demeanor, asked.

    “You need a visitor’s verification pass… May I ask for your name?”

    “Name? It’s Asmil.”

    “What about your surname?”

    “I don’t have one? It’s not particularly necessary.”

    At his words that he had no surname, the soldiers hesitated and frowned. In this country, there were only two statuses without a surname. Commoner or slave. Commoners didn’t have surnames, and if they were lucky enough to become nobles, they would be granted a surname by the imperial family. The soldiers, convinced that Asmil in front of them was a commoner, pushed the man’s shoulder with their hands.

    “How did you get in here? Is there no one outside? Damn it, I’m already sick and tired of this, and now they’re letting in people like this.”

    “Hey! Is no one there? Hurry up and drag him out!”

    They shouted loudly towards the soldiers who were supposed to be standing guard outside, but no response was heard. Finding it strange that no one came, one of the soldiers took a step to check the situation outside.

    At that moment, he felt a touch on his back, stopping his movement. Turning his head to look, the man was smiling with his hand placed on his shoulder.

    “What…”

    “Muzato.”

    It was a strange resonance. As soon as he recognized his voice, the soldier’s movement, who had been frowning, stopped, and his expression also vanished like a blank sheet of paper. He limply lowered his arm, which he had just raised to remove the hand placed on his shoulder. He stood still like a scarecrow tied to a stake, not moving.

    “Hey. What’s wrong with you?”

    The soldier standing next to him, sensing something unusual, hurriedly walked in front of his colleague who had stopped moving. The face he confronted was blankly staring into the empty void. His appearance, as if his soul had left his body, sent shivers down his spine. Thinking that there was only one reason for this sudden occurrence, he hastily raised his spear and aimed it at the suspicious man.

    “What the hell are you doing?!”

    Not only did the people outside fail to respond, but now his colleague right in front of him had broken down, making him feel afraid. With sweat beading on his hands, he tightly grasped his weapon. He warned again, threatening with the sharp blade.

    “I-If you don’t leave here right now…!”

    “I just came to see Viscount Valdez.”

    You’re also in a trance. The man spoke in an infinitely relaxed voice. The soldier, who had barely managed to stay alert, overwhelmed by fear, also lost his mind and dropped the spear he was holding. Asmil slowly walked in between the soldiers who had become puppets with their strings cut.

    Drip. Drip. Due to the nature of the underground, the sound of water droplets falling could be heard as it was filled with moisture. Asmil passed through the gloomy corridor and stood in front of the trembling man. The man, who had been shaking like an aspen tree inside the cell, suddenly raised his head when the familiar shoes stopped in front of him. Then, he lifted the corners of his mouth and laughed foolishly.

    “Oh, you came! You finally came! Hurry up and get me out of here!”

    Hope was right in front of him. Viscount Valdez’s eyes, looking at Asmil, were once again filled with greed. Seeing him still full of greed, Asmil smiled, curling his eyebrows.

    “Were you waiting for me?”

    “Why aren’t you opening it already?! If I get out this time, I won’t forgive that ducal bastard! I’ll brainwash him too and expand the business even more. I heard that ship auctions are safe, so I should look into that.”

    Perhaps it was because he had been slowly stained for a long time. Pitifully, his ability to grasp the situation had significantly deteriorated. Well, that wasn’t something he had to worry about. His scarlet eyes glistened and shone. The plump flesh under his eyes curved beautifully.

    “Although it was a short period, it was fun. Since you let me find interesting things, I won’t turn you into an idiot.”

    Is that okay? He spoke in a light tone. Not understanding what his words meant, the viscount stared at Asmil with a dazed face. And as soon as his thoughts were barely organized in his mind, he reached out and tightly grasped the hem of Asmil’s pants.

    “Wh-Where are you going?! How could you…!”

    Eyes filled with confusion looked up at Asmil. How can you abandon me and leave! After all I did for you! He had caused many interesting incidents for him and fed him all sorts of jewels and delicacies. Yet how could he leave like this? The viscount spoke in a desperate voice.

    “If you go like this, what about me and my son?!”

    Until now, he had only been waiting for Asmil. He knew that if he came, this situation would all be resolved. But the only thing he said was that he wouldn’t turn him into an idiot. With a face full of betrayal, he looked up at him, but Asmil only continued to show a smile. No meaning could be read from his expression.

    “Ah, ah…”

    Looking at his quietly downcast eyes, he realized. He was just a chess piece that existed for his amusement. The one controlling the situation wasn’t himself, but this man. No matter what he said here, his voice would never reach Asmil’s ears.

    He let go of Asmil’s pant leg, which he had been clinging to like a lifeline to pull him out of hell. Thud, he leaned his back against the cold and hard wall.

    “Ah… ah…”

    Viscount Valdez, who had lost his mind, blankly let out moaning sounds. Seeing the dumbfounded viscount, Asmil bent his legs and crouched down. And as if bestowing one last act of generosity, he reached out his beautiful hand through the iron bars and gently stroked the face that had lost all strength.

    “You did well.”

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