Just like when Lucerne first saw Hyerim’s bright smile in the restaurant, the wind blew in a space without open windows.
It was a warm and gentle breeze, carrying a sweet fragrance.
Blue light emerged from beneath Lucerne’s feet.
It wasn’t the usual cool blue light that always followed him, but a clear and radiant light, like the high autumn sky spreading behind the autumn leaves.
The light quickly spread, illuminating Lucerne’s entire bedroom.
Through the blue light, rainbows seeped in, starlight descended, and a profusion of natural-colored flowers bloomed.

Amidst the flood of light, two people stood.
Two individuals with different faces, but they both smiled brightly at Lucerne.
It was Hyerim with Astia’s face and the original Hyerim seen in her memories.
Though their appearances were different, their smiles and atmosphere were similar enough to instantly recognize them as the same person.

The heavy and suffocating feeling in Lucerne’s chest dissipated.
His stiffened body relaxed, and his lips curved into a smile.
Yes, Lucerne Stria, it’s time to admit it.

“I…,” he stood up from his seat, walking slowly towards the proximity of Astia and Hyerim.
He locked eyes with both of them in turns.
They were still smiling.

He raised his hand, intending to touch Hyerim’s hair with Astia’s face.
But as Lucerne’s fingertips made contact, Hyerim turned into shimmering specks of light and vanished.
Even though he knew it wasn’t the real Hyerim, his heart felt a pang of longing.

This time, he saw Hyerim with her black hair.
She, too, turned into particles of light and disappeared.

It was heartbreaking.

“Don’t disappear in front of me.”

He missed Hyerim.
He wanted her to smile.

“I wish she would smile.”

“For what other reason would it be, if not to make you happy?”

“I will always love you with the same heart.”

All the words he spoke after bringing Hyerim to the palace were directed towards her.
Since the first time he saw her smile at the banquet table, he had always hoped for her to smile and tried his best to fulfill her every wish.

Since being with Hyerim, Lucerne’s world felt like it was filled with nothing but sweet pastries.
It was filled with an unparalleled happiness and beauty.

Lucerne didn’t think that his love for Astia was a lie.
When he first met her as a child and received a small flower ring, his feelings may have been naive, but it was undoubtedly love.

However, with each slap and harsh word he received, his love crumbled little by little.
In the darkness of his heart, the only thing that remained alive was his desire for Astia, so he couldn’t easily discard his crumbling love.

He clung to Astia, who had left him claiming to love another man.
Believing that it was love, he spent far too many years in that state.

Seeing the person he loved smile in front of him was radiant even just in thought.
Knowing that the person he loved was in danger sent chills down his spine.
He had come back so foolishly, without realizing the intensity of his feelings.

He wanted to run to Hyerim right away.
He wanted to embrace her, kiss her, look into her eyes.
He wanted to make her smile, make her happy.
He wanted to confess that it was her he had loved all along.

But now it was the middle of the night.
Because of the terrible incident that had happened to Hyerim during the day, she needed rest.
No matter how desperately he longed for her, he had to wait until morning.

“Morning… it’s so far away.”

Could he use magic to make the sun rise faster? Was it worth a try? With such absurd thoughts, he wandered around the bedroom.

As dawn broke and Lucerne was about to leave for the reception room, he realized that his appearance was a mess.
He changed his torn clothes and neatly arranged his hair.

Lucerne was always a tidy person.
It had become a habit to maintain a neat appearance as an emperor, to leave no openings for his enemies.
But now, dressing up specifically to make a good impression on someone was something he had never done before.

Before visiting Astia, he would glance at himself in the mirror, but it was merely a ceremonial act.
Astia had never shown any interest in Lucerne’s appearance.

He walked out to the reception room.
Through a slightly open window, he could hear the early morning chirping of birds.
The early autumn morning air was chilly with a touch of frost.

To ensure Hyerim wouldn’t be cold, he lit the fireplace and closed the window.

Hyerim still hadn’t come out to the reception room.
Lucerne sat down, stood up, paced around, and skimmed through the piled-up documents and books.
Restless, he wandered around the reception room for a long time.

It wasn’t until the frost that had descended outside melted and the ground became damp that finally, with a thud, the doorknob of Hyerim’s bedroom turned.
Lucerne wanted to run to Hyerim’s room, but his body stiffened with tension, contrary to his heart’s desires.
He stood facing Hyerim’s bedroom door.

His heart thumped heavily, making a sluggish sound.
The air, thoughts, and everything seemed to move in slow motion.

“Oh, Lucerne.
You’re up early.”

Slowly, he turned his body.
Sunlight poured in through the window, and the extravagant chairs and table came into view before he saw Hyerim’s figure.



He locked eyes with Hyerim, and in Lucerne’s ears, he heard neither the chirping of birds nor the pounding of his own heart.
All sounds faded away in this world.

In this soundless world, Hyerim smiled.
It was a smile devoid of any emotions, with a stiffness that seemed impenetrable.

Lucerne’s eyes widened.
His head felt numb, as if he had been struck.
Come to think of it, Hyerim hadn’t smiled brightly like before for a while.
She only smiled crookedly, like the real Astia who was destined to die sooner because of Lucerne.

When did she change like this? Why did she change like this?

It was confusing.

In the end, Lucerne couldn’t confess the feelings he had harbored all night.
He vividly remembered how he had confessed his love to the woman who used to smile so brightly, only to be trampled upon.
It was still fresh in his memory.

“How dare you, you… Just leave.”

There was a time when Lucerne would have welcomed any words that came out of Astia’s mouth, whether they were insults or curses.
But after meeting Hyerim and experiencing the warmth and kindness of her words, he didn’t want to inflict any more wounds on his barely healed heart.

He couldn’t muster the courage to hear those words again in Astia’s voice.

“Lucerne? Please say something.”

The voice calling out to him snapped him back to reality.
Astia, or rather Hyerim, with her stern face, was looking at him.

“What’s the point of confessing? I’ve used the children as an excuse to keep Hyerim by my side.
Let’s just be satisfied with her living and breathing next to me, as I originally wished.
Greed only leads to disaster.”

It felt like thorns of a blackthorn bush were wrapping around his heart.
Every breath he took, his heart pricked with a sting.

After making a vow multiple times to not be greedy, Lucerne finally managed to open his mouth.

“Let’s go have a meal.”


In response to the curt reply, he tightly shut his eyes.

* * *

Lucerne and Hyerim didn’t exchange a single word throughout the meal.
The only sound that filled the air was the clinking of utensils.

With calm and settled eyes, Lucerne stood up from his seat.

“Well then, I’ll be on my way.”

“Take care.”

Without saying a word, Lucerne looked at me for a moment before slowly leaving the dining area.

I was left alone in the grand and extravagant restaurant.

* * *

Facing Hyerim and sitting across from her during the meal was painful in many ways.

The sudden realization of love made the woman sitting in front of me appear even more lovable.
My heart overflowed.
I struggled to suppress the impulse to rush over and hold her in my arms.

At the same time, Hyerim’s silence during the meal, without looking at me or speaking warmly as she used to, wounded me.
She seemed fragile, as if she could burst into tears at any moment.
I felt sorry for her, and my heart ached.

“Look at me, meet my eyes.
Smile at me.”

In my mind, I begged and pleaded, but Hyerim didn’t even spare a glance for me, focused solely on food.

Afraid that I would crumble further if I stayed any longer, I fled from the hall.

Throughout the journey to Collis, I replayed memories in my mind.
I recalled when and how Hyerim had changed so drastically.
I resented myself for not properly taking care of her all this time and distancing myself from her.

When Lucerne stood in front of the guest room where Collis was staying, he finally remembered when Hyerim had changed so much.

“…Thank you.
Whatever the reason may be, thank you for not killing me and the children.”

It was then.

“What can I do to help you?”

“Stay in the palace.
Stay as if you were still Hyerim before your identity was revealed.”


Hyerim, who smiled while saying that, was different from before.
She smiled while swallowing her pain and suppressing her sadness.
The Hyerim who imitated Astia now truly smiled like Astia.

Leaning against Collis’ room, Lucerne let out a bitter smile.

“Was it because of me?”

Was it because he asked her to stay by his side even after her true identity was revealed? Perhaps he still didn’t know that she was still afraid of him.

She wanted to run away, but because the children’s lives were at stake, she had no choice but to stay in the palace.
Unlike Astia, Hyerim loved the children very much.
If that was the case, it wasn’t unreasonable for her to force a smile.

“To think that I wished for her to smile when it was I who took away her laughter… I truly didn’t understand the situation.”

Once again, he resolved to be satisfied with Hyerim just being alive and by his side.

Perhaps this was the best option.
To maintain even a shallow relationship where they didn’t hurt each other more, and simply stayed by each other’s side.

In order to maintain that superficial relationship, he had to send Collis away from the palace.

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