Lucerne lowered his head.


“It’s not something you should worry about.”

“How can I not worry? It’s because of me that this happened.”

“It’s not your fault.
It was my choice, my actions, so…”

At that moment, a blue light emanated from Lucerne’s feet.
The light slithered across the floor like a snake and gathered a short distance away from us, forming a thin barrier.
After a moment, an image appeared on the barrier.
It was dark and distant, making it hard to see clearly, but the sound was distinct.

“I won’t let you torment Astia any longer.
Leave.”

The scene from Lucerne’s memory unfolded, showing an interaction with Collis.
My curiosity got the better of me, and I watched and listened, even though I knew it was a breach of privacy.
Lucerne seemed to be in pain, and I wanted to understand why.

As the memories played out, Lucerne’s emotions intensified, and he seemed to be in turmoil.
Suddenly, a blue light emanated from him, and the memories abruptly stopped.

I felt sorry for Lucerne, knowing that something had happened between him and Collis that caused such pain.
I wished there was something I could do to help, but I felt powerless, just sitting there silently by his side.

The room grew colder as rain started to fall outside.
I could hear Lucerne’s labored breathing, and his words became a bit clearer.

“Between Collis and me, there were three half-brothers.
All sons of my late stepmother, the first wife of Marquis Henry,” Lucerne began to share his past, still with his head downcast and his face darkened.


Despite feeling that I shouldn’t pry further, my selfish curiosity pushed me to listen.
I wanted to know more about Lucerne’s past, even though it seemed painful for him to recall.

“The eldest brother was ten years older than me and quite skilled in magic.
Naturally, he was expected to be the next emperor, and I never doubted that fact.
However, when I was six years old, my strong and impressive elder brother was brutally murdered before my eyes.”

The revelation was shocking, and I couldn’t help but feel deeply sorry for what Lucerne had gone through.

“At the age of six…?” Lucerne’s voice trembled as he continued, “My second brother had his throat slit, and the third brother was stabbed in the heart with a sword.
Our stepmother also died, trying to protect the third brother from the attack.
It was all the work of a noble faction that wanted to make Issac the Emperor.

 Issac, isn’t that Astia’s husband? So, Astia was the wife of the person who killed his brothers? My goodness, how can Lucerne still love a woman like that…?”

Lucerne continued, sharing his past, still with his head downcast and his face darkened.
I felt a mix of shock and empathy for him as he recounted the tragic events.

“Stria holds the right to imperial succession for those with magical abilities, and that man was quite skilled in magic.
The noble faction wanted to kill all of us and make him the emperor.
Afterward, Sister realized that she would be the next target.
At that time, I was ten years old, and Sister was twenty-two.”

Lucerne’s hand touched his own throat as if remembering the attack vividly.
“Sister’s suspicions were correct.
Someone tried to cut my throat while I was asleep.
But before that happened, Sister gave me most of her magical power.
The assassin, who underestimated me for being young and weak, met his end by my hands.
Surviving the imminent death, I obtained unimaginable power.”

A sudden realization struck me.
The power Lucerne possessed, which Astia and the maids referred to as that of an unprecedented emperor, wasn’t a result of being chosen but rather a survival mechanism acquired through facing death.

I wanted to embrace Lucerne, offering him comfort, as I heard the rain intensifying outside and a low rumble of thunder in the distance.
His voice trembled as he continued his story.

“…That day, the weather was just like this.
It’s strangely fitting,” Lucerne said with emotion in his voice.

I felt an overwhelming urge to hold him close, but I refrained, knowing that he might not appreciate such a display of affection.

“Henry and my birth mother, Mirana, fled early from the rebellion.
Sister and I had to rely on each other to survive.
Although Sister had given me most of her magic and was powerless herself, she was intelligent.
Under her guidance, I killed the members of the noble faction one by one.”


Even without seeing him, I could imagine Lucerne’s cold, expressionless demeanor as he recounted those events.
It must have been a terrifying sight.

Suddenly, I realized the irony of the situation.
Collis was the very person who had saved him and helped him survive during those trying times.

The tyrant who could tear down buildings and turn guards into dust remained the same, except for being an adult now, not a ten-year-old child.

“To me, Sister was both the savior of my life and the presence I had to protect.
If Sister hadn’t given me her power, I don’t know what would have happened to me.
If it weren’t for her, a ten-year-old kid wouldn’t have been able to overpower the noble faction and seize control of the empire.”

I couldn’t believe that Lucerne had accomplished such feats at the age of ten, despite his sister’s help.
It was both heartbreaking and painful to hear his story.
The wounds Lucerne carried within him were even more massive than I had ever imagined.

“I knew, even at that young age, that Sister had given me something precious.
I wanted to repay her kindness.
We pledged to sacrifice ourselves willingly for each other’s sake.”

Lucerne paused for a moment before continuing, “After subduing the rebellion, I became the emperor.
Sister, with her remaining magic, chose to enter the Martop.
The instant teleportation bead, the magic lantern, the spells to grow plants or manipulate memories – all of these were results of Sister’s research for the prosperity of me and the empire.”

Both Lucerne and Collis had lived lives where they had to kill others to protect their loved ones.
They devoted themselves completely for each other’s sake.
There was no other way to explain their relationship other than using the word “special.”

It was difficult for me to intervene and say I understood.
The truth was, I couldn’t even begin to comprehend the depths of their bond.

Lucerne covered his eyes with the hand that had once clutched his throat.
“To someone like her… what have I done?”

His voice choked with emotion, and he seemed to struggle to continue.
I felt a wave of empathy and sorrow for Lucerne.
He had to use forceful means to send back the person who meant so much to him to where she originally belonged.

I bit my lip, trying to hold back tears that threatened to escape.
“I’m sorry.
Because of me…”

I knew Lucerne probably didn’t want to hear an apology, and the real Astia would never have apologized, but I couldn’t help it.
I was Hyerim, not Astia.

As Lucerne lifted his head to meet my gaze, his eyes, full of sadness and self-reproach, captured me like a lifeline.
Those eyes were beautiful and sorrowful, and they tugged at my heartstrings.
I realized once again how significant Astia’s presence was to Lucerne, more than I had imagined.


“I’m sorry.
I’m sorry for causing you pain.”

Silence filled the room as we gazed at each other.
Suddenly, Lucerne closed his eyes and leaned toward me.

“Lucerne?”

“Maybe it’s an unreasonable request, but…”

“Yes?”

“I want your body warmth.”

He added as if offering an explanation, “If you don’t want to, you can refuse.”

His voice was as familiar as he prepared himself for my rejection, and it pained me to hear it.

One day, when I slapped Lucerne’s cheek, he said these words: “If you reach out your hand like this now, I’ll accept any blade or dagger in return.” And now, Lucerne needed someone’s, not mine, body warmth.

I knew the moments when you needed someone else’s body warmth.
When you felt sad and lonely, when you were in pain and struggling, when something you built so hard collapsed and you felt desperate, you wanted to lean on someone’s warmth.

“Why do you think it’s an unreasonable request?”

“As Astia always…”

The Astia with the same face as mine would have always rejected Lucerne.


I slowly reached out my hand and grabbed Lucerne’s cheek tightly.
My strength seemed to flow into his large body.

Words disappeared.

I gently stroked his cheek with my thumb.
Unlike his pale complexion, his body warmth was there, comforting and warm.

I then wrapped my arms around his thick neck and pulled him closer.
Lucerne willingly leaned his forehead on my shoulder.
His body trembled lightly as he clung to me.
The thumping sound, like a drum, could have been either my heartbeat or his, I couldn’t tell.

I whispered softly, “It’s okay.
You can have it.
We promised, didn’t we? I’ll stay by your side.”

I wanted to provide warmth, to hold him even closer.

I wanted to protect him from any pain.

I wanted to support Lucerne, who seemed so fragile, as if he could crumble at any moment.

It didn’t matter if it was Hyerim or Astia.
I loved them both.
Lucerne’s sharp nose gently nuzzled against my neck.

“Yeah… we promised, didn’t we?”

With the firmness in his shoulders slowly easing, Lucerne rose to his feet.
Without even realizing it, my hand touched the spot where his nose had brushed against my neck.
I could vividly feel the firm pressure and the warm breath spreading underneath.

An odd tension and silence flowed between us.
His gaze grazed my eyes, cheeks, lips, neck, shoulders, and fingertips.

The soft excitement and affection that had been swelling inside me turned tender and grew even larger.
The dim morning light seeped through the rain outside the window.

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