Chapter 18.1

Elena, wearing a robe, slid under the bed. She then took a seat on the sofa, right in front of the dark fireplace. She stared into space for a moment and then examined her hands and feet, illuminated by the fireplace’s warm glow. Her body still showed the marks of past wounds, but they had fully healed. Her once thin frame had gained weight, and her pale skin had regained its healthy hue.

Serin often grumbled that she was creating more work than helping, but Elena was gradually getting the hang of gardening. She’d learned how to adorn the castle with flowers she’d collected in the garden alongside Cura. She’d even mastered the art of making tea for Lassino. 

However, the inner greenhouse, home to dangerous flowers like the Vanaichi, remained off-limits. Serin was always the one holding the key to that locked door. As Elena followed Serin, she would spot the Vanaichi petals spread out in the sunniest corner, drying. As per Serin, Kennard made tea using dried Vanaichi petals by pouring hot water over them. 

Elena handled various odd jobs around the castle, but it appeared that everyone treated her as nothing more than a guest. Even those who regarded her with disapproval or suspicion used formal titles when talking to her, except for Kennard and Serin.

Moreover, Elena received exceptionally generous treatment, evident in her fancy dresses, the delicious meals she enjoyed, and the luxurious bedroom she slept in. She curled up on the sofa, hugging her legs and resting her chin on top.

She pondered, Why is the Duke going to such great lengths for me? No matter how much she thought about it, she couldn’t figure out the reason. She had even asked Kennard directly, but instead of a clear answer, she received only a rebuke to “just do as you’re told.”

Her life was incredibly comfortable, almost extravagant, yet it also felt suffocating. It was as if the life she was living didn’t quite fit, like wearing clothes that were too tight. Whenever such thoughts crossed her mind, she felt as though she was betraying their generosity and committing a sin.

Elena suddenly got up, went to the window, and then returned to put on her cloak. After donning warm woolen boots and leather gloves, she went back to the window.

As she moistened the thick velvet curtains and opened the glass door leading to the terrace, the cold night air rushed into the room, causing her to shudder involuntarily.

Winter appeared to be nearing its end, with no more snowfall, but Terra Demorte was still covered in a blanket of white. The castle and the surrounding forest lay quiet. She took a deep breath, feeling the cold air fill her lungs and clear her mind.

Though winter seemed reluctant to leave, the cold air helped chase away unnecessary thoughts. She gazed upward, her breath turning into a mist as she exhaled. The sky was cloudless, filled with stars that seemed ready to twinkle down. The approaching full moon cast a bright glow.

“It’s so beautiful,” she whispered in wonder. Even her breath, turning into white vapor and rising into the air, appeared beautiful. Standing alone in the cold and darkness, surrounded by silence, her heart gradually found calm, and the relentless pounding that had troubled her throughout the day seemed to ease.

“Is this a better life for me?” The words slipped out unintentionally, but maybe it was the right answer after all. She gazed at the night sky, watching the stars move swiftly, and her body grew cold. She wanted to keep staring at the stars, but staying out in the cold made her worry about catching a chill. Falling ill again and inconveniencing Kennard was not an option.

Elena sighed softly and decided to head back to her bedroom. Huh? Suddenly, she froze, not from the cold, but from shock. A dark figure flickered along the railing connecting the towers.

She held her breath and strained to see who it was, but the distance made it impossible to identify. Her heart, which had been calming down, started racing again, leaving her unable to even scream. The figure moved closer to Elena at an astonishing speed, seemingly navigating through the air, moving effortlessly between the castle’s roofs and railings. Then it leaped down as though it could fly.

It was only when the figure drew near that Elena could make out the identity of the enormous, menacing creature. The figure that had now settled on the terrace where Elena sat was a black wolf.



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