“Milady, Master Leon, and Master Clark are leaving for the snowy fields this afternoon.”
As I was preparing to go out, Tia delivered the news.
“The snowy fields? What for?”
“They received orders to retaliate against the snow monsters that attacked nearby territories.”
I closed my eyes at the unexpected news. The snowy fields were located at the very edge of the northern regions. Even teleporting, it would take at least three full days to reach there.
‘It seems I won’t be seeing those two troublesome guys for a while?’ I couldn’t help but feel relieved at the thought.
“I didn’t receive any orders, did I?”
“No, you didn’t.”
I couldn’t hide my satisfaction. The orders were more like missions assigned by the duke than dispatched work or provincial business trips due to the frequent appearance of beasts in the northern regions. Thus, monster-hunting orders were quite frequent. What made it interesting was that the ones receiving these orders were candidates for the family’s heir. It served as an excuse to gain practical experience and enhance competitiveness.
‘Come on! It’s that all this crazy family can think about?’
It was explicitly stated in the family’s regulations that two individuals were dispatched together when given a mission. In other words, it tacitly allowed for murder, as they could go about killing their half-siblings and return alone without the other.
This time, it seemed luck was on my side to be excluded from the subjugation mission with Leon and Clark. It was a significant gain just to be temporarily free from their grasp. Moreover, the fact that I didn’t receive any separate orders was even better.
It was the perfect time to move according to the plan.
“What about the instructions?” I asked while letting the maid give me final retouches.
“Everything was being loaded until some time ago.”
“Go, make sure everything’s done, and come back.”
Tia nodded and left the room.
“Wait, I think my makeup is too heavy.” I furrowed my brow as I examined the maid’s work.
“You-you want it lighter?” She asked, surprised.
“Yes. Do it more naturally. Smooth, but not too obvious.”
Kiana usually preferred heavy makeup, almost like a villainous character. Even so, her natural beauty was unchanging, exuding a deadly charm, but today, the person I was meeting was the issue. Such a strong impression could have the opposite effect.
‘First impressions matter.’
I needed to make it clear from our first meeting that I was different from our half-siblings, who were eager to kill each other.
“Is this good enough?” The maid had been painstakingly making adjustments and asked cautiously.
“Not bad.” I smiled satisfactorily as I looked at my reflection in the mirror. It gave off a sense of natural freshness with a dewy innocence.
The meticulously unraveled hair and the elegant dress that seemed fit for a priestess gave the impression of seeing a pure and pitiable heroine.
“Milady, preparations are all set.” Just then, Tia returned and reported.
I left the room without delay. I didn’t want to run into Leon and Clark, who were leaving for the snowy fields in the afternoon. Passing through a corridor adorned with creepy stuffed animals, knives, and axes, I descended the circular staircase into the central hall.
“Hey, can you stop for a moment?”
“. . .!” As I was heading toward the annex, my body froze at once.
“Hmm. You seem like someone I know, or probably not?” The voice of a woman from behind sent a shiver down my spine.
Of all places to meet, it had to be right here. I was unlucky. I was so unlucky that I could fall backward and still break my nose.
I forced a smile, hiding my expression that revealed I’d rather eat poop than talk to her, and turned around.
A young woman with short, wavy red hair and a revealing mermaid dress leaned against the railing, sipping wine. It was Josephine, the second daughter of the Brunak family and my older half-sister. Perhaps because she was drunk in the middle of the day, her dark green eyes seemed unfocused.
“As I thought. Your back looks just like my little sister.” Josephine’s gaze wandered lazily, like that of a cat.
“Today, you seem a bit different from your usual self.” Her eyes scanned me from head to toe with an inexplicable insistence. A sense of unease made my throat tighten.
“I just wanted a change of pace… How is it?” I played it cool and casually brushed it off. Rather than a long-winded explanation, it seemed more natural this way.
“You look lovely,” Josephine commented as she sipped the wine.
“Is this what a woman looks like when men say they look like they want to protect her?”
I flinched. It wasn’t exactly my intention, but it was true that I had dressed this way to create a similar impression to Evan.
“Would you like to play with dolls with me if you have time?”
“I happened to get a new doll, and playing alone got boring.”
I instinctively knew it wouldn’t be the innocent kind of doll play I had in mind.
“It would be more fun and thrilling if we played together, don’t you think?”
Josephine seemed to find the idea delightful; she covered her mouth, giggling.
At that moment,
『Warning! Risk of death increasing』
I shivered as the warning message appeared.
‘From now on, she’s also my top risk priority. The number one, for sure.’ I mentally classified Josephine’s danger level and engraved it in my mind.
“I’ll have to decline. I already have prior commitments,” I replied, swallowing my fear and rejecting her appropriately.
Entangling in a long conversation with this crazy b*tch would ultimately end up being detrimental to me.
“That’s a shame. How about we have a drink when you have time? Dress up as beautifully as today,” Josephine said with a radiant smile.
‘I’ll never drink with you,’ I thought, but I made a vague gesture with my head instead of answering and was about to escape, but Josephine spoke faster.
“Oh. You know you can’t refuse, right?”
‘F*ck! Why are you doing this to me?’ I thought, struggling to maintain a composed expression as I turned away. I had been feeling somewhat at ease for a while, but now I found myself entangled with Josephine. It didn’t feel good to have gone from detaching myself from one problem only to step into the clutches of a bigger one.
I continued walking toward the annex after leaving the main hall.
“This way, Milady.”
As we exited through the rear gate of the annex, I saw several luggage carts unloading and loading luggage. It was where the mansion’s groceries and supplies were delivered.
“This is the carriage.”
In front of me, a two-wheeled carriage and a luggage cart were parked side by side. Beside them were a horseman, servants, and maids who would accompany us on the outing.
“I’ve removed it as instructed.”
Most carriages owned by nobles had their family emblems engraved prominently. I had ordered all of them to be erased.
‘I can’t afford to be recognized as a Brunak.’
They say you should eat the tastiest things first and face the consequences later. Even if I made a good first impression, Evan’s suspicions would rise if my true identity as a Brunak was revealed.
With a rattling sound, the two-wheeled carriage started moving. Without feeling discomfort from the vibrations of the wheels on the ground or the sounds of cattle, the carriage exited the mansion through the back gate.
‘Woah.’ I marveled at the exotic landscape unfolding outside the window. Architectural wonders in Gothic and Baroque styles adorned the scenery, just like I had studied in textbooks. It was as if I was seeing the European streets I had always longed for.
‘I’ll survive and live here to the fullest.’
Because even if I returned to reality, nothing but bad luck awaited me. I had no family left except a mother who had abandoned me at an orphanage, and I didn’t even want to see her. And not only that. As Kiana, my face was flawless, my status was high, my family was prestigious, and I had no worries about money. As long as I could avoid the death flags and prevent the catastrophic end of the world, my life would be much better than my previous one in poverty.
“Beyond that hill are the slums.”
As we left the city and reached the hills, the scenery outside the carriage window turned desolate. The trees were all withered, the land was barren to the point of desolation, and abandoned houses here and there exuded an air of decay even in broad daylight.
‘People live in a place like this?’
As we crossed the hill, the carriage gradually slowed.
“We’ve arrived, milady.”
I nodded and got out of the carriage. The stark view of the slums that unfolded in front of my eyes rendered me speechless. People looked like beggars with lifeless eyes, and the shanty houses seemed ready to collapse with the slightest breeze.
If the city was paradise, the slums were the purgatory where the marginalized and abandoned lived.
“Prepare the meals.” As I spoke, the servants unloaded the provisions they had prepared from the luggage cart: baguettes, soup, fruits, and medicinal supplies.
“Gather the people.”
Tia and the maids approached the people scattered around. The food was for those who couldn’t afford to have proper meals, so they encouraged them to come and eat comfortably.
‘Is Evan somewhere around here?’ My one and only lifeline that could break countless death flags. Whether it would be a golden lifeline or a rotten one depended on what I did from now on.
‘Why isn’t anyone coming?’ To my bewilderment, no slum residents were coming to receive the food. Just as I began to doubt, Tia returned with a troubled expression.
“Milady, it seems everyone’s alright because they’re already full.”
I turned my head to look at the people who had been speaking with Tia earlier. They appeared stunned, unsure how to respond, and awkwardly avoided eye contact.
It was only then that I understood why they were hesitant to approach.