The roaring storm began to subside, and the fierce snowstorm that had raged seemed to be fading away. As the sky, which had been roaring, gradually grew quieter, Hadius arrived at Krambitz Manor.
The moment he entered the driveway, the butler recognized him, and his eyes widened in surprise.
“Young Master, what’s going on?”
“Where is my mother?”
“She is in the dressing room, preparing to leave for the engagement ceremony.”
Shouldn’t the young master be with her in the dressing room now?
The butler looked at Hadius with that kind of gaze. Hadius lightly patted the butler’s shoulder.
“I have some things left to take care of.”
Leaving behind the cryptic remark, he walked past the butler and entered the house. Grozhang followed his master quietly.
As they walked, they met the chimney sweep in the middle of the hallway, who was cleaning the fireplace in the sitting room. There was a meaningful exchange of glances.
Hadius continued to walk.
Caitlyn appeared unexpectedly in front of her son with her eyes widened.
“What brings you here all of a sudden? What’s the matter?”
“I have something to discuss.”
Although her son’s face appeared calm, there was an underlying tension that unsettled Caitlyn. She found herself lost in thought, gazing as if into a frozen lake.
Instead of responding, Hadius turned his attention to the maid who was attending to Caitlyn’s hair.
Caitlyn gazed at her son quizzically, and then she said, “Could you leave for a moment?” Dismissing the maids, she noticed something unusual when Grozhang did not follow them outside. As she turned her head, he avoided her gaze and let out a dry cough, deepening the feeling of strangeness in Caitlyn.
“Well, go on and speak now. I thought you’d be busy with preparations for the engagement ceremony by now. What important matter requires you to rush here?”
Hadius stared right through his mother’s face, from her dark brown hair to her matching irises, her elegantly slender nose, and the gentle smile on her thin lips. Her face was always unfamiliar to him, like looking at a stranger’s portrait.
The pale complexion that had suddenly become ashen, the sunken cheeks, or the shadows beneath her eyes failed to evoke any emotion.
‘She’s undoubtedly my ‘mother,’ yet how could this be?’
Hadius pondered the question and finally spoke, “I do not hate you. I am not doing this out of resentment toward you.”
Suddenly, a chilling voice, as if emerging out of nowhere, tightly gripped the atmosphere. Both Caitlyn and Grozhang began to tense up.
“I have, at times, considered you remarkable. You replaced an ineffectual husband, brought innovation to Meyer Steel in his stead, and established our family. Well, now you’ve become pitiful and adopted the image of a commonplace, old-fashioned figure, but… I must acknowledge your achievements.”
“Hadius, what are you saying?”
“Even if you didn’t try to wield influence over my life, I mean to say that if there hadn’t been the sordid disputes between the members of our family grasping for power, it would not have happened.”
Caitlyn dropped her earring. The last trace remaining of her smile gradually vanished.
Caitlyn stood up straight, alternately glancing at her advisor who averted his gaze and at Hadius, who stared straight at her.
“Speak up, Hadius. Why have you suddenly appeared and dared to threaten your mother?”
A stern expression began to freeze over Caitlyn’s face.
‘Yes, you’ve always been that way.’
Hadius thought bitterly. From the beginning, their relationship had been like that – silently observing each other like a calm lake, but if one were to bare their claws, they’d eventually viciously clash, becoming arch-enemies.
It had been a long time since Hadius, as an unfortunate young boy deprived of a mother’s love, killed that poor boy with his own hands. He had never desired to push his miserable childhood and send his life plummeting into the abyss.
He didn’t feel pity or sadness. His feelings toward ‘mother’ existed only as a minimal obligation to maintain appearances and avoid societal censure.
The same must have been true for the woman called ‘mother.’
No interference like ‘son’ or ‘maternal love’ seemed to exist for her in the first place.
Whether it was due to her innate disposition, her twisted hatred for her husband, or her abnormal obsession and longing for success, he couldn’t tell. Or perhaps it was a combination of these factors. But one thing was clear: Hadius had no interest in knowing.
He had killed the past up to this minute. Only the future remained.
“What exactly do you want to say? Don’t dawdle.”
Caitlyn threw off her overcoat in a heartbeat and demanded icily.
Hadius smirked crookedly and reached into his jacket.
A moment later, Caitlyn saw a white envelope held in her son’s hand. An eerie premonition crept up her spine.
“That… what in the world?”
“Are you not already aware?”
Caitlyn’s spine tingled. Hadius stared coldly at his mother, then removed a paper from the envelope and unfolded it.
“I already know what you did to Kanoa and the bastard.”
Caitlyn felt her heart plummet as she heard the sound of it dropping.
* * *
“Beppy is no longer a good servant.”
With a clenched fist and streaming tears, Beppy muttered. The atmosphere became heavy as the family members’ faces simultaneously darkened.
“Beppy is bad. A bad servant.”
“No, sir, that’s not…”
Speaking earnestly, Emilia was suddenly interrupted by a coughing fit. Her handkerchief turned a grim shade from the mixture of mucus and ash, as her doctor had warned.
“In the first place, sir, you’re not a servant. That’s incorrect. Besides, at the hospital, you know what they said. If we had left your leg alone, you might not have been able to walk in the future.”
“And, if we’re talking about it like that, the real bad person is me. Because of me, I wanted to stay longer, making my sister go through that…”
Charlotte’s face contorted dramatically. Tearfully, she pressed her face into Emilia’s chest.
“Sister… I’m sorry… because of me…”
Her whispering voice started to quiver and turned into a torrent of sobs.
Emilia suppressed a sigh and pulled Charlotte into her arms.
“Charlotte… you of all people, please stop. Why are you like this, too?… That kind of nonsense…”
“Argh, please everyone, stop.”
This time, Mitch intervened.
“If we keep going like this, it’ll be harder for my sister. It’s just… an accident. We need to quickly forget it.”
The atmosphere turned gloomy once more.
Despite speaking with strength, everyone knew the truth. Mitch himself was filled with self-loathing all day. Not to mention Kallia; all the family members felt the same way.
“Regret and self-blame won’t help. It’s useless. Right now, we should all help each other so that Emilia can recover quickly.”
Finally, Kallia stepped up.
“Now, let’s all pray together with that intention.”
At Kallia’s suggestion, family members clasped each other’s hands. The prayer’s resonance filled the room as the fireplace continued to crackle. The dark mood that seemed to have no end began to calm significantly.
When they opened their eyes and released their hands, family members looked at each other as if to say, “When did it become like this?” and exchanged relieved smiles.
“Emilia, if you feel uncomfortable or in pain anywhere, don’t keep it to yourself; speak up, alright?”
Kallia firmly grasped her daughter’s hand.
“Yes, I will, my dear.”
Emilia looked at her mother and smiled brightly.
Her throat still hurt. She had severe coughing fits, headaches, and dizziness. Her sleep had been disturbed, making her head feel heavy.
The pain was not just physical; the events that had taken place on the ruined land left deep emotional scars. Memories that painfully clung to her chest caused her body to tremble several times a day.
But she knew, as Mitch had said, that she needed to forget quickly. If she crumbled like this, it would be a genuine surrender to those who had set the fire.
“Everyone, let’s gather our strength.”
Emilia rose to her feet, speaking with a determined voice.
It was thanks to her parents’ dreams, her fiancé who held her trembling body, and the presence of a baby inside her. She felt something fiery surging deep within her heart.
“I am truly fine. I won’t stay down in despair. I will face each day with strength until Dorian returns.”
“Yes, let’s do that.”
Charlotte once again sought refuge in Emilia’s embrace.
At that moment, Maesen knocked on the door and entered.
The soldiers filling the small two-story house provided some comfort to the family, knowing that terrible things would not happen again as long as they were present. However, they also heightened the anxiety of the family members by constantly reminding them that they were still in danger.
As long as they were there, no one would dare set their house on fire again. Yet, they served as a constant reminder of the peril that Emilia’s family faced.
“The carriage is ready.”
Maesen’s words prompted Mitch to stand up.
“Just give me a moment.”
Mitch pulled a notepad from his pocket. It was filled with items he had jotted down while visiting various shops in town today.
It was not only stubbornness that made Emilia want to stay in the cabin until the end. After the fire had taken everything, they needed a lot of essentials, and the list was far from short.
“If we just get these items, will it be enough?”
Mitch handed the notepad to his sister. Emilia inspected the paper and nodded, agreeing that it contained everything they needed.
Kallia watched them then approached Maesen.
“Captain, please take good care of our child, Mitch. I beg you.”
“Do not worry.”
Maesen insisted that he should have guards accompany him whenever he went out for some time. Kallia realized once again that their lives had changed dramatically.
Indeed, the gifts from the gods were never light. They were unsettling and filled the heart with unease, but they had to be accepted. Kallia regained her composure and looked at Emilia.
“Yet the Young Master cares for us in this way… I feel truly relieved.”
Kallia’s forced smile pained Emilia. She tightly clasped her trembling hand.
“I’m sorry, Mother. And Charlotte, Mitch, Uncle Beppy. I am grateful to all of you. Honestly, right now… I don’t know how to express it.”
One by one, Emilia looked into the eyes of her family members, expressing her gratitude. Her family responded with warm gazes.
“I believe in the Young Master. I don’t think something like this will happen again. The Captain made a promise, and he’s willing to risk his life to protect us.”
Emilia appealed to Maesen with a voice full of longing. Maesen looked at her solemnly and nodded.
“I will stay strong. Even for the baby’s sake. It will be hard for all of us, but I hope we can trust and follow the Young Master.”
In a unified voice, the family members agreed to accept the “gifts from the gods” and the burdens that came with them.
Kallia, Charlotte, and even Maesen nodded in agreement.
“Mother, thank you. I’m grateful to all of you.”
Despite her firm determination not to cry, Emilia felt her eyes welling up with tears. Charlotte also began sobbing, and Kallia, with her fingertips, wiped away her tears.
Mitch heaved a deep sigh as he watched everyone. He still couldn’t shake the feeling that Hadius Meyer was behind all of this. But the presence of a niece or nephew growing inside Emilia’s body quelled the resentment and anger bubbling within him. Mitch wished for Emilia’s happiness. He was willing to do anything for that.
“Oh well, why is everyone like this again?”
Mitch grumbled as he took something out of his pocket. It was an item he had discovered in the woods while accompanying the guards early in the morning.
The sight of their ruined house was devastating. However, he had found this in the ashes, and he was captivated by indescribable emotions.
“Here, take this.”
Mitch extended his palm. The item he held in his hand caught the attention of Emilia and the entire family.
It was a ring.
Emilia’s trembling hand reached out to take the ring. How had it survived the consuming flames?
The memory of the moment when Hadius had placed the ring on her finger flooded Emilia’s mind. Her eyes welled up with tears, and the ring shone brilliantly with its unblemished sapphire.
How had the ring endured the consuming flames of the fire?
Mitch sighed deeply and said, “Come on, take it.”
“Where do you think he is now?”
Mitch was tormented by the thought of Hadius Meyer. He knew that his sister’s body was covered in bandages, and his unyielding gaze had also not disappeared. He hoped that nothing would happen.
Emilia held her hands together in prayer, calling her parents silently in her heart. “Please protect him. I hope nothing will happen…”
* * *
Kaitlyn Meyer, despite trembling all over, spoke.
“So, it was you. As expected.”
Had her son been included on the list of suspects?
She was quickly recovering from the shock. Her eyes, now unnaturally calm, sent shivers down Grozhang’s spine.
“It was you….”
Her face and body, which had stiffened, relaxed. Kaitlyn turned toward her son, her lips twisted with irony.
“You did quite well. Really…”
Her voice, icy and detached, continued.
“How many times did you deceive this mother in silence… oh!”
Grozhang suddenly felt lightheaded and his head emptied. What on earth was happening? Why was Kaitlyn Meyer so confident?
He had never expected such a reaction. When he received the letter, he thought she would pale and collapse right away.
Had he missed something? Had he become complacent?
Consumed by a gnawing anxiety, Grozhang looked at the calm and cool Kaitlyn Meyer, who was now smiling coldly.