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As the night wore on, the battle drew to a close: Calder became heavily injured and lost his life; Remington won the battle and lost an excuse to eliminate Arula and then use a crossfire as the scapegoat. It was true that the message had been written by Calder’s adviser, but it was just as true that Calder and his adviser were genuinely on friendly terms—not one manipulated the other. Remington had planned to assassinate Arula; telling me of the plan and advising me about it had been a bet: a bet to see if I would follow or disobey him, a test to see where my loyalties lay. If I did as he asked, Arula would be temporarily spared; if I doubted him and did not relay his message to Arula, the original plan would be carried out. As far as we were from the battlefield, if, when Remington arrived, he witnessed anything between Arula and I that posed a threat to him, he could still finish us both, as Arula would be casting an illusion.

That was why I did not turn—for Remington would be arriving, again, soon.

Soon, but not smoothly.

Despite Calder’s personal defeat, his soldiers put up a fierce fight—this we could not see from where we stood, but it was what Arula predicted. Due to this prediction, it was also safe to assume that Remington would be in a tight spot on the frontline.

I glanced at Arula. Stay here, I thought to him. His brows furrowed in disapproval, but nodded without delay.

With that said, I ran into the battlefield.

From my sleeve I pulled out another exotic item as I drew near Calder’s army: a seed of fire. I could also use one of ice, but fire certainly created better aesthetics on me. They were not easy to come by, admittedly, and my family probably only had one such seed, but my father had felt guilty enough to let me take with me whatever I wanted.

I placed the seed in the palm of my hand, and blew it gently. Almost having a soul of its own, the seed found its way to the heart of Calder’s army and descended there. I started running again, back to where Remington had to be, and made it past his frontline just in time for the other half of the battlefield to become engulfed in flames. I was never one for athletic activity, and began coughing in the smoke that came from behind me as I ran, but it was a risk I was willing to take and knew I could afford.

Because, of course, Remington was at the front himself, and caught sight of me immediately—he had witnessed what I did too, no doubt, even though I had done it from the side. Shocked as he visibly was—and should be—his reflexes were still quick, having been trained to deal with emergencies on the battlefield. He reached out and pulled me towards himself, sparing me from the rest of the steps that would unquestionably take me longer to complete otherwise.

“Retreat!” he called then, as the battle had come to a close with that fire. As the remainder of Calder’s army became distracted with their own sudden casualty, Remington swiftly hid me behind him and retreated with his own soldiers.

Your nemesis is me, was the message he seemed to be sending the other side, doubt nothing.

Remington brought me back to his own tent, granting me invisibility the whole way with a hand on my back. He must have known how famous it would make me overnight if it was discovered that it was I who threw the seed.

“Are you alright?” he asked, as soon as the curtains closed, releasing me at the same time.

I took a deep breath with my lips slightly parted and eyes closed, then held it for a moment longer before letting it out. “Yes,” I confirmed, meeting his gaze. “I apologize for not following your—”

“Thank you,” he interjected. “I took a while, didn’t I?”

I nodded. To avoid making mistakes, I didn’t speak at all. It was much better to wait for him to reveal his deduction and follow his logic from there.

“Why did you do it? I thought you would prioritize your own survival, and the battle was difficult, but I would have finished it eventually...with some casualties.”

“Well…” I feigned hesitation. “If any mishap were to fall upon you, my only protector among your kind would be gone.” To complete that image, I averted my gaze.

You could be free if I were unable to keep you, he should have said then—and in fact, Remington studied my expression for a short while, as if to discern whether I meant what I said or if it was just to mask my true reason: that being, of course, that I was genuinely worried about him and cared for his safety. To answer his unasked question, I stole a glance at him and smiled briefly.

To my surprise, he smiled back.

It must have been one of the few times Remington ever smiled, and even though I despised him with all of my being, I had to admit that it was a handsome smile. A pity no one else ever really saw it.

And if I had that privilege now, it meant one thing.

“I’m sorry,” Remington said.

“Huh?” I asked, knowing full well what he meant.

“I have tried to test you in many ways, and you must have been aware of them. I thought I genuinely questioned your intentions, but I suppose I was merely waiting for an event like this—something to drive my ungrounded suspicions away once and for all.”

I was aware of them, of course. The arrangement of the books in the library and the temptations they offered, showing me to the gentlemanly Arula and giving us plenty of time to spend alone, leaving Ellerie roaming free in his castle even after she’d lost her powers and even though she clearly wanted the death of me—to name a few.

“It is only natural that you would test me,” I said quietly, casting my gaze downwards, “I am the human merchant’s daughter living in your castle after all.”

“It isn’t the testing that I am apologizing for,” Remington said. “For surely you wouldn’t have done it any differently if you were in my place.”

I looked up, waiting.

“I’m sorry that I’m only realizing now I trusted you long ago.”

His tone was soft enough that I smiled at him in encouragement. Taking my cue, Remington pulled me in for a hug.

A minute later, he took off the amulet that I had given him earlier.

“Where did you get this from?” he asked.

“My father gave it to me before I left,” I answered, now prepared for the next thrilling chapter of my second life, “Why?”

“It has been cursed.”

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