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Chapter ?

When Larissa first entered Remington’s castle, Ellerie was already there. In fact, Ellerie and Remington had known each other from birth. All her life, Ellerie admired Remington for his intellect, his ability to use a wide range of magical abilities, and his handsomeness. He had blue-black hair that contrasted his fair skin in the most beautiful way; his eyes always seemed like they could see through her soul—and they probably could, not because of the color of those eyes, but because he was just that inquisitive. There was nothing about her that he didn’t know, and no detail was too minor to him when it came to her.

“You are the only person I can trust in this world,” he had told her once, when they were teens, “Everyone knows I am to inherit this castle and everything that comes with it; when they approach me, it is always with a hidden agenda.”

“Is it because we’re childhood friends that you trust me?” Ellerie had asked.

“Partly,” he answered, “But also just because you are that trustworthy to me.”

She smiled, wholeheartedly glad that it wasn’t just because she was born in the right place at the right time.

It was not once but many times that the question of Remington’s future wife was brought up. A lord must have a partner and an heir, the elders said. Remington held them off each time, claiming he was not yet ready for that issue. In his mind as well as everyone else’s, there was already one singular candidate. In truth, there was no reason to further pretend to discuss the matter.

“Will you marry me someday?” Remington asked Ellerie one evening over dinner. Across the mahogany table and lit candles, it was just the two of them.

“Of course,” she answered, “There is no one else I’d rather be with than you. You know this.”

And then Larissa arrived.

In this world, there were a few classes of people, but the population was mostly separated into two kinds: the ordinary, and the bluebloods. The ordinary were just as the word suggests: human beings possessing no powers and no resources of their own. The bluebloods were people who were born with magical powers, whatever they were, and treated as nobles of the land. When an ordinary human being entered the property of a blueblood and worked there, with time, s/he too would gain some kind of power. However, if s/he were to leave, that power too would be gone. This was what bound the numerous servants’ loyalty to the bluebloods, securing the hierarchy. Everything screamed you need us to survive.

Larissa was born ordinary. She entered Remington’s castle as his librarian, managing three floors of cathedral-height bookshelves that were stacked with volumes of different shapes and sizes and from different eras and regions. Gradually, she, too, gained some kind of power—but that wasn’t what labelled her as a witch. She was right, after all, when she said everyone in the castle had powers.

What stood out was the fact that her power surpassed that of Ellerie’s within the first year that she had arrived. Ellerie, born a blueblood, could not understand how this could be unless Larissa was a witch practicing the dark arts in secret.

“You are...extraordinary,” Remington remarked once. Obviously, Larissa’s brilliance would not escape the master’s notice. “Just remember your place.”

“I know,” Larissa had said back then. “No trouble before your wedding, am I right?”

To this, Remington did not reply.

After she made that comment, strange things happened—a series of events, in fact. Mysterious deaths, unexplained disappearances of objects and people, and finally, the utter loss of Ellerie’s powers. At first, no one suspected Larissa. Ellerie was a petite but frail maiden to begin with, perhaps it was an illness that temporarily took her powers away. Spending time at Remington’s castle should bring them back, since even ordinary humans gained powers that way.

But it did not happen.

“Did you do something?” Remington asked Larissa, when they were alone in the library.

“I stay here every hour of the day, and Lady Ellerie never comes here. Of course it wasn’t me,” she explained.

“That is true,” Remington acknowledged.

Suspicions only began to rise when, one evening, Larissa and Ellerie were seen quarrelling in the courtyard. No one could make out what they were actually saying, but Ellerie was in tears, and Larissa smirking. At one point, Larissa flicked Ellerie’s forehead, causing the latter to fall unconscious.

That was when Larissa became a criminal.

“Do you suspect me that much?” Larissa asked.

“Everyone saw what you did,” Remington replied, glaring at her. “I am disappointed.”

Larissa sighed in exaggeration.

“As am I, in you.”

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