31: Punishment, Retribution and the Devil’s Laugh (Part 1)
“Thank you for coming, Marika.”
Perplexed at the Duchess d’la Love’s warm greeting, Marika gave a bashful smile.
“I would like to thank you for your invitation, Duchess d’la Love.”
“If you don’t mind, how about you call me Philia? I’m also calling you Marika. I’m sorry if it sounds too selfish.”
“No, it’s my honor. Thank you very much, Philia.”
The two of them smiled at each other, and Philia invited Marika to join her at the table. There, the arrangements for the tea were prepared, and the tea personally made by Philia was placed.
“Ah, it smells nice…”
Marika took a sniff while holding the cup and, with a graceful but slightly awkward manner, brought it closer to her lips.
The corner of Philia’s mouth raised upward, looking at Marika and flashed a crooked smile.
“Lord d’la Love!?”
Luca rushed out with the momentum that almost broke the door and flung the cup from Marika’s hand. The paper-thin cup then rolled on the carpet and broke as it smashed against the chair’s leg.
Following Luca, Laurenz also rushed out, picked up the teapot placed on the table, and took off the lid.
“This smell… It’s definitely the most atrocious and the worst poison, Villain d’la Love poison. Lady Philia, you must be aware that this can’t be taken out without the king’s permission, much less use it, which will unarguably incur you capital punishment, right?”
“This poison has belonged to my family from the beginning. There’s no need for the king’s permission!”
Philia dropped her amicable pretense from earlier and gave a high-pitched shrill.
She had a ruthless and insane look on her face, as befitted the daughter of d’la Love, ironically once known as the poisonous family.
“W-well, your fate was decided the moment you used this poison on Marika, whether you needed permission or not. Luca will, of course, but neither Al nor I will forgive anyone attempting to harm this woman.”
Giving Laurenz a hateful gaze who was laughing like usual, while his eyes weren’t, Philia turned to look at Luca. Her stepbrother hugged Marika as if his stepsister didn’t exist in his eyes.
“Hey, Luca, the rumor is a lie, right? That you’re going to marry this girl. This girl’s poor upbringing must be threatening you, right? Feel relieved. Your big sister will take care of it. So it should be enough for you to wake up…”
“You’re the one who needs to be woken up.”
Luca finally looked at Philia, but his eyes were filled with disgust as if he was looking at filth.
“I’m not in the mood to hear your wild delusion any further on this matter. Be gone… not only from our eyes but from this world too.”
While looking worried, Marika snuggled closer as if to support Luca.
She snuggled up to the side of her lover, who was strongly trying to improve himself. He was cutting ties with the stepsister he never disobeyed in all this long time even though he loathed and abhorred her so much.
“A lie… you are lying, right? Luca, tell me I’m the only one you like.”
Unable to accept the reality, Philia shook her head furiously and twisted her body madly.
“Stop, don’t be fooled by that woman… Stop!”
The awakening of that day was the worst.
“Oh, my young lady, you have just woken up, yet you have dark circles under your eyes…”
Angela, who had come to help me get ready in the morning, hurriedly began to massage my face to improve my complexion.
“I had a nightmare, so I wasn’t able to sleep well.”
“A dream, huh. It’s quite rare. That Beas— Since Master Luca isn’t here, there’s no one to cause mischief either.”
Just like Angela said, Luca was absent last night. Or rather, he hadn’t shown his face for the last week.
It all started a week ago when the insecure Luca finally calmed down. After a long time, we went down to have dinner in the dining room, and father had just returned.
“Hello, dear Philly, my princess!”
“Somehow, it feels like it’s been a long time, Father. How are you?”
However, Father just silently extended his hand without saying anything. His long fingers touched my cheeks and stroked my contours.
“Philia… You look a bit thin, don’t you?”
Regardless of his consoling voice, I felt a chill running over my body for some reason.
“Undoubtedly, your chin’s shape looks different than usual, and your dress is a bit loose.”
I sensed Angela nodding furiously, who was waiting on the sidelines. I really didn’t want her to pour oil on the fire.
“For you to lose some weight in the short time I haven’t seen you… I wonder what could have happened, don’t you, Luca?”
Father’s gaze shifted to Luca standing next to me, and Luca, who was awkwardly averting his eyes, exhaled as if he had resigned himself to it.
“It’s because of me.”
“Good grief! I advised you to be more prudent. You’re quite a handful, boy.”
Father couldn’t help but smile when he saw Luca not refuting being treated as a child, which he usually did.
“A bad child needs to be punished. I will keep you busier.”
“Father, Luca is already busy enough.”
“Spoiling him any more than this isn’t good for him either. Prepare yourself since you will not be able to see Philly for a while.”
My father was a man of his words. Ever since then, I hadn’t seen Luca.
There were times he seemed to come at midnight, but he would collapse in the bed, falling asleep and leaving before dawn. I was feeling anxious, like a salaryman at a company. However, as his debauchery’s influence cleared up, I was now full of energy.
Or so should have been the case, but from the moment I had that nightmare, a sense of fatigue was tormenting me.
I used to dream about my previous world. There were also times I had seen the dream of a game, but the dream from this morning was strangely real with a 3D full cast and all the acquainted people coming out, so I was awfully worn out due to this.
They had stopped appearing since I got engaged to Luca, but I wondered why they reappeared now so suddenly.
“What bad timing to have nightmares. Even though you are finally getting some rest alone.”
“Could it be that I’m now unable to sleep without Luca…”
“Hopefully not. You never know what that child might do. Suppose he heard that he would get carried away. Please try to play dumb and don’t talk about this.”
It seems like our lady’s maid wasn’t only stricter towards Luca but even to me.
Obviously in a bad mood, Angela sent me off and headed towards the guest room where Julio, in his neat knight’s uniform, was waiting.
“It’s been a while, Julio.”
“You’re right. Ah, have you gained weight?”
Instantly, I flung off the folding fan from my hand towards Julio, who had been rude since our encounter.
“Ah, even if it’s a folding fan, it hurts if it hits, you know?”
Although a trainee but surely a knight, Julio somehow evaded my strike and protested.
The maid who appeared while pushing the tea cart picked up the fan and handed it to me as if nothing had happened, prepared the fragrant tea, and left.
“It’s not a gentlemanly manner to point out so loudly about the things people are worried about regarding themselves.”
“As expected, you seem to have gained weight. But it’s not to the point that you need to care about it. Lady Philia was originally thin, so you will still be beautiful even if you become chubby.”
“If you seriously meant it as consolation, you will never get married.”
Despite being a faint-hearted and a mob character, Julio’s modesty had decreased quite quickly towards me. That was why I got along with him when in a good mood, but I couldn’t deny that I was annoyed sometimes.
“To begin with, it’s Luca’s absence that caused this weight gain.”
“Oh, it seems like Master Luca is busy these days.”
“My my, so you know?”
“W-Well, today I have come to visit Lady Philia instead of Master Luca for monitori—, I mean I was asked to confirm your condition after he threate—, requested me to do so.”
Julio said, holding his stomach with vaguely hollow eyes.
I felt like some suspicious words were mixed here and there, but I just smiled since it was not something I wanted to ask about.
“I don’t know the details, but it seems like you have been getting along with Luca these days, don’t you agree?”
“Yes… but if possible, I want to refuse it at all costs.”
It was incredible of him to say this in front of me, who was Luca’s stepsister and now fiance.
After getting back his composure and drinking the tea, we returned to the main topic.
“Why is Master Luca’s absence related to your gaining weight?”
“Gaining weight, gaining weight, why must I hear this so many times… Whatever, I’m beat. It’s easy to eat since there’s no Luca to stare at me while I eat, and in comparison, expenditure of energy has become less.”
“Well, yeah, it must be hard to eat while being stared at. But expenditure?”
Looking at Julio, who didn’t seem to understand, I quietly hid my face behind the folding fan and exhaled a sigh.
It was not only because Angela tightened my corset as if I was her parent’s murderer but also to hide my melancholy.
The terrifying thing was that in the one week I hadn’t seen Luca’s face, far from being returned to my usual weight, I seemed to have become a bit rounder than before.
“No expenditure of my energy. In other words, I’m not moving that much. You see, Luca looked at me so intensely that it was fine no matter how much I eat normally. Because at night, I would sweat a lot from physical exercise…”
“I don’t want to hear. It’s too vivid!”
Julio covered both of his ears with his hands and shook his head furiously.
“It’s too reckless of you to speak about it. Master Luca also nonchalantly spouts out dangerous details. You two eccentric siblings are really like two peas in a pod!”
“It’s a bit much to group me with Luca. It’s not like I’m spreading it around. Isn’t it fine since we’re friends?”
“Lady Philia, please get yourself a female friend.”
Julio pleaded to me earnestly and dropped his shoulder, crestfallen.
Certainly, talking high spiritedly like the girl’s talk in my previous life might be hard for him, a simple countryside boy.
He seemed to be on the verge of collapse already in just 10% of the serious talk without the alcohol. I wondered if I should be more prudent and, just like he said, search for a few female friends whom I could have a girl’s talk with later.
Until now, I didn’t have enough motivation, but if I became serious, I could make female friends…Or so I wanted to say.
“So, what did you come for anyway?”
“Oh, nothing. I just came to see how you were doing.”
It seemed like Julio was being used by Luca to his advantage. It was really awful, but I was glad that he recognized him as his friend, so I would have to put up with this for a bit.
“I’m going to visit the royal palace next, so if you have any message for Master Luca, you can tell me. Ah, that’s right, please write a letter. When I told him that you’re writing me letters, he was so begrudgingly staring at me that I felt like I would die…”
“Luca is also going to the royal palace?”
“Yes, it seems like he’s involved in preparing the Pesach Night party.”
The Pesach Night in this world was New Year’s Eve in Japan. It was the last day of the year, but this world has an interesting custom: you should not lie or deceive anyone from the time the sun sets until the year changes.
Of course, human society was like that. If you really spent time being honest, various problems were bound to arise, and it was guaranteed to become awkward from the next day, so there wasn’t anyone who seriously followed and tried to protect this custom.
However, acting with no restraint in the party was allowed. On Pesach Night, they had a rowdy party in many places, irrespective of aristocrats or commoners.
Of course, the royal castle also held a large-scale evening party. Everyone from royalties to the low-class aristocrats gathered in one place and welcomed the new year as they spent the Pesach Night together.
Every year, either I didn’t attend it or only showed up at the beginning, but this year was special.
This year, the game reached its climax on Pesach Night. In the crown prince’s route, which was also considered the true route, this Pesach Night was the turning point in the game where various truths were revealed.
I wondered what the heroine, Marika, would do this time. She was following both the knight’s route and the crown prince’s route and seemed to be doing well, but in fact, had been discovered.
I wondered if something would happen at the Pesach party this year.
I felt like I understood why I dreamt about the game, which I hadn’t for a while.
It was less than one month until the Pesach Night.
I couldn’t sleep well that day. Perhaps I was concerned about the nightmare.
As I repeatedly turned over multiple times due to my shallow sleep, sometimes awake, I opened my eyes, noticing someone’s presence.
Platinum blonde hair and white skin suddenly appeared in the pitch-black darkness, and I was so startled I felt like my breathing would stop. I somehow stopped myself from screaming, narrowly noticing that it was my fiance, but if it were a mistake, I would have surely shouted loud enough to wake up this mansion’s residents.
“Don’t frighten me…”
“Sorry. As soon as I arrived home, I couldn’t wait to see your face after such a long time.”
“How busy are you really?”
Luca stopped me just as I was about to sit up, still amazed.
“Please sleep and properly cover yourself with the blanket.”
“I’m sitting up because it’s hard to talk. Besides, it’s you who should be lying down. You must be tired, right? Here, if you want, you can also…”
“I can’t do this. I don’t have any bit of self-control to act prudently when I sleep next to you.”
It was unbelievable for these words to come out of Luca’s mouth. It was not that I was conceited, but I never thought Luca would ever think about exercising self-restraint towards me.
There was only one meaning of self-restraint, right? Seeing me, who was seriously pondering about this, Luca exhaled a sigh of helplessness.
“Father has strictly commanded me not to touch you until the Pesach Night. If I break this, he said he might have to think about postponing our marriage.”
“It’s quite odd of him to say something like that.”
I knew father doted on me dearly, but including Luca, his parenting policy was, in a sense, let nature take its course, or so was my impression. Even about our engagement, I felt he didn’t have any objection to “if we both are okay,” and he even went as far as to tease Luca too much.
“It’s because you lost a lot of weight. It’s no wonder Father got angry.”
“Though it has already reverted…”
Far from anything, I gained weight. While I was secretly depressed, Luca smiled happily.
“Your cheeks seem to have become chubby. I’m relieved.”
“But I’m not happy to be called chubby. Putting that aside, haven’t you become thin?”
Even in the dark, I could see that his cheeks, which had no excess flesh, to begin with, had been shaved. When I touched his cheeks’ sharp lines to check, Luca narrowed his eyes as if he was in some kind of pain.
“You have always been worried about me, haven’t you?”
In the past, I was completely occupied with the thought to avert my death route, and if I had to choose one, I felt like I was quite a selfish person.
Luca grabbed my hands that were gently petting his cheeks and kissed my fingertips.
“I was really happy to receive the letter.”
It was the letter I had written after Julio pleaded to me with an almost crying face saying, ‘I’m requesting you to send him one.’ But I was really glad I wrote him the letter looking at Luca’s delighted face.
“You have written your honest feelings, haven’t you, Phi? ‘I have loved you who’s like an angel since I was little, but now, I only love you as someone from the opposite sex…'”
I was not into the shame play to have him read the letter that could be easily misunderstood as a love letter in front of me.
I tried to write it plainly as much at Julio’s advice, but now that I was hearing it again, the content seems too poetic. More so when Luca wasn’t holding anything in his arms.
“Y-You memorized it?”
“Obviously. It was the first letter I received from you. So, of course, I would remember each and every line.”
Luca cast his eyes downward as he said something that made me feel both happy and confused.
“I remembered about our past after not being able to see you for one week.”
“About the past?”
“Yeah, when I couldn’t even look you in the eye. Thinking that my feelings at that time for you were too filthy, I was scared to look at you. If you… If my older sister learned about my feelings, I was only thinking about how much I will be loathed then and tried to avoid you while hiding my feelings.”
It was rare for him to talk about the past like this. I wondered if he was trying to repay me for writing to him about old memories and how I felt at that time.
“Even though I tried to avoid thinking if I don’t look at you, maybe my feelings would disappear, but I wasn’t able to endure. It pains me to look at your face, and it also hurts me if I don’t see a glimpse of you… When I remembered the past, the pain of not being able to see you now must be awfully luxurious trouble for me compared to that time.”
“Luxurious even though you were in pain?”
“That’s right. Back then, I couldn’t have believed that you were thinking about me even when you couldn’t see me, just like you wrote in a letter.”
I thought he exaggerated, but when I looked at his earnest face, I understood that he was thinking that seriously.
I had no idea that Luca, who was still very young, was in such pain.
I was only thinking about myself, panicking that if he hated me, it would lead to my death route and taking advantage of the game setting on Luca, who was becoming cold.
So Luca was thinking all that time about this selfish me.
“Luca… Thank you for loving me.”
I wonder if the reason was the pitch-black darkness in the room due to it being the middle of the night, but I suddenly spilled out the embarrassing words I normally wouldn’t say.
Luca looked a bit stunned as if he had heard something incredible and flashed an extremely charming and delighted smile.
“I am the one who should be thanking you. Thank you, Phi… I love you.”
We whispered to each other as if we were afraid of something, even though no one was there to hear us.
We gently brought our faces together, and our lips touched.
We both knew that if we hugged each other, we wouldn’t be able to stop ourselves, so we only pressed our lips again and again with the tactic of understanding that we wouldn’t let our bodies touch.
Our kiss was just a plain kiss without any lust hidden within it and too comfortable, but it was a bit vexing for our bodies which already had experienced the joy of deeply connecting.
It was just a cute and childish kiss, but Luca’s breathing became rough, and I could tell his emerald green eyes were tinted in passion amidst the dim light.
Normally, he would have been pushing me down already but maybe because the nail my father had stuck in him was so solid that he was tightly grasping both his hands and enduring not to put hands around me.
I was always a bit scared of his gaze with an unconcealed lust, but probably because my body understood that we weren’t touching each other today, my body’s core felt a bit numb and hot.
“Somehow, I am now feeling impatient for Pesach Night.”
“Please don’t say something cute like that. I’m going crazy wanting you.”
Our gaze and our sigh entwined with each other as if it was a replacement for our embrace and took a troubling sign.
Knowing that it would become dangerous if we didn’t distance ourselves from each other, we separated our bodies a little while still sitting on the same bed.
Luca grasped my hand as if to say he really didn’t want to distance himself from me.
“I’m sorry… that I tied you up before.”
Luca muttered it out while caressing my wrist, which had no traces left from that time.
“I can’t say… I will not do it again. Actually, I don’t have any self-confidence in my control when it comes to you. I, myself, don’t know what I will do when my emotions get the better of me, and I couldn’t even make a definite promise that I can make you happy either. I will not let you escape from me, even if my overly strong feeling makes you unhappy. The only thing I could pledge is to love you only… That doesn’t exonerate you in the slightest.”
S-Somehow, I felt like I had been told something frightening.
Rather than being told I would make you happy, it was intense when he said I might make you unhappy, but I would not let you escape from my grasp.
My heart hurt from the momentary heart wringing.
“But I will make an effort to believe you. Initially, I hate it, but I will put up with it if you talk with other men if it’s the bare minimum… But I really hate this.”
“I know. Thank you for putting up with me.”
“However, a kiss on the cheeks even as a greeting is no good. Gloved hands are my limit.”
I was tickled to see that Luca was trying so hard to restrain himself as if he really didn’t want to.
I had absolutely wanted to be spared from being physically tied up, but such sweet fetters weren’t half bad either.
“Whoever you meet or talk to, I will believe you are thinking about me… But please avoid situations where you are alone with a man, okay? Nearly all men have obscene thoughts when they look at you, just like I do.”
“I understand… I will be careful about that.”
I gave a meek nod, keeping my honest feelings to myself that people like Luca were hard to find.