Chapter 1

Translator: Alice

Editor: SoaringPeaches

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“Extra! Extra! The Arc de Triomphe has finally been approved!”

 

The newspaper boy shouted, waving his newspaper. People flocked to him like ants to sugar water. Eileen, who was also in the crowd, purchased the paper with a coin.

 

The cheaply printed material, with bold headlines and the size of the page itself, said,

 

[The Council approved the construction of the Arc de Triomphe—The Archduke’s True Victory.]

 

The Archduke Duke Cesare Karl Erzet of Traon—owner of the wealthy Erzet family, commander-in-chief of the Imperial army, and the Emperor’s only brother. 

 

He was the most famous person in the Traon Empire. After the long and bloody battle for the throne, Cesare personally elevated his brother to the throne and was appointed Archduke.

 

Following that, he immediately set out to conquer the Kingdom of Calpen. After three long years of fierce fighting, he achieved a sudden victory. When this news broke, the entire empire rushed into the streets to celebrate and rejoice.

 

Upon his return, Cesare turned the Council upside down. To commemorate his victory, he demanded the construction of a triumphal arch.

 

The Council harshly criticised Cesare. They deemed it impossible, claiming that the prince was truly arrogant in his desire to commemorate a victory that even the Emperor could not achieve.

 

The Council’s vehement opposition was obvious, but Cesare’s reputation had already skyrocketed following his incredible victory. Allowing the construction of the triumphal arch would be equivalent to announcing the imperial family’s glory to the entire world. The Council, which was composed of nobles, would not concede. If the arch were built, the power dynamic between the royal family and the nobility would become skewed. 

 

Cesare defied the Council by building barracks near the legislative hall. He made it clear that he and his supporters would not enter unless the Council surrendered.

 

After a months-long power struggle, the Council gave a sigh of capitulation. Apparently, it happened the day Eileen bought the paper.

 

“They should have ceased sooner. Still, we’re fortunate that the victory ceremony will take place during the social season.”

 

“Indeed. I wonder which family will have their daughter become the next Archduchess.”

 

Eileen adjusted her glasses as she listened to the crowd murmur. Her unkempt fringe continued to poke her eyes.

 

The social season was in full swing. It was the responsibility of unmarried noble women to attend various balls and tea parties in order to find husbands. This had nothing to do with Eileen, who had yet to make her social debut.

 

‘I’m also curious who the next Archduchess will be, but…’

 

There were too many things to consider before indulging in fanciful daydreams. Eileen shook her head, pushing away all the unnecessary thoughts.

 

She continued her brisk walk, holding the newspaper by her side, before spotting a small inn in the distance. The second-floor room of the clean but small and old inn housed Eileen’s laboratory.

 

Eileen felt strange as she approached the inn. The street, which should have been busy, was quiet. Normally, there would be a flock of children running around and playing, but there was none in sight.

 

She looked around and noticed that all the house windows were tightly shut. Although it was still early summer, the afternoon heat was scorching. Everyone typically left their doors and windows wide open to cool their places.

 

It all looked so ominous. Eileen hunched her shoulders and dashed to her laboratory, determined to seek refuge there regardless of the townfolk’s strange behaviour.

 

Eileen’s quick steps slowed as she approached the inn. Uniformed men stood silently in front of the building. They could only be the Archduke’s men, dappled like shadows in the midday sun.

 

A familiar face emerged at the front of the armed soldiers. The enormous man’s face was half covered in burn marks.

 

“Eileen.”

 

The man gave Eileen a polite salute.

 

“S-Sir Lotan?”

 

She was relieved to see a familiar face, especially one she had not seen in a long time. However, her shaky response made her feel slightly embarrassed. Lotan courteously pulled open the door.

 

“His Excellency is waiting.”

 

It was a gentle yet firm command. Eileen was pushed into the inn without any hesitation.

 

The interior was completely empty. It was supposed to be buzzing with customers and filled with the aroma of good food. It was bizarre to see empty tables and chairs lined up with no one in sight. After passing through the first floor, where the owner had vanished, Eileen slowly climbed the wooden stairs.

 

The second floor was also devoid of people. Even without opening any of the closed doors, she knew that the other sides were empty.

 

Eileen walked to the last room on the floor, took a deep breath, and looked down at the door. The door with a polished brass doorknob was partially open. 

 

She nervously pushed the door open, revealing a messy space. Glass tubes, books, syringes, and hoses—it was a room filled with all kinds of miscellaneous items.

 

The familiar space felt infinitely unfamiliar. The reason for that was the man standing in front of the window.

 

The man was caressing a flower pot on the windowsill. He carelessly crushed poppy petals with his leather gloves.

 

When the man released his grip and turned around, a few of the red petals fell to the floor.

 

He wore a dark blue uniform. The outfit was elegant and straight, flawless, with no revealing flesh. Only the medals caught the sunlight, reflecting a gentle glow.

 

Under those dark locks, further shaded by the scorching sun, gleamed vibrant crimson eyes, unwaveringly fixed on Eileen.

 

Those eyes were praised for being as clear and noble as rubies. And yet, they were also the target of cruel rumours, likening them to bloody depictions of heinous pasts and nefarious intentions.

 

“Eileen Elrod.”

 

A deep, pleasant voice called out her name. Eileen inhaled sharply, as if holding on to her last breath.

 

“Y-Your Excellency, the Archduke!”

 

Her heart was racing from the unexpected reunion. Her voice broke through as she swallowed hard.

 

“I…C-congratulations on your victory.”

 

Cesare chuckled at her stuttering. His smile suggested he did not expect such words as her first greeting. Eileen, too, thought it was a very inelegant greeting. She added hesitantly,

 

“I thought you were preparing for the victory ceremony.”

 

Because the Arc de Triomphe had only been approved today, the belated victory ceremony needed to be planned swiftly. He must have been very busy, but Eileen could not understand why he had come all the way to this shabby inn.

 

Of course, he found Eileen somewhat charming. But it was simply courtesy shown to the daughter of a deceased servant. There was no reason for him to rush to her in the midst of the commotion surrounding the triumphal arch’s approval.

 

Eileen held his gaze while waiting for an explanation. However, Cesare simply stared at Eileen. She struggled to comprehend the intensity of his gaze.

 

When Eileen could not bear the silence any longer, he approached her with a faint smile.

 

The sound of military boots trampling across the old wooden floor was audible. The closer Cesare got, the more Eileen could clearly feel his physique. He towered over most men, boasting broad shoulders and a rippling physique that exuded strength and allure.

 

Eileen found herself breathless in the presence of the other, who made no effort to conceal his untamed nature. He possessed a beauty so captivating, often likened to that of a mythical god.

 

And yet, Eileen was keenly aware of Cesare’s cruelty and intimidation. Even now, she could still smell the lingering scent of blood and gunpowder.

 

As Cesare stood directly in front of her, she felt a strange tingle run up her spine. She then lowered her gaze, unable to withstand his piercing stare.

 

“You made dr*gs.”

 

“E-Excuse me?”

 

The words made Eileen raise her head abruptly. With his eyes still fixed on Eileen, Cesare spoke languidly.

 

“Morpheus, Eileen.”

 

“Ah, that can be used as a painkiller!”

 

“And?”

 

Eileen’s mouth shut at the prompt. Morpheus was a potent analgesic, but in its unrefined form, it was opium. Because the raw material was a dr*g, it was extremely addictive.

 

Following the former emperor’s death from an overdose, the empire executed anyone who produced or distributed drugs.

 

Cesare, the Imperial Army’s commander-in-chief, had the authority to order a summary execution. Nobody would blink an eye if he pulled the trigger towards Eileen’s head.

 

Eileen’s mind raced with all kinds of excuses. She yearned to be of help to the empire. She was even eager to aid His Highness’s wounded soldiers from the war.

 

However, fear had gripped Eileen, and she could not articulate. She trembled at the thought that he might point a gun at her at any moment.

 

Seeing her pale face, Cesare let out a light sign. He reached out to cup Eileen’s cheek, caressing the soft flesh while murmuring softly. 

 

“Oh dear, I didn’t mean to scare you like this.”

 

He spoke as if he wanted to frighten Eileen. Cesare brushed away the fringe before shifting to her glasses. They were crooked, so he removed them and placed them on his face.

 

They looked so strange on him that they stirred strange feelings in Eileen’s stomach. 

 

Cesare laughed, pressing his fingers against the frame of the glasses.

 

“Listen closely, Eileen.”

 

With glasses and fringe removed, the clear vision felt strange. Eileen looked at Cesare with quivering eyes.

 

“It just so happens that I’m in need of an Archduchess.”

 

Cesare leisurely lowered her head in front of the barely breathing Eileen. She was tense, completely unresponsive, as his fine black hair brushed against his form.

 

“Shall we get married?”

 

***

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Notes

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