༺ A Different Choice ༻
As Frey’s carriage pulled up to the Starlight Mansion, he could feel an unsettling chill permeate the surroundings.
Sensing the change, Frey, who had just gotten off the carriage, slightly furrowed his brows.
While the Starlight Mansion usually did have a chilly atmosphere, for today in particular, there was something distinctly off about it.
All the servants of the Starlight Mansion were outside, staring at Frey without a word.
Of course, it was a familiar sight for him whenever he returned home after going out.
“What’s going on?”
However, there was something different today.
Everyone outside was not in their maid uniforms or work clothes, but rather in casual attire. On top of that, they were all staring at Frey with cold expressions.
“What the hell are you all doing right now?”
As he surveyed the surrounding servants, Frey took slow steps towards them.
“Although I’d like to punish you all right away, I suppose I’ll at least hear what you have to say.”
As he finished speaking, someone stepped forward to represent the other servants.
“Young Master Frey.”
She was Arianne’s sister, who had been employed as a maid in the Starlight family.
“I regret to inform you that, starting today, we will no longer serve you.”
“All of us will quit being your servants from today.”
With that, silence swept over the room.
Frey broke the silence with a bitter laugh. He glanced at the gathered servants before voicing his question.
“What’s the reason?”
In response, the woman who had stepped forward as the servants’ representative answered in a low voice.
“Miss Aria already left the mansion a few days ago.”
Frey remained silent, biting his lip in reaction to her words. The woman continued, slowly enunciating her words.
“That’s why we, too, no longer have any reason to keep staying here.”
The surrounding gazes turned even colder.
Those who gathered outside, glaring at Frey with cold eyes, were Abraham’s loyal servants. They were a product of Abraham’s policy to recruit only the eternally loyal and outstanding individuals whom he had personally nurtured and educated.
On top of that, they were also the friends and subordinates of Aria, who had treated them with kindness more than anyone else.
Therefore, they no longer wanted to serve Frey; someone who had gone beyond mere villainy, had ruined Abraham and Aria, and was now actively tarnishing the honor of the Starlight household.
“So when you all leave here, do you have a place to go?”
Although a tingle of concern remained in his mind, his words held a very different meaning to the servants.
Most of them had decided to leave out of consideration for Aria, but a few were acutely aware that they had nowhere else to turn, thus ultimately remaining in the mansion.
Additionally, despite their skills, they belonged to the lower class, whom the nobles despised. Violating their contracts would only add to the stigma they carried.
This led them to believe that Frey’s words had an underlying implication, mocking them for having nowhere else to go besides his mansion.
“Most of you have family members to support or sick people to care for. Even if you go out to the streets to do odd jobs, it won’t be enough to feed…”
“You don’t have to worry about that.”
Frey’s expression contorted when the maid, who had always been timid in front of him, boldly interrupted him.
“We received a call from the Imperial Palace.”
“…From the Imperial Palace?”
“I’m not sure what it’s about, but they said they wanted to scout us,”
She carried on, her gaze locked on the motionless Frey.
“Of course, many of us want to keep serving as Lady Aria’s servants at Miss Isolet’s house. However, we understand that she can’t possibly shoulder the burden of all of us.”
“Of course, we’ll all take responsibility for the contract violations. As for the penalty…”
Frey interrupted her while staring at a particular figure among the servants.
When he saw Lulu, pale-faced and carrying luggage, he had a hunch about why the imperial palace wanted to scout them. Therefore, he spoke to them with a composed expression.
“There won’t be any penalties for breaking the contract.”
“There won’t be any disadvantages or dishonor due to contract violations.”
Upon hearing this, the servants were bewildered.
They had all come prepared here today to face Frey, even willing to endure being beaten to death by him if necessary.
“Also, severance pay will be paid properly.”
Frey made such unexpected statements while looking at the servants. Then, his hands trembling, he leaned on his walking stick and slowly began to make his way back to the mansion with great difficulty.
“So, don’t leave without permission; make sure to leave your signature before you go.”
“What is this? So, is it true that his days are numbered?”
“…I doubt it. Maybe it’s just a disguise to gain sympathy because his image has been tarnished lately.”
“But… I heard he hasn’t attended academy classes recently.”
As the servants watched Frey’s departing figure, rumors about his health began to circulate.
Needless to say, Frey, who had always appeared sickly, now seemed on the verge of collapse. His usual fierceness had disappeared, and his lonely figure as he walked towards the mansion was more than enough to make him the subject of gossip.
“That’s one thing, but this is another matter. The fact that he’s a piece of trash still remains regardless.”
“Yeah, pretending to be good now won’t change anything.”
“But… he does look a bit pitiful.”
“Well, it’s all an act, isn’t it?”
Certainly, they concluded that Frey’s current situation was retribution brought about by his villainy.
Due to Ruby’s secret operation, Frey’s reputation had deteriorated significantly over the past few months, to the point where receiving sympathy had become a rare luxury for him.
Only Lulu, clutching her baggage tightly to her chest, reacted intensely to the conversation about Frey’s supposedly limited lifespan.
Just like that, Frey, who had left the servants behind with his usual cold demeanor, arrived at the mansion’s entrance. He glanced back briefly before entering the mansion.
“…Thank you for your hard work.”
A considerable amount of time had passed since his change in personality, however, no one had ever brought up any discussion regarding it.
But now, they hesitated, Why was that?
Was it because, for an inexplicable reason, his last words seemed to be the first sincere thing he had ever spoken to all of them?
Or was it because, just for a fleeting moment, some of them caught a glimpse of the innocence that Frey once possessed in his youth?
Or, perhaps, was it because his last appearance was so aloof while also expressing such unexplainable loneliness?
Nevertheless, the mansion’s doors were already closed, and their choice had been made.
After some time passed, the Starlight Mansion courtyard was filled with nothing but a chilly silence once again.
However, in the midst of this emptiness, Lulu had remained, her head hung low and her face pallid throughout the entire ordeal.
Lulu stood quietly near the courtyard of the Starlight Mansion, raising her head after being exposed to the chilly wind.
Then, the now-familiar Starlight Mansion came into her view.
Apart from when she had lived with her parents in the distant past, as well as the Sunrise Academy, this mansion was the place she had ever stayed at for the longest period of time.
While gazing at it, Lulu suddenly retrieved something from her belongings.
“If this is true…”
Forgery of the Imperial Seal was a crime for which not even high-ranking nobles, let alone someone like Frey, would escape unscathed.
Even now, Lulu found it incredibly difficult to believe the opening sentence she had read from a letter stamped with that very seal.
Following that, there were various benefits and privileges listed. Additionally, there was a short message from ‘Hero’ Ruby, whose identity was only known to a select few.
After reading the contents once again, she slowly shifted her gaze to her shoulder.
“It’s… almost gone but…”
The ‘Stigma of Misfortune’, that had once been vividly imprinted on her shoulder, was now so faint that it could hardly be seen without closer examination.
It was to the extent that she no longer felt the slightest unhappiness nor did it give her nightmares at night.
Turning her gaze away from the stigma that she had once detested enough to repeatedly cut, Lulu let out a quiet sigh.
The cold wind continued to swirl around her.
“Still, I should…”
Just like that, after a while spent merely gazing at the mansion, Lulu slowly started walking towards the building.
– Step. Step
Despite all the footprints leading to the exit of the courtyard, she created her own set of footprints that head towards the mansion’s entrance instead.
She firmly opened the mansion’s door that had been closed and stepped inside.
She passed through the dimly lit living room of the desolate mansion. All the servants who had once bustled around were now no longer there.
Today, the staircase seemed to stretch even longer than usual.
One step, two steps, three steps. Closer and closer to Frey’s room.
– Knock, knock.
Finally, Lulu knocked on Frey’s door and whispered in a low voice.
“I-I’ve come to talk for a moment.”
However, there was no response.
Perplexed, she activated her Magic Eyes, but for some reason, she had never been able to see inside Frey’s room, be it in the past or even now.
In such a situation, Lulu, who was looking around nervously with concern, suddenly widened her eyes.
It was because Frey was in a different room, not his own.
As she stepped towards his direction, Lulu came to an abrupt halt, her mouth agape.
It was a room that she had never seen opened. And in such a room, Frey was quietly staring at a picture hanging on one of the walls.
A picture of his father, mother, younger sister, and his younger self were all together, smiling happily.
As he stared blankly at the picture, he could barely support his weight with his walking stick. Seeing him in such a condition made Frey’s back seem incredibly pitiful and lonely.
Right when Lulu begun to gaze at his figure with her Magic Eyes, Frey suddenly turned around, staring sharply back at her.
Subsequently, Frey pulled a nearby cord to hide the picture behind curtains before raising his walking stick and heading for the room’s exit with a cold expression.
The door opened abruptly, leaving no time for her to hide.
As she glanced at the supposedly nonchalant Frey, Lulu unconsciously clutched the letter bearing the Imperial Seal.
“Weren’t you leaving?”
Why was she doing this?
Wealth, fame, and the chance to get rid of the terrible life she had lived thus far. It was right in her grasp. Even the opportunity to end her abnormal relationship with Frey was hers for the taking.
Why was she hesitating?
“I have no interest in a pet that’s left its home.”
Frey spoke frigidly to a bewildered Lulu, as her gaze began to waver.
It was because his voice, just as weak as so rumored, had caused her heart to waver for some inexplicable reason.
“Leave this place.”
Frey left the room and gave a cold command, but Lulu just continued to follow him as she looked towards him with vacant eyes.
“You are no longer…”
Without even realizing it, she tightly closed her eyes and spoke with a trembling voice.
“Please pet me…”
Frey’s eyes widened in confusion, looking flustered because of her unexpected request.
“I, I mean…”
With her emotions in turmoil and a strange sense of relief washing over her, Lulu spoke n a soft voice while clutching the now crumpled letter in her hand.
“…After all, I am your pet, right?”
A faint light on her shoulders began to glow.
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