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    When Abel became quiet, the large hand that covered his mouth slowly released. Abel turned his head to confirm the identity of the other person once again. The man was still bent over, looking down at Abel. His face was so close that his gray eyes were clearly visible even in the darkness.

    “Commander-in-Chief?”

    It was a night with a faint half-moon. Only those familiar with the path would need to carry a torch to walk. However, eyes that are accustomed to darkness were helpful. Abel listened, felt with his skin, and confirmed once more who it was by the pounding of his heart. So, he opened his mouth and called out, but no response came.

    The arms holding him tightly, keeping him afloat in the air, and the face so close to his own. Although he couldn’t see clearly, he could tell that the man had tilted his head to the side, as was his habit. They had only spent three days together, but for Abel, it felt as long as three years, making him able to guess the expression on his face so close that he could hear his breathing. It would probably be as expressionless and desolate as usual.

    But why had he suddenly grabbed him and brought him into the forest? Had something happened? Or had the enemy really invaded? It was strange. He wasn’t exactly afraid, but his tongue felt oddly stiff, and he couldn’t open his mouth again. It was as if he were captivated by the man’s gaze. Funny enough, he couldn’t even see his gray eyes clearly right now.

    “Uhm.”

    Abel finally managed to open his mouth but soon realized why it had been so difficult. They were so close that he could hear the man’s breathing, which meant his own breath could reach him as well. Indeed, as soon as he spoke, he felt his breath touch the man’s face. This made his previously steady breathing stop abruptly. Realizing anew how close they were, Abel suddenly became embarrassed and whispered so softly it was barely audible.

    “Excuse me.”

    Still silent. Abel who stopped breathing again after speaking, wanted to continue to stay motionless, if possible, but the situation was urgent. His injured arm was being pressed to the point of unbearable pain.

    “My arm hurts a bit.”

    Unexpectedly, the response was immediate. The pressure on his injured arm was instantly released, and the face that had been so close to him moved away swiftly. As he regained his senses, he realized that his feet were now touching the solid ground. Suddenly standing on his own two feet, he stumbled for a moment, but a large hand grabbed his arm to steady him. It held him tightly, almost painfully so.

    Abel couldn’t bring himself to ask the man to hold him more gently, so he just felt relieved that his injured arm was now free. Now that he was facing Karas, his face was far away due to their height difference. Just having a distance made him feel a little relieved. He silently held his breath, but a question was heard.

    “… it hurts?”

    Of course, it hurt. Especially the perfectly fine arm that Karas was holding tightly. Of course, he didn’t think of saying that. Besides, he still couldn’t understand Karas’ question. It almost sounded like a concern.

    But concern? Concern for him?

    It must have been a hearing problem. His body was fragile like glass, so it made no sense for his hearing to be exceptionally good. Yes, that must be it. While Abel was frozen, trying to come to a conclusion, Karas’ gaze shifted to his injured arm.

    “Does it hurt?”

    Hmm. Abel was shocked to learn that he had not misheard. Why was he asking? Could it be that, his injured arm was considered a hindrance as they moved, and he intended to beat him until he forgot the pain?!

    “I-I’m fine!”

    The loud voice that came out in surprise echoed through the quiet forest. When Abel, who was even more surprised by his own voice, was astonished, something flashed in his mind. Karas had clearly warned him a little while ago.

    ‘Shh.’

    Gasp! He had told him to be quiet! And now he had made a loud noise!

    I’m dead!

    He imagined Karas drawing his sword and glaring at him with a cold stare. Why wouldn’t he? He always did that every time. Consequently, an apology sprang from Abel’s mouth automatically.

    “I-I’m sorry. I was startled and accidentally raised my voice! Ah, I-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. But, but really, I’m fine…”

    Abel’s legs trembled involuntarily as his body, which had just recovered from illness, lost its strength again. He was still struggling to stand, but the shock continued, causing his legs to shake. However, this time he didn’t fall.

    Regardless of his will, his body seemed to float in the air as two arms wrapped around him. Abel, who was already surprised enough, had a half-opened mouth and widened eyes. The first thought that came to his mind was that since using a sword would be too much effort, he’s going to lift him and throw him to the ground!

    Squeezing his eyes shut, he braced for the fall, but nothing happened.

    Why?

    Abel counted to five in his head and cautiously opened his eyes. He had expected to see the fierce gray eyes glaring at him, but instead, those eyes were looking elsewhere. Karas seemed to be slowly scanning the surroundings before fixing his gaze on a particular spot and then started walking, still holding Abel in his arms.

    Abel, who was being held, was extremely uneasy, like a person sitting on a bed of thorns.

    No, what is going on? Is he going to take me to a quiet place to punish me?

     Confusion and fear mixed together, and Abel couldn’t even think of moving until Karas put him on the ground near a rock. So, he didn’t even realize that the movement of being lowered to the ground was very careful.

    It was a comfortable place to lean against the rock, but Abel remained frozen in the same position as Karas put him on the ground.

    Now that we’ve come to a suitable place, is he going to behead me?!

    Abel stared up with wide eyes, holding his breath. But instead of drawing his sword, Karas knelt down in front of him. Once they were at eye level, Karas looked at his arm and asked again.

    “Does it hurt?”

    His voice was as blunt as usual, but the question itself was still hard to adapt to. Plus, he hadn’t drawn his sword. Blink. Abel, dazed, finally shook his head. Only then did Karas take his eyes off his arm. Then, they locked eyes and fell silent once again.

    Abel’s mind was filled with even greater confusion. He was certain he must have done something terribly wrong. Otherwise, why would Karas have grabbed him so suddenly and covered his mouth like he was about to kidnap him?

    Yet, sitting before him now, it seemed he didn’t intend to kill him. Rather, it seemed he wanted to talk. Talk?

    The word triggered a thought. Yes, he was going to interrogate him! Whatever it was that he did wrong, he intended to question him first and then kill him. Abel’s imagination grew more vivid with the other person’s continued silence. Trying to figure out what he had done wrong, one thing came to mind.

    The Crimson Valley. He had been told to find the trap there at the cost of his life, but didn’t he get hit by an arrow and knocked unconscious? He didn’t know what happened afterward, but he was sure he hadn’t been of any help, and Karas had handled everything alone.

    A belated sense of guilt washed over him. Hearing Melmond’s explanation, perhaps Karas had been the one carrying him, maybe even saving his life. Right, he had to start with an apology. Determined, Abel quickly spoke up.

    “Commander-in-Chief.”

    “You.”

    Karas spoke at the same time. After a brief awkward silence, Abel forced a smile and urged him.

    “Ah, do you have something to say?”

    “You go first.”

    “Haha, no. Commander… “

    “First.”

    “Yes, of course, I should go first. It’s an excellent decision.”

    Even though he didn’t know what it was, Abel raised his thumb, thinking that he had to go along with it for now. Then Karas moved.

    Gasp, is he going to try to hit me again?

    Instinctively, Abel flinched, but Karas had only shifted his sitting position slightly.

    Embarrassed, Abel lowered his gaze and saw Karas pulling himself closer to him. It seemed as if he was showing that he wouldn’t miss a word of what Abel was about to say. Abel’s throat tightened even more. If he says the wrong thing, he might really kill him. Nervously, he first nodded his head.

    “Thank you for saving me at the Crimson Valley. I am grateful. Now, I finally get to thank you properly. I think I may have had a momentary lapse after being hit by the arrow. I remember, or rather, I seemed to have seen nothing but rocks falling from the cliff edge. Naturally, I thought I had died, and I was surprised to see you entering the valley. It seems it was just a misunderstanding.”

    Abel scratched his head, chuckled nervously, then lowered his voice.

    “Whatever happened, I apologize for not figuring out the trap and fainting. I went in making a lot of noise, but I couldn’t be of any help. And you even saved me. Thank you so much.”

    He bowed again, then raised his head to hear a gruff voice.

    “Anything else?”

    Anything else? Unsure of the meaning, Abel looked up, but all he received was a dry question.

    “Is that all?”

    That was all. However, as the other person continued to gaze at him expectantly, Abel wracked his brain. What else? Was there something else he needed to apologize for? But there were so many things that felt he did wrong about the past two days he spent with Karas. Unable to pinpoint anything specific, he let out an awkward laugh.

    “Ah… Haha, w-well, of course, there is more.”

    “…”

    “On the day we first met, I… I’m sorry for… for eating all of your precious duck in one go.”

    “Other than that.”

    If it wasn’t that, Abel finally brought up something that had been bothering him all along but was difficult to say.

    “I’m really sorry for disappearing to take care of something while we were talking on the mountain path. Haa, I ate the duck too hastily the day before. Oh, of course, I’m not blaming Commander-in-Chief’s duck at all! The duck you cooked was really delicious. Haha, if you try a little harder, you can become a master of roasted duck. I guarantee it!”

    “….”

    “…Is it not this either?”

    “No.”

    “Then, is it because I have weak stamina and faint easily…?”

    “No.”

    “Is it because I gave you too little pomegranate…?”

    Sigh. Karas tilted his head to the side. He used to do that before killing someone. Abel quickly shut his mouth and shook his head again. What on earth had offended him? Fortunately, the other person gave him a hint.

    “Reincarnation.”

    At the sudden word, this time Able remained silent, and Karas asked softly.

    “You don’t really believe it?”

    Abel still remembered the shock he felt when he saw someone who looked exactly like him. Even now, his heart felt heavy at the thought of the shock the prince must have felt dozens, hundreds of times. So, he could definitely answer this question for sure. He didn’t know why Karas was curious about it, but he could answer this one.

    “Yes. I don’t believe in reincarnation.”

    Saying it again somehow made his heart ache. But Abel added firmly in a serious tone.

    “Especially Abel’s reincarnation that was seen in the Crimson Valley. Don’t believe it either, Commander-in-Chief. So please make sure to tell His Majesty.”

    Since this conversation had already taken place at the entrance of the valley, there was no need to wait for the other person’s response. He clearly said at that time that there was no reincarnation. But this time was different.

    “What if you’re wrong?”

    The slow voice still came out with his head slightly tilted to the side. So, he couldn’t gauge the weight of his words. In a way, it seemed like a casually thrown question. Yeah, a light question. Abel concluded this way and shooked his head.

    “No. There is no reincarnation.”

    Although it might become familiar after saying it a few times, every word denying his own self stabbed his heart like a needle. He tried to appear unaffected as if nothing was wrong and put strength into his body, but he heard a faint murmur.

    “Unless you truly don’t know about your own reincarnation.”

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