The road to the imperial palace was long and difficult.
As soon as the carriage passed through the castle gate, it entered a rough, forest road.
It had seemed that the large forest led to the royal hunting grounds as they got closer to the imperial palace, but once they were inside the palace, the road was so well paved they didn’t see a single stone out of place. 

“Sir Christian.
Your identity has been confirmed.” 

There was another check at the entrance to the hunting grounds, but the Raizel Guards always passed unconditionally at that checkpoint, regardless of the reason.
They swore absolute loyalty and never moved for any reason except for the emperor’s orders, so blocking a knight of the Raizel Guard was the same as blocking the emperor. 

Christian withdrew his hand from the carriage window.
Various patterns and marks seemed to have been tattooed on the back of his hand and wrist.
Sonidor had been hiding under the window so as not to be seen in the carriage by guards at the gate, but when he saw her he tilted his head.
He quickly concealed his hands with a pair of black leather fingerless gloves. 

“You may sit up now.” 

At his words, Sonidor and Terry staggered to their feet and sat up on the carriage seats again.
It was a secret that the Crown Prince had fallen into an eternal slumber, and it was also a secret that Sonidor, a dream artisan, was hired to wake him up.
Only a few of the Emperor’s closest aides were aware of the fact that the Crown Prince was in critical condition.
In addition to that, only the Emperor himself, four Raizel Guards, and the doctor who first treated the prince knew about the request. 

“You must know that you will not be officially entering the imperial palace.” 

Upon hearing that, Sonidor nodded and replied. 

“Won’t we be infiltrating with fake identities? Like a maid, or attendant…“

“In order to infiltrate as maids and attendants, you must be trained in advance.
We don’t have time for that.” 

It was true, so she quietly shut her mouth.
She was not from an aristocratic family, and if she would be working in the Imperial palace, she would be managed and educated quite strictly.
Besides, Sonidor was not that great at things like laundry or needlework for her to take the risk and become the Crown Prince’s handmaid.
She might stab the Crown Prince’s eyes while washing his face.
If she worked like that, there’d be no way she could escape the suspicions of other maids, so she’d probably get caught quickly.

“There are many ways to obtain a pass, but going in and out of His Highness’s residence is bound to be noticed no matter what.
His Majesty has ordered us to use a secret passage instead of fake identities.” 

“A secret passage? Wait, if it’s a secret passage… It’s literally a secret.” 

“Yes, very few know.” 

A secret passage that only a few know about.
Sonidor put on a gloomy face when she reluctantly learned what she shouldn’t have known. ‘The Emperor has more reasons to kill me now…’

“I really didn’t want to know that there was a secret passage.
It’s unfair for some reason, so please tell me a secret of yours, knight, ” Sonidor pouted.

Terry, who had been sitting quietly, lit up his eyes at her nonsensical words. 

“Can I also hear a secret?” 

Quiet, both of you.
This is driving me crazy.” 

“No way.” 

Christian touched his forehead at their excited appearances, like children on a picnic. ‘I don’t know why they’re so carefree.‘ Disappointed by his resolute refusal, Sonidor took out a bag of snacks from a bag enchanted with weight reduction.
She began to eat voraciously.
For a while, the carriage was filled with only the sounds of rustling and the irritating sound of chewing on cookies. 

Christian was sure that the woman’s head must have been broken somewhere.
Otherwise, there was no way she would bring snacks to the carriage and chew them.
From Sonidor’s point of view, she wanted to eat everything she wanted before she potentially died, but Christian couldn’t understand that. 

He furrowed his brow as if he had seen something he shouldn’t have, then slightly averted his gaze.
Then he saw Sonidor’s assistant, Terry, trying to hide his trembling hands.
Yes, that fell within the normal range at least.
Except for him acting like a madman every time he locked eyes with Christian. 

As Christian continued to glance around, Sonidor asked, hugging the bag of cookies. 

“Would you like some?” 

She spoke well to someone whose expression was that of utter disgust. 

“No,” he said without hesitation.

She chewed on a chocolate chip cookie with an openly relieved look on her face.
Sonidor thought about gingerbread cookies, that were rolled thin with a rolling pin and then cut with a human-shaped cutter and coated with sugar.
She never got to eat them again before she could potentially die.
It was really sad, but it didn’t truly matter as long as she could taste the desserts specially made by the Imperial chef. 

“Once you enter the passage…Stop eating and listen seriously.” 

“I am always serious when I eat.
Please continue speaking.” 

“When we enter the passage, I will give Terry an artifact enchanted with polymorph magic.
He will follow me, and you will wait in the room until I come back with His Highness.” 

Their plan was this: Terry will put on an artifact ring enchanted with polymorph magic and transform into the Crown Prince.
He will pretend to be the Prince, and the real Prince will come out and receive treatment from Sonidor, by using the secret passage that only a few know about.
Of course, it was not that Terry would permanently play the role of the Crown Prince, but only temporarily until the acting artisan came.

Since the Prince usually suffered from minor illnesses, the excuse that he was still bedridden fortunately worked.
But people couldn’t help but be suspicious when a fortnight, a month, two months began to pass.
An actor was necessary as no one knew how long Sonidor’s treatment would take.

But Sonidor was puzzled.
Would it be possible to switch the Crown Prince with an ordinary person who only looked like him, in front of all his maids and attendants? It was an unrealistic method that could only come out of a fairy tale.
There must have been many other ways besides that. 

“I’m just asking out of curiosity, but couldn’t you make it seem as if His Highness went away for recuperation in a countryside estate with a nice air?,” she said as she tossed a cookie into her mouth.

“We have to avoid anything that might cause suspicion.” 

Christian’s expression was blank, but his eyes were quite sharp. 

“It’s a temporary substitute.
It would be better to use an attendant who knows how His Highness usually acts, ” Christian continued. 

“But this is His Majesty’s order.
What he wants is to move most efficiently with the least number of people in the know.
Besides, there is no time to find an attendant who was born with guts and acting skills, and there is no need to increase the number of people to be monitored at a time when His Highness the Crown Prince could wake up.” 



…Sonidor asked, poking Terry’s side with her elbow. 

“Hey, are you good at acting?” 

If it were Sonidor, she was confident in her own acting.
It could be said to be a kind of occupational perk, but it was also a necessary skill to have as a dream artisan.
Only then could she draw out the desired reaction by skilfully acting in the dreams of her clients.
She had learned how to act from her mother for a while, when she was little.

Terry answered her question in an offhanded manner. 

“I’ve never done it before.” 

“Then do it now.
Act like a sickly handsome boy.” 

“Ah, Lady Sonidor.
If that leaf outside the window falls, I will die!” 

He stretched out his hand into the air and said with a faint look.
It was a very dramatic scene.
The tone of his voice was like that of an actor performing passionately in a theatre.
Sonidor stared at Terry silently and pitifully, then turned to Christian and said. 

“You see? If he acts as the Crown Prince, he’ll be exposed in a minute.” 

“Wasn’t my facial expression pretty good? I just need to refine my tone.” 

When Sonidor threw him a completely unconvinced glance, Christian sighed and said to Terry: 

“Just keep your mouth shut.” 

“Then is there any meaning in having an actor?” 

“It is only until the acting artisan arrives at the Imperial palace.
It will be about three days at the most, so hold on until then.
People just need to see His Highness awake.” 

It seemed that the Emperor only saw them as chess pieces that were used once and then discarded.
Terry, realizing they had only brought him as a temporary solution, made an annoyed face, but in the end he couldn’t say anything and just grumbled a little.
He had followed Sonidor on his own without having to force himself.
She was like family to him, and he would’ve been very anxious without her. 

The contract for the request could be voided at any time if the emperor wanted to.
He had the contract written up and even signed it, but he could just as easily tear it up and discard it.
Moreover, if he does end up not keeping his promise, he would just kill them soon as they succeeded. 

Christian’s words reminded Sonidor of that fact. 

“His Majesty doesn’t trust anyone.
He told me to deal with it on the spot if you guys do anything nonsensical, too.” 

“Well, if you say that in front of me…”

Sonidor’s words trailed off and her eyebrows quivered. 

“Besides me, several Raizel Guards will each watch over you.
Please act wisely.” 

“So, have we come to an agreement?” 

It’s not an agreement, it’s a threat.
She narrowed her eyes and stared at Christian.
She thought she had become quite friendly with him.
She also mistakenly thought that the knight was actually a shy and cute person, and she wanted to hit herself for ever having thoughts like that.
There would be no blood or tears from him – no sympathy at all.
The Raizel Guards were not called the Emperor’s dogs for nothing.
If the Emperor asked him to commit suicide on the spot, he would immediately pierce his own heart with a knife. 

Sonidor turned to Terry with a guilty look, and he waved his hand in annoyance. 

“It’s okay.
We had no choice in the first place.
So, don’t hesitate.” 

“Even if you say that…”

She grumbled, stretching Terry’s cheeks so that it hurt.
He was right.
Initially, there was no choice.
She couldn’t even run away.
If the Crown Prince didn’t wake up, her entire tribe would be in danger.
She never thought she would become a sacrificial pawn for the sake of her tribesmen.
She didn’t know that she herself would have such a strong sense of justice, but she did.
Rather than a sense of justice, it was closer to quite a small conscience, that lived at the back of her mind like a speck of dust. 

“Come to think of it, aren’t we rather cool?” 

Aren’t they secretly risking their lives for their compatriots in a place no one knows? In that way, they seemed no different from Giorgio’s Revolutionary Army.
If Gio found out, he would be angry as well.
Sonidor nodded her head in agreement to her own statement.
Terry, of course, shook his head and made no reply. 

The wagon had slowed down and stopped at some point.
It was in a dark, dense forest a little distance away from the well-polished hunting grounds.
Sonidor pulled back the curtains and looked out her window.
They had been riding the carriage since morning, but the sun was already setting.
It was a strange evening, and the whole world seemed as if it was dyed red. 

Christian was the first to open the carriage door and come out.
He disposed of the enchanted wooden puppet that had been used in place of a coachman.
He did this by cutting it into pieces.
Sonidor watched the scene unfold with her mouth hanging open. 

‘He destroyed that expensive puppet!’ 

It was said that the wooden enchanted puppets were the cheapest.
However, they were not cheap enough to be discarded after only one use.
Christian’s flippant and casual destruction of the puppet made the two grab their hearts.

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