Chapter 23:

A Touch of Fragolo

The Wanderblood Princess and Sir Try Hard

A sharp pain ripped at Caramello’s neck. It was the feeling of death bearing down upon him. He closed his eyes and waited for it to overwhelm his existence.

But as the pain continued to grind at him, never getting more intense, his eyes popped open in wonder. In the time that had passed, the distinct feel of flat teeth gnawing at his skin but only drawing the slightest bit of blood was too much for him to lay there and bear it. And then, there was a strange slurping noise accompanying it. He shoved the girl off him, confused as to why she mocked his defeat.

What he saw was a thin smear of blood upon her lips and eyes that no longer glowed red. She brought her sleeve up to wipe her mouth, and then he saw it – the magic bracelet that sealed her strength normally.

At some point, she had slipped it back on, reverting her abilities to that of a normal person, not the godly might of a Royal. Neither was her expression crazed from the Bloodrile. As such, Chiffon found it difficult to break the skin on his neck. She had neither free hands nor a sharp implement to draw blood, so her inexperienced decision to bite had ended up being a struggle.

“Is that all you plan to do to me?” Caramello said with disappointment. “After all, I tried to claim your life twice now.”

“But you didn’t. So I came after you. I simply wanted you to experience a bit of pain in return.”

Caramello arched a brow at her.

“Still infatuated with me? How preposterous.”

“Is it really? I know who you are now. The memories of that lost time have returned. The feelings I held bottled up are all spewing forth, beckoning me to make sense of them. So at the very least, I wanted to talk to you first.”

“Words are meaningless when I have drawn my blade against you.”

“If only those words were that of your own, and not of your clan…”

A pair of emeralds suddenly filled Caramello’s vision. Chiffon’s head lunged forward, staring at the flickering of his soul, checking to see how he would respond next.

She had recalled how the Schichttorte Clan’s forbidden power worked. It was natural she would know. There was hardly any sound in her dark cell but the idle mutterings of the guards talking about the sacrifice.

The souls of the dead could be harnessed by someone close to them, pooling together talents. By kidnapping Chiffon and leaving her isolated, they had hoped for her every attachment to crumble, leaving the clan’s champion to swoop in and become the one thing she clung onto before her death.

“So tell me…,” Chiffon whispered gently. “Who did I slay just now? Your family? Your friends? Are they feeding the words of bloodlust and revenge for you? Is their grudge from beyond the grave the motivation behind your doings?”

Caramello’s eyes widened. He pushed her off him and sat up, his arms defending his fragile state of mind. Chiffon had drawn out his familiars, his family members who thirsted for her death and spurred him on. Killing the clones bound to him temporarily silenced their souls. It was a moment when Caramello was truly isolated.

“I see… then, you wish to know my true feelings for you. Without the voices in my head.”

“Tell me, Caramello… Who are you really? Who do you wish to be? I’ll do everything in my power to grant it for you.”

Caramello held back his words at Chiffon’s sweetness. Even now, she was willing to put aside all the evil he had done. It was too righteous, too loving. He couldn’t help but lean forward to capture her lips. Letting his reason go for a moment, he allowed himself the pleasure of her warmth, a dash of iron included.

This would be his first and last kiss for her.

Chiffon’s head was pulled back suddenly, her body peeled off from him. She looked back to see another Caramello, one arm wrapped around her waist and the other holding a knife to her throat.

“Foolish girl.” Caramello chuckled. “To imagine that you can save me from this hell.”

His devilish grin returned as he saw his familiar restrain her. He had one left – the most cherished one. There was no chance that he could be saved. Even if he held a candle of a feeling towards her, the many voices within him would never let him rest. They would soon enough return and project their hatred, snuffling out the flame that he so carefully shielded.

One of them had to die. Otherwise, there would be no end to it. His willpower had long crumbled even before he was saddled down by the souls. If the princess was too soft-hearted to end it, then he would have to do it.

He waited for the fear within her to build up – the surprise, the betrayal, and the hopelessness. But somehow, it never came.

Chiffon reached down and clutched the hand around her waist. Her eyes closed as if settling for such a resolution. Not willing to wait any longer, Caramello beckoned his familiar to finish the job as he turned away.

“So… it really is you…”

Her voice, so soft and gentle that one would never know that she was about to die, reached his ears. Caramello turned back to see tears streaming down her shut eyes, her hands petting the mark on the hand gripping her.

“I finally found you at last…”

Caramello reached out vacantly to understand what was going on, but then, the knife in his familiar’s hand dropped from its grip. The clang as it hit the ground echoed in Caramello’s soul. Just like the iron pipe that fell from her grip when she failed to kill him years ago.

He looked up to see that hand now stroking Chiffon’s cheek gently, like it was comforting her. With eyes closed, it was just like those times. The swirling of hands in the darkness, hungry for attention, reaffirming each other’s will to live – Chiffon couldn’t mistake it for anything else. The twirling waltz of their fingers told her so.

The soul of this familiar was that of the boy on the other side of the wall.

“Fragolo… you… you would choose her over me?”

His dear, dear friend – a fellow servant that hated his duties and ran away at times to seek comfort. He had been silent all this time. But thinking back, he had never been all that expressive verbally. He was reprimanded to the point of rarely speaking, letting his gestures do most of the talking.

Caramello remembered it fondly. The way they would communicate from simply holding hands. They would offer each other a sign of encouragement by touching each other’s faces, just to offer enough strength to get through the day. He would offer hand signs of love and gratitude, in place of the silence beaten into him.

Chiffon remembered it as well. Few words were exchanged between them. The presence of guards didn’t allow for it. Instead, they spoke with their fingertips, tracing along the bare skin like it was the most interesting thing in the world. Using simple touches, the boy could tell stories upon the parchment that was her hand.

For a girl who was locked away in the dark and a boy who had nothing else but an expectation to serve, that was perhaps all they had of their own. Not even death could separate that fondness between them.

Chiffon turned around and embraced Caramello’s familiar, letting the buried emotions spew forth. Ever since she felt the mark, the possibility paralyzed her. Only in that moment as she was stabbed, his hand felt nostalgic.

Slowly, the familiar melted in her arms, returning to magic that floated back to Caramello. He looked conflicted, like he no longer knew what to do anymore. His eyes flicked back to Chiffon as she approached him.

“Tell me, Caramello. Your friend, who was he? I never got to see him. The guards caught and killed him. Threw his arm into my cell to taunt me. They didn’t like the thought of a mere servant possessing my heart.”

“I’m sorry… I never realized….”

Caramello took a step back. And then another.

All this time, he believed that Chiffon had killed Fragolo out of anger. He had known that he ducked out on his duties and visited her. After she escaped and went on a massacre, he found his dear friend’s body, savagely mutilated, just like all the other victims.

And even when his soul bonded to Caramello, he was solely convinced of the perpetrator. Cries of sorrow were mistaken with hatred and revenge. He had believed that Fragolo was the same as the others. Because of that, he refused to fall for Chiffon’s sweetness.

But no, he loved her. Just like he does now. A sweet and gentle love, like how I once had for him.

Chiffon reached over and sandwiched his hands. With the same gentle caresses that she gave Fragolo, she brought it up and nuzzled it against her cheek.

Suddenly, Caramello realized why he had been spared years ago.

“The mark, that is what stopped your rampage.”

Guilt flickered in Chiffon’s eyes.

“Yes… That moment you raised your hand, wondering if I would kill you. The mark caused me to hesitate mid swing. Your eyes looked hollow, like you were willing to accept my fury. Wholly different from the disgust and terror that everyone else had around me. I stumbled mid swing, but I couldn’t stop myself completely.”

“I remember now! Our heads collided, with my unblessed self being knocked out from it.”

“All I could do was turn and walk away. From the madness, the blood, the death. I couldn’t believe what I had done. I was scared.”

“It appears that secrets are far more dangerous when they are half-known. Thank you for being Fragolo’s friend. If only I had known that-”

A finger to his lips shut him up. Chiffon gave him a smile. Even being banged up and bloody, he couldn’t help but find her beautiful.

“You really do look lovely in red.”

“Do you not find me lovely otherwise?” Chiffon teased.

“I would say that death in your arms wouldn’t be quite so bad.”

With the other voices in Caramello’s head gone, she could tell that it was his honest belief. She gently pushed him away and trotted a few steps ahead, turning coquettishly back towards him.

“I can’t say the same for you. I am a princess after all. My strength is for the people of this kingdom.”

“Did you not surrender yourself to me before?” Caramello immediately said, full of snark.

“That was for Fragolo. You have to tug my heart much more to be on the same level. And you’ll have to compete with all the other things I love – sweets from Margaret, dresses from Lord Scho, even the simple things about the castle. That’s a steep wall that you’ll have to climb to win me over.”

Caramello walked up to join her side.

“And you’ll give me a chance to do such things? Even after all that has happened?”

That is not for me to decide. If you haven’t forgotten, you did attempt to take a Royal’s life. By now, the rumors of your deceit and the Schichttorte name are probably upon the lips of every gossiper in the kingdom. You won’t escape lightly, even if I put in a good word for you.”

“Do I have any other choice but to leave and never come back? Whisk you away to another kingdom while I have the chance? No, my fate will never allow for it. I’d rather be killed by your hand, if only to never hear of vengeance anymore.”

Chiffon punched him in the arm. Fortunately, her bracelet was still on.

“I wouldn’t feel good about killing someone that wanted to be killed,” Chiffon said. Then, she pulled Caramello toward her by the collar and grinned. “There’s no fun in that at all.”

“You have learned to be quite the tease, Princess.”

“Whose fault do you think that is?”

“I’m honored.”

They laughed at the familiar banter they found themselves in.

Caramello realized. The only times that the voices couldn’t interrupt were when they talked like this. At some point, he had developed feelings for her as well. They had held back his blade. They blunted his attacks, letting her come right up to him. His heart teetered between love and hate, and those two sides became a pendulum for control.

How long would he hold out? Would he have to continue this dangerous dance, all for her sake?

“Come on, Sir Caramello. Back to the castle.”

“As you wish, Princess.”

For now, Caramello was content to pose as her knight once again, savoring this feeling, however brief it would be.