My chest tingled, and I burst into a coughing fit that left me struggling to find my balance.
I am utterly done for. Of all the characters, why does it have to be her? That was the first thought that crossed my mind after being reincarnated into this novel. I had become Laria Rose Losstree, a character from The Grand Deal of the Empire. Her pale-pink hair, gleaming violet eyes, and finely chiseled features appealed to me.
She’s a little short, but her doe-like eyes remind me of a puppy’s.
Truth be told, the only thing I was truly happy with was her appearance. Out of all the minor roles, mine was the most insignificant, and it was my fate to tragically die at the young age of twenty-one.
I cannot believe I will die at twenty-one... again!
This time I coughed up some blood while my body convulsed. I covered my mouth in panic.
“Let me get this straight. That frail mess of a girl is the last surviving member of the Losstree family?”
I was only fourteen and was at the funeral of the late Count and Countess Losstree—my parents. Laria’s memories had flooded in and effortlessly merged with mine when I woke from the rebirth. My father, a squanderer, and mother, a spendthrift who had to match her husband’s lavish lifestyle, had both passed away in a tragic carriage accident, leaving nothing but an enormous debt for their daughter.
“The old count didn’t leave a single coin behind in his estate? We’ll see about that!”
My days at the Losstree Estate were far from happy too. My parents’ constant tumultuous relationship meant there was never a peaceful day in my home. My brother, my only sibling, had been sent off to study in the east lands as punishment for speaking out against our father.
“It’s a funeral ceremony, isn’t it? So where are the damned relatives?”
“Damn it! This sickly pint-size kid is the only one here who can pay?”
No relatives or friends attended the funeral, so I stood alone—except for the throng of creditors who surrounded me and howled for their coins. I whispered words of comfort to myself, only half listening to their demands, and waited for the person I knew would arrive and whisk me away at any moment.
I also knew that in the original novel, Laria was unaware of her terminal illness—her time limit, if you will. There were only three people who knew about it. One of those people was Countess Losstree, my mother, and the other was…
“Huh? Th-that man is...”
“Why would Duke Icardes show up here?”
A towering man with jet-black hair and piercing crimson eyes marched into the fray.
It’s the archvillain himself. I must say, the man has a rather sleek stride.
He didn’t need to utter a single word; his presence and walk alone were enough to exert his dominance in the surrounding space.
Duke Klaudin Ivern Icardes. Before his wife’s death, he had been a man solely concerned with the affairs of his lands. Then he suddenly went mad for power after she died. The original novel depicted him as an archvillain who would stop at nothing to seize control of the nobles and royal family. Despite his late entry into politics, he overcame his lack of influence through relentless scheming, and after a few years became the head of all nobles.
Icardes even manages to orchestrate the marriage of his son to the royal princess.
After clawing his way to the top and seizing control of the nobles and royal family, it seemed as if the duke had succeeded in reaching his goal. But Princess Elani, the female lead of the novel, would end up falling in love with the male protagonist, Seymour Ritshua, not the duke’s son.
Well, in the end, the story doesn’t reveal why he is so hell-bent on gaining power.
The author said they would reveal that in the spin-off, but I was only able to finish the first book because I was soon reincarnated in this world.
Anyway, his unexpected appearance at the funeral brought everything to a standstill. The creditors muttered among themselves, then quickly filed in to give the duke his due respect. I was completely taken aback by the scene.
This is the power of wealth. Even though it isn’t mine to live, I can’t deny the allure of such a life. I wish I was an archvillain.
Not everyone can be one, mind you—claiming to be an archvillain without power or influence would just make you a delusional fraud.
At that moment, Duke Icardes approached me, his walk confident and swift. Then he spoke with a grim tone. “Do you have a place to go?”
None of my relatives showed their faces today because they were afraid they would have to take me in. Of course, the count’s estate had been foreclosed, and the house servants had already fled.
“I... I don’t have anywhere to go.” Cough!
He narrowed his eyes at the sound. I already knew what he was about to say.
“Very well. Then do you consent to be my son Evan’s wife?”
Even though I knew the plot, I still felt shocked. I couldn’t believe he asked so suddenly. Essentially, he was offering an early marriage, an arranged engagement among the nobility.
Early marriages were rather common for the gentry. A girl as young as me could not stay in a nobleman’s house as a guest for very long. If someone took in a girl like me, it was customary to accept her into the family and give her inheritance rights.
“Matilda was very fond of your mother.”
Matilda? He must be talking about her… It was the name of his late wife, who had passed away while delivering his son.
“Had Matilda been with us, she would have insisted on taking you in. I’m sure of it. In honor of her, I will do what I must.”
I blinked as thoughts swirled in my head. The duke would stop at nothing to secure more wealth for himself. It did not make sense for him to take me in for such a romantic reason. In the original story, he had unwittingly learned of my terminal illness and set up a marriage between his son and me to take advantage of my imminent death.
I already know what happens in this story! And I can guess what you’re hiding in that blackened heart of yours. Who would be foolish enough to follow you so blindly?
“I shall settle your parents’ debts and pledge to bestow upon you a life of comfort.”
“And I humbly accept your gracious offer, Father,” I replied without hesitation.
Yes, I was that type of character. Even though I knew everything about the novel, this was the best hand I could play. If fate would have me perish so young, a comfortable end, just like in the original novel, was certainly a prudent choice.
“Father?” he repeated. His penetrating gaze sent shivers down my spine. As an insignificant character in the face of this great archvillain, I couldn’t help but feel an immense wave of terror wash over me.
Feeling as if I were backed into a corner, I answered meekly. “F-forgive me. I thought... since we’re family now...”
An uneasy hush fell over the room.
“There’s nothing to forgive.” His voice was low, menacing, and so chilling it kept everyone on their toes. “Let us leave.”
With those last words, I departed the halls with the duke.
On the way to his estate, we made a stop at the royal palace and submitted the necessary documents for my marriage. With just a single piece of parchment, I officially became “Laria Rose Icardes.”
What was I expecting? Of course a wedding ceremony was out of the question.
And catching a glimpse of my husband, Evan, was impossible since he was a year younger than me and therefore still attending the academy.
In The Grand Deal of the Empire, Evan was a minor character who barely had any lines. Simply put, it wasn’t farfetched to say that his part in the novel was so minuscule that it could hardly even be considered a supporting role. And, yes, as the soon-to-be ex-wife of such a trivial character, my existence was that much more insignificant.
Considering my natural disposition, a villainous role would have been perfect for me... But this body I ended up in is hardly villain material!
This story could have had an incredible villainess, but my unlucky rebirth robbed it of a potential star. You see, most female villains are well-off, for evil deeds require much wealth to succeed. Well, I was neither healthy nor wealthy and was thus regrettably incapable of being evil.
It’s rather tragic. I ought to have been reborn as an exceptionally healthy villainess with a huge purse...
Upon arriving at the duke’s estate, he promptly assigned me a spacious suite and put maids at my disposal. I must confess that at the time, as a terminally ill character, the best thing for me to do was to continue following the original plot. Though, I actually knew of a cure for my illness.
Fruits of the occlasia tree.
I had an older brother, Fred, who was five years older than me. He had rose-colored hair and violet eyes that mirrored my own and was studying abroad in the east lands, a place isolated due to the demonic creatures that lived there. He would return only after my death. There was a scene in the novel in which he cried his heart out in front of my grave, croaking the name of the cure in vain.
“Garbha lung disease is a common illness in the east lands... Oh, the cure was so simple, dearest sister! All you needed was to eat ten fruits from the occlasia tree every day for ten years...”
So my illness was incurable in the empire, but it was long ago conquered in the east lands. Still, this information wasn’t very helpful. The occlasia fruit was a rare commodity since it quickly spoils once it falls from a tree.
Occlasia trees are extremely hard to come by. And though they bear fruit all year, their fruits are a nightmare to store properly, which makes them all the more difficult to purchase in the markets. I could manage one or two, maybe... But getting my hands on ten a day is an impossible task.
Yes, I had assessed my predicament with as much objectivity as I could muster. The best ending, as far as I could tell, was to comfortably laze around in someone else’s home until the day I died.
The next life will be better. I managed one rebirth, so who’s to say I can’t be reincarnated again? Oh! Please let me become a filthy rich villainess in the next life!
I felt sure of my newfound resolution. Then, when I took a stroll through the terrace garden near my room, something unexpected happened.
Huh? These are...
I stopped at the sight. To my utter surprise, there was an occlasia tree bursting with fruit in the duke’s garden. There was even a charming sign with the name of the tree engraved on it. It seemed as if someone had arranged it just for me.
Wh-what’s going on? Could this be a glitch from being reborn? Perhaps it’s a sign from god to live out this new life. Or, it could be a sign from some demon telling me to go against the original plot.
First you had me reborn as a second-rate character, and then the very cure was presented right in front of me. This couldn’t be some sort of twisted joke, could it?
“But still, thank you very, very much.”
This was clearly not a prank. No, it was a blessing that I should be ever so thankful for. Whether it was the god who had a hand in my rebirth or the demon from the original novel, I didn’t care. So I gently clasped my hands and, for a moment, lifted them as a prayer of gratitude to the unknown force watching over me.
“Even so...” I was a lady of composure and elegance, even in this dire situation. Of course, I would never drop my etiquette and dive at these fruits like some beast. “There’s no need to rush. No, not all.”
I admit the sight of the fruit could have easily persuaded me to drop my manners, but in the end, I had enough restraint and carefully picked the ten ripest fruits.
All right, then.
The plump fruits were as tiny as the nail of my thumb and were no more than a single bite, but they each packed an incredibly juicy punch. With beaming eyes, I made up my mind on the spot.
Okay. I am so going to live longer than twenty-one in this life!