I opened a door that was guarded by five knights and entered solemnly.
Inside was a woman who was dressed in dazzlingly beautiful garb, yet she was sobbing forlornly.
“Take it off, Renée.”
She raised her head when she heard my voice.
As she saw me, she immediately shrank in terror.
There wasnt much time, so I hurriedly began to undress her.
“Youll be shipped off soon.
There is no turning back if its not now.
You dont want to get married, do you”
“Why are you doing this all of a sudden”
“Sister was being abused by mother all this time, and I pretended I didnt see anything.
This is my apology for turning a blind eye.”
At the candid confession, Renée stopped sobbing and instead gaped at me.
“Whats the reason youre saying this now…”
I caressed her tear-stricken cheeks.
“If I allow you to leave like this, Sister, then well both become unhappy.
From now on, I want to change our fates.”
Renées eyes trembled minutely as if she couldnt believe my words.
It had always been like this.
Renée had always been ignored by her younger half-sibling.
Whenever Renée was being abused by her stepmother—Rowaines biological mother—Rowaine inevitably turned a blind eye to it all and never once reached out a helping hand.
I held her shoulders gently, hoping to reassure her.
“So, this marriage… if you dont want it for yourself, Ill take your place.”
Renée widened her eyes in surprise.
“You love someone else, dont you, Sister”
There really was no time left.
Soon, people would come to pick up the bride.
I finally urged Renée into switching our clothes, then I covered my face with a veil.
Without a moment to spare, she managed to sneak out the room before people came in.
Those people roughly dragged me out as if I were a criminal, then threw me into a carriage, which soon rattled off as it departed.
Only at this moment did I relax, removing the veil and sighing in relief.
I couldnt exactly reveal it to Renée, but I wasnt doing this out of the goodness of my heart.
‘We need to twist the original…
It was also to save me from the horrendous death I would face as a cruel villainess.
Anyway, the person who would be my husband now was an indifferent man who never came to see the brides face, so he probably wouldnt bat an eyelash at the sudden switcheroo.
“Although… He might hate it since itsRowaine whos become his bride.”
I was currently known to have many different nicknames.
Demon, slave murderer, blood-crazed villainess.
Regardless of the original Rowaine, these nicknames had been accumulated by theoriginal owner of this body through the evil deeds she had committed.
There wasnt exactly a decent nickname attached to my current identity, but what bothers me the most was the notorious nickname ofShapeshifter Disparager.
Because my soon-to-be husband, who I would shortly meet, was a cat shapeshifter.
* * *
When I opened my eyes in this world, it was hard for me to comprehend what was happening at first.
‘I was definitely looking for a cat.
On one chilly evening, just as my autumn stroll ended when the sun had set, I stopped by the countryside house where my grandmother and I lived.
I packed up some white rice cakes and mugwort rice cakes.
As I snuck out of the gate with a jacket on, the sighs of the neighborhood aunties and my maternal grandmother dug straight into my heart.
“Ah, youre still looking for those kittens every night like a crazy woman”
“Hey, dont be so harsh.
My mother died, too, so I know how they feel.”
“Yeah, but do you know how dark out it was last night that I thought ghosts were wandering around the rice fields.
My heart was about to pop off my rib cage then,” one of the aunties said.
My grandmother, who sat between the chattering aunties, looked at me and sighed.
“Eun-soo, its dark out so be careful.
Come back quickly.”
“Dont go near Mr.
Kims house!” added Mrs.
Lee, our next-door neighbor, a bitter smile pasted on her worried face.
Ill be right back.”
As soon as I heard that devils name, tears threatened to burst from my eyes.
I held back my tears and left through the gate.
He was an old man who wiped out four cats that I cared for by putting rat poison in a bowl of local cat food.
For more than a decade, I took care of those cats as if they were my own children.
They were supposed to have been raised as village cats so they could catch mice, but since they were only recently born and subsequently abandoned on the streets without proper hunting skills taught by an adult cat, the malnourished kittens were left wandering around the village.
It had already been more than a decade since I first started giving them food and medicine, caring for them because I saw myself in those four kittens, who would have just died lonely and helplessly.
I was overcome with grief and rage as I saw them lying motionlessly on the ground, seeming to have coughed blood overnight.
I reported it to the police, yet they immediately believed Mr.
Kims words over mine even as it was obvious he was only pretending to be innocent.
I couldnt kick up a fuss in the neighborhood, and with my grandmother there, I couldnt express my qualms and frustrations freely.
Since then, I just wandered around the rural streets every night hoping to find the last kitten, who had not yet been discovered.
With a torn heart, I hoped to find the child either dead or alive.
I would be glad to even find a dead body.
That day, too, in the middle of the night, I went outside with a flashlight in tow to go on a search.
As I was walking alone on the street at night, crying while no one was around, my flashlight suddenly flickered, and soon it lost power.
I was standing on a dark road next to the highway.
Sometimes, the traffic lights wouldnt turn on and so the cars that would pass by would sometimes swerve to the road used by pedestrians.
But the road I was using then was usually deserted, so there really were no streetlights on.
I stood by the white cement roadside and changed my flashlights batteries.
Without a flashlight, the surroundings were so dark that I could have easily rolled down the rice fields three meters below.
But then, my vision was blinded as if the night sky had suddenly become broad daylight.
A truck, which had swerved away from the highway, sped down the pedestrian road without any sign of slowing down.
Alarmed, the driver peered down and met eyes with me.
The scene played out in slow motion.
I felt an incomparable impact meeting my body, and then my eyes immediately went dark.
At that moment.
Some ways away, the sound of several cats crying was accompanied by the halted staccato of a ticking clock, which eventually stopped.
Those were the cries of my cats.
‘Where are you Where—
Basking in a brilliant light, I floundered about searching for them, believing that a miracle happened and they returned to me alive.
‘Then, I woke up in this world.
In the body of a novels supporting character named Rowaine Larscel.
Although I was confused about what the hell happened to me, I knew I was definitely inside a novel.
‘…Am I dead
But, why did I open my eyes as a character in the novel I have read before
And why a villainess of all people
‘The last thing I heard, those cries… it was only a hallucination.
Perhaps it was because I myself had died, so only then I was able to hear the voices of my departed cats.
Or maybe I was stuck in an imaginary world in my head and, like a limp vegetable, I had no ability to wake up on my own.
I had many questions, but no answers.
Even so, this must be a world where everything was real, not just a dream or a fantasy.
After a moment of confusion, I had no choice but to accept this situation.
If I stay still without doing anything, according to the plot of the novel, I would be left helpless to the crisis of becoming the old Emperors concubine…
I was meant to become a mistress of an old man who already had a grown-up child.
And while thats terrible in its own right, I would also have to deal with internal politics within the Imperial Palace.
A lot of people were fated to die in the process.
In the novel, Rowaine stayed as the old Emperors concubine for quite some time, and in the end, she, too, was unable to avoid death.
In that case, I didnt have the confidence to pull off acting like Rowaine and gaining the emperors love to endure the deadly conflicts within the Palace tactfully.
And at that, I forced myself to adapt to this world and somehow forge a plan for a better future.
In the end, the plan I thought of was a contractual marriage with the Duke of Blois, who was known to be the ultimate villain of the novel.
When I woke up in this world, Renée hadnt been married off to the Duke yet.
In the few days I had to adjust here, I observed and deliberated the Duke and Renées marriage.
I then decided to switch places with Renée.
This was for me to escape the flow of the novel using the Duke of Blois.
‘Have we already arrived
As the carriage stopped, I peeked out the curtain and, with a tense face, I swallowed to moisten my dry throat.
It was because I felt weighed down by the prominence of this overwhelmingly large mansion.
The coachman bellowed, “Weve arrived!”
The carriage door opened and a man, who introduced himself as a butler, greeted me.
When I looked around, I couldnt see anyone who might have been the groom who would come to pick up his bride.
“I shall guide you.”
Indifferently, the butler ushered me to the Dukes office with a polite yet rigid demeanor.
As the door opened, I slowly went inside and saw a man, who was holding a pen and resting his chin on the desk with a drowsy face.
He slowly raised his head.
His emerald eyes, glistening with a translucent luster, caught my attention at once.
The wide almond-shaped eyes, with their ends raised, seemed as though they were meticulously painted on his features.
He had exceptionally large pupils.
It felt as though my soul was being possessed.
For a moment, I was mesmerized by the beautiful color of his sharp gaze, but I finally came to my senses as I took a step closer to him.
The pupils, which were narrowed up until a while ago due to the glare of the sunlight, widened as he looked towards my direction as I walked into a relatively dark spot.
His apathetic gaze made me feel self conscious, and I was suddenly embarrassed by my appearance in this wedding dress.
Even though I was informed that the Duke would not hold a ceremony, the dress I was wearing meticulously picked down to the right color, so no one would find any faults as the bride would greet the groom for the first time.
Rowaines father, Count Larscel, seemed to have expressed his desire to have dinner with the Duke, but the latter had no intention of showing that much sincerity.
“It would be good to know each others faces, right” he muttered indifferently as he stood up and approached me.
Surprisingly, he moved without making a sound.
His steps were more graceful and refined than I would have imagined, his stature taller than I thought.
As he stood below a colorful lamp powered by magic, his grey hair shined with a blue sheen.
I took a calming breath and eyed the end of the veil that he was slowly removing.
He stared at me with languid eyes.
I returned his gaze, but slowly shut my eyes once, twice, like a habit.
It was a cats eye greeting.
Im not a danger to you.
I do not hold any malice.
…was the meaning of those blinks.
Then, his eyebrows furrowed as if he was seeing something interesting.
The corners of his lips twisted up.
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“I havent even taken off your veil yet, but are you already seducing me”
Mortified, I flapped my lips like a goldfish when I meant to say my name to introduce myself, yet I was rendered speechless by a rush of embarrassment.
In the meantime, he put his hand on my shoulder.
“But then again, youre not Renée Larscel, are you