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After the night-long heavy downpour, dawn broke, and morning finally came. Matthias found himself leaning against his wing chair in front of the west window and watched the bright morning sun as it rose from the east. 

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A cold wind was blowing through the open window, carrying the fresh scent of roses. It seemed as though they bloomed during the onslaught of heavy rains yesterday. 

He soon found himself bitterly chuckling at the irony. 

Even though the season had come for roses to bloom, Leyla was no longer here to witness it. And during the time when he expected all living creatures to go back home and make his world livelier, his bird would suddenly die.

Matthias cast his eyes at the now-empty cage where his canary had lived. 

The only things that indicated it had been lived in were the several yellow feathers scattered all over it and the bowls of uneaten rice and water. Those were the only things his canary left behind to remind him of its existence.

His bird was gone.

Matthias’ eyes shifted back to the table in front of him. On top of it was a small wooden box that embraced the cold body of his canary. Its once soft and minuscule body had hardened into a position of eternal sleep. The memories he had with it slowly filled his head, and he had no choice but to let it take him back to those times.

He remembers seeing it first as a small bird, an assuming creature that captured his heart with one glance. He enjoyed seeing the bird gradually being tamed by him. 

It used to thrash loudly and flee whenever he was near it, but then its countenance had mellowed, and he could gradually tame its spirit. The joy he felt back then was so pure and unexplainable. It filled his heart like the way a lovely song could fill a room. 

The knowledge that it was a being under his domain…

That it was utterly his…

Also made its affection taste sweeter. 

It brought him so much pleasure in the way the bird would just chirp happily and play in his room, the way its eyes would search for him around its vicinity…

And the way he could run his fingers against its soft feathers while it sat on the back of his hand just staring at him were moments of great pleasure and he loved every second of it.

But now… 

These memories were nothing but ashes of a once burning flame.

He got up from his chair, approached the table, and then reached out and slowly stroked its cold body. The feathers of its golden wings were still so soft that he could almost believe that the bird would open its eyes again and fly toward him at any moment.

That it was fine, he told himself…

He still had his canary. 

They told him they did not know the reason for his bird’s death. It just died like that. 

Perhaps, it was suffering in silence with him, until anxiety drowned it in its vicious arms, and drained the life out of it. 

And just like that, it was gone forever from his life…

Much like the way she left him.

Like Leyla…

For a long time, Matthias remained in a catatonic state. He just sat across the table and stared at the body of his dead bird in silence. He appeared to be waiting for it to flap its wings and sing its sweet songs once again, just like it used to do when the bright morning came after a night of heavy rain. 

The passing of hours quickly became apparent as the soft rays of sunlight shifted on his window and began to shine down on the intricate box at the table. 

Seeing its warmth fall on top of it, Matthias quietly called the bird’s name, “Leyla…”

That was the most fitting name he could give it. As soon as he saw the tiny bird, he knew he had to name it Leyla.

He didn’t care if it sounded ridiculous. He liked that he could be as sweet as he wanted to with this bird, and the bird loved him as much as he was affectionate with it. 

Matthias liked it; liked the feeling of loving and being loved back.

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But even after whispering the sweet name several times to the wind, the bird did not open its eyes. It remained cold and lifeless to the touch. 

An echo of something deep within him. 

The day had just begun though, Matthias thought, fingers caressing the box absentmindedly. He looked outside, and noted it was still early. 

An ominous feeling gradually enveloped his mind. 

The loss of his bird’s songs were only the beginning.

 

*.·:·.✧.·:·.*

 

Leyla woke up to feeling sharp pangs of pain enveloping her body. It seemed the slight fever she had progressed into the night; now her whole body throbbed as if she was bruised. 

She continued to have no appetite, and thus couldn’t find it in herself to even eat anything.

She curled up in herself and pulled on her blankets as she covered herself with it all the way up to the top of her head. It draped all over her as she wished to drown out the outside world around her. 

To be honest, despite her current predicament, she did not find the day as unbearable as the night. The nights for her were always so hard to endure, even now… 

Because the nights were his…

It had now been forever ingrained in her to be his time…

It will forever be Matthias’.

She closed her eyes tightly and pressed her pillow closer to her chest because she hated the fact that she was still thinking of those nightmare-like memories…

His kisses against hers, his roaming hands all over and inside her body, his warmth pressing up against her…

They kept replaying and replaying all over in an endless loop, making her feel as though she’s still with him, and something inside her was aching…

It didn’t matter how hard she tried to erase him, her mind always found its way back to him without fail…

Nothing made her forget.

Sensing it was a losing battle, Leyla gave up her pursuit of clearing her head and jumped out of bed. She slowly approached the window and looked outside. The twinkling stars in the summer sky filled her glassy eyes… 

They were nothing but a blur to her. So unlike the clear skies in Arvis.

‘Did my wish come true?’ She asked the heartless deity up above as she glanced in the blurry night sky, wondering if Matthias was now suffering as she wished he would in her absence.

 

*.·:·.✧.·:·.*

 

“My Lord,”

A familiar voice flowed into the world where sounds tend to disappear and continue to beckon him back into awareness…

“You need to get up now, my Lord.” So it repeated and once more, it had gone closer than it had been…

Matthias groggily opened his eyes without even moving his limbs. At first sight, everything was in a haze. He blinked a few more times, before his vision began to clear up, and immediately saw the embarrassed expression on his attendant’s face. 

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He was standing close by his bedside.

The attendant bowed at him nervously and spoke in a solemn voice, “I apologize for disrespectfully intruding in here without your permission, my Lord.” He quickly apologized profusely.

“But I am afraid time is of the essence,” He quickly reasoned out, “You have to attend today’s meeting.”

For a moment, Matthias just blankly stared at him, watching him squirm uncomfortably in his presence. Then, finally, he went and sighed in slight irritation. 

“Fine,” Matthias quickly sniped at his attendant, “I shall be ready shortly.” He responded in a calm voice that was so unlike the tone one would expect from a person who had just woken up.

He got up, and sat against the head cushion.

He watched as the waiting maids came in and opened the curtains of his room to let the sunlight in. While warmth filled his room, Matthias found himself staring at the nearby clock, it was already past one o’clock in the afternoon. 

Still, this fact did not faze him and he stood up from his bed rather nonchalantly. Truthfully, he was getting used to waking up this way, a daily life where time no longer mattered.

Nothing mattered anymore.

His legs felt like lead though and he just stood motionless, with bleary eyes that looked at the sun. Even though all the maids had left, and everything was silent, we felt oddly bothered. 

There was a constant irritation, like an itch he couldn’t scratch in his mind. With every passing moment, the more it became unbearable. 

And so he whistled, just something to break the deafening silence in his room. He smiled as he kept whistling, loving the sound he was making. 

But where was his accompaniment? Why was nothing singing back?

‘Ahh… that’s right. There’s no Leyla anymore.’ His mind helpfully supplied, his eyes drawn to the empty corner of the room.

That’s where his bird should have been. That’s where its cage had been. But now, there was only an empty space. Nothing to indicate it had housed a bird.

‘That’s right…it died.’ he thought nonchalantly.

Death was just another part of life, wasn’t it? Just as the weather is always part of a person’s day to day life. 

It wasn’t important.

He finally felt ready to go out that day and his nerves felt calmer too. He got dressed, and as soon as his tie was knotted in tightly, the attendant reminded him once more that he needed to attend a meeting.

‘Meeting?’ he thought absently, wondering what worldly issues needed his express attention? 

He can’t recall any detail about today’s meeting at all, he could hazard a guess, but there wasn’t any way to know for sure. Who was he meeting with? Executives? Colleagues, or subordinates?

Matthias left the dressing room without bothering to check on his appearance. 

Lately, he noted his clothes felt a little bigger on him, but he hardly thought it needed to be addressed immediately. Everything was just so… unimportant lately. Even deciding whether he’s wearing the proper clothing seemed like an absolute waste of time.  

Nothing to be bothered about as it wasn’t something to entertain him.

Dressing up was just another mindless activity.

He came down to the lobby’s hall, and there Matthias saw his mother, greeting him with an awkward smile. She was probably waiting for him to come out because there was no reason for her to be hanging around there for no particular reason. 

She drew close to him before she finally spoke, “Are you heading out, Matthias?” she asked with an odd tone in her voice.

“Yes I am, mother.” he replied plainly.

“Is it for work?” She asked, and Matthias nodded stiffly.

“Yes. It’s the day of the board meeting.” He replied effortlessly with his usual elegant smile.

His brief responses made Elysee embarrassed by making such a huge fuss on his condition. Her son was functioning optimally as he did before, despite his sickly appearance. 

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What more could she say? 

It seemed like Matthias deemed her no longer important as well, for he swiftly turned on his heels and walked away from her with only a quick nod goodbye.

As soon as Matthias stepped outside, he could fully feel the warmth of summer trying to seep in his ice-cold limbs. How quaint this warm feeling was. 

It reminded him effortlessly of her again. He wondered how long it had been since he last held her in his arms?

How much time had even passed by? He couldn’t tell, so there was no point dwelling further on the thought of it.

‘Was the wedding next month?’ 

But even that didn’t matter as much as it should have, such a lifetime concern ago. He felt like he’d just returned from a different world.

A world where only he and Leyla could exist. 

He must have been standing there for a long time and just staring at the sky, for his attendant had approached him with a worried look, “My Lord…”

Matthias slowly raised his hand, not wanting to hear any more interruptions from his thoughts, before getting into the car on his own.  

Today’s meeting data prepared by Mark Evers was neatly placed on one side of the rear seat, and so as the car started, he began to scan its content and refreshed his memory of its details.

At the back of his mind, he was finding it hard to concentrate but he continued to read and tried to understand it calmly. It was the proper thing to do after all. There had never been a time in his life wherein Matthias did not fulfill his responsibilities and commitments.

Today was one of those days.

And just like that, time seemed to flow without a hitch. His disposition did not change much, not even as his car arrived and entered the center of the city and parked in front of the company’s building.

The driver, who got off in a hurry, opened the back seat door respectfully.

Matthias stepped out of the car with a light heart. 

He greeted the waiting directors naturally and sat down in front of the conference room desk without so much as a glance. As expected, the meeting was heated from the beginning. He suspected the conference room would soon be a warzone before the borderline was engulfed by fire.

Today, he had to choose one clear route, and Matthias was well aware of how crucial his decision would be. It is also the biggest responsibility of the Duke of Herhardt; to determine the direction and where to proceed. 

He focused on the data in front of him and tried to forget his faint headache that was starting. However, complex numbers and phrases only wandered aimlessly in his mind and he couldn’t grasp any of them. 

From some point on, it became unclear to him what he was even looking at.

It was at this point that he started to hear noises that did not make sense to him, but soon he was able to decipher a familiar tone; the sound of a bicycle falling and its wheels spinning in the air, as well as the sound of leaves rustling busily fluttering in the air, combined with the soft beating rhythm of his heart…

It was quickly intoxicating him.

He quickly reached for the glass of water in front of him with his bony fingers, the joints beneath the pale skin protruding sickly. However, the more he tried to get out of its weblike hold and focus on the present, the clearer the hallucination became and led him into a bog-like memory.

In his mind, he approached the image of Leyla, who was falling, and felt his heart beating loudly against his chest. 

Despite the distance he still felt close enough to smell her scent. Her body seemed to have been soaked in roses, and his lips suddenly felt dry while his throat felt parched and thirsty. However, all those sounds that resembled nursery rhymes soon disappeared.

The very moment Leyla looked up in his direction, everything faded out and only she was left.

The picture of a little girl who stood up after sprawling unceremoniously on a dusty road began to overwhelm Matthias. Even though he was at the position where he was the one looking down at her, he felt rather humbled at the sight of her.

He had never felt something like that before… 

Perhaps, even though he did not know it back then… 

His heart already knew from the get go. 

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He struggled to deny it, chalking up the sensations as normal seeing as he was always like that in front of Leyla. 

It’s the same now. 

She made him infinitely weak and shabby in front of her presence despite his power and money. Perhaps that’s why he kept pushing her. He wanted to feel better about himself around her.

“Excuse me… Duke.”

Matthias raised his head at the sound of someone calling him.

He couldn’t focus on anything else but the tremendous emptiness he felt inside him. He just wanted to utter nonsense, finish his work, go back home, and swallow sleeping pills again. 

He didn’t want to care about anything else. There wasn’t a care he could muster inside him, even if the world were to end here and now. 

He might as well just up and disappear and wouldn’t mind it in the least bit. 

It was a crazy thought, but that’s his truth right now.

It’s the only truth that mattered to him.

His eyes slowly raked all over the conference room. He couldn’t help but feel out of place within its prestigious walls.

Eventually, Matthias managed to organize his thoughts, before attempting to speak a coherent sentence immediately before more of his strength and sanity completely deserted him.

“I apologize.” He amended, craning his neck left and right to relieve the growing tension in his body. “I don’t think I’m in the right mindset to make any final decision right now.”

“No, what do you mean…” the protests immediately died down as they watched Matthias rubbing his neck.

A pregnant silence filled the room, before someone else spoke up on behalf of everyone in attendance.

“I think the Herhardts will have to respect the board’s decision after further sufficient discussion.” The executive director announced, gaining Matthias’ attention. “I’m certain Mr. Hessen can handle being in charge of the final coordination.”

It was a logical decision. After all, Hessen, who has led practical management since the time of Herhardt’s predecessors, was also Mathias mentor, and taught him everything about the workings of the company.

If possible, a tenser silence enveloped the room after that.

One could only wonder about what was happening. 

Was it true what the rumors said about the Duke? Has his health deteriorated? How badly did it affect him?

What will happen to the Herhardts now? 

Everyone watched with bated breaths, wondering what was going on with the young Duke’s mind.

Slowly, Matthias got up from his seat. He must have conceded with the decision the executive director had come to. 

“Once again, I apologize.” Regardless of how discouraged Matthias appeared at completing his work, his voice remained impassive, solemn and elegant. Still, how his eyes shifted in the air gave everyone a feeling of discomfort.

His presence screamed that he was someone wrapped in cold fire. No, he seemed to have become the very flame.

Still, the rest of the executives couldn’t help but feel disappointed once Matthias left the room. The murmurs eventually began as they continued to speculate on what was happening with the young Duke.

As he made his way away from the place, he felt the urge to take off his jacket, but his hand could barely unfasten his top buttons. He roughly pulled out his tie and crumpled it in his hands before shoving it in his breast pocket.

“I’ve no further need of your assistance or anyone else’s for the rest of the day,” Matthias ordered Mark Evers, who had been trailing behind him. His voice cracked at the end as he gave out the command. 

His attendant hesitated for a moment, wondering if he should push to stay with his master, but Matthias kept walking down the marble steps through the magnificent lobby not even waiting for a response.

It didn’t take long for the young Duke to find himself staggering into a ridiculously bright world afterwards.

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