Chapter 28 – When you remove the mask
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The environment is uproarious as the spring festival commences, lasting 3 days and 3 nights. People visiting the town increased ten folds, many races with different skin tones can be seen sauntering in the streets as travellers flow in from all directions.

Despite this high-energy atmosphere, my house continues its usual routine with two tenants commentating the unfolding events.

“I wonder who she’ll accept the invitation from.” The small little hamster peeks from the window, observing a particular pink haired neighbour of mine. Currently, Aria is under the big tree talking to the green-haired boy who invited her to tour the spring festival with him.

“Who are you betting on?” I chew on some caramel popcorn, hot and recently out of the pan. There’s a faint buttery smell wafting in the air.

Quickly shifting into the familiar black-haired golden-eyed human form, my housemate drools at the sight of the hot popcorn. He immediately grabs a fistful and thrusts them in his mouth.

Ugh lack of manners. I slap his hand reaching for more.

“Finish that one in your mouth.”

He silently chews on them and his eyes gleamed under sunlight, his lips curved in satisfaction. “I’m betting on her childhood friend.” He gulped down whatever’s left in his mouth, his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down. “He spent the most time with her and she looks like she has a weak spot for him.”

“Tsk. Noob.” I flick his forehead. He grimaces, his large hand hides his forehead to prevent further abuse. Since I’ve been teaching him some terms and basics over his stay, he’s gradually learning to commentate better. I’ll admit, it feels quite good to finally have someone to gossip together with.

“Who cares how long she spent with him? He’s trapped in the friend zone; she doesn’t see him as a potential partner at all. Probably doesn’t even see him as the opposite gender.”

Picking another popcorn piece and putting it in his mouth, his eyebrows pull together at the mention of this.

“Even if he’s really close? Even if he spends more time with her than anyone else?”

“There’s no point in spending time together if she doesn’t see him as a romantic partner at all?” I raise a brow at his obvious frustration. Did he ship the childhood friend that much? “Ahem- That’s just my opinion anyway. I think she’s going to go out with all of them as a group hang out. She can’t leave any of them behind with her personality.”

“Are you going to the festival grounds too?”

“Yeah. I need to buy some more cloth— uhh and visit Cecile.”

“I want to follow you.” He pauses and stares solemnly at the fading back of the childhood friend. “I want to follow you as I am, not a hamster.”

I reject the idea immediately. “You attract too much attention. And you can’t show your face since you’re a wanted man.”

“It’s alright. There will be more attention-catching people than me. Didn’t you say so yourself? I can help carry the things you buy.”

Maybe being a hamster for a prolonged period of time isn’t really good for his mental well-being? I reluctantly agree.

The next day of festival, after buying some bolts of cloth, I let my henchman carry all my shopaholic loot. I’ve always held back on my shoppings due to low funds and the lack of manpower to carry them back. However with my recent rental income (10 gold coins! HAHAHA) and my trustworthy lackey, this is all solved. There’s no reason to hold back since the man insisted himself.

Simple lessons in life: Never reject free labour.

“Cecile!” I enter the busy floral shop. It’s spring festival, many stall decorations are mostly brightly coloured seasonal flowers. Garden parties and several events are on a roll as weather turns out for the better. Cecile doesn’t even have time to scratch an itch as she hurries herself around the small shop and commands her fleet of younger brothers to do several tasks.

“Tina! Take a seat behind the counter and give me a moment—" She turns to the customer waiting. "That bouquet is 50 copper coins. I can give you 10 coins discount if you also purchase this floral bracelet. Your fiancée will like it.”

It looks like she’s busy. I move towards the counter and sit at a corner trying to not get in the way. My henchman joins me, but stands leaning against the wall due to lack of chair. Together, we observe the busy workers zapping around the store handling different fake and real flowers.

A certain person walks out from the staffroom at one point, and my eyes squint at the sight of him. Wearing normal commoner clothes, but his movements refined like a noble’s. His body has no business being this toned and muscular. And lastly, this… gaudily yellow hair.

I’ve seen this exact shade of gaudy yellow somewhere… the masked Duke! What was his name again- Cane? Canon? Cannes?

What the hell is he doing here? This is clearly Yttrea Duchy - nowhere near his territory? Does he has so much free time to fool around working in a florist shop? Bruh is his territory doing okay?

“Ben! Can you help me move that box to the store front?” Cecile commands, her clear voice piercing through the rowdy store. She quickly wipes away the beads of sweat collecting on her forehead with a napkin.

This “Ben”, with golden-yellow hair and sparkly green eyes, nods and complies her every command, his lips holding a smile at the sight of her flushed freckled cheeks.

Janet and Ruby comes in shortly after and we leave upstairs, a half second floor overlooking the store. Both of them show no signs of recognising the unmasked Duke. His body figure and facial structure is the same though. Is the mask really THAT effective? Was there an unknown magic spell that I could see through?

“Who’s this?” Janet asks, pointing at my lackey carrying the fabrics upstairs. Donning a new cloak I made for him with brownish cotton lined with canvas, he wouldn't be recognised despite having met during that one kidnapping event. His face is covered with a brown tight-weave 100% cotton mask, a cute little hamster cross-stitched on one side. This reduced his coolness by five folds. It’s very effective.

“My lackey.” I nod at him meaningfully, and he nods back, standing a distance away from the conversation. There was no further question; it was common for people to hire some temporary workers to help carry goods from one place to another for a small fee.

Cecile came up a while later when her mother came back to take control over the shop. ‘Ben’ followed upstairs with Cecile as if it was natural. It’s time to figure out what this stalker is doing here.

“Ben, could you serve us some tea and bring us some snacks?” Cecile requests and ‘Ben’ complies without a hitch. Are we really letting a Duke serve us tea? What karma did I reap in my previous life to deserve this?

“New hire?” I ask, watching ‘Ben’ busy himself with teacups. His agile hands move as if he’d done this several times.

“Part-timer. Yeah recently hired but very reliable. Better than some of the permanent staff.” Cecile proudly compliments ‘Ben’.

Will she start puking blood if I tell her she’s pushing a Duke around to carry flower boxes?

Soon, the tea is served. I have the feeling I'll have a hard time swallowing the tea this time round.

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