Chapter Twenty-Eight: Brewing Treason

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My tears kept falling, no end in sight. The silence seemed to swallow me deeper by the second. That is why I was rather relieved when the sound of a slight knock had found its way to my ears. I signalled the source to enter. It was Sir Elliot, father's trusted aide and personal knight.

If I remember correctly...when father died in the past, Sir Elliot also passed away. However, this time around he is alive...

He shook his head, "If only...if only I had gone with him, would things have been different?"

Sir Elliot who I had never seen show any emotions, much less a tear, was mourning. His sorrow, his agony and his regret so palpable that fresh tears were brought to my own eyes.

We sat beside each other, our grief and affliction intermixed, for a long time.

After both of us calmed down, Sir Elliot faced me, "We must investigate My Lord's death."

"What do you mean?" I replied.

He reached towards his pocket to pull out a piece of paper, "I had gone to the cliff where they found My Lord's body. I found this piece of paper there."

The writing in the paper read in bold:

THE HIGHER YOU CLIMB, THE DEEPER YOU FALL. TAKE THIS INCIDENT AS A WARNING RATHER THAN A CASUALITY.

My hands trembled, "A threat...and this piece of parchment, only the richest nobles use it."

"Like the royals...like the empress..." he blurted the words at the tip of my tongue.

"My father...he was murdered..." I muttered to myself.

Before either of us could say more, we found ourselves to be joined by a third party.

His gaze brimming with concern, Duke Zenos spoke, "A lot of time has passed. I got worried and entered without permission."

I replied, "It is fine...uh...for today...could you please leave?" and turned to Sir Elliot, "Both of you. I need some time alone."

They both nodded in unison and left the room.

Mariah escorted me to my room in silence. I heard the doors to my chamber close behind me as I stepped into the balcony. The air felt cool on my cheeks which were warm with tears.

Father...father is dead. I thought I could prevent it this time around. I fervently hoped I could. The future, I thought I knew it. I had grown arrogant as time passed. I took my knowledge for granted. Is the future irreversible? Can I truly not change it? Then...just why, why am I back? What is my purpose? What have I accomplished both in the past and the present? Am I capable of anything? I should have just died back then, surrounded by the countless curious and accusing eyes of the townsmen.

Lost in my thoughts, I didn't notice Mariah opening the door. She had brought some ice and hot chocolate for me.

"Miss, please apply the ice to your eyes. They are red and swollen," she requested, gently.

I didn't respond.

"Please, at least reply to me," she exclaimed.

I remained quiet, my mind and my body numb.

She pulled me towards her softly. Her sudden embrace caused the storm of emotions raging inside me to resurface.

I buried my face into Mariah's shoulders, clinging to her like she was my only source of support, "I...I deserve to die. It is all my fault father died. I am the one to blame. I feel so incompetent. Only if I was vigilant..."

My quivering hands tightened on her perfectly ironed clothes, leaving behind wrinkles. Her arms wrapped around me, they impeded me from falling into a deep abyss, an abyss staring and waiting to devour me at even a glimpse of my weakness.

Mariah noticed my irregular breathing, "Miss, I do not know what you mean by 'It is all my fault'. However, what I do know is that this is not what your father would have wanted."

She sat me down, her own swollen eyes locking with mine, "My Lord once told me when you were younger how you were his world and he was yours. He also predicted that your world would expand and it has. Now, your line of sight doesn't only consist of your father. In your world exists the Duke, Miss Irene, the people of this estate, and I. You are an integral part of our worlds too. Therefore, this can't be the end. You are strong. You have the strength to preserve and pursue. I am aware you don't share a lot with me but the lady I know, the lady I have raised is not someone who will easily fall apart. You are more than allowed to take your time. However, don't be stuck in time. There is no going back. Time doesn't wait for anyone."

The words Mariah had uttered sent shivers down my spine.

It is true. Time is continuous. Time flows, looking neither left nor right. Yet I was granted something special. I need to pick myself up.

"Thank you, Mariah," I smiled, gratefully.

Mariah returned my smile with her own, "You are welcome. Also, what should I do with the two worried and simply useless men outside?"

"What do you mean?" I asked.

She sighed, "Well, Sir Elliot and Duke Zenos are both standing outside with their brows all scrunched up."

My eyes widened, "What? Duke Zenos hasn't left?"

Mariah nodded.

I took a deep breath, "Tell them to enter."

As soon as they were permitted, they rushed into the room.

"I am truly fine so stop looking at me with those pitiful eyes, will you both?" I assured them.

I brought out the piece of parchment found at the scene of the carriage crash and handed it to Duke Zenos, "This was found near my father's body."

"This means..." Duke Zenos hesitated.

I cleared my throat, "I will be as straightforward as possible. My father's death wasn't a mere accident. He was murdered and I suspect the culprit to be none other than the Empress. From today onwards, I will do everything in my power to bring her down along with any other colluders if they exist. I am well aware that what I am planning to do is high treason and regardless of how I need your help, if any of you decide to leave, I can fully understand why."

I glanced around the room to be met with fiery expressions and determined gazes. One look at them and I knew that no one was leaving.

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