Chapter Thirty: A Foreboding Invitation

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Reality was sinking in. The scale was way bigger than I had imagined.

With elegant steps, the Crown Prince made his way to me, "It is a pleasure to meet you again, Eli! I must say I have missed the way your amber eyes gazed at me."

Everybody's eyes fervently searched for the receiver of his flirtatious words, for me.

Duke Zenos promptly stepped in between us, "That's enough, brother. You really should tone down that nonchalant and teasing attitude of yours."

"Oh my, did the sun rise from the west? My lil brother is jealous it seems," the Crown Prince grinned to which Duke Zenos responded with a scoff.

He is jealous...?

The grin persisted on the Crown Prince's face as he walked over to the head of the table, "Well, let us talk business now. Lady Eliza Arielle Rosario, welcome to 'the real Carpe Diem'. Just as the name suggests, we are people who tend to prioritise the present rather than the future. Currently, the Empire is in turmoil, unaware of the demons lurking within it. Regardless of our different reasons, we all share the same goal. The prosperity of our homeland."

My eyes couldn't help but lock into his glowing, fiery ones as I thought ah this man must truly love this country, treasure the sky above it and the soil beneath it.

He continued, "The moment you set your foot in this hall, we will all consider you our kin. We will be ready to lay our lives for you while expecting you to be ready to lay yours for us. I implore you to decide carefully."

There was nothing to decide. My answer was clear from the very beginning.

A fire ignited within me. I stepped into the hall.

There were two matters that needed to be discussed at this monthly meeting of the Carpe Diem. The first was the myriad of murders taking place in the town.

"At first, it was one murder per week. However, the crimes are becoming more and more frequent, almost as if the culprit or culprits are growing impatient," one noble remarked, cold sweat dripping down his forehead.

A knight spoke, "What do you suggest the 'Treasure of Dimitri' is? Dimitri is a fictional country with a fictional royal family. To kill so many people over a bunch of fairytales...it is simply baffling."

"It truly is a mystery. To begin with, there is no concrete evidence that the Red Dragon existed, let alone the existence of Dimitri," another noble added.

Soon, everyone began gossiping and whispering amongst themselves, overtaken by the mystery of the matter at hand.

The Crown Prince silenced the murmuring, "Well, getting all worked up is not going to get us anywhere. I heard there was a witness at the last crime scene."

"The witness was a beggar. I interrogated her myself. She saw two figures murmuring to each other after committing the murder. One of them was quite tall while the other one had a hunched back. As she was keeping her distance from them, she could barely hear them. However, she did catch a few words they said. The tall man ordered his companion 'Go back to the Claws to report that the mission has been carried out'. The man with the hunched back replied, 'Today was a failure as well. Does it even exist?'. Hearing this the tall man raised his voice slightly, a hint of anger visible in it, 'You dare question the Head's words. Do you wish to court death?'. They then continued their conversation as they escaped from the scene," Duke Zenos accounted.

The Crown Prince had a tense look on his face, "Now we know that it is not just one person who is behind this. What's worse is that it could be an entire organisation since he used the words 'report' and 'the Head'. Zen, why don't we start searching for this so-called place known as 'the Claws'? If it is really an organisation, I am expecting 'the Claws' to cover a fairly large area."

Duke Zenos nodded, "I will begin the search as soon as I return to my estate."

The Crown Prince turned towards me, "The first agenda for today has been discussed. For the second, Eli, I would like to discuss about your father's untimely demise."

He had a nervous smile, his eyes wavering slightly. He was afraid to hurt my feelings.

I reassured him, "It is fine. Rather, I want to get to the bottom of this matter more than anyone else here. Please freely express your opinions everyone."

The gentleness to his tone returned, "Thank you. To be frank, the killer of the Marquess is most probably the Empress. The reason must be because he had almost gathered concrete evidence that the assassination attempts on me were carried out by her. With the Marquess gone, so is the evidence. We had already come to this conclusion before you arrived."

My expression hardened, "I am aware of that."

"However, there is no proof. We can't charge her with anything. Yet. Whenever we are close to the finishing line, we somehow end up at the starting line once again. Even that maid from last time died..." the Crown Prince answered.

Mary's lifeless body flashed in front of my eyes as I shuddered a little.

The Crown Prince noticed my quivering lips, "That is enough for today. Let us meet again in ten days. I know the meetings are happening more frequently but time is of essence."

Everybody agreed as they stretched their arms to relax their stiff muscles.

Duke Zenos brushed his hand softly against mine, "Let us return. You have already gone through so much yesterday and I made you come out here today. You should get some more rest."

Concern emitted from his voice and I responded, "Okay. Let's leave."

After saying our farewells to the Crown Prince and the other nobles, Duke Zenos dropped me off at my estate.

As I walked towards my chambers, Mariah informed solemnly, "Miss, there is a letter for you."

"A letter for me? Where is it?" I asked.

Mariah hesitated slightly, "I kept it in your chambers."

I glanced towards her, "Why do you sound so serious? Who is it from?"

She bit her lips, "It is from the Royal Palace."

Hearing the words, 'the Royal Palace', a throbbing pain manifested in my chest. I stormed towards my room, slammed open the door and rushed in the direction of my table. A letter sat on top of it. Through the intricate designs drawn upon it, it gave off an imposing aura. I tore it open to reveal a parchment of paper. The texture felt familiar.

This...it is the same type of parchment that was found beside father!

My bloodshot eyes fell on the contents of the letter:

The Daughter of the late Marquess Brandon Forte Rosario, Lady Eliza Arielle Rosario, is cordially invited to a tea party tomorrow hosted by the Moon of the Empire, Her Majesty, Empress Raven Ienos Valerio. Her Majesty looks forward to your attendance.

My fists clenched and my body trembled at the sight of the word 'late' before 'Marquess Brandon'.

It was your fault he died. How dare you mention his name?

Mariah read the contents for herself, "They mentioned Her Majesty is looking forward to your presence. They are making sure you have no choice but to attend. However, it is fine if you don't go, Miss. I will send a messenger to the Royal Palace to let them know that you can't go because of the recent events."

Fury and only fury raged within me, "No. I will be attending."

As Mariah was about to protest, her gaze fell on me. One look at me and she decided to no longer argue otherwise.

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