Chapter Thirty-One: Never

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Standing outside the Royal Palace, I could not help but shiver. Not with fear but excitement. Rage swirled within me. I marched straight towards the lion's den.   

There were three palaces that were collectively called the Royal Palace. The most extravagant out of the three housed the Emperor while the other two were home to the Empress and the Crown Prince each. Although the Emperor's and the Crown Prince's palace had existed for as long as people can remember, the Empress's palace was built rather recently. Previously all the Empresses lived at the Emperor's residence however it all changed when Raven Ienos Valerio, the current Empress, entered the Royal family. Not even ten days after her marriage did the Emperor issue an order to build a separate palace for her. Of course, this not only caused her to face extreme humiliation and scorn but also weakened her position in the family.

Walking into the Empress's palace, I was greeted by a butler, "Welcome, Lady Eliza Arielle Rosario. The Empress is waiting for you."

I was led to a room bustling with noble ladies of all ages. Seeing that the butler did not stop accompanying me, it meant that this was not our destination.

As I brushed past a swarm of people, countless whispers drifted to my ears, "Hasn't Marquess Brandon passed away? What is his daughter doing here instead of mourning? How cold of her."

My jaw clenched as they continued, "I met Lady Raelia the other day on the street. She looked so haggard. Compared to her, there is not even a shadow of grief on Lady Eliza's face."

Raelia was going around gaining sympathy it seems...

Before I noticed, I was already in front of an elaborately designed door at the far end of the hall.

The butler smiled ominously, "I will not go any further. Please enter. The Empress is inside."

I opened the door with caution to find myself the beholder of a marvelous sight. Who would have thought that what lied behind the door was a giant greenhouse?!

The glass ceiling above me gleamed, letting the warm and bright sun rays in. I navigated my way through the greenery, surrounded by flamboyant flowers and plants of all kinds. After a few minutes, I could spot a distant figure. The closer I got, the colder the air became. Finally, I saw a woman adorned in jewels sitting and sipping tea gracefully. Her silver dress flowed alongside her silver locks. We stared at each other, emerald against amber.

Tick tock. Time was flowing. However, neither of us spoke a word. Just as I was wondering if this staring contest will ever come to an end, a thought came to me.

It's not like she does not want to speak...she wants me to speak first! Her rank being higher than me, of course I have to bow and greet her first. Even though I know this is just how it has always been, I don't want to lower my head in front of her.

My hands trembled slightly as they formed into tight fists. I flinched as I felt my nails dig into my palms.

I bowed my head, "I greet Her Majesty, the Empress."

Her hostile expression smoothly shifted to a small smile, "It is good to see you again, Lady Eliza. Take a seat."

As I found myself taking a seat against her, her sickening smile grew wider, "Considering the recent events that have taken place at your estate, I assumed it would be better if I had tea with you privately. I am sure conversing with too many people will take a toll on you at a time like this."

Hah? If you were really being considerate, would you have made me cross that hall full of loose-tongued, blabbering idiots? Your very aim was to rile me up. To put me in my place. To remind me of my father. 

My frosty eyes held an unbearable amount of disgust, "Thank you for your consideration."

The more I glared at her, the more I realised that there was something sinister about her. From her appearance to her actions, they were all capable of inducing spine curling shivers down a person's spine.

What is it exactly? I just can't shake off this menacing feeling...like she is watching my every move carefully.

Leering slyly at me, she pressed on, "Your father's demise was quite sudden. If I am not wrong, your only remaining family is your younger sister? You are quite young as well. Don't hesitate to rely on me. My arms are always open for you, my dear friend Arielle's daughter."

She knew my mother? How? I have never heard of this. Wait...I can't lose my composure here.

"I wasn't aware you were good friends with my mother," I spoke, calmly.

Her eyebrows narrowed, "That is understandable as she passed away when she gave birth to you. However, to think that child, Mariah, also never mentioned me..."

My lips parted in surprise, "You know Mariah?"

"Of course. She was but a newborn when your mother brought her to the Rosario Estate. An abandoned child without a future, that was her fate. However, your mother struggled to change that. Although at that time she held no power as the Marquess's family was against her marriage with the Marquess, she still insisted on keeping Mariah. She pleaded that she would raise Mariah as her personal maid. After all, your mother has always been annoyin- persistently kind. Mariah grew up to be just like her. Always sticking annoyin-persistently to Arielle," she concluded with spite.

I was left baffled. There was so much I did not know.

Seeing me rendered speechless, her smile turned into an eerie smirk, "I have many tales from that time. You can come to me anytime to hear more."

Her offer was far too tempting yet I knew well to stop myself.

My nerves relaxed, "Thank you however I cannot possibly bother the Empress with such trivial matters."

She glowered, "Is that so? However, I am always here to guide you whether it be for personal issues or problems with the estate. I wish for you to be a better Head than your father, for you to not end up like him."

"I apologise but that will never happen. I believe my father was a phenomenal leader and so do the people under him who have chosen to place that same trust in me now. I plan to follow precisely in my father's footsteps which will surely lead me to a different ending. Therefore, please rest assured. I will without a doubt take over my father's work and finish what he could not," I declared, my voice unwavering and my words penetrating.

Her authoritative aura which seemed impregnable to me even a second ago was slowly crumbling in front of my eyes. A certain thrill rushed to my head as my lips curled into a smile.

"You should speak carefully, Lady Eliza. Each of your words hold great weight and greater consequence. You are still a child. I will overlook it this one time as long as you express your regret properly," she replied as her face darkened.

An insatiable thirst took over me, a thirst to bring her down, "Never."

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