Chapter Thirty-Two: True Feelings

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I apologise for the mistake I made when I published this initially. As it has been a while since I have written a chapter, I made a mistake.

The Empress's lips quivered with rage, "Ah...as stubborn as your mother, aren't you? Well, I see no reason to prolong this conversation."

"It seems so," I replied, feeling rather accomplished.

"I hope you are prepared to bear the consequences of your actions," she warned, regaining her composure.

"I have never been more ready," I smiled.

I could detect the fury reigniting within the Empress, "Is that so? Robert, please see Lady Eliza out courteously."

I bowed, "May the Spirits bless you," as she whispered, "After all, this will be the last time we will ever meet."

You think I didn't hear that, you old hag! You purposely said it out loud for me to hear. However, those words mean nothing to me. No matter what cards you hold under the table, I will not back down. Your petty schemes will only end up as stepping stones towards my goal.

Halfway through the corridor, I ordered Robert to return to the Empress. Although he hesitated at first, after a little bit of convincing he walked away.

The Empress's men are quite simple minded unlike their employer.

The castle was truly a sight for sore eyes. I could explore it for hours and not tire in the slightest. I continued to observe the antique paintings and carvings until my view was obstructed by someone. He had emerald eyes and silver hair. His uncanny resemblance to Uken disturbed me.

All my staring had gotten me his attention successfully. As he laid his eyes on me, his mouth gaped open wide.

What's wrong with him? Do we know each other? He does seem familiar.

A good minute flew by but the shock on his face was still evident.

My patience was running thin, "By any chance, have we met before?"

It seemed like my words were a type of force.

It dragged him back to his senses, "Ye...no-um, we haven't. It is a pleasure to meet you, Lady Eliza."

He knows my name.

"No. The pleasure is all mine. I greet the Third Star of the Empire, Prince Nior Surek Cicero."

The only person who could be roaming the Empress's castle freely with silver hair and emerald eyes is her son with the Emperor, the Third Prince. 

"Ah, just call me Nior," he muttered, shyly.

"I could not possibly be that rude. However, the Prince's name has a nice ring to it," I answered.

This feels awfully like a déjà vu.

His eyebrows raised in surprise however his voice remained gentle, "Thank you. No one else has ever said that to me before."

Unlike both his parents, he sounds pure hearted. However, associating with him will do me no good.

"It is regrettable but I must return to my estate. It was an honour to make your acquaintance," I said.

His shoulders drooped as he dejectedly replied, "Of course. You must be busy preparing for Marquess Brandon's funeral. You have my deepest condolences. I hope you won't mourn too much."

His genuine feelings of worry reached me, "Your kindness knows no bounds. Thank you. Please do not worry. I have a lot of people around me, supporting and caring for me. For them, I will never fall apart."

"I am slightly jealous of that..." he mumbled under his breath.

I moved closer to him, "I apologise. I could not hear you."

He sighed, "I said I am glad to hear that."

I gazed beyond the window to see the sky was a deep shade of red, the sun almost setting, "I must take my leave. May the Spirits bless you."

My back turned to the Prince, I started to walk only to hear a pair of heavy footsteps rush towards me.

I felt a warm touch on my hand and looked behind to see Prince Nior, panting.

His face was flushed and his voice was shaky, "As I thought, would you like to have a cup of te-"

However, before he could finish his sentence, someone else had joined us.

"Is that Nior with you, Eli?" Duke Zenos asked, approaching us with quick strides.

My astonishment was apparent, "What brings you here, Your Grace?" 

Duke Zenos steps halted right in front of me, "I was worried about you. Therefore, I visited the estate and learnt you were here. It was getting late so I came to pick you up."

His eyes shifted to the Prince, "What is going on here? Do you two know each other? Why are you both holding hands?"

The cold air was vividly blowing yet the Prince showed no signs of budging, "We just met. As for why we are holding hands, it just happened."

Duke Zenos's face darkened, "Even if you are my brother, there are some jokes I can't pardon you for."

I could feel his grip loosen as his hand returned to his side, "I apologise, brother. I don't know what came over me."

Seeing him sincerely apologise made the Duke soften, "Now now, quit with the long face. I really can't win against my cute little brother."

All the brothers truly care for each other. Only if their parents could see that...

Duke Zenos extended his arm, "Let's head back."

After settling into the carriage, Duke Zenos spoke, "How did the talk with the Empress go?"

A small smirk had found its way to my lips, "Pleasant for me but not so much for her. I did learn some valuable knowledge I was not aware of before, like how the Empress and my mother were 'the dearest of friends',"

Duke Zenos stated, "A cold hearted woman like her had friends? Unbelievable."

I nodded, "All secrets will unfold by themselves eventually."

A worried tone quickly replaced a rigid one, as he asked, "What about you? Are you feeling better?"

"I am," I answered without a shred of doubt.

Duke Zenos was taken aback by my resolute tone.

It is rather odd. I can't convey my sorrow into words. I have always been in a cycle of grief. When I passed by that mob of blithering idiots or conversed with the Empress, I was clearly not in control of my emotions. However, when I am with Duke Zenos, both my body and my mind feel lighter. As if I am floating on clouds. His presence drastically lifts me up while the atmosphere around me becomes much brighter. I look forward to his visits and when we are unable to meet, I am left feeling empty and disappointed. He provides me with the warmth and comfort I had sought throughout my previous life. After the wheels of fortune spun for me, I planned for revenge and only dreamt of happiness. He is the manifestation of what I thought to be a foolish, childish dream. Beside him, I feel like anything and everything is possible.

"Earth to Eli. We have arrived at the estate," Duke Zenos announced as he stretched out his hand in order to help me out of the carriage.

My eyes slowly adjusted to the dim sunlight outside and fell upon the Duke. The red sky was reflected against his red ruby-like eyes. His dark hair danced with the breeze.

Heavenly.

He softly uttered my name.

Ah, so that's it. I am in love with this man.

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