Chapter Thirty-Three: Please Come Back

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"But...but I thought we were in love."

His emerald eyes looked down on me, mockingly, "Love? It was but a small act on my part and an absurd delusion on yours."

Love. Is it the apprehension I felt every time Raelia clung to Uken? Is it the dread that coursed through me captive in that dungeon? Or could it be the obsession Raelia had with Uken? I loved someone once. I thought I did. However, this man in front of me, makes me think twice. Could that dreadful emotion ever be love? No. Never.

Mariah brushed my crimson locks, "Is something wrong? You have been spacing out a lot since you came back from the palace."

"Ah, no...no. Nothing really."

"Is that so? Still, meeting the Empress must have been difficult. You should take some rest before the funeral. All the preparations have already been made," Mariah replied, worried.

Oh right! I forgot about the Empress.

I cleared my throat, "Mariah, I heard something during my talk with the Empress. She said my mother and she knew each other."

Mariah's face twisted in hatred, "Such blatant lies. Our kind Lady was never her friend. She only tried to butt in the friendship of our Lady and the late Empress Marianne."

My eyebrows raised in surprise, "My mother and the late Empress?"

Mariah nodded, reminiscing, "They were the best of friends. She was the only one who did not question our Lady's commoner origin. That is why I believe that the engagement between Duke Zenos and My Lady is nothing short of destiny."

Destiny and I go long back, that is for sure.

"If so, why did the Empress lie?"

"I can't be too sure however what I do know is that the Empress envied the Late Empress. As to why, it was blatantly obvious. The Late Empress Marianne was not only a beauty as her charisma captured the hearts of men and women alike. They both were daughters from ducal households and the Empress could not avoid a continuous comparison between them. Finally, all hell broke loose when the Late Empress wedded the Emperor. For as long as anybody had known, Empress Raven held feelings for the then Crown Prince. This worsened their relationship for good. That is why, when the Late Empress passed away, many people spread nasty rumours like blaming Empress Raven for her death. It was said that she had sought help from dark wizards proficient in black magic," Mariah concluded.

I could not have even imagined in my previous life that everything was so tightly connected to one another. I feel one step closer to my goal.

"Thank you for the history class, Mariah."

"Well, it is all commoner gossip at the end of the day."

A knock silenced us, "Duke Zenos has arrived."

My ears reddened.

"Mariah, my dress."

Mariah's eyes softened as I donned my mother's flowy black dress which I matched with an equally dark coloured cocktail hat.

I can feel mother's warmth wrapping around me.

I headed to the parlor where I found Duke Zenos waiting for me. Beside him stood two guards sporting the Xavier Knights' uniform. One of them I identified as Cesar and the other as Arius, the knight I bumped into at the Duke's estate.

He still looks familiar, especially his golden-brown eyes.

Duke Zenos spoke, "Did you have a good sleep?"

"Uh, yes...I did."

Now that I am aware of my feelings, I can't help but be nervous around him...

Although worried about my flakey answer, he continued, "Then shall we head to the graveyard?"

We made our way to my family graveyard which rested a few miles away from the mansion. My father had already been buried and the funeral was only kept for others to deliver their condolences.

From the corner of my eye, I spotted Irene making her way towards me.

Irene wrapped her arms around me, "I am so sorry for your loss."

I sunk into her embrace, "Thank you for coming."

"Of course. I am always here for you."

One by one people approached me to express their sadness and support. Through them I truly understood how many people my father had helped.

All of a sudden, rain started to fall. After seeing all the guests off, I came back to the grave for one last look. My eyes fell on a figure standing in front of it. Amidst the downpour, he stood, still. I moved closer to get a better look.

My vision hindered by the rain, I could hear him mumble, "I resented you all my life, but now that you are gone...why do I feel so empty? Who do I blame now? I hated you...I thought I did. However, if I could save you at the cost of my own life, I would. I don't hate you so please...please come back fa-"

Before he could complete his sentence, he was interrupted by a rustling noise from the bushes. It was caused by a squirrel. As if pulled from a trance, the man quickly walked away, leaving me with a myriad of unanswered questions.

"Miss, you were here," Mariah exclaimed from a distance.

We both returned to the mansion, Mariah shielding me from the rain with the umbrella she had brought with her.

As she dried me off, a more pressing thought came to my mind.

"Mariah, where is Raelia? I didn't see her during the funeral."

Mariah spoke, "Ah, about that, I was about to tell you. Duke Orion has passed away. When Raelia heard the news, she didn't really seem surprised. She simply got dressed and left for the Valerio estate."

My eyes widened, "He has passed away...I can't believe this. A healthy man like him."

I continued, "Mariah, make preparations. I will be visiting the Valerio estate. I have a feeling that this will be my first step to solving all the hidden mysteries."

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