Ophelia’s mood as she waited for news of Carlisle’s death soured as more time went by. No reports came in, although it had been hours since Marquis Selby left for the mission. Cassana shifted uncomfortably, then spoke to the Empress.
“Your Majesty. I’ve sent someone to check on the situation, and they will bring news soon.”
Ophelia did not respond. As it was now, a delay likely meant that their assassination attempt had not gone as planned. She couldn’t figure out why yet. Selby Marquis had amassed a considerable force, and Ophelia had sent additional troops as well. The chances of such a failure were slim, and even in that event, a report wouldn’t come in so late.
‘What the hell happened there?’
There had been a thorough investigation of Carlisle’s sword fighting skills and number of guards he had taken with him. After sending assassins after him for years, she naturally amassed large amounts of data on his ability. Unless the ambush was leaked beforehand, it would be impossible for Carlisle to survive.
‘…Unless someone else got involved that I did not expect.’
Carlisle was as persistent as a cockroach, but even she didn’t know how even he could return from the battle…
The atmosphere around Ophelia turned foul, and her eyes gleamed like a snake.
The door was suddenly flung open, and Cesare—Ophelia’s younger brother and head of the Anita family—stormed inside, looking like an angry red lion.
At Cesare’s call, Ophelia looked at him and demanded answers.
“Tell me. It must be bad seeing as you’re here instead of a messenger. What happened?”
Cesare uncharacteristically seemed unable to find his words. Then he shouted angrily.
“They’re all dead!”
“I just came back after seeing it with my own eyes. They were all wiped out.”
“Every man there?”
“Yes, my sister.”
Ophelia was in stunned disbelief. Failure was possible, yes, but a complete massacre? That wasn’t possible. No matter how quickly Carlisle’s reinforcements arrived, it didn’t make sense. However, contrary to Ophelia’s though
“I didn’t believe the messenger, so I went there and saw the bodies piled up like mountains.”
Normally a figure of calm, Ophelia hit the arm of her chair impatiently.
“How is that possible?!”
“Given that the bodies appear to be torn apart with the claws of a beast, perhaps the blood lust…”
Cesare trailed off, and glanced at Cassana standing next to Empress Ophelia. It was not something he could speak of to even the closest of aides. Cassana sensed her intrusion and quickly spoke.
“I’ll leave you to speak freely. I’ll be waiting outside.”
At those words, Cassana took all the other maidservants outside the room, and soon it became quiet again. Cesare gave a cautious glance around, but no one else was in the vicinity. With the two of them alone, Ophelia first spoke with a stiffened expression.
“Even the blood lust would not give him that much strength.”
“That’s what I’m curious about. Damn it. The dragon’s blood is strong. It keeps him persisting.”
“He does not have the ability to control it at will…so why did that power reveal itself now?”
Ophelia looked on in displeasure. As empress, she knew that dragon’s blood flowed through Carlisle’s veins. Because of that extraordinary power, Carlisle became the crown prince and was able to cheat death several times.
Ophelia was not a fool and continued to consider it into her calculations when she deployed her assassins; and while Carlisle was a monster, it didn’t mean he was immortal. However, it was not easy to accept failure once again.
There was something different from the previous times and tonight. Something more that Ophelia didn’t know.
“Are there no survivors?”
“None, my sister.”
“I don’t care how, but find a witness one way or another. If you can’t find out, buy off one of Carlisle’s people. There must be something. Something I don’t know…”
“Very well. Leave it to me.”
Ophelia gradually calmed her nerves and rolled her head. After this catastrophic failure, it was likely she would be traced next. Now, it was time to throw out the Selby family as a meat shield.
“First, get rid of evidence of any connection with the Selby family. Don’t let anyone know we were involved in this.”
At Cesare’s reply, Ophelia pressed her fingers against her temple.
“We need more information about Carlisle again.”
Ophelia opened her eyes again with bloody intent.
“Don’t fail twice.”
At her words, Cesare gave a deep bow.
“I will make a plan, sister.”
These were the words that were most repeated to Elena in her last life.
— Leader, if you live like that, you will die one day.
She was unflinching in the face of death. The only reason she survived was to repay the blood of her family. When she closed her eyes, she could hear Mirabelle’s scream, and when she ate, Derek’s and her father’s body wavered in front of her vision. There was not a moment of comfort for her. Life wasn’t worth living.
Her skills on the battlefield earned her a vicious reputation, and when the opportunity came, she was formally knighted in a country that was an enemy to the Ruford Empire. Although she had worked as a mercenary for years, she hadn’t had the opportunity to hold her sword against Paveluc’s neck.
Elena pushed herself hard, and she rapidly ascended up the knighthood ranks. That was a massive achievement in and of itself, but she still wasn’t satisfied.
— Leader, did you stay up all night?
Elena always stayed at the training center, to the point where she forgot where her sleeping quarters were. Almost every night she lay awake. To fall into a deep sleep meant less time training with a sword, and even when she overworked her body, she refused to collapse.
Whenever she closed her eyes, she always went back to that final night at Blaise Castle. Red torches flickered in its hallways, and shouts of alarm echoed through its halls. In her imagination, Mirabelle would scream to her for help.
—Sister! Elena! Help! Help me!
Elena could not save Mirabelle even in her dreams. No matter how hard she tried, her brother Derek led her out the city, and she was forced to abandon her precious sister. Derek’s last words were always the same.
— Go. Go and survive, sister.
So she had to escape.
Escape and endure the bitter curse that was life. She had abandoned Mirabelle, and Derek sacrificed himself. Revenge, resentment, and regret cycled through her over and over again. It was such a memory that, however long had passed, it had never faded.
— Can she smile? I don’t think I’ve ever seen her smile.
Elena didn’t smile. How could she, when everyone she loved was dead? Just living and breathing was already hell for her, and her only faith was in killing Paveluc. When she looked back, sometimes she would think,
‘Did I want to get rid of the guilt of surviving alone?’
She realized now that even if she killed Paveluc in the past, the guilt would continue to haunt her. If fact, she didn’t care if she lost her life, as long as she could save her family now. She would make that choice a thousand times over, because the worst part was…
‘To be left alone again.’
Elena did not want to experience the same hell twice, so she vowed to die before her family no matter what. Perhaps her death by poisoned arrow was the ending she had been hoping for. She risked her life doing something for her family, and she got to die before them.
The last hazy image of Carlisle’s blue eyes appeared in front of her. She still remembered his expression of despair, as if he had lost the whole world. His scream penetrated her heart.
Carlisle, who never lacked in anything, looked like he would collapse on her death. If she was gone, she worried that he would spend the rest of his life in sorrow.
She didn’t want that.
‘…I don’t want to die.’
She wanted to stay with Carlisle a little longer if she could. She wanted to make him happy, and to be happy by his side. Parting from him now would only make things worse.
As Elena grew more desperate for life, she started to feel a burning pain on her back. It was so severe that a thin moan came out of her mouth.
She opened her eyes, but her vision was too blurry to distinguish anything. Suddenly, several voices sounded urgently in her ear, but there was only one that she latched on to.
“Damn it! She’s hurting! Is this the right way to do it?”
It was Carlisle. She could clearly hear the terror in his voice.
“Y-Your Highness, this is the only way.”
“If she can’t get up after this, I’ll kill everyone. Whatever you do, save her!”
Zenard’s voice of reassurance spoke up behind Carlisle’s shouting.
“Calm down, Your Highness. The doctors are trying their best.”
“Best? If anyone talks about just trying, I’ll cut their throats first. I don’t care about the process, just bring results!”
The present situation was so tense that it didn’t seem unusual if he even stabbed someone. But the ice-cold atmosphere shattered when Elena gave a tiny groan.
Someone grabbed Elena’s hand. Her vision wasn’t quite clear, but the hot touch alone proved that it was Carlisle.
“…Elena, if you leave me, I won’t forgive you.”
Carlisle’s tone was forceful, but strangely desperate.
She wanted to open her eyes and look at his face, but a sharp pain shot through her like lightning and she screamed.
As her agonized screams became louder, she could hear Carlisle in front of her. Although it was she who was in pain, it was like Carlisle was hurting more.
Elena lost consciousness again.