Chapter 0: Prologue
“I think you’ve crossed the line this time.”
Zed’s eyebrows furrowed at the red-haired womadepn sitting in front of him. She was dressed in black, and she elegantly tipped her teacup to her lips and smiled.
“What do you mean?” she said. Her tone was innocent, but the smile on her face was devilish. Her sparkling yellow eyes were reminiscent of a snake’s, and the ends of her brows were slightly tilted up, making for a sharp and fierce look.
Leticia D. Laimia.
She was the eldest daughter of House Laimia in the Zeron Empire, as well as the fiancée of Duke Cabrian, with the only other house in the empire being House Vellon.
More than anything, she was a famously frightening woman that had the fitting nickname of ‘the venomous snake hidden among roses’. She looked as elegant as a rose from the outside, but inside she had a snake’s instinct to strike and kill her target at any time. She was a truly fearsome person.
No one ever survived long once they got on the wrong side of her.
As far as societal rankings went, she was like the sole queen who stood over everyone else. Not only were the ladies cautious around her, but the knights and nobles beneath the ranking of count feared her as well. It was to the point where it was said that one should avoid being within her sight, and it was even better not to be associated with her at all.
But there was a woman who broke all such taboo and stepped on the worst side of her…
And this woman was called Yevnika Erena.
Yevnika was a brilliant-minded woman who attended Deang—Zeron Empire’s best university—on a full scholarship and graduated with top honors. That wasn’t the end of her accomplishments, as she received top marks in the infamously difficult Finance Ministry exams.
Moreover, she had such an impeccable personality that everyone already considered her a mature adult. There were more than a few people who were drawn in by her wholesome charm.
However, in contrast to her incredible merits, her origins were very humble. She was the illegitimate child of Baron Roa, and her mother was a wandering nomad.
‘Honestly though, that doesn’t matter too much,’ Zed inwardly thought with a tut.
Leticia favored those that had exceptional skills and ability, rather than being discriminating of origin. And so, Yevnika was the type of woman Leticia liked.
However, what Yevnika did next was the problem. She stole Leticia’s fiancé, Duke Cabrian, away from her.
Not that Yevnika intentionally seduced Duke Cabrian—her personality wouldn’t allow for it. Even if she fell for him in the first place, she would only hide away her feelings.
Then how did it come to this?
The answer was simple. Surprisingly, it was Duke Cabrian who fell for Yevnika first. The Duke worked in the Finance Ministry for the Empire, and had many chances to walk by her. According to the rumors, he fought with this new recruit constantly, getting into arguments with her more often than with his fussy boss. As this kept going on, an unbelievable, story-like development emerged, and his feelings of hate turned into feelings of love.
Duke Cabrian desperately pleaded for her to respond to his affections. She avoided him every time she saw him, but he was finally able to win her heart.
‘And right after that, he went straight to Leticia and announced he would break off their engagement.’
Of course, Leticia refused. Zed remembered how she coldly mocked the Duke in the past, and Zed felt a shiver crawl down his spine. At the time, Leticia’s mood had hit bottom.
That was when Leticia’s persistent harassment towards Yevnika began. The abuse she leveled at their once strong relationship grew in severity, like stepping on each stair.
The more Leticia did so, the more the public’s perception about her worsened. While Duke Cabrian and Yevnika shared the romance of the century, Leticia became even more infamous for being a horrible villainess.
Now, she was pushed to the very edge of her patience…
This time, Leticia was drawing out her metaphorical knife against Yevnika. It was enough to make her bodyguard knight Zed, who served her for seven years, think that she was taking it to dangerous levels.
Zed squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, then opened it again and spoke.
“‘For every one thing you receive, give it back twofold’. And ‘When aiming your arrow, make sure it’s at the correct target’. These are the words you lived by, didn’t you my lady?”
Those were the words that Leticia followed diligently, even as she was being called a villainess.
– No matter how bad things are, one shouldn’t turn into a monster.
That was one of her habitual phrases she told everyone. But this time, she really stepped over the line. She was breaking her own rules that she had set for herself.
Upon hearing Zed’s attempt to dissuade her, Leticia let down the cup she held in her hand. It landed with a sharp clink on the plate.
“That depends on circumstances.” She spoke in a cold, subdued version of herself, and she gave a beautiful smile before continuing. “I had to watch with my two eyes my fiancé being stolen away from me. Should I just sit idly by and not do anything about it?”
“I’m just saying you’re too swept up by your emotions. In the first place, wasn’t the ‘thing’ that you prepared a good thing as well?” Zed said determinedly.
He was telling her that she was too caught up in what was in front of her that she wasn’t thinking about what could happen after. That she was not her usual cold, rational self.
Leticia gave a light chuckle. “I am only going to take the fairest of revenges.”
“If you’re going to say that it’s a completely fair revenge, then your sword should aim at Duke Cabrian as well,” Zed pointed out. “But what you are doing right now is shifting all the blame to Yevnika, is it not?”
Leticia was planning to completely end Yevnika’s life after all.
At the very least, Leticia would certainly make sure that her reputation was damaged to the point where she’ couldn’t make a comeback in the capital. If she hoped to start again, not only would she need to leave far away from this place, but she would also need to recover from the mental trauma she would suffer.
But that didn’t mean that Yevnika wasn’t without fault at all. Even if she did decline the Duke’s love over and over again, the fact that she agreed to be in love together with him in the end made her an accomplice to this crime as well.
However, one could pass over the fact that it was Duke Cabrian who made the first move. It was he who began courting her, and his thoroughly planned strategy had worked out in his favor. He stirred up feelings of sympathy, brought up feelings of guilt, and in the end won Yevnika over by slowly wearing down her conscience.
However, the powerful attack that Leticia planned would only aim towards Yevnika. Leticia would not even lay a finger on Duke Cabrian’s hair.
That meant the main instigator of the incident would not be punished in any way at all, and would end with only Yevnika’s demise. Afterwards, Leticia planned to marry Duke Cabrian as if nothing had ever happened.
And that was…
“I don’t think doing this ‘fairest revenge you can take’ is as fair as you think, My Lady.”
The plan would turn her into a monster, which was something she detested on becoming. As soon as Zed’s words finished, Leticia’s yellow eyes shimmered eerily. There was such murderous intent in them that it was as if she were ready to kill Yevnika right then and there.
“Zed, know your pla—”
“And!” Zed sharply cut in. He knew that what he was doing was crazy, but he felt that he must speak no matter what, at risk of arousing her anger. Even so, he had to make his point before this situation got worse.
Zed clenched both his fists tights and slowly opened his mouth. “Do you think Duke Cabrian will just watch by when it happens?”
Duke Cabrian would surely enact a revenge. He would try to make Leticia experience as much misfortune as Yevnika did. Even if Leticia stubbornly got her way and married Duke Cabrian, her married life would be absolute Hell.
She would be a scarecrow princess, or a neglected wife.
Even if she were to give birth to a child, Duke Cabrian may even go as far as to not acknowledge their child as the official descendant of the family. He may pick some other illegitimate child he had with another woman to succeed him.
Duke Cabrian. Considering that crazy bastard’s personality, it was more than likely he would do such a thing.
“It won’t be over simply by ending Miss Yevnika’s social status.”
Duke Cabrian would never look at her face again. Though it would be a good thing if that was all he stopped at.
“As long as Duke Cabrian’s heart hasn’t come back to you, it won’t be over,” Zed warned.
Leticia would no longer have control of what would happen by doing this. If she couldn’t change the mind of the person who did have control, no matter what, she would end up as the ‘loser’.
Although Zed had accurately pointed out the truth, it was a truth that she wanted to turn her head away from.
Silence filled up the room like water. It slowly became heavier and weighed on Zenard’s shoulders, pushing him down heavily. Leticia studied the knight with a silent yellow stare, like a snake considering whether to strike. The tension in the room mounted like a tall tower.
At that moment, Leticia’s red lips slowly opened.
“A guest has arrived.”
Leticia was interrupted yet again, this time by a maid from outside the room. Leticia pressed her lips together. She closed her eyes as she collected her thoughts for a moment, then spoke in a calm voice.
“Let them in.”
The door slowly opened, and the unexpected guest was revealed.
A woman entered the room, her white hair tied up to one side, her face deathly pale.
She was not wearing a dress like a noblewoman would, but instead was garbed in the uniform of a Finance Ministry official. She panted heavily as if she had been in a hurry. A few strands of hair stuck to her sweat-dampened forehead, furthering her pitiful appearance.
Zed spoke her name in his mind and gasped silently. Why would she be visiting this place? It was a foolish thing to do, like a person walking into the cave of a dangerous tiger.
‘No… Perhaps someone had forced her to come to this place instead.’
Leticia’s smile widened gleefully, like a snake looking at its prey. “Ahh, Miss Yevnika. It looks like you’ve read the letter that I’ve sent to you.”
Zed’s suspicions were confirmed. He was certain that Leticia must have forced Yevnika to come here by blackmailing her about something she discovered in her investigations.
“Talk…” Yevnika panted. She looked at Leticia with shaky, anxious blue eyes as she tried to catch her breath. “I’d like to talk.” She looked ready to collapse as she painstakingly spoke those words. She looked quite pitiful, like a small, defenseless animal shivering in fear.
But Leticia’s appearance would only reflect badly on Leticia. There were often cases when someone would look pleadingly at Leticia, while Leticia would glare at them back. They would often be compared against each other, and Leticia would come out looking even more like a villainess in the public’s eyes.
Zed turned his head towards Leticia as if he was worried about Yevnika. He was worried that Leticia would get swept away by her emotions once more and do something irreversible.
Perhaps Leticia noticed Zed’s gaze, and her vivid yellow eyes slid towards Zed at that exact moment as if in response. Her cold-blooded gaze cut into him like blades.
Zed suddenly had an ominous feeling. That suspicion turned out to be true.
“Could you leave for a moment?” she said.
“My Lady.” Zed spoke as if to dissuade her against it.
Her lips turned upwards in a frighteningly gorgeous smile.
“I’ve told you to leave for a moment.”
As Zed kept his silence, Leticia added to her words as if to emphasize her request.
“Do I have to add the ‘order’ part as well?”
Hearing that, Zed couldn’t help but let a bitter smile creep up his lips. The fact that she was willing to make it an ‘order’ meant that she was no longer going to entertain his idea of freedom and self-expression. That likely meant she was going to completely exclude him from any plans she had as well.
‘Ahh, it’s the end.’
His mistress that he served would probably become enraged, like a wild horse on a sprint that wouldn’t stop.
And in the end, she would probably…
Zed forced his thoughts to stop there.
“I hope…you both have a wonderful time,” he said for courtesy’s sake, then left the room.
The next day…
At a tea party set up by the Crown Princess.
Zed stared at the scene before him with wide eyes.
Red. The red lady was becoming evermore stained in red.
“This—” kollog, kollog, “—is quite fun, don’t you think?” she mumbled hollowly.
Blood came out of the red lady’s mouth each time she coughed. She stared at the white-haired woman across the table, then she giggled.
“Why are you making that expression? Kollog, kollog. It all…it all went as planned. Laugh…I said laugh.”
“I-I didn’t want… want this to happ…” the white lady said, desperately shaking her head. The red lady gave her a deep smile.
“It was going…to happen…anyway…”
However, she was not able to complete her sentence, and she finally collapsed onto the ground. With a background of the beautiful cherry blossoms flying in the wind, the Empire’s red flower fell straight down.
The falling of a flower. The plunging of a cold woman into the Hell of defeat. Like a villainess of a romance novel falling to her death.
“My Lady!!!” Zed shouted as he ran towards her side.
Leticia attempted to poison herself. In no time at all, the shocking news spread throughout the capital.