✍️✍️✍️✍️ Garden Of Poison Chapter 101 - 105 Complete Chapters ✍️✍️✍️✍️

PHYSIENTS WILL ALWAYS OFFER BEST NOVELS || LATEST MOVIES || LIVE STREAMING ALL TIME


GARDEN OF POISON

After breaking the wood (Chapter 101)

The loud bang startled Anastasia, who turned around to find Dante's intense eyes staring at her. Her eyes looked at the door, which was no longer in its previous position but had fallen to the ground. Did he break it? When she locked the door, her intention was to unlock it later.      
Dante, on the other hand, scowled even more when he caught Anastasia and the servant sticking their heads out of the window. A few seconds ago, when he had reached the front of the room and tried to push the door open, it appeared to be locked.      


Hearing Anastasia's racing heart, as though fueled by adrenaline, his immediate thought was that she was attempting to escape. And he only jumped to the conclusion because of how strongly the woman clung to the idea of gaining her freedom, and in her eyes, freedom came with being away from him. With everything that had happened to her, he didn't blame her for wanting to flee.      

Anastasia noticed Dante's eyes falling on the bedsheet on the floor, which she hadn't picked up earlier, and she could only imagine the thoughts running through the prince's mind. To prevent either Theresa or herself from being scolded, she hastily provided an explanation.      

"We were looking at the view outside the window… After our meal—I mean, my meal. For some fresh air. We weren't doing anything bad," her voice trailed off uncertainly.      

"I know," Dante responded, and the grim expression on his face softened. His gaze shifted towards the window, through which he could hear the soothing sound of the waves outside. He said, "The door didn't open, and there was no response. I thought something might have happened."     

Anastasia wondered if she and Theresa had been so absorbed in watching the sea and listening to the waves that they hadn't heard the doorknob turning. She gave him a nod as if she believed his explanation, and she observed Dante look away from her as if a little embarrassed about something.      

"Did you finish eating?" Dante asked her, and Anastasia responded with another nod before verbally replying,     

"I did. Have you eaten yet?" After all, earlier, it seemed like he had spent hours waiting for her to wake up.      

Theresa's eyebrows subtly rose at Anastasia's direct question to the prince as if their relationship had taken on a more familiar tone akin to that of acquaintances. It seemed that the young woman was correct when she said the first prince treated her with kindness.      

"I ate a little, but I am still hungry," Dante's gaze locked with Anastasia's brown eyes, and it took a second for her to understand the underlying meaning, causing her eyes to widen. He then turned to look at Theresa and questioned,      

"Theresa, was it?"      

Theresa promptly offered him a bow and replied, "Yes, Prince."      

Both the women felt scrutinised as Dante stared at them with intimidating eyes. He then stated,      

"Anastasia will require a maid to attend to her, and as you both appear to enjoy each other's company, you will be the one to serve her from now on. I will speak to Norrix to arrange the change in your position. You will receive all the necessary instructions once you reach your room."     

Courtesans had maids? Anastasia questioned herself, as the words spoken by Dante didn't seem to align with what she knew, making her feel uncertain about the situation that was unfolding.      

"I would be more than happy to serve her, My Prince!" Theresa exclaimed with enthusiasm, thrilled to spend time with Anastasia again, just like the old times.      

"You can leave," Dante ordered the woman, who offered him another bow before walking to the bedside and picking up the bedsheet to place it back on the bed. Theresa then pulled the trolley before pushing it out of the room, but not before glancing back at Anastasia, who was looking back at her.      

With only the two of them left in the room, Anastasia observed Dante turning towards the door, seemingly about to close and lock it, only to remember that he was the one who had broken it.      

"This won't do," Dante murmured with a slight frown, and he then turned back towards her and inquired, "Can you walk?"      

Anastasia was still standing by the window, and she nodded in response. She then heard him instruct, "Follow me. You can leave the other things as they are," he added when she took a step towards the bed.      

When Dante stepped out of the room, Anastasia followed him, her bare feet softly padding on the carpet as they made their way through the corridors. They ascended the stairs, heading towards a familiar area where the rooms of the princes and princesses were located.      

With the corridors deserted and the place illuminated by flickering torches, Anastasia inquired, "Where are we going?"      

"To a new room. One that has an attached door," Dante replied. When he noticed Anastasia walking a few paces behind him, he slowed down his footsteps to allow her to catch up. "Don't worry. You won't be sleeping in my room. Not yet," he assured her.     

Anastasia felt relieved upon hearing this because she doubted she could sleep peacefully with how things had been spiralling between them. She asked him, "Did you have time for dinner?"      

"I don't have much of an appetite. But if I do get hungry, I will have something," Dante replied truthfully, as he genuinely wasn't craving food right now. However, there was something that he did crave, and that was blood—fresh, warm, flowing blood. The thought made his jaw tighten.      

Given his family belonged to a demon bloodline, the idea of drinking blood was something no one had ever desired. And though he hadn't been the one to get hit on the head, he felt a headache forming. Refocusing his attention on her, he asked,      

"Did you eat well?"      

"I did. All the dishes were delicious. Thank you for that," Anastasia expressed her gratitude for being allowed to taste all that extravagant food. As they continued to walk through the corridors, her gaze shifted towards him. When they were about to pass one of the torches on the wall, her eyes fell on dark dots on his shirt.      

Her eyes then moved to look at his hands, observing how they swayed back and forth, wondering if he was done dealing with the Vizier. Suddenly a door opened, capturing their attention, and Anastasia looked ahead to see a familiar figure in the corridor. He offered a slight bow, resembling more of a nod, and as his eyes met hers, he acknowledged her with a small smile.      

"Good evening, milady," Prince Raylen greeted her before remarking, "You look a little more disarrayed than the last time we met."     

Dante's eyes narrowed at the man's remark, and he inquired, "Is the room and service to your liking?"      

Prince Raylen shifted his gaze to Dante, who stared back at him, causing a small smile to appear on the Storm Prince's face. He responded, "Very much so. The staff here is as excellent as in my palace, but it must be the change that is the reason I have trouble sleeping."      

His words didn't go unnoticed by Dante, who stated, "Let us hope you will be able to sleep well and avoid walking in these corridors at night. We already have too many people arousing suspicion and heading towards the path of death row."     

"It looks like I have arrived at an inopportune time," Prince Raylen replied. He then continued, "Also, I was with the Elder ministers when the request from the royal palace arrived and was processed and sealed, regarding you having your own concubine. Congratulations to both of you." The corner of the prince's eyes crinkled as he smiled.      

Upon hearing Prince Raylen's words, Anastasia blinked in surprise before the revelation slowly sunk in, and she turned to look at Dante, silently seeking confirmation that it was indeed true. No, it couldn't be…      

If the person in front of him wasn't a prince, and if their families didn't have a truce preventing them from killing each other, Dante would have done it by now. However, he could sense Anastasia's eyes on him, and he knew without turning that her gaze would hold feelings of shock and betrayal.      

"We had a long day, and it appears the night will be just as long, so we will be taking our leave," Dante replied, and he caught Anastasia's hand, noticing that it had turned cold, before leading her away from there.      

Prince Raylen watched the couple leave and murmured with a slight smile, "Hm? Did I say something I wasn't supposed to?" As he was about to step back into the room, he caught sight of a shadow lingering on the other side of the corridor. He remarked, "I thought I was the only one unable to sleep, but it seems I have company."      

Soft footsteps resonated from the end of the corridor, and Princess Niyasa emerged into the light. A smile graced her lips as she addressed him, saying,     

"Fancy seeing you here, Prince Raylen. I didn't know you were visiting us." She politely bowed as she stopped before him.      

"I thought I would surprise you," Prince Raylen humoured her, prompting an even wider smile from the young princess.      

Princess Niyasa had grown up believing that she was destined for greatness and that her path to greatness would be realised through her marriage to a man of high status. And who could be a more suitable match than the Prince of the Storm family to take her hand? Maybe he could aid her mother, unlike her brother, who was currently keeping their mother captive. With these thoughts in her heart, she said,      

"If we knew of your arrival earlier, we would have made better preparations for you. After all, we should treat each other well."     

"How odd, because I was thinking the same, as it seems not everyone shares the same opinion," Prince Raylen replied, adding, "I wouldn't wish to keep you away from your rest any longer, Princess." He stretched his hand forward, picking up the princess's hand, before placing a kiss on the back of it. "Goodnight, Princess Niyasa."     

Princess Niyasa's face turned slightly pink, and she replied, "Have a goodnight's sleep, Prince Raylen. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow morning, as I have some important matters I wish to discuss with you."     

"I cannot wait for it," Prince Raylen smiled at her, and for a brief moment, it appeared as if his eyes were closed. As Princess Niyasa turned and walked away, his smile dropped like a stone, and his blue eyes turned serious. Instead of stepping inside his room, he closed the door and followed in the direction that the princess had taken.     

On the other side of the palace, when Anastasia and Dante arrived in front of the room, which was situated on the same corridor as the first prince's room, he finally let go of her wrist, which he had been holding as they walked.      

"Anastasia," Dante addressed her, as she hadn't uttered a word.      

However, Anastasia remained unresponsive, and she took a step inside the room as the realisation of why Aziel treated her in such a manner, providing the extravagant food, and why Dante appointed Theresa as her maid began to dawn on her.      

"I didn't mean for you to find out about it like this," Dante said, as he had intended to tell her once she settled into the room.      

Anastasia's hands clenched, and when she turned to look at Dante, he noticed tears gathering in her eyes. She expressed, "No matter how I would have learned the truth, it wouldn't have changed how I felt about the position, Prince Dante." Trying to compose herself, she took a deep breath and continued, "You gave me your word, and I trusted you."     

It was easier to push the blame on his grandmother, who was the one who had sent out the request to turn her into his concubine, but he was the first one to vocalise it openly for everyone to hear. He felt relieved to see that she was at least willing to listen, and he proceeded to explain carefully,      

"The circumstances that unfolded today forced me to take a stand about you. It appears that the current king has set his sights on you, and if I am not mistaken, it is because you remind him of Marianne. I had to do something to prevent him from claiming you, so I did what I thought was right."     

Anastasia understood that he acted out of a desire to protect her, but it wasn't what she had hoped for. And when she closed her eyes, the tears she had been holding back finally spilt forth, streaming down her cheeks before falling to the ground.      

When Dante went to take a step towards her, Anastasia instinctively took a step backwards. Though the gesture may have been small, it caused him to clench his jaw and his eyes darkened in disapproval. He asked,      

"Do you hate me?"      

Anastasia opened her moist brown eyes, and she shook her head, whispering,      

"I don't." Even if she did feel that way, did she have the liberty to express it? She then said, "I know you did it to protect me. But where I am now is where my sister once stood, and it is a place I prayed not to find myself in."     

Dante wanted her to trust him and, if possible, fall for him, so she wouldn't have to feel the heartbreak she was experiencing over the news she had received. Yet, he hadn't lost his rationality when it came to her. It had only been three weeks since he had openly started pursuing her. To ease her worries, he said,      

"You have my word that I will not take another woman while you are by my side."     

"You also told me you wouldn't turn me into your concubine unless I willingly accepted it. I know," she added the last words because she knew his reason. Her eyebrows furrowed, and she continued, "But that is precisely the issue. The future is uncertain, and within this palace, anything can happen."      

"I don't have a soulmate. What I do have is a rabbit that wants to escape," Dante said, trying to lighten the mood. He then said, "Throughout my life, I have followed my beliefs and pursued what I liked, without bending for people or things that didn't align with me. When my father cast me and my mother to the lowest position, I vowed not to take a woman for a companion. Until you came along. You are unlike any woman I have met before, and you are someone I am able to get along with, and I hope you can tolerate me too."     

Anastasia fell silent, staring into space for a few seconds as she processed his words again in her mind. Finally, she spoke,      

"Please do not be offended by what I am about to say. I am only speaking about what I know and understand." She paused for a moment before continuing, "In the past, while talking to Mary, I found out about her and King Maxwell. She was convinced that he loved her, just as she loved him. Being concerned for her, I asked her how she was so certain, and she told me that he had confessed his feelings, telling her she was different."     

Dante's lips twitched, and he remarked, "And I told you that you are different as well." His lips twisted before he continued, "I think you should know that Lady Evin isn't Maxwell's soulmate. At least that is what some of us believe."      

Anastasia's eyebrows furrowed, and anger surged within her. To think her poor sister's heart was broken because of a sham? The last days of her sister's life were filled with nothing but sadness and tears.      

"I see. It was for the sake of the throne," Anastasia whispered and softly huffed in frustration. If the situation had involved a true soulmate connection, she guessed it would have been even more agonising, given everything she had heard about such unions.      

"How despicable for him to toy with my sister's feelings like that… There are nights when I think about what would have happened if I had been more firm in stopping Marianne from developing deeper feelings for him. Maybe it would have saved her. Or if I insisted on her leaving with me. Even King Maxwell had assured my sister that he wouldn't force her to become his concubine, yet he went back on his word later. When the time comes, we cannot defy our destiny."     

When another tear escaped Anastasia's eyes, Dante stepped towards her and gently wiped the tear off her cheek with his thumb. He dropped his hand to his side and said,      

"I understand every word you have uttered, and I am fully aware of your concerns. However, I truly meant it when I said no one would harm you, and I will protect you. And I will do that by taking the throne."     

The throne? Anastasia's eyes subtly widened as she absorbed his decision. But taking the throne didn't eliminate the issue that posed a threat. She inquired, "What about your soulmate?"      

"If I ever happen to meet mine, which I believe I won't, I promise to sever the bond with that woman, especially since it is something that worries you deeply," Dante promised her.      

"Is that even possible?" Anastasia questioned, and Dante nodded.      

"A few cases, yes." There had been a few instances in the past, but some individuals managed to find ways around it, although it wasn't without difficulty. "So, can you not close yourself off to the possibility of having me by your side?"      

Anastasia and Dante stared into each other's eyes before she whispered, "I need a day or two... before I give you my reply."      
__________
 
GARDEN OF POISON
Volatile soul of the guilty(Chapter 102)

Music Recommendation: Without love- Serge Praded     
—     

Maxwell strode into the chambers belonging to the kings of the Blackthorn palace, opening the door with such force that it banged against the wall. His eyes flamed red with anger, and his jaw clenched tightly before he shut the door closed to be alone.      

He walked to a small table, where bottles of alcohol sat, most of which were on the verge of being empty. He grabbed a bottle with a trembling hand, opened the lid and gulped down its contents before walking over to his cupboard. Opening a drawer, he dug down to the bottom of his clothes and pulled out a white handkerchief.      

Maxwell's fingers brushed over the fabric in his hand, and his hand stopped shaking while he stared at it and reminisced about the owner to whom it belonged. He remembered how Marianne had smiled that day at his confession. She answered him politely without looking at him before he caught her wrist to gain her attention.      

'You shouldn't evoke such feelings of hope, as I might misunderstand it,' Marianne had told him. 'You are meant to be with a lady… not a used woman.'     

'It doesn't matter to me. I am used too,' Maxwell smiled and encouraged her. He said, 'I will make you my wife, would you believe me then?'      

Marianne's green eyes met his blue ones, and she said, 'You sound confident, My Prince. Also, a courtesan cannot be a legal wife. One can only be a concubine.'     

'Once I am the king, there will be nothing stopping me from making you my wife. You will see. I will keep your handkerchief until then,' Maxwell said to her, but in the next two weeks, the situation had changed. Word had reached his mother that his father had been coaxed by Lady Sophia to send him, his sister, and his mother to the old palace.      

'Maxwell!' Marianne had greeted him, and she was about to put her arms around him when she noticed his serious expression. 'Did something happen?'     

'I have found my soulmate, Marianne,' Maxwell said, and saw the look of shock and pain enter her eyes.      

'Oh… W—Who is she?' Marianne asked, and she looked hurt.      

'Her name is Evin. We will be getting engaged in a few days… I thought I should let you know, as I promised you—'     

Marianne smiled, 'That is fine. It is an inevitable thing that cannot be changed. Thank you for letting me know,' She turned, ready to leave, when Maxwell said quickly,     

'To keep my word, if you are fine with it, I would like to offer you the position of being my concubine. So that you don't have to sleep with anyone anymore.'     

And though he had taken all the preventive measures, Maxwell had found Marianne lying in the pool of her blood. Right now, he felt like he was slowly losing his mind, pain and guilt weighing heavily upon him, to the point where he couldn't think straight anymore. He clutched onto the handkerchief before taking another swig from the bottle and drowning his anguish in it. He wanted to bring Marianne back, but he couldn't.      

Remembering the woman who'd drowned, Maxwell placed the bottle on the side and walked out of his room with unsteady footsteps before reaching the room where the woman had been placed earlier. He turned his head to look around the corridor, as the guards were missing, and when he reached the front of the room, he noticed it was empty.      

Maxwell clenched his hands as if the gates of anger and hatred for something he couldn't control coursed through him. Because his mother wasn't his father's legal wife, nor the favourite concubine, his family was always cast aside. His father already had a son who won battles for him, and he had an heir who would sit on the throne. In his father's eyes, he wasn't anyone who could give him anything, and his existence didn't matter much, while his mother was busy trying to form connections to secure their position in the palace.      

And now that he had power, he wanted to hurt everyone out of his own hurt.      

Far away from where Maxwell stood, Prince Raylen stood at the end of the corridor, which was hidden in the shadows. He watched the king finally walk away, while his blue eyes narrowed slightly.      

When he brought his hand forward, he heard light footsteps stop a few steps behind him. Prince Raylen smiled before he turned, and his eyes met the Mother Queen's shrewd eyes, and behind her stood a minister, who was almost as old as her.      

"I heard that you were here, but I didn't expect to see you this soon, Prince Raylen Storm," the Mother Queen spoke softly without raising her voice.      

"Queen Ginger Blackthorn, always a pleasure to see you again," Prince Raylen offered her a polite bow. "Were you taking a stroll in the night?"      

"I was. There have been a few thieves and murderers running loose in the palace, so I decided to take a look. Are you any of those, which is why you are walking in the middle of the night? Or did something else catch your attention?" The Mother Queen's eyes quickly scanned the young man, and her thoughts went to what the Vizier said.      

'The fall of the Blackthorns.'     

"If I am being completely honest, it depends. But I assure you I am here to do neither," Prince Raylen's polite demeanour didn't change. He said, "Especially not when we have the truce of peace with many others."     

"Well, I should hope so. We Blackthorns might appear quiet, but that doesn't mean there wouldn't be heavy retaliation if something were to occur," the Mother Queen stated, her chin upwards and her back straight as she used her staff to balance herself. This one was definitely suspicious, and she could feel it in her gut.     

"I don't doubt it, Queen Ginger. Which is also why I am here, to strengthen the truce," Prince Raylen replied, agreeing with the old woman. He said, "I am sure that if I were up to no good, you would have caught me by now."     

"Flattery is not going to get you out of answering the question I am about to ask," the Mother Queen said, her eyes narrowing slightly. "What are you really doing here?"      
_______


GARDEN OF POISON
Lie of the Storm Prince( Chapter 103)

Music Recommendation: Emma is Bored- Isobel Waller     
With a charming smile, the Storm Prince remained unfazed by the question asked of him by the Mother Queen. He replied,      

"I thought you were aware of the purpose of my visit here. It is to find my soulmate, of course."     

The Mother Queen and Aziel raised their eyebrows slightly in response to his words. He continued to speak, elaborating,     

"I have searched throughout my entire kingdom for years, but my attempts to find her have been in vain. And considering how the bloodline of our ancestral lineage is spread around the nearby kingdoms, I decided I would try my luck here."     

The old woman stared at him suspiciously before saying, "I have no objections to you finding your soulmate. However, I doubt that can be accomplished in the middle of the night, wandering through the corridors, can it?"      

"You are right, Queen Ginger," Prince Raylen agreed, which only deepened the Mother Queen's doubts about this man's presence in her palace. He continued, "But I wasn't searching for a woman here; I was merely taking a walk as I couldn't sleep."      

"There is a cellar if you wish to pass the time, or the library. I am certain my minister, Aziel, will be more than willing to assist you. Though I would personally like to warn you to remain in your room and summon a servant with a simple pull of the bell should you need anything," the Mother Queen stated.      

"I will keep that in mind," Prince Raylen replied with a slight bow, earning a nod from the Mother Queen. "I hope you have a good night, Queen Ginger. Minister," he bid them farewell, offering his parting wishes.      

Despite Prince Raylen extending his farewells, the Mother Queen turned on her heel and advanced two steps forward, only to come to a halt. She then turned to look at him and saw him staring back at her. The old woman's lips pursed, as if contemplating something, and she questioned,      

"Have you had the opportunity to meet my two granddaughters? How did your interactions with the two of them go?"      

"Quite pleasant, if you ask me," Prince Raylen responded, giving her a subtle questioning look.      

"Is that so?" the Mother Queen chimed with interest, her voice carrying a sing-song tone.      

Though she wasn't particularly enthusiastic about the Storm Kingdom, she couldn't see any reason why her family couldn't cement their relationship with them if it was meant to be. Although a truce of peace currently existed between the two kingdoms, there had been no alliances in the past.      

As if sensing where the old woman's thoughts were heading, Prince Raylen politely stated, "I have already made contact with one princess, and unfortunately, there was no connection between us." Although his purpose for being there was not to find a soulmate but for another reason, he saw no harm in hoodwinking the woman he had heard was renowned for ardently attempting to match her grandchildren.      

"Oh," there was a hint of disappointment in the Mother Queen's response, and she continued, "What a pity, don't you think? Now, which of the two princesses have you not made contact with yet?"      

"One I am certain is not my soulmate," Prince Raylen replied calmly.      

"Niyasa?" the Mother Queen inquired with a frown, and she couldn't help but feel an internal tinge of worry.     

The reason for her concern was that the old woman knew her grandchildren well, and she was aware of Niyasa's menacing nature. If she were to marry the Storm Prince, the trouble she would unleash onto Versailles would be immeasurable. The thought of it filled her with dread; it was something she didn't even want to contemplate.      

"That would be Princess Emily," Prince Raylen replied, and upon hearing his response, the Mother Queen let go of the breath she had been holding, feeling relieved.      

"I see, I see," the Mother Queen replied, and she wondered if Prince Raylen and her granddaughter could be soulmates. But the prince seemed so sure that they weren't, almost as if he already knew who his true soulmate was. And this thought prompted the woman to cast another suspicious glance at him. It would be more advantageous to hasten the prince's departure from the kingdom by introducing him to every woman possible, including her granddaughter. She doubted she would be able to sleep at the possibility of such a surprise, and she asked,      

"You said you weren't able to sleep, right?"      

Prince Raylen had somewhere to be, but it seemed like he had unintentionally gotten himself into a situation that didn't offer him any benefits. Nonetheless, he smiled at the woman as he nodded in agreement with her statement before saying, "Yes. That is right."     

"Excellent! Why don't you come with me? Come on!" she insisted, forcing him to walk along with her, with Aziel following closely behind them. They crossed a few corridors, taking the stairs to the floor where the Storm Prince's guest room was assigned.      

When they came to stand in front of a particular room, a wary look appeared on Aziel's face and he began to ask, "Mother Queen, isn't it—"     

"Hush now, Aziel. There is work to be done," the Mother Queen interjected before opening the door and stepping inside the room. With light and graceful steps, she approached the bed where her granddaughter was sleeping. She noticed two candles burning brightly beside the bedside and whispered, "Emily?"      

However, Princess Emily was in a deep slumber and remained oblivious to the presence of anyone in her room. The Mother Queen muttered,      

"Remind me not to let any of my grandchildren stand guard while I sleep." She then reached out and gently shook her granddaughter's hand, saying, "Emily, wake up!"      

Emily's eyes sleepily opened, and when she spotted a head hovering in front of her face, she cried out in shock and quickly sat upright in her bed. "It is your grandmother. I am not dead yet for you to scream," the Mother Queen huffed, feeling a strain in her back from leaning over and she straightened her back.      

"Grandmother, what are you doing in my room?!" Emily exclaimed, her heart racing from the fright of seeing the floating head, and she patted her chest to calm herself.      

"There is something that I need to check, and as everyone is awake, I thought why not do it now and save my sleep when I go to bed," the Mother Queen explained as she picked up her granddaughter's night coat and assisted her in putting it on.      

Emily couldn't help but wonder if something had happened to one of her family members, and she hastily donned the coat before following her grandmother out of the room. However, as soon as her eyes fell on Aziel and, next to him, the Storm Prince, the worry disappeared, only to be replaced by confusion.      

"What is going on?" the princess inquired.      

"It is for a future truce. Now shake hands!" the Mother Queen urged them so that she could move past the matter. After all, there was no sense in leaving unfinished business.      

"What truce?" Emily frowned, turning to look at her grandmother, but before she could get an answer, she felt Prince Raylen pick up her hand. Her eyes snapped to the dark red-haired prince's hand that enclosed her hand in his.      

Emily couldn't believe she was making any contact with this prince, who now stared back at her. As she noticed a faint curl at the corner of his lips, it tested her patience, and she swiftly pulled her hand away from his grasp.      

Meanwhile, the Mother Queen and Aziel leaned forward, waiting for the verdict, and heard Prince Raylen say,      

"Like I already knew. She isn't the one."     

"Is someone going to tell me what is going on?" Emily demanded from them.      

"I wanted to check if you two are each other's soulmates, but what a disappointment. Quite pitiful," the Mother Queen murmured to herself.      

Was her grandmother serious? Emily blinked in surprise and took a deep breath before saying firmly, "He cannot be my soulmate. My soulmate is going to have blond hair, be tall and kind. His name is going to start with N."     

"How can you be so sure? And why haven't I heard about it before?" the Mother Queen questioned curiously.      

"Because of the 'lack of suitors' as my mother stated, she brought a soothsayer when we were in the old palace, who said I would meet my soulmate this year," Emily sighed, feeling slightly exasperated by her grandmother's eagerness. This was no time to look for her soulmate, when there were other pressing matters. She added, "Do you realise it is probably two in the morning?"     

"Time sure seems to fly by here," the Mother Queen laughed, noticing the frown on her granddaughter's face. "Pardon your grandmother for waking you up. You can go back to your sleep. And Aziel."      

"Yes, milady?" Aziel, whose head had been nodding in a drowsy state, quickly responded, jerking his head back up to snap to attention.      

"Make sure to see Prince Raylen to his room and attend to any needs he may have," the Mother Queen instructed, smiling at the Storm Prince, which only amused him, and he nodded in acknowledgement.      

"Thank you for your hospitality," Prince Raylen offered the woman a slight bow and added, "Once more, I hope you have a good night, Queen Ginger. Princess."     

With that, the two men departed, and the Mother Queen disappeared from the corridor, heading to her room. Meanwhile, the princess stepped back inside her room and closed the door securely, even locking it to ensure no one else would disturb her sleep.      

[Music Recommendation: Lily's Theme- Alexandre desplat]     

Another hour passed, and exhaustion from the tiresome day finally lulled everyone into a deep slumber, including Anastasia, who had initially tossed and turned before being pulled into her dreams with the comfort of the soft bed.      

The candles placed at one side of the room continued to burn, their soft glow casting a warm ambience without disturbing her sleep. Suddenly, the doorknob of her door turned gently before someone quietly entered the room. A shadow trailed along the floor before coming to a halt before the bed, watching Anastasia sleep.      

Several minutes passed before the person's hand reached out towards Anastasia, and at the same time, she moaned in her sleep, uttering, "Mary…"     

The person's hand froze in midair upon hearing Anastasia murmur, and upon seeing a tear slip from her closed eye, their fingers withdrew from her. After a moment, their hand moved forward again, gently adjusting the blanket before quietly leaving the room.      

The following day, Anastasia was woken up by Theresa as she entered the room. The woman drew the curtains apart and pushed open the windows, allowing the fresh air and sunlight to filter in.      

"Good morning, Anna! It is time to wake up. I have brought you some refreshments in case you want to eat or drink something…" Theresa's voice trailed when her eyes fell on Anastasia, who was staring at the ceiling of the room. She walked towards the bed and said, "I am sorry… I heard from Mr. Gilbert. Are you alright?"      

"Mm," Anastasia responded before pushing herself to sit upright on the bed. Her mind felt blank, and she gazed vacantly ahead. She said, "He did it so that no one would force me to sleep with them."      

Theresa sat on the edge of the bed and said, "Maybe it is not that bad then, is it? When the time is right, you can ask him to let you go." That wasn't an option, though, Anastasia thought to herself. She switched the subject by saying, "It feels strange to have you serve me. We have always been equals."     

"I am more than happy to serve you, Anna. Besides, no one has ever asked me to serve them, so you have elevated my status here," Theresa smiled before picking up the glass of juice and handing it to the young woman. "Drink it. God knows how much you cried. I will prepare the bath for you, as you are expected to join the royal family in the dining room."      

And once Anastasia was dressed in a far more presentable dress, she and Theresa left the room, walking through the corridors. But as they walked, they noticed the maids whispering among themselves. Theresa leaned in and whispered,      

"You are becoming more popular by the day."     

Anastasia's lips only tightened as she attempted to ignore what the maids whispered about her. But when they reached the next corridor, she noticed a few servants who looked pale up ahead, prompting her to request,      

"Give me a minute. I will be back."     

"I will be right here," Theresa nodded, watching Anastasia walk forward.      

As Anastasia approached the king's chamber in the corridor, she could hear voices coming from inside the room. When she came to stand before the doorway, she saw the royal family members gathered around the bed. On the bed lay King Maxwell, covered with a white bedsheet stained red with his blood. His hand, which had turned to metal with his ability, was lodged in his chest as his vacant eyes stared blankly at the ceiling.      
_________

GARDEN OF POISON
The last string to break (chapter 104)

Music Recommendation: Lily's Theme- Alexandre Desplat     
—     

Anastasia couldn't believe the sight presented before her because never in her wildest dreams did she expect another death to take place in such a short span of time. The longer she stared, the more intensely the bloodied sheet seemed to glare back at her.      

Sitting on the ground beside the bed, Princess Niyasa wept, her forehead pressed against the surface of the bed in sorrow. The other members of the family wore expressions of grief and disbelief, standing in stunned silence. The young princess raised her head, and for once, she looked like a person with emotions as her tears flowed freely,      

"This is a lie. There's no way Brother Maxwell would kill himself! Someone murdered him to get the throne!" She turned to look at the Mother Queen and demanded, "Why aren't you doing anything about it?!"      

The Mother Queen looked sombre as she stared at one of her grandsons, who lay drenched in a pool of his blood. Her lips were set in a thin line, a frown creased her forehead, and her eyes held sadness because, despite the foolishness of her kin, they were still her family.      

"It's the ones next in line to the throne! They are the guilty ones!" Princess Niyasa accused her brothers, tears streaming down her pale, damp cheeks. "You accused my mother of being guilty, but look here? Someone murdered my brother!"     

"Niyasa, nobody killed him," Lady Sophia stated, wearing an equally grim expression as the rest.      

"You are only trying to protect his position!!" Niyasa snapped back, rising to her feet and confronting the woman. "First, it was our father, and as if that was not enough, they locked up my mother, and now my brother is dead! All of you are responsible for his death!!"     

Anastasia, who stood at the side of the door, watched the family members cry before she heard hurried footsteps approaching from behind her, but she didn't turn to look. Her attention shifted from the princess, sobbing uncontrollably, to the others in the room before her eyes finally settled on Dante. He stood on the other side of the bed, his expression vacant.      

"Perhaps we should ensure there was no foul play…" Princess Emily said softly, with the rims of her eyes becoming red around the edges.      

"Where is my mother? Has anyone informed her?" Princess Niyasa questioned but received no response from any of them. Her eyes widened, and she ordered Aziel, who was present in the room, "Aziel, go and inform my mother about this! And bring her here immediately!"     

But Aziel didn't comply with her command. Instead, he turned to look at the Mother Queen, who said, "Inform her. But she is not to be released."     

"What…?" Princess Niyasa exclaimed in shock, "He is her son. She is the king's mother. Is this some kind of ploy? For whose benefit is it?! For yours? Or is it for Brother Dante, whom no one has questioned about the change in his eyes! He killed the king!"      

"In spite of how harsh the truth may be, the king took his own life, Niyasa," the Mother Queen tried to keep her family from crumbling further amidst the turmoil left by her grandson. She said, "It wasn't a dagger, but his own hand that pierced his chest. He used his gift to end his life…"     

"No, that cannot be true! I need to speak with my mother immediately!" Princess Niyasa exclaimed, running out of the room with more tears streaming down her face.      

"Noor," the Mother Queen addressed, "Take Victor away from here. I don't want his mind to be scared by any more distressing events."      

Lady Noor nodded and took hold of her son's hand before stepping out of the room. However, instead of leaving the corridor, they remained at its side. The Mother Queen then shifted her gaze towards Emily and Lady Sophia and said, "You both can leave as well. You will have another chance to see him."     

"I am fine," Lady Sophia responded, unfazed by the sight of blood, as it wasn't something new to her.      

"I want to stay," Princess Emily replied, her voice trembling, and she took a deep breath to calm her emotions.      

The Mother Queen didn't insist further, and turned to look at her first grandson, addressing him, "It is time."      

[Music Recommendation: Duel Preparations: Harry Gregson]     

Anastasia watched Dante walk around the bed before he came to stand next to his dead brother's body. He placed his hand on Maxwell's chest, which was still wet and sticky from the blood that had saturated his clothes and the white sheets. The strong scent of the blood invaded his senses and mind, yet no one seemed to notice the hollowness in his eyes.      

"Why would he take his own life this suddenly?" Lady Sophia murmured, voicing her bewilderment and confusion. It seemed illogical for a king, who held a perfectly secure position, to throw away everything he had in such a manner.      

Maxwell's lifeless body was discovered when a servant came to wake the king, leaving most people in the room with unanswered questions. No one could fathom what had triggered the man to take such drastic action, considering he had the crown on his head, a throne to occupy, and a multitude of subjects to command.      

With his other hand, Dante firmly grasped Maxwell's bloody hand, which was buried deeply inside his chest, and slowly pulled it out, revealing a gruesome hole caused by Maxwell's metal hand, which soon quickly filled with blood.     

Princess Emily raised her hand to cover the lower half of her face behind it, as if the harsh reality of Maxwell never coming back finally sunk into her mind. Prince Aiden, rendered speechless, closed his eyes, and the scene brought back memories of the evening when he had found his father dead.      

Anastasia observed the melancholy that permeated the air, spreading beyond the confines of the room. Outside, the servants continued to whisper among themselves about the news they had heard, but had yet to see the sight of the dead man.      

"Dante?" The Mother Queen noticed his hand trembling, and soon the tremor seemed to affect more than just his hand.      

Anastasia's eyes moved back to look at Dante, who took a step back from the bed. Black fumes emanated from him, stretching out and causing people standing nearby to step back in response.      

"What's happening?!" Lady Sophia questioned because what was happening before her didn't align with what she had been told about a typical manifestation of their demon bloodline.      

"Grandmother?" Prince Aiden turned to her, seeking answers, as she was usually the one with explanations for such occurrences.      

"Step away from him!" The Mother Queen ordered her family, who quickly moved towards the door while keeping their eyes on Dante as the black smoke continued to envelop and swirl around him, as if it had been suppressed until now and had finally been set free.      

The scene was obscured by smoke, resembling a cloud crackling with lightning, preventing anyone from seeing what was happening. As the smoke gradually subsided, the transformation became apparent. Dante's claws and canines were now longer and sharper. His ears had turned slightly pointed, his eyes were red as blood with distinct slits in them, and thin root-like markings spread from the inner corners of his eyes.      

Beneath his skin, uneven cracks revealed a red glow akin to molten lava. However, it wasn't just that sight that left people's mouths hanging open in awe. It was the presence of two horns protruding from his head and horn-like bones extending in two lines along his spine until his lower back.      

Dante raised his blood-smeared hand, observing it before his gaze met the others, who bore fearful expressions. He calmly remarked,      

"I am finally awake, earthlings."     

All present, except for the Mother Queen, wore gobsmacked expressions, their bodies frozen in place, not daring to utter a word of a whisper as they held their breaths in suspense. Lady Sophia was the first one to break the silence after seconds passed by taking two steps backwards and saying,     

"Wh—what the hell is going on?!"      

Anastasia's composure crumbled completely as her knees trembled uncontrollably at the sight before her. Never before had she witnessed or even heard of anything like this, and it would be a lie if she said it didn't scare the soul out of her body.      

"Not now, Sophia." The Mother Queen responded, herself taken aback as she had not expected the demon to be awakened this soon. Not now. There had been plenty of opportunities for it to happen, with Lucretia's death and Anastasia almost losing her life in the sea. However, she had never anticipated it would be so fully awakened at this moment. And in such perfect sync?     

When Dante snapped his fingers, his demonic appearance reverted to his human form, but the eerie look in his eyes and the swirl of darkness didn't disappear. As he made his way towards where they stood, the others quickly moved aside, allowing him to step outside the room. With a commanding tone, he ordered,      

"Prepare for the funeral and gather the ministers for a court meeting afterwards." His words fell on shocked ears, and when no one responded, his eyes glowed with an otherworldly intensity, resembling the fiery pits of hell where sinners' souls burned for eternity.      

"I will have it taken care of right away." Prince Aiden swiftly responded. However, rather than going alone, he grabbed his sister's hand and dragged her out of the room as if he needed to discuss what they had just witnessed.      

As they walked out of the room, Princess Emily crossed paths with Prince Raylen, who walked past her with his eyes ahead of him. Dante took a deep breath, and his eyes narrowed even further. Turning his head, he soon caught sight of the Storm Prince, meeting him halfway.      

"Had a good sleep?" Prince Raylen asked with a slight smile. His hands rested in his trouser pockets, seemingly unfazed by Dante's eyes or the lingering smoke escaping from the room.      

Dante's glare intensified as he responded, "A sleep that was unnecessary and far too long at that." And he finally understood what the Storm Prince was doing in the palace, and a subtle curl formed at the corner of his lips. "And to think you attacked me in the past," he added.     

"I had hoped that it would do the trick of waking you up," Prince Raylen replied, leaving the bystanders even more confused by their exchange.      

"How considerate of you, knowing you were present when the curse was cast. If not for the smell of rain and ash, I would have believed you have become an earthling yourself," Dante's words were low, intended only for the Storm Prince's ears. "It is what you wanted ever since you first set foot in this world."     

"It suits my recent tastes," Prince Raylen commented. His expression grew slightly serious as he continued, "It wouldn't be the worst option for you to embrace it as well."     

A smile spread across Dante's lips, holding a wickedness that had never graced them before. He remarked, "After such a long slumber, it never held any appeal for me. But you are already aware of that."      

With those words, Dante walked past the Storm Prince, leaving the man with a puzzled frown, his awareness drawn to the people looking at him with curiosity. With the first prince absent, Lady Sophia returned to the Mother Queen, pressing for answers, "Are you going to tell me what just happened here? What were those horns and that smoke…?!" She looked back and forth, inquiring further, "What was he talking about with the Storm Prince?"      

Though she was late to realise, the Mother Queen felt her body stiffen when she saw Prince Raylen approaching where they stood and stopping before her. It became clear to her that this man wasn't here to find his soulmate, as he had claimed. He was here for the demon.      

"A word with you, Queen Ginger. Alone."      

With a strong desire for answers, Lady Sophia observed the Mother Queen and the Storm Prince depart to talk privately, prompting her to turn to Lady Noor for a discussion, who was equally as confused. Anastasia was still recovering from shock when Theresa discreetly pulled her away from the scene, though not before she stole another glance at the lifeless man on the bed.      

Far ahead, at the end of the corridor, where Mother Queen and the Storm Prince had taken a turn around a corner, the woman's eyes shifted to glance at him. Taking a deep breath, she attempted to confirm,      

"Are you one of the original demons?"      

"I thought it was evident," Prince Raylen replied, offering her a slight smile, a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. He then proposed, "How about we take a walk to where the Blackthorn rose grows?"     

With everything happening so rapidly, the Mother Queen felt as if her head would explode; there was no time to catch a breath. On the one hand, she had lost her grandson; on the other, her other grandson had awakened the demon of destruction within him. Not to mention, she had dragged this demon around to meet her granddaughter. Nonetheless, she maintained a stoic expression.      

Once they reached the forbidden side of the palace, the Mother Queen commanded the guards, "Leave us!"     

Without hesitation, the guards stationed around the area promptly obeyed and withdrew. The Mother Queen and the Storm Prince entered the place, walking through the corridors until they reached the location where the Blackthorn rose plant stood.      

"It is changing appearance," the Mother Queen stated upon seeing the plant. The previously withered and lifeless stems that had curled on the ground were no longer dry and dead in appearance. Instead, the stems had turned green and sprouted leaves.      

They walked towards the Blackthorn plant and noticed the stem connected to the rose remained dry, the black rose still lifeless. The Mother Queen said, "I think it is time to tell Dante about his soulmate."     

"I wouldn't do it if I were you," Prince Raylen cautioned her by placing his finger on his lips, signalling for her to lower her voice, and the woman turned to look at him.     

"But his soulmate will balance him. That is what the scriptures said," the Mother Queen explained, because that is what she had believed until now.      

"Earthlings are good at overlooking details," Prince Raylen murmured before saying, "You can inform him during the golden moon, not that you will necessarily need to. However, I would advise you to refrain from provoking the demon. He earned the title of 'demon of destruction' for a reason; he emerged out of the underworld with destructive intentions, not as a demon of love," he remarked with a hint of amusement before continuing, "Do you think one would be happy to discover that the descendant of the person who cursed them all these centuries is alive? I think not."      

The Mother Queen had considered this possibility, but she had hoped that with the awakening of the demon, the entire Crux situation would be solved, and the young woman would be able to keep Dante under control.      

"What do you propose then?"      

"There are only twelve days left for the golden moon. Just don't breathe a word about the soulmate matter and let things flow the way they have been until now. He's still your grandson, only merged with the demon," Prince Raylen advised the Mother Queen. He continued, "I will be here until the golden moon. Of course, what happens to this kingdom isn't something I will meddle in, and I will be merely observing from the sidelines." And this had the woman wonder why he was here in that case.      

Twelve days had never seemed this long before, mused the Mother Queen in her mind.      

Meanwhile, away from the forbidden side of the palace, the ministers had assembled inside the royal courtroom without requiring Aiden's word, as it was time for the morning meeting before King Maxwell to commence. And while slight murmurs continued, the doors opened swiftly, prompting them to rise from their seats.      

To their surprise, it wasn't King Maxwell who had entered the room, but Dante, who confidently walked to the front.      

Several ministers were taken aback when they caught sight of blood on the first prince's hands. But none dared to inquire about the whereabouts of the king or what had occurred because they sensed the foreboding aura surrounding him as he walked straight to the throne before seating himself upon it.      

Dante leaned back and crossed his legs before remarking, "I will be taking back what belongs to me."     
__________

GARDEN OF POISON
Demon taking over (Chapter 105)

Theresa hurriedly guided Anastasia away from the inner side of the palace until they came to a stop in the middle of a deserted corridor. She turned to look at the young woman and asked in a panic,      
"W—what in God's name happened there?! Was it the devil??"      

Still reeling from shock, Anastasia distantly registered Theresa's bewildered exclamation,      

"I have never seen or heard of such a thing before! Those horns—"     

"Demon," Anastasia whispered, her eyes staring into space, her hands cold from the shock of seeing Dante's transformation. She shifted her gaze to meet Theresa's eyes and repeated, "Demon blood… that is what flows through the veins of the Blackthorn family."      

"I have heard rumours about it, but what we saw back there has never been spoken of before," Theresa said as she paced back and forth, wringing her hands.      

Anastasia couldn't shake off the chill she had felt earlier from merely looking at Dante's intimidating demeanour when he was in his demon form, and when he had walked towards them, she had felt her stomach drop in fear. She knew they were living among demons, but this was a different situation! However, relief washed over her when those red eyes didn't fall on her. She asked,      

"Do you know where I can find Gabriel?" It was only a matter of time, before word would soon spread in the palace about the demon that had made its appearance.      

Theresa quickly glanced left and right to ensure their conversation wasn't being overheard before asking, "Do you plan to leave?"      

Anastasia's lips tightened, and her eyebrows furrowed in concern. She stated firmly, "This palace is unsafe, Auntie; I want to ask you to come with me and Gabriel… We have no idea what other things might happen here in the future." Not to mention, her body responded to the man, stirring up unfamiliar emotions.      

"It isn't as easy as you think, Anna," Theresa remarked, having grown older during her time in the palace, lacking the same spirit of youthful bravery as Anastasia. "No wonder people have called him the cursed prince," she murmured as she shook her head in worry. After witnessing what Anastasia had seen, Theresa didn't blame the young woman for wanting to pack her bags and run.      

"I am not proposing for us to recklessly escape, but if the right opportunity arises, we should take the chance. Because I have this feeling that, at the moment, people won't be keeping a close eye on us, especially on me," Anastasia explained, as the first prince felt different with the darker air surrounding him. "He called us 'Earthlings'… and I have never heard him say that before. It is almost as if his memory is gone."     

"It is?" Theresa asked with her eyebrows raised.      

"The only reason I was made an exclusive concubine, by his words, was to avoid sleeping with men. With the king gone, and Dante's memory gone, it seems like now is a good time to flee from here," Anastasia whispered. When she heard the echo of distant footsteps, she quickly pulled Theresa away from the corridor and into a garden where they could find some seclusion.      

"I cannot believe that King Maxwell is dead… and is it true that he took his own life?" Theresa asked, walking a step behind Anastasia as they were out in an open space.      

"Mm," Anastasia hummed in response.      

"Are they absolutely sure it was suicide? What if there's some conspiracy at play…? Do you think it might involve the first prince?" Theresa whispered anxiously, glancing around in fear that someone would catch them even though no one was nearby.      

"Dante loves his siblings too dearly to intentionally bring harm on them for any reason," Anastasia answered, but Theresa persisted, saying,      

"But the king and his mother caused him pain, didn't they? Especially with how Lady Lucretia was mistreated until her death."     

"King Maxwell possessed the ability to transform his hands into metal, like daggers and swords," Anastasia explained, recalling the sight of them when he had fought Dante. She said, "I don't think anyone could have coerced him to transform his hand to stab himself. It wouldn't make sense."      

[Music Recommendation: Duel Preparations- Harry Gregson]     

Far from the garden, in the royal courtroom, the ministers appeared offended by seeing a former courtesan's son, and one lacking a Crux at that, sitting on the throne. Some who always favoured and supported him didn't raise any objections, while the ones who had diligently believed in the power of the Crux voiced their disapproval.      

"Prince Dante, that seat is meant for a man with a Crux, and it rightfully belongs to King Maxwell. By sitting on it now, you are disrespecting everything it stands for," the minister proclaimed, his dissent evident in his words.     

"Minister Weston is correct. It would be prudent for you to assume your position beside the throne, as that is your designated seat," remarked another minister, sporting a thin moustache that curled upwards at the ends.      

Another minister who served Queen Maya and King Maxwell questioned with concern, "What happened to your hands? Whose blood is that?"      

Amidst the relentless barrage of questions, Dante calmly observed the men of the court, whose incessant buzzing continued echoing through the vast room. As the chatter continued, the Mother Queen, Aziel, and the Storm Prince ascended the side balcony of the courtroom, entering through the back door. The woman wore a solemn expression, her gaze fixated upon her first grandson.      

Dante placed his hands on the edge of the chair's armrests, and with a deliberate movement, he pushed himself up to stand. The voices of the ministers abruptly died down, and an eerie silence rapidly enveloped the room. He began to speak, his voice resonating with an ominous tone,      

"Regrettably, King Maxwell is no longer with us, as he breathed his last breath before the break of dawn this morning." And, before the ministers could raise their voices like a cacophony of squawking birds, Dante raised a blood-smeared hand and continued, "When our father, King William, passed away, most of us struggled to bear the weight of his loss. The void he left behind was too vast for anyone to fill, and during those difficult times, my brother Maxwell took on the mantle of the throne. However, it appears he was deeply afflicted by our father's passing and sought solace in alcohol, which ultimately has led to his untimely demise."     

The Mother Queen's eyebrows drew together in concern upon Dante's speech. At the same time, the ministers silently exchanged glances, quietly questioning whether Dante had killed the king himself, their eyes fixated on his bloodied hands.      

Dante read the ministers' suspicions and addressed them directly, "You must be wondering whose blood this is. It is my brother's, the king's blood."     

In an instant, the courtroom erupted with raised voices demanding answers from Dante, who stood before them.      

"M—Mother Queen, Prince Dante will face dire consequences for this!" Aziel exclaimed in panic, observing the escalating unrest among the people in the royal courtroom. "Why did he lie about King Maxwell drinking himself to death??" he whispered in bewilderment.      

"Don't be surprised, Minister," Prince Raylen remarked as he watched the floor below with a faint smile gracing his lips. "We demons aren't angels, and we are called demons because our origins lie in the underworld. Else we would have been called angels, wouldn't we? One of the many demonic abilities that have dulled down over the generations is our adeptness at stringing along and deceiving the person before us."     

The Mother Queen turned to look at the Storm Prince and stated, "I don't know if I can or cannot trust you."     

"You needn't feel obligated to trust me if you don't want to," Prince Raylen said as he offered her a polite smile. "I am only here solely to ensure things don't go awry. I have enjoyed my peace for far too long for it to be disturbed now. Anyways, looks like he has his hands full," he remarked as he stepped away.      

"This is treason! Prince Dante has murdered our king to usurp his throne," one of the ministers, who had previously favoured the first prince, exclaimed with evident discomfort.      

Dante responded with a tinge of bitterness in his voice,      

"Earthlings are worse than demons. One moment you side with me, and in the next instant, you turn your backs in a blink of an eye. It has happened before, and it is happening again." The smile on his face vanished, replaced by a serious expression. "Even though you don't know anything. Ignorant fools."     

"Prince Dante, it would be wise for you to hand yourself in to the Elder ministers, who will determine the appropriate course of action if you are indeed responsible for King Maxwell's death," another minister declared haughtily, ordering Dante to submit to their judgement.      

Unfazed, Dante stood his ground, looking at them with his fiery red eyes. He said, "Notify the Elder ministers about King Maxwell's death and inform them that there will be a new king ascending the throne."     

"Prince Dante, Prince Aiden and Prince Victor are deemed unsuitable to rule Versailles, and as you lack a Crux, the Elder ministers have the authority to select any capable man they deem fit, subject to our votes," said another minister there.      

"The throne has been in the possession of the Blackthorn family, and it shall continue under my rule just as it has through the ages," Dante asserted, insinuating that he would be assuming the rule of Versailles, and some of the ministers, who deemed the cursed prince unfit for the role, expressed their dissent,      

"By doing so, you will be challenging the authority of the Elders, Prince Dante."     

Another minister inquired, "Are you feeling well, Prince Dante? You seem different."     

"I thought I was the only one who noticed the change," another minister attempted to whisper, though Dante caught his words loud and clear. "There's something wrong with him, as if he's possessed!"     

"The prince we knew adhered to the rules and never broke them," pointed out the minister seated beside the one who had spoken earlier. He continued, "Prince Dante would never take a seat on the throne; he would stand there and obediently listen without questioning—"     

Dante's laughter abruptly cut through the minister's words, leaving a sense of foreboding in the air. He interjected with a sinister, yet calm tone,     

"Listen without questioning, you say? You seem to have an issue with me speaking freely, Minister Weston." He questioned, his voice laced with a challenge, "Is it because you want to suppress me, or are you struggling to accept that someone who never stood in your way might ascend to the throne?"     

The Mother Queen continued to stare at Dante and the ministers, with Aziel standing faithfully behind her. Over the years, the boy had grown up within the confines of this very courtroom; she had witnessed the transition from him sitting on his father's lap and receiving praise from the ministers, to being relegated to a distant corner of the room, with the ministers disregarding his existence.      

The few dissenting ministers clenched their jaws in frustration. Among them were also individuals who harboured ambitions of overthrowing the Blackthorns' rule and establishing their own dominions. One of them protested with reluctance,      

"I had hoped to avoid saying this, but you leave me no choice, Prince Dante. You are an undesirable candidate to occupy the throne. Devoid of a Crux, and descending from a former courtesan, which I don't think I even need to mention." His final words were laced with disdain.      

However, Dante found no amusement in the man's words, and his gaze fixed intently on the offending minister. Determination filled his eyes as he declared, "Let us test whether this so-called undesirable person can bring you to your knees, shall we?" Without a moment's hesitation, he raised his hand, pointing at the minister, before curling his fingers.      

"ARGH!" The minister clutched his chest with his hand in distress, and his lips trembled in fear, "W—what are you doing?" The others in the room hurriedly stepped back with horror in their eyes, unable to comprehend what had just transpired. Had the prince finally received his Crux?      

"Don't be deceived by my appearance, for I am far older than you can fathom and if you think you can use cheap tricks against me, think again. Do you know people say that revenge is best served cold?" Dante calmly asked the minister, who took only a second to fall to his knees. "But I think it is best served with blood." And when he moved his fingers, the minister began coughing up blood, feeling his heart being squeezed from within.      

The Mother Queen's frown grew even deeper as she watched Dante using his seemingly dangerous ability. On the other hand, Aziel's eyes darted back and forth between her and the prince, as if he couldn't wait to discuss this development, but for now, he chose to remain quiet.      

As more blood was coughed up by the minister, Dante questioned, "Are these the abilities you have been looking for? You are in luck." His lips twisted into a cruel smile as he stared at the weakling before him, who had relied solely on his position before releasing his grip on the man's heart.      

The ministers who had spoken earlier fell silent, not wanting to die at the hands of the cursed prince, who seemed to be acting out of character! This development would surely not escape the attention of the Elder ministers, a few of them speculated in their minds.      

"Where is the Vizier? Where is Queen Maya?" one of them asked, because as the king's mother, she was next in line to rule.      

"Both of them are in the dungeon," the Mother Queen replied, and the ministers directed their gazes towards her, not knowing she had been there all this time. "They are being held in contempt for attempting to kill an exclusive concubine of the prince."     

"How do we know this isn't a ploy?" Queen Maya's minister demanded an explanation.      

"The witnesses are the townspeople, who saw the woman drowning before she was pulled from the sea. Feel free to verify the information with them," the Mother Queen replied.     

"If the Vizier's position is now vacant, doesn't it mean that it must be filled?" one of the ministers inquired, avoiding any mention of the position of the king, as it appeared to have already been taken.      

"If the Vizier is innocent, then it will only be a temporary replacement," added another minister.     

"He will not be allowed to step foot in here again," Dante stated loud enough to silence the crowd before they could react. He continued, "The Vizier's position will be filled by Mother Queen Ginger Blackthorn. I believe everyone is in favour of this decision?"      

"That is a wonderful choice!"     

"Yes, yes! She is the perfect fit for the role!"     

And the ones used to raising their voices to object remained silent, stricken with fear.      

Dante then announced, "King Maxwell's funeral will be held tomorrow, and I expect everyone to attend. The court is now dismissed." He walked down the three stairs before heading to the door, which was opened by the guards, and stepped out. As soon as he had left and the doors had closed behind him, the ministers broke out in a fervent discussion.      

The Mother Queen and Aziel didn't stay behind either and left the court, as the chatter of the ministers didn't interest her when her deceased grandson lay alone in his room.      

In the dungeon, Princess Niyasa was denied entry to the cell where her mother was being held, and Queen Maya had come to stand at the door, talking to her daughter through the bars.     

"There's no way Maxwell would kill himself! This is a conspiracy against us! First, they put me behind bars, and now they have orchestrated his death. This is treason!" Queen Maya exclaimed in frustration, her eyelashes wet from the news of her son's demise. "You need to get me out of here, Niyasa," she said to her daughter.      

"I asked, but Grandmother denied my request instantly," Princess Niyasa frowned, tears spilling from her eyes. "What are we going to do, Mother? What if they kill us too?"      

"You must write a letter to Elder Minister Esteban, explaining our current predicament and exposing the treason that has been committed. Ensure the letter reaches the right hands and trust no one here," Queen Maya advised her daughter. "And tell the Mother Queen I want to talk to her. Bring her here. They cannot deny me the right to see my dead son's face! I need to see Maxwell!"      

"I will go speak to Grandmother and inform you if I hear anything more," Princess Niyasa promised with a nod before hurrying away.      

After a few minutes had passed, the sound of echoing footsteps reached Queen Maya's ears, leaving her wondering if her daughter had returned with the Mother Queen, whom she sought to appease to plead her case. She begged,      

"Mother Queen, you cannot take away my right—"     

But her words were cut short when she saw it was the first prince who had appeared in front of the door.      

"You… How could you kill him?!" Queen Maya shouted in rage. "He was your brother, and you killed him! Let me out so that I can see him!"     

Dante stared at the woman, who tightly clutched the narrow iron rods. He looked at the woman, his eyes void of emotion, before saying in a hollow tone,      

"You have to agree that we all played a part in his death. But your role was far more significant. Do you truly believe you are free of blame and that your actions carry no consequences?"      

Queen Maya could sense the danger emanating from Dante, but her mind was overwhelmed by the devastating news of her son's death. Through gritted teeth, she retorted, "I killed him? I was right here, imprisoned because you and the others framed me! Release me immediately so that I can see Maxwell."      

"No," came Dante's cold and firm refusal, and Queen Maya's face turned pale with shock.      

"What do you mean, no?! I am his mother, and I deserve to see him!" Dante watched the woman's eyes ignite with fury as she locked her gaze on him. "Are you unable to under—"     

"There's no need to shout. I can hear you perfectly well," Dante said, and his composure only seemed to fuel the woman's frustration. He tilted his head and inquired, "Have you ever considered that you are paying the price for your sins?"      

Queen Maya's eyes widened at his words, and she stuttered, "D—Don't tell me that you are going to deny him the right to be buried in the mausoleum?! He's the king—"     

"Was," Dante corrected her firmly.      

"You cannot do that to him, Prince Dante! It wasn't him, but I, who initially spoke of not granting your mother burial space, but I changed my mind, didn't I!? Please, don't do this!" Queen Maya began to sob out of desperation.      

Dante turned as if ready to leave, and she pleaded, "Prince Dante, I am innocent! I didn't do anything!" A chuckle escaped his lips, as though the woman had cracked a joke, and he walked away.      

Out in the palace garden, Anastasia and Theresa spent their time talking about the events of this morning before deciding to head back inside. Theresa asked her,      

"Where are we going now?"      

"To the king's chambers," Anastasia replied in a low voice, not wanting to attract any attention. They came across servants who continued to whisper amongst themselves, and she realised that they had been talking about the king and not about her when she had stepped out of her room earlier. Anastasia said, "Princess Emily and Prince Aiden might be there." If she could gain information about what was happening in the palace, she could prepare herself in advance.     

"They will place the king in a glass case soon," Theresa said, nodding.     

As Anastasia took the next corridor with Theresa, she heard the sound of sharp footsteps echoing ahead. At the opposite end of the corridor, Dante and Aziel walked together, engaged in a discussion about something.      

As Anastasia observed Dante's commanding demeanour, she couldn't help but notice how he owned every step he took. He appeared to be instructing the minister with a serious expression, while the minister attentively acknowledged his order, jotting down mental notes.      

And as they walked, Anastasia noticed how he had not once glanced in her direction. She still couldn't shake off the lingering chill she had experienced earlier. As they approached each other, she quickly lowered her eyes and walked past him.      

She heard the minister say, "I will instruct the men to commence the work right away and have it ready by tomorrow."      

"Anastasia."     

She froze at the mention of her name, and though she wanted to keep walking forward, she turned to look back and met Dante's red, slitted eyes. Was it just her, or was his demeanour becoming more intimidating by the minute?     

"You can leave us," Dante ordered the other two, who didn't hesitate to quickly follow his command. With just the two of them in the corridor, he walked over to where she stood with his eyes narrowed and questioned, "Do you think I have amnesia?"      

Anastasia had hoped for it! Amusement filled his eyes before he stated, "I haven't forgotten about your existence."     
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