✍️✍️✍️✍️ Garden Of Poison Chapter 66 - 70 Complete Chapters ✍️✍️✍️✍️


Galloping on the sand (Chapter 66)

Anastasia followed four steps behind Prince Dante, her pace a little slower than usual because of her stung foot. She noted that Prince Aiden and Princess Emily had already mounted their horses when they reached the black mustang.      
Upon seeing Anastasia not far behind Dante, Prince Aiden lit up with enthusiasm. He exclaimed,      

"Anna, why don't you come and ride with me? Mother has admonished Lily, but no one holds any expectations of me," he said, as if it was something he was proud about. He turned and patted the space behind him, inviting her to join him.      

Princess Emily's slightly pink cheeks turned brighter at her brother's words, and she glared at him, "Do you have to remind everyone about it?"     

"Agree that you were sloppy," Prince Aiden responded to her cheekily before adding, "You and Anna were lucky that it didn't happen while Mother was at the main palace. You know she doesn't stand for such things. She would have instantly replaced your maid with a new one of her liking."     

Princess Emily turned to the other side and said under her breath, "Maybe it isn't so bad that they are exiled to the old palace."     

During the last three days of their stay in the old palace, Emily felt like there were fewer things to worry about, as the primary trouble was in the main palace. She then turned to Anastasia with a smile and said, "Anna, come ride with me," she beckoned her over by waving her hand.      

"She was bitten by a Deathstalker, due to which she will be riding on horseback for the remainder of the journey," Dante remarked, his eyes shifting from one sibling of his to another, before adding, "Not because she is the favourite maid."     

"Are you alright, Anna?" Princess Emily's eyes widened, "I heard the sting of the Deathstalker hurts like a thousand needles pricking your skin at once. Brother Dante was once bitten by one and he fell ill for a week. At least, that is what I heard. Isn't that right, Brother Dante?" Anastasia's eyes moved to look at Dante, who didn't meet her gaze.     

Prince Aiden leaned forward to take a better look at Anastasia and asked, "Was that what the commotion was about? Maybe she needs a physician to remove the venom so the swelling doesn't spread." With those words, the third prince began to dismount from his horse.      

"It's already taken care of, Aiden. Get back on your horse," Dante untied his horse and turned to look at Anastasia, who was back in the spotlight, attempting to hide behind his horse. He said, "She will be riding with me."      

"Hein?" Prince Aiden responded, not knowing if he heard it right. Dante stated, "Mr. Roper said there are signs of a desert storm forming before we reach the high walls of Versailles. It would be better for us to start moving rather than waste our time here."      

"That's not possible. Look at the sky and the wind," Prince Aiden looked around them with a smile. "We are going to have a wonderful ride," he exclaimed, before his eyes fell back on Anastasia.      

"Do you need help getting on the horse?" Anastasia turned to Dante and shook her head. "Then are you waiting to be chosen by someone else to ride with?" His voice was calm, and his eyes were focused on her.      

Taking that as a cue for her to mount the horse, she placed her good foot in the metal stirrup and used the strength of her hands to pull herself up. Sitting in the saddle, she waited for Prince Dante to mount the horse.      

"Move to the front," Dante instructed her, and it dawned on Anastasia that they would ride like the last time she was Tasia Flores. She adjusted her seat to move to the front.      

Not a moment later, Dante quickly mounted the horse to sit right behind Anastasia.      

While Princess Emily wanted to take her dear maid along on her horse, Prince Aiden wanted the opportunity to chat with her.      

Prince Aiden, unable to hold himself back, teased, "Brother Dante, isn't it unusual for a servant to sit in front of a royal family member? Unless something is going on," he raised his eyebrows with a grin. Anastasia couldn't help but question if the third prince noticed or knew the things that had transpired between her and Prince Dante. Keeping a straight face, she stared at the horse's mane.      

"You will get buried on the way home, Aiden," Princess Emily whispered, while tucking one piece of her hair behind her ear.      

Dante didn't bother to answer Aiden's teasing remark, which wasn't uncommon, if he as much as turned in the direction of a woman. He told the servants standing behind them, "Let us head back to the main palace." He then leaned forward to pick up the reins and, at the same time, questioned Anastasia, "Do you remember what I told you the last time we rode on the horse?"      

Prince Aiden and Princess Emily rode before them, their horses softly trotting down the streets of the town while the servants took their time to follow them, this time riding in the carriage cart.      

Anastasia nodded, holding the front of the saddle, and she whispered, "To squeeze my thighs together."      


And a second later, the black horse began to gallop, passing the other two horses, leaving the town behind.      

Seeing their brother's horse whoosh by them, Prince Aiden said, "I think rather than me, he's the one you should worry about killing your maid today."     

Princess Emily became worried and said, "He's probably just hurrying ahead to escape the storm," and she urged her horse to pick up its pace, and Prince Aiden followed suit, urging his horse to catch up with their brother.      

"Even though Brother Dante is kind enough to offer help, don't you think it is rather strange to see him take a maid to accompany him? Why else do you think he even let Anna sit on his horse? At the front, at that." Prince Aiden questioned his sister's reasoning and said, "It would be very easy to throw her off, and we wouldn't even know."     

Even though the siblings' mustangs were of good stock, Dante's mustang was used to accompanying him to the wars, so it was hard for the other two to catch up to him.      

Anastasia, who sat in front of Dante, had become stiff and her hands turned white from gripping the pommel in front of her. Her tightly-tied hair loosened because of the wind and now wavered at its command.      

The mustang continued to gallop, making the heat bearable as the wind continuously brushed past Anastasia's face. After a few minutes, the horse finally slowed down, and she felt as if she could finally open her eyes to look at the desert surrounding them.      

"Which did you like better?" Anastasia heard Dante's calm voice, which contrasted with her thudding heart. "Trotting or galloping?"     

"Whatever pleases the prince," Anastasia replied. She had been given a ride instead of walking with her throbbing foot and she was grateful for it.      

A small chuckle escaped from Dante's lips, and it startled Anastasia. But the chuckle was dark, and he said in a serious tone, "Don't ever say those words to anyone else. You will be cooked and thrown to the dogs."      

The imagery of his words caused a frown to form on Anastasia's forehead. She then replied, "Trotting…" She realised the more she stepped out of the palace, the clearer the number of difficulties she faced became apparent to her.      

"Did you ever plan to ride on a mustang to escape? Or was your plan always limited to the camels?" Anastasia heard Dante ask next to her ear, and every time he spoke, her back could feel the faint vibration resonating from within his chest.      

"The mustangs are reserved for the royal family… For a person of my status, obtaining a camel is difficult enough and I wouldn't dare to even dream of mustangs," Anastasia answered him.      

Dante stated, "You didn't dream of it, yet you have sat on a mustang more than once now." Feeling his hands nudge hers, she looked down at the reins he held out to her.      

A little perplexed, she turned her head to the side to meet his midnight eyes that had been looking at her all this while. She whispered, "I don't know how to ride a horse, Prince…." She swallowed his name before it touched her lips.      

Dante's eyes briefly flickered towards her lips, where she pressed them together before releasing them for more colour to appear on them. His eyes shifted to hers, and he said, "Hold them."     

Anastasia didn't know if Prince Dante was kindly humouring her like a child after she was done crying after a fall or if he was taunting her, knowing she would never be able to escape even though he would have taught her the skill to achieve it. Noticing his stare, she took the reins from his open palms, her fingers brushing against his velvet gloves.      

Turning to look ahead, she clutched the horse's reins while breaking her gaze away from him. With a touch of uncertainty, she asked him,      

"May I ask something?"      

"Go on," Dante looked ahead, scanning their surroundings to see if he could spot a sandstorm, but so far, there was no sign of one.      

Anastasia hesitated for a moment, carefully framing her sentence and finally asking, "How long ago was it when you were bit by this Deathstalker?"      

"When I was around ten." Dante replied before he continued, "It isn't uncommon when training in the forest with the others. It helps you build tolerance to pain. Enduring physical pain often feels easier in comparison to the pain one can feel in their heart. A lot of the soldiers enlist for many reasons, this being one of them."     

"Was… that your reason too?" Anastasia didn't want to overstep because she was still a maid and he a prince; even if he was the cursed prince.      

"So many brave questions, and so curious," Dante hummed. "How are you coping with your loss?" He asked her, his tone making it seem nonchalant as he switched the subject.      

"I feel like if I said it was better than yesterday, it would send Marianne farther away from me," Anastasia said softly, clutching the reins. "But Marianne wouldn't be happy if she knew I was in pain. She always wanted people around her to be happy, even if she herself was in pain."     

"We all process grief differently, and there's no right or wrong way. When you are ready, you will know," Dante stated, and Anastasia quietly nodded.      

When she was ready, Anastasia thought to herself. The wound was still fresh, and she needed time.      

Anastasia, not knowing what she was doing, instinctively pulled on the reins of the horse. The sudden movement startled the creature enough to cause the horse to rear up on its hind legs, and Anastasia felt her back press on Dante's front. She shrieked, terrified,      


Before either could plummet to the ground, Dante swiftly grabbed the reins with one hand while placing the other on Anastasia's stomach to keep her still. Calming his horse to a steady state with its front legs back on the ground, he remarked,      

"You will be the worst escapee in history if you try."      

Anastasia could sense Dante's amusement in his words. As the adrenaline started to lower in her mind, she sensed his hand on her stomach. When he pulled his hand away, she slowly turned to him and said, "I need a little practice. But… this much should be enough for today."      

As they sat close together, their faces were only an inch or two away from each other. When she felt Dante lean towards her, Anastasia felt a trickle of nervousness run through her. W—why was he leaning towards her?! To kiss her?? Her mind rang with alarm bells, and she leaned farther away from him, which only resulted in her body moving forward. She then heard him say,      

"It never hurts to befriend the animal you ride. Get it used to your voice so that it can follow your lead," Dante's eyes shifted to look at the mustang.      

When Anastasia looked to the front, she noticed Dante's hand caressing the mustang's mane. She bit into her lower lip as he couldn't see her expression. What was she even thinking? He had leaned over only to pat the horse that she had scared.     

Once the horse had calmed down, Dante turned to look behind him and murmured, "It should have been enough time for them to catch up." After a minute of waiting, he heard something, and so did Anastasia. He turned the mustang around, facing the direction they had come from when they finally caught sight of Princess Emily and Prince Aiden.      

Anastasia was about to smile at the sight of them when they noticed the prince and the princess galloping towards them, their faces etched with tense expressions. And the reason was right behind them. It was a sandstorm.      

Dante stared at the swirling cloud of dust, and he cursed under his breath. He shouted, pointing with his hand, "Move to the left!" He then swiftly steered the horse to redirect their course.      

"I SWEAR IT IS FOLLOWING US! I THOUGHT WE WERE GOING TO HAVE A PEACEFUL RIDE!" Prince Aiden shouted at the top of his lungs while Princess Emily urged her horse to race ahead, her eyebrows deeply furrowed.     

Dante ordered Anastasia, "Wrap your shawl around your face and mouth. And keep your eyes shut." She did as she was told right as the horse began to gallop, this time faster than before.      

The three horses raced towards the left, desperately hoping to distance themselves from the encroaching sandstorm, but the cloud of dust expanded, swallowing everything in its path, propelling debris into the sky.      

"Should we make a tent?!" Princess Emily asked as she turned to look at the devil chasing her and her siblings.      

"Too late for that, Lily!" Prince Aiden replied.      

Anastasia knew if she loosened her grip right now, she would be swept up by the unforgiving wind swirling around them. Despite the mustangs' valiant efforts to gallop at full speed, the sandstorm eventually caught up to them, enveloping them in a haze of dust and sand.      

The Empty Coffin (Chapter 67)

Music Note- Please search for 'ash_knight17-Garden of Poison (GOP)' on Spotify     

The force of the sandstorm was ruthless, swiftly enveloping the surrounding atmosphere around them in a thick veil of haze. The wind roared with enough force to cause the horses to topple over, their riders tumbling to the ground along with them..      

Earlier, when Dante had advised Anastasia to use her shawl, she had used the transparent fabric to cover her eyes while draping the remaining length over her face. The wind forcefully pushed her aside, and she instinctively flailed her hands, shouting,      

"Prince Dante!"     

Anastasia walked forward, hoping not to be separated from the others, but she couldn't see anything with the swirling sand hindering her vision. She continued to stumble aimlessly, desperately calling the princes' and princess's names.      

Thankfully, she crossed paths with Prince Dante, who said, "You are walking straight in the direction of the sandstorm. Come this way. Aiden and Emily must be somewhere on the other side."      

But as they walked on in the sandstorm, the wind's velocity increased, and it became increasingly hard for Anastasia to take a step forward as they were walking against the wind, struggling against the formidable gusts. Not a moment later, she shrieked when she felt her body being lifted off the ground.      

"Dammit!" Prince Dante cursed, quickly grabbing her wrist, "Don't let go of my hand!"      

But as the seconds passed, their struggle intensified, and slowly, it wasn't just Anastasia but even Dante who was lifted from the ground, both flying in the air in a swirling, circular motion. Anastasia, who had been trapped within the walls of the palace all these years, had never experienced anything like this before. She had seen a few sandstorms from afar, from the palace, but those tempests never reached the high walls of the kingdom.      

Anastasia closed her eyes tightly in fear as she felt her body flying in the air, thrown around at the mercy of the wind. Eventually, as if her body yielded to the natural pull of gravity or the sandstorm abruptly spat them out of its swirling fog, both of them were sent crashing to the ground.      

[Music Recommendation: The Caravan- Jerry Goldsmith]     

"Argh…" Anastasia winced at the impact of her muscles hitting the ground with force, the landing painful despite the protective layer of sand.      

She untied the shawl from around her head and dusted off the clinging sand that had managed to find its way into her dress and hair. She turned to look at Prince Dante, who pushed his hand against the ground to stand up, looking around the place.      

"Prince Aiden and Princess Emily are missing…" Anastasia whispered as she looked around for the siblings. Worried, she turned back to look at the raging sandstorm and asked, "They aren't still trapped in there, are they?" The tales she had overheard from some of the maids, passed down from the merchants and other people within the palace, painted these sandstorms as a force from hell which swallowed people up… as if burying them alive.      

A deep frown marred Dante's forehead as his eyes moved around the place before looking back at the sandstorm and saying,      

"Their screams stopped a while ago when we were still trapped inside the sandstorm. They must have been dropped before we were." He said, "Let us walk back to see if we can find them, and if we see the horses, even better," saying this, he started to walk, and Anastasia quickly followed him.      

Anastasia covered her head with the shawl again to protect herself from the afternoon heat, and when she glanced at Dante, the man was busy searching for his siblings while his posture was as sturdy as the sun that burned brightly above their heads.      

After several minutes of walking, Anastasia began to breathe heavily.      

"Drink this," Dante offered her his water bag, which was tied to the side of his belt. "Take it."      

When Anastasia took the water bag from him, she could feel its lightness, and she said, "There is only a little left in here."      

"Unfortunately, that's all we have. The second water bag was tied to Oasis," Dante responded, and upon noticing the questioning look on her face, he clarified, "My horse's name," and she quickly nodded in understanding.      

Anastasia hadn't meant to complain about the quantity of the offered water. Pulling the lid off, she brought the nozzle to her lips and drank from it. When the cool liquid slid down her throat, it felt like the heat became bearable for a few seconds.      

Dante saw the young woman sip from his water bag with her mouth on the same nozzle he had placed his mouth on earlier. It wasn't as if he had never helped others before, by sharing his water bags with men during wars, but this was the woman who had begun to infiltrate his thoughts, increasingly occupying his mind.      

He heard Anastasia say, "I saved a sip."     

"You can drink it. You seem more in need of it than me," Dante responded, before shifting his gaze ahead of him, scanning the vast expanse of smooth sand stretching in every direction.      

Anastasia asked Dante, "How did you come to know about the sandstorm in advance?"      

"There are high towers equipped with binoculars, which allows one to see far into the distance. Every town has one, and the high walls that guard the kingdom have six of them," Dante explained to her. "You will see some of the high-standing individuals carrying binoculars with them when they enter the Hall of Mirrors, where some of the dance and music performances are held now."     

To think such things existed, Anastasia was more than amazed as they continued walking, holding the empty water bag in her hand.      

Even after many more minutes passed, and despite the fact that they didn't stop even for a moment, there was no sign of anyone, not the horses, Aiden, or Emily. Dante's eyes weren't solely focused ahead of them, looking into the distance; he also scanned the ground for any signs of shifting sand. The previous route they had travelled on horseback was one he was familiar with, but this was an unknown land and new territory for him.      

Anastasia asked him, "Is this the way back to the town we departed from, Prince?"      

"It is the direction the sandstorm travelled in. At least we will know if we need to pull someone out from beneath the sand. If you look at the ground closely, you will see the wavering patterns that differ from the smooth and clean terrain on the left side of where we are currently walking," Dante replied. He then curtly said, "Five steps."      

"What?" Anastasia turned confused.     

"Five steps behind me," Dante quietly glared at her.     

Anastasia's mind had been so preoccupied that she hadn't noticed when she began walking beside the prince. She quickly halted her steps to allow the gap to widen between them before following him again.      

As much as Anastasia wanted to find the prince and the princess, she didn't want to find them with their hands or legs sticking out of the ground. She could tell Prince Dante was worried even though he didn't show it, not only because of his sense of responsibility, but also because he cared about the two.      

As they continued to follow the path of the sandstorm, Anastasia caught sight of old ruins. Some of the pillars were fractured or toppled, lying in fragmented pieces on the ground. It looked like an old town where no one resided anymore.      

"This is a strange place," Anastasia said with a hint of wariness in her voice, as some of the statues looked strange, depicting creatures that sat atop the pillars, sporting horns on their heads and wings on their backs. Although there was abundant light, they cast haunting shadows. She asked him,      

"What is this place?"      

[Music Recommendation: Endless- Haximum]     

When Anastasia moved forward to look at Dante, she noticed the concentrated expression on his face, his lips set in a thin line, before he spoke,      

"This was once a city… Many years ago, it was declared lost and buried beneath the desert sands when it was destroyed. It was called the Lair of the Underground," Dante responded, and he then turned to her and said, "Let me see if it revealed itself to my siblings too."      

Anastasia didn't stay behind to wait for the prince; she followed him as she was unfamiliar with this place. She knew the only way to stay alive was to be near him. As they crossed two fallen pillars, she asked him quietly,      

"What are those creatures made of stone, Prince?"      

Dante turned to look at the pillars before answering, "Guards. They used to stand guard and keep an eye on the people who entered and left the town."      

"To protect the town?" Anastasia asked curiously, and Dante's eyes met hers before she heard him say,     

"No. To capture souls and bring them to the underworld. The dead." Dante had read about this place when he first got his hands on a book related to it. Not from the royal palace's library but from somewhere else, as the royal palace didn't believe in such things. He then called out his siblings' names loudly,      

"AIDEN! EMILY!" Anastasia heard Dante's voice echo back before the place turned quiet again.     

They stepped inside a building that was connected to the rest of the ruined buildings in the town. The place was slightly dark, covered in dust and nested with cobwebs.      

"Coffins…" Anastasia remarked when her eyes fell on them. "Are there still spirits who wander around?"      

"Some are trapped; most have been brought back into the underground world," Dante replied, prompting Anastasia to move farther away from the coffins as they walked.      

"How can you tell?" Anastasia turned curious.      

"It must be the Blackthorn blood as it originated from here, like the other bloodline. We have the ability to sense and feel more than regular humans," Dante remarked, his strides long, making Anastasia keep up with him when he took a turn in the eerie corridor.      

"Other bloodline," Anastasia murmured, understanding that the Blackthorn family wasn't the only one with abilities.      

They came across a room which had dark, dull walls. Their eyes fell on the cobweb-covered coffins on the dusty table, which caught Anastasia's attention. The three coffins had intricately designed tops on them.      

"These are called the Triad of the First Crux," Dante said as he walked around them. "Each one holding a spirit. But only two of the spirits are present here, while the third coffin…" He placed his hand on top of the coffin and frowned, "Is empty."     

Anastasia turned alarmed and looked left and right, worry starting to mar her face. They heard a slight clatter coming from another corridor, making them turn in that direction.      

"Stay close," Dante ordered her before heading in the direction that led deeper inside this place. Anastasia was on his heels, not missing a beat, while keeping her ears alert and feeling her heart beating loud enough to camouflage anything she could hear.      

They came across more statues, some that seemed frozen in time and after a few seconds, Anastasia heard,      

'Anna, come with me,' which held a light echo. Anastasia froze in her steps, turning to look behind her.      

"What happened?" Dante paused, noting that she had stopped following him.      

"I felt… I heard my sister's voice," Anastasia said, scanning the corridor.      

'Anna, I have been waiting for you here. Come forward.'     

Anastasia asked him, "Can you not hear it…?"      

"Don't pay attention to it," Dante said, and Anastasia turned to meet his eyes. "Some of these voices will confuse you, knowing it is what you want to hear, before trapping you here for eternity. Don't fall behind, no matter how tempting the words you hear may be. Because I hear them too," he confessed, "Not your sister's voice."     

She gave him a nod that she understood and tried to block out the false voice that appeared to be her sister's. They finally heard whispers ahead, and walking further, they caught sight of Prince Aiden and Princess Emily.      

"Brother Dante! Anna!" Princess Emily shouted. Aiden, who was touching the skeleton, was startled by his sister's loud voice, causing his hands to fumble with the skeleton and making it fall right on top of him. "I am so happy to see that you are alright. By the time the sandstorm moved on, both of you had disappeared."     

"I hoped we would find you here. It is good to see that you are unharmed," Dante remarked, placing his hand on his sister's head, and the princess smiled.      

Princess Emily said, "Aiden said that this was the lost city and we decided to take a look in here. It is so strange that it is reappearing now, isn't it?"     

Prince Aiden pushed the skeleton off of him, putting it back in its coffin.      

Dante asked them, "What about the horses?"      

"They are tethered outside," Prince Aiden replied with a bright smile, and he then said, "What a bad day to say that we were going to have an amazing ride. When I said that, I wasn't expecting us to meet up with a sandstorm."     

"Can we leave now?" Princess Emily asked, pursing her lips, and said, "I keep hearing voices, and it's scaring me."     

"I doubt that. Look outside; it is going to be evening soon," Prince Aiden pointed at the sky, and Anastasia turned to look outside, where the sky was beginning to change colours.      

Back in the main palace, Mother Queen Ginger stood on her room's balcony, watching the gates of the palace, where guards and the carriage carts passed through. They were accompanied by her minister, Aziel.      

The Mother Queen turned around, leaving her room and going down to meet her minister. Once they stood in front of each other, the minister offered a deep bow and then handed over a rolled parchment. He said,      

"Here is the parchment, My Queen. It has been sealed."     

"Wonderful. Where are my grandchildren? I didn't see them with you," the Mother Queen looked behind the minister.     

"They aren't here yet? The guards told me that they had already gone ahead. Maybe they took a detour?" The minister pondered out loud, not knowing why the princes and princess weren't here yet. "Do you think something happened?"     

"I don't think so, but something is going to happen very soon," the Mother Queen muttered, her lips setting in a thin line.      

"What do you mean?" The minister frowned, paying full attention to the woman he served.      

The Mother Queen slightly jerked her head forward, and they stepped out of the palace, entering the garden. She asked the minister, "Do you know about the Blackthorn rose?"      

"I am aware of what has been shared by you and what people speak of. Is the plant reviving itself again?" Aziel asked her.      

"Not fully, but I can tell that it has begun. There is something else that I have never shared about how the Blackthorn rose is related to the Crux," the Mother Queen said with a solemn look on her face, her eyes looking into the distance. "Dante's missing Crux wasn't because of some defect, but happened for a reason. Long ago, someone trapped something in this palace, in the Blackthorn plant. A ruthless demon, which was destined to appear in the one who lacks the Crux."     

Minister Aziel tensed on hearing this and asked, "Are you saying that Prince Dante will be possessed by it?"      

The Mother Queen said with a grave expression on her wrinkled face, "Dante is the demon."      

Curse of the Blackthorn (Chapter 68)

Music Recommendation: Ragnar Recruits- Trevor Morris     

For a few seconds, Minister Aziel was taken aback by the Mother Queen's revelation, but his shock was quickly replaced by a thrilled smile, his lips stretching wide as if they had just found pure gold. He exclaimed,      

"Isn't that good news, My Queen? Prince Dante will turn out to be the most powerful man of Versailles." Excited, he said, "We can now bring Lady Sophia and the others back to the palace… but you don't look happy."     

The Mother Queen glared lightly at her minister for not paying close attention to what she had just said. With a frown marring her forehead, she responded,      

"I am not. Because things might get difficult."     

When she caught sight of some of the ministers walking near the garden, the old woman waved at her minister to follow her while making sure no one would be able to eavesdrop on their conversation. She said,      

"Many aeons ago, three powerful demons climbed out from the depths of the underworld. Each one possessed its own motives and mind. The first demon to emerge was tired of the underworld and came to the realm of the living with the thought of seeking peace. He later ascended to the throne as the King of Storm. The second demon to follow him was the demon of mischief, who ventured forth to ensnare pure souls and drag them back to the fiery depths of Hell. The third demon was the demon of destruction, who became the King of Versailles."     

"I didn't know the bloodline of the demons ran through the Blackthorn family." Unaware of its origins, Aziel had previously believed that the family had been blessed with abilities, like other people across the world, without comprehending the true nature of their lineage.      

"Did you think the family was magically blessed?" The Mother Queen softly chuckled with dry humour upon noticing the minister's awkward smile.      

Aziel then asked the Mother Queen, "So the demon was trapped in the plant and finally manifested itself by being born as Prince Dante?"      

"Hm," the Mother Queen nodded.      

"Does Prince Dante know about it?" The minister asked, and the Mother Queen, looking into the distance, shook her head before turning back to look at the minister.      

"No one alive knows about it, and you will not tell a soul. It has to be kept a secret," the Mother Queen cautioned him to receive a quick nod of agreement.      

"Of course, Mother Queen. I will take it to my grave without uttering a word about it," Aziel offered his deepest bow, swearing to protect the secret of the only queen he had faithfully served until now. He then asked, "If Prince Dante is one of the first demons, who bestowed abilities upon the Blackthorn family, then why has his Crux not formed yet? Maybe he isn't the demon, considering his compassionate nature and empathy towards others."      

The Mother Queen's lips were set into a thin line as she stared at the palace from the corner of her eyes. She said,      

"Dante is the demon of destruction, because what's happening now aligns well with the events of the past."      

"Mother Queen, if I may ask… and I do not mean to be rude, but if he is going to bring chaos, isn't it better to control the damage in advance?" Aziel's words were subtle as he made his proposal to the Mother Queen.      

"Did you not see what happens when a person tries to approach the Blackthorn rose? The recent consequences were relatively minor compared to what happened in the past and what could unfold now. It would be equal to hastening the process of Dante awakening his demon side, and things like these need to be handled with the utmost care, for the curse needs to be broken."     

"By reviving the plant," Aziel stated, and the Mother Queen nodded.      

"Yes. Once the plant revives to its original state, the desert will become more habitable," the old woman said, taking a deep breath before releasing it. She continued, "Did you know my ancestors were once scholars in this kingdom, Aziel?"      

"So you have told me, My Queen. Highly esteemed scholars who served in the royal court of the king. It is how you were able to meet the king so soon," Aziel had heard the story from the woman's mouth before.      

"Yes, it is said that they were brilliant. One of them was on the verge of being appointed an advisor, but unfortunately, the Vizier's ancestor took over the position in his place," the Mother Queen softly harrumphed, hinting at her lack of regard for the ministers who had served her son and now her grandson.      

Getting back to the subject they were talking about earlier, as Aziel needed to depart for the old palace again, the Mother Queen said,      

"When the curse first took hold and the demon was trapped, it was told that the demon would be reborn within the Blackthorn family, lacking a Crux. Consequently, when sons and daughters were born into the royal family, showing evidence that they did not possess a Crux, even if they were innocent children unrelated to the demon, they were ruthlessly beheaded without mercy. Murdered immediately out of fear that the demon would return to reign over the land again."     

"But the curse had to be broken, which was something that the people didn't understand. If not broken, anything and everything the demon has touched will eventually perish one day. People. Land. Even the very air we breathe. In response, my ancestors began eradicating any trace of the curse's existence, destroying records, burning them to ashes, and leaving no evidence behind. After a while, no other child was born without a Crux, and people began to forget, only associating their lack of ability with them being cursed, without knowing the reason why."     

"Did you always know that Prince Dante was the demon?" Aziel wondered if that was why the queen had treated him with such caution, ensuring not to provoke him.      

"I wasn't sure until I confirmed it with the news of the revival of the rose's stem," the Mother Queen and the minister began to walk, their footsteps slow as they took a stroll in the garden. "I made sure to get rid of every book or whisper about the triad of demons. Just like my ancestors did."     

The minister was struggling to imagine the notion of the first prince harbouring the soul of a demon. Or the fact that he was the very demon. By the look on the Mother Queen's face, it seemed like hell would be unleashed upon their realm once the demon awakened from its dormant state.      

"Minister Aziel," someone called from the other side of the garden, and they turned to see Princess Niyasa strolling through the garden with her maids trailing behind her. "How are things in the old palace?"      

"Princess," Aziel offered a bow while the Mother Queen's eyes met her granddaughter's, who eyed them suspiciously, wondering what they were up to. "It has been quiet without your presence, Princess."     

"I didn't know I was being missed," Princess Niyasa smiled, one corner of her lips rising higher than the other.      

"Where is your mother, Niyasa?" The Mother Queen inquired of her.      

"Somewhere inside the palace, doing queen stuff. You should know better, Grandmother," Niyasa softly laughed, and she commented, "It seemed like I disturbed something important?" And instead of leaving, she started to make her way towards where they stood.      

"It is good that you are here, my lovely Granddaughter," the Mother Queen smiled, welcoming Princess Niyasa and said, "I would like to get your opinion."      

Minister Aziel frowned as he stared at the Mother Queen, while Princess Niyasa raised her eyebrows curiously and asked,      

"About what?"      

"I was thinking about making Aziel my partner. A new grandfather figure for you," the Mother Queen stated with a straight face, while the other two wore expressions of horror on their faces.      

"What?!" Princess Niyasa exclaimed in shock, turning to look at the minister and proclaiming, "You will be immediately beheaded for even entertaining the thought that you could marry the Mother Queen."      

"Leave Aziel out of it. He doesn't even know that I have these plans running through my head." The Mother Queen offered her a vibrant smile and asked, "I was reflecting on how some of you weren't able to spend time with your grandfather, and now with your father gone, I thought this was a good decision."      

Princess Niyasa's eyes widened, and she looked repulsed by the very idea of it. With her face scrunched up in disgust, she said, "I will tell Mother about it right away." Aziel looked pale at the thought that he would be beheaded without having done anything to deserve it.      

"Good. It saves me the time of having to explain it to her personally," remarked the Mother Queen, watching her granddaughter depart along with her maids.      

"Mother Queen…" Aziel began in distress.      

"You will be fine now that my position is secure," the Mother Queen said, raising the parchment the minister had handed her earlier. "You won't be punished for my mere words."     

"I hope so," the minister muttered. If she wanted to drive her granddaughter away from them, she could have said something else rather than throwing him into the fire.      

Unbothered by her nosey granddaughter, the Mother Queen directed her focus towards other pressing matters that needed attention. The respective bloodlines were bestowed Cruxes during the time of the golden moon because it coincided with the opening of the passage to the Lair of the Underworld, where the abilities originated.      

Upon hearing about this special place that granted abilities, many commoners embarked on quests in search of it, only to find nothing but barren stretches of sand.      

Far away from the kingdom of Versailles, somewhere deep within the uncharted desert where no man ventured, stood the lost town in its dilapidated and eerie glory. The moon had begun to wax, and the moonlight cast its glow on the sandy landscape and the desolate town. Amidst this scene, a bonfire was lit inside the ruins, while four individuals gathered around it.      

"It is cold here," Princess Emily murmured as she rubbed her hands together.      

Prince Aiden, who sat beside her, commented, "I told you we should go inside and light a fire there. Not like anyone will mind, but you insisted that we make a fire here."      

"There are things talking in there. I feel like I am losing my mind," Princess Emily drew her knees closer to her chest as she looked around. "I think Anna is the only one who is spared from hearing the voices."      

"I don't think so," Prince Aiden said, while looking at one of the farthest buildings from them.      

"Whose?" Princess Emily asked.     

"Her sister's," Prince Aiden replied, before realising he had revealed something that was supposed to be a secret.      

Anastasia saw Princess Emily look at her with concern, and she said, "I didn't know you had a sister. She must have died when you were young. I am sorry for your loss, Anna."      

Anastasia offered a small bow and was happy she didn't have to speak for once, or else she would feel guilty about lying to Princess Emily. Aiden came to the rescue, saying, "It was long ago."     

"You seem to know her better than I do," Princess Emily pointed out before asking, "When do you speak to her?"     

"For your information, Sister, I learned the language of signs," Prince Aiden lied and said, "It is how I understand what Anna says."     

Princess Emily pursed her lips as if to reply to her younger brother before she let it go and asked, "What are these creatures that we hear?"     

"They are called the Whisperers," Dante answered his sister's question. "A type of lesser demon that steals souls and drags them underground, while occupying the person's body to exist in the living world."     

"Like an exchange," Princess Emily murmured.      

"They say not to spend more than ten minutes chasing their voice,as it might make you stray away from reality, and before you know it," Prince Aiden snapped his fingers, "Poof! You are gone."     

"How do you even know about it?" Princess Emily demanded, her eyebrows furrowed.      

"I read about it in the Storm Palace when I visited it," Prince Aiden grinned, adding, "Funny how they are so into it, while there's nothing like that in our kingdom. Makes you think we don't believe in it."     

Or don't want anyone to know, Dante thought to himself.     

Anastasia turned to look in the direction where she had heard her sister's voice. Cheerful, yet filled with woe. The truth was that she wanted to reach out to the voice that had spoken to her. To feel that her sister was still in this world.      

"Aiden told me that the three coffins in there belong to the demons who bestowed the first Crux. Is that true?" Princess Emily asked her older brother with curiosity, and Anastasia listened to them with the same interest while feeling the little heat from the bonfire. "When I placed my hand on the coffin, it was as if I could feel it, but it wasn't there at the same time."     

"All the three of them?" Dante inquired, and Emily shook her head.      

"No, just the one on the left," she answered him.      

"I couldn't feel a thing and thought Lily was playing a joke on me," Prince Aiden said, giving his sister the side-eye. It was also why he was looking at the skeletons earlier, wanting to know if they came from the underworld or belonged to the once-living.      

Dante held a grim look on his face and said, "Come with me," and everyone followed him inside the building, where the three magnificent coffins lay. He asked her, "Which one did you feel?"      

"The first one," Princess Emily pointed to the coffin on the left. "It feels full, the second one feels half-full, and the third completely empty."     

While Princess Emily was replying to Dante, Anastasia heard her sister's voice call her once again,      

'Anna.' Anastasia tried not to turn around or pay it any attention. But the voice spoke again, 'I have been suffering, Anna. Come here, where I await… Don't you want to hear who killed me?'     

Anastasia's heart dropped upon hearing the last words.      

Unable to keep her eyes forward, she turned to look behind her, and at the far end of the corridor, she noticed a shadow.     

Dante remarked, "It is said that one of the three triads forced the other two demons back into the underworld, before sealing the path and the coffin. But it looks like only one was sent to hell."      

"Does this mean the other two evil demons are roaming somewhere around here?" Princess Emily's eyes widened in fear, as it seemed like ghosts and demons did exist!     

"They aren't here," Dante said, looking around. He could sense the evil minions around, but nothing big. He turned to notice Anastasia looking towards the corridor, her eyes wide and lips parted to take deep breaths.      

As if feeling his gaze, Anastasia turned to look at Dante, her eyes moist from hearing her sister's voice. She felt a deep loneliness, a longing, and an emptiness in her heart that were hard to put into words.      

"Aiden?" They heard Princess Emily call, and when they turned around, they noticed the third prince missing from there.      

"Aiden!" She shouted before starting to look for him, and Dante and Anastasia joined her. Not finding him in there, they stepped outside and noticed Prince Aiden standing next to the horses. "I should stuff you in the coffin for scaring us!"      

Prince Aiden laughed, "I just came here to check on our horses after hearing them neigh. They seem restless. Also, I didn't want to hear our father's voice anymore..." he added, looking uncomfortable.      

Anastasia walked closer to the horses, and when she came to stand next to the black horse, who kept pacing back and forth, she placed her hand on its neck—gently caressing it the way Prince Dante had done.      

Dante noted how Oasis calmed down at Anastasia's touch. He remarked only for her to hear, "Looks like you are good with horses. I should keep a closer eye on you."      

It was a warning as well as a compliment. Feeling the horse lean into her touch, Anastasia smiled. Her heart felt more at ease now than when they were inside the building.     

Back in the main palace of Versailles, Aziel asked, "Is there no way to deflect from the oncoming event?"      

"We can only hope and pray. Pray that nothing bad happens and when the demon awakens, it is in a good mood," Mother Queen Ginger answered, before walking towards the garden exit, and the minister followed her.      

"How can the curse be broken, Mother Queen?" Aziel asked the wise old woman.      

When they reached the garden exit, the old woman stopped and turned to meet her minister's eyes. She then said,      

"The demon of destruction was cruel and sinister in his ways. To stop the demon, one of the people stepped up. As the demon was too powerful, a curse was put in place. A curse where the grass would turn to sand. The person who cursed the demon said, 'Your ability will be taken away for you to go through tribulations, your soul will be halved, and to break the curse, you will have to make one of my kin love you for who you are. Both the good and the bad.'"     

"Soul halved?" Aziel asked with furrowed eyebrows.      

A sigh escaped from the Mother Queen's lips. She said,      

"Dante might have a soulmate in the future, but he is the only one who will feel it. The other person won't feel the same pull, so he has to naturally earn her love."      

Forgive me (Chapter 69)

Music Recommendation: An Uncertain World- Trevor Morris      

Dante watched his siblings and the maid, fast asleep.      

His sister had leaned against a broken pillar on the ground, with his coat wrapped around her to keep her warm. And right next to her, his brother, Aiden, leaned his back against the pillar with his legs stretched forward, with the sleeve of his coat resting on his shoulder.      

Anastasia slept not far from him, and he could hear her breathing. She had her shawl wrapped around her shoulders, which wasn't enough to shield her from the cold temperature of the night.      

Dante closed his eyes to rest. And though his eyes were closed, his ears attentively listened to the light sound of the crickets chirping, the wood crackling, and Anastasia breathing.      

As the night continued, Dante suddenly felt a difference in his surroundings, and his eyes snapped open. Turning to the side, he noticed only his siblings, while the maid was missing. Standing up, he looked around, catching no sight of her.      

He could have sworn she was right there, breathing softly, a moment before he opened his eyes.      

Dante then heard the sound of a door creaking from inside the building where the three coffins lay. He quickly ran towards it, entering inside and calling her,      

"Anastasia!" He tried to pay attention to the silence in the building before hearing the scratching sound of nails across the walls.      

He noticed a shadow pass in front of him, as if trying to frighten him. But he made his way through the corridor, and the closer he got to the shadows, the farther they moved away from him. When he came near the room where the three coffins of the powerful demons lay, he noticed Anastasia standing in front of one of the coffins.      

Noticing that Anastasia's eyes were closed and that her hands were on the latch of the first coffin, Dante grabbed her hand to stop her from opening it and gave her body a firm shake.      


Anastasia gasped, roused from sleep. Noticing Dante with her in the room, she asked, confused,      

"What…are we doing here?" Her eyes wide.      

Dante stared at her with a keen eye, trying to study her before he said, "You were sleepwalking and about to open the latch of the coffin."      

Anastasia looked down, realising she stood before the demon of mischief's coffin. She quickly stepped away from it and said, "I wasn't trying to open it. I swear!"      

"I know." So many coffins and she chose to open this one, he thought.     

Dante wondered why it was Anastasia who had sleepwalked, ready to open the coffin that had been closed for many years. Was it because she was a human? He placed his hand on the first coffin, feeling the turbulence within it. He said,      

"From what I know, the demon of mischief isn't someone to be taken lightly. He waits to be let out. Not to do anything good, as he's one of the worst, filled with deceit and vengeance for being forced into here." This was the coffin that Emily had felt to be full. "Let us return to the others." Before another one went missing, Dante said in his mind.      

Anastasia nodded, and followed Dante out of there, while hearing the Whisperers entice her. On the way, she asked him, "How do you know about these things?"      

"From books," Dante's first response was short, before he elaborated by saying, "I was trying to understand my lack of a Crux when I came across them and read what I could get my hands on."      

Anastasia trembled as she walked. Half out of fear that she had sleepwalked in this place, and the other reason being the cold night.      

Dante, who was still watching Anastasia with questioning eyes, noticed her shiver. He stated, "You are wearing it wrong." And he stopped in his tracks. "Twist this side."      

"What?" Anastasia's eyebrows furrowed in question as she stopped walking and turned to him. She stared back at her reflection in Dante's eyes.     

When she looked down at her dress, simultaneously, she saw Dante's hand reach for the loose knot of the shawl near her chest. He untied it, causing her to feel the cold more intensely than she did a few seconds before.      

"There are some parts of the body that, once covered, will prevent you from feeling colder."      

Anastasia watched Dante twist her shawl loosely before he took a step forward and slowly wrapped it around her neck, while looking into her eyes. Once he was done, she did feel warmer, and she murmured, "Thank you."      

As they continued to walk, she noticed Prince Dante turn to look behind them, where the buildings stood covered in shadows, and she asked him, "Why is it that the spirits know about things that happened far away from this town?"     

Dante turned to shift his gaze forward and replied, "The Whisperers steal your memories or your emotions to sway you however they want, manipulating you by telling you what you want to hear. Still hearing your sister's voice?"      

"No," Anastasia's voice was barely above a whisper. After a pause, she said, "It said it knew who killed my sister, that it was waiting."      

"Promising to give you a glimpse of unseen truth," Dante took a deep breath before exhaling the air through his lips. "It must be hard to resist," he remarked, staring at the sky above them, where the stars and the waxing moon shone brightly.      

"You aren't swayed by them?" Anastasia asked him curiously. Maybe he had a strong mind and resolve, she thought to herself.     

"It is hard to be tempted when it was I who sent them out of this world," Dante's eyes looked colder than the weather. "The people I have killed are many. On the battlefield and in the kingdom for failing to abide by the iron rules set for everyone."     

"… the man who tried to run away with the courtesan?" Anastasia softly asked him, and his gaze shifted to look at her.      

"He's one of the many," Dante responded, noticing a look of fear enter her eyes as if she was scared to walk this close to him. "Are you scared? It's okay if you are. It is natural."     

Anastasia gulped, feeling his stare turn hollower as if the night was affecting him. She replied, "I haven't done anything to be scared."     

Not yet, the words passed through both Anastasia's and Dante's minds.      

To think she would be sleeping in a place full of spirits lurking around, Anastasia thought to herself as they walked.      

When they got to where Prince Aiden and Princess Emily were sleeping, Anastasia sat down, while Dante stared at his siblings.     

Bringing her knees close to her chest, she watched the flames gently flicker in the direction of the wind, listening to the crackling sound of the wood snapping. The wind carried a certain eeriness as it moved like an unsaid whisper, informing the spirits here about their visitors.      

Even though they had added more sticks earlier to keep the bonfire burning to keep them warm, it wasn't enough. The desert night air was bitterly cold, and Anastasia raised her palms to face the fire in an attempt to absorb its heat.      

"You should get some sleep, while you can."      

Anastasia's eyes moved to look at Dante, who sat one step away from her. Like his siblings, he used the broken pillar for support now, leaning his back against it. One of his knees was pulled up, while his other leg was stretched out on the sandy ground.      

Seeing how the other two siblings were fast asleep, Anastasia asked him in a whisper, "Won't you sleep?" She was worried to fall asleep, worried that she would sleepwalk again.     

"Someone needs to keep watch, and I am more adept at it," Dante stated the obvious while staring at her. Something was definitely not right, he thought to himself as he adjusted his crossed arms closer to his torso.      

"Sleep," Dante said, before adding, "And try not to sleepwalk again."     

Anastasia offered him a slight bow before closing her eyes and attempting to fall asleep.      

Having been violently tossed around by the sandstorm and harshly thrown to the ground before walking for some time in the sun, sleep once again overtook Anastasia's body. Unable to stay upright, her body swayed uncontrollably, and her head moved to hit the pillar with force. Dante swiftly reached out, catching hold of her arm and slowly guiding her head to gently touch the pillar.      

"You should sleep too," Dante said, looking past the bonfire, which had dimmed compared to when they had first lit it.      

Princess Emily, who had her eyes closed, opened them to stare at her elder brother. She had woken when her elder brother called out 'Anastasia'. Her eyes then shifted to her maid. More than shocked, she was puzzled as to why her maid had kept it a secret from her. But her brothers were aware of it.      

A seed of doubt had formed in her mind earlier upon hearing Aiden's words, but she hadn't expected to learn that her mute maid could speak.      

Dante watched his sister quietly nod at him in response before settling down to sleep.      

The following day at the break of dawn, the four of them woke up, ready to ride back to the Versailles kingdom.     

Anastasia followed the three royal siblings, who went to untether their horses. Prince Aiden remarked, "I thought I wasn't going to be able to drift off, but that was some good sleep. How about the rest of you?"      

"My neck hurts," Princess Emily was used to sleeping on a soft bed, not on the ground with no blanket for cover. She could feel the muscles in her body ache. "I cannot wait to get back to the palace."      

The three siblings mounted on their respective horses while Anastasia stood back, not knowing which horse she was supposed to mount this time. Dante heard his sister call the young woman, "Anna, come sit behind me." He didn't stop them, as it seemed like Emily wanted to speak to her maid.     

Anastasia mounted the white horse, sitting behind Princess Emily, and soon the trio of horses left the eerie town they had spent their night in behind. The horse seemed to move at the same pace as Prince Dante's horse had the previous day, and she held onto the princess for support as her horse moved past the other two horses.      

[Music Recommendation: Nothing could keep me away- Kris Bowers]     

"Why does it seem like Lily is in a hurry to return to the palace?" Prince Aiden remarked, riding next to his older brother. Dante didn't comment and continued to ride in silence while watching the maid's back ahead of him.      

Ahead on the white horse, Anastasia heard Princess Emily say,      

"The storm must have scared you yesterday, didn't it, Anna? It is the first time I have ever been caught in one." After a few seconds, she said, "It is good to have you here riding with us, Anna."     

Anastasia bowed to express her gratitude to the princess, even though her gesture went unnoticed. She then heard the princess continue, "I have always wanted to have a friend, someone to share life with. Unfortunately, the ones who approach me think only of the benefits they anticipate from associating with me, and Niyasa is always causing trouble. Not the good kind of trouble. Which is why I am happy that you are with me."      

Princess Emily turned her head to smile at Anastasia, and Anastasia wanted to let the princess know that she was grateful to be serving her.      

"So if there's ever something that is troubling you, you can let me know. Okay?" Princess Emily asked her maid, who nodded at her, and she smiled. Looking forward, she said, "I am always the one talking, so it might be nice to… hear your thoughts."      

Anastasia didn't know if it was Princess Emily's words or the look in her eyes that made her question if the princess knew something.     

With a hint of uncertainty, Anastasia turned to look behind her, where she could see Prince Dante and Prince Aiden following their trail. While Prince Aiden was busy talking about something, she caught Prince Dante looking her way. The princess knew?     

Perhaps it was better for the princess to learn of the situation when they were outside the palace walls rather than within them, as otherwise, she would need to find the time and place to explain herself.      

Anastasia felt her heart thudding in her chest as she mentally prepared herself to reveal the truth, hoping the princess would keep it a secret like the two princes. But when she parted her lips, no words came out.     

Princess Emily was in the midst of saying, "I think it is the younger siblings of mine who speaks more than the older ones—"     

"Forgive me, Princess Emily. I didn't mean to lie and hide the fact that I can speak," Anastasia had closed her eyes out of fear of rejection and condemnation for lying to the princess all these months.      

Silence fell between them, where Princess Emily didn't speak and Anastasia turned worried.      

Instead of being rebuked, Anastasia heard the princess exclaim, "Oh, thank God!" She opened her eyes in confusion, unable to read the princess's reaction. "I cannot tell you how happy I am! Even though it feels like a ghost has possessed your voice!"      

"You… you are not angry with me?" Anastasia questioned, her voice filled with uncertainty.     

"I would have been disappointed if you continued to lie to me and turned out to be untrustworthy. Maybe you wouldn't have been able to serve as my maid anymore," Princess Emily confessed. "Not because I would have hated you. But the thought of another person lying to me apart from the people we are surrounded by… If Brother Dante hasn't punished you, I am sure there is a good reason why. In a way, this is perfect, Anna," the princess smiled.     

Punished… suddenly the word didn't hold the same meaning it did a few days ago, Anastasia thought to herself.      

"I am still sorry for keeping this from you, Princess," Anastasia apologised while wishing for God to bless the princess for being so kind.      

"I told you I am not angry. I do not see you as my maid but as a friend," Princess Emily assured her.     

Behind them, Prince Aiden caught Anastasia moving her lips, and he asked, "Is Anna talking to Lily?"      

"So it appears," Dante answered nonchalantly, while his younger brother looked suddenly shocked.      

"How did this—When did this happen?!" Prince Aiden asked with his mouth hanging wide open.      

"It's all thanks to you," Dante remarked, while Aiden counted them by pointing his fingers.     

"Three of us know about it. It wouldn't go down well if others found out, would it?" Prince Aiden frowned as he asked. Lying was an offence that was not tolerated in Versailles.      

But Prince Aiden had gotten the number wrong, and Prince Dante hadn't heard from the fourth person who knew Anastasia's secret, nor did the maid tell the first prince about it.      

After all, Lady Lucretia had given Anastasia a piece of information regarding the location of Hawkshead, which the latter didn't want Prince Dante to discover she had acquired.     

A tongue for a lie (Chapter 70)

Music Recommendation: Ghost Waltz- Abel Korzeniowski     

The horses trotted towards the front gates of the palace. The guards respectfully lowered their heads, offering their bows.     

Anastasia leaned closer to Princess Emily and whispered, "Princess, I think I should get down here before someone sees me riding on your horse."      

"Let me stop the horse," Princess Emily said, pulling on the horse's reins, bringing it to a halt. Anastasia dismounted and heard the princess say enthusiastically, "I will see you inside, Anna."     

Anastasia bowed in response.      

Princess Emily's horse proceeded forward; the next to follow was Prince Aiden, with Prince Dante bringing up the rear. The first prince and the maid turned to look at each other at the same time, and upon making eye contact, Anastasia quickly offered him a bow.      

Anastasia stared at the ground, listening to the fading clip-clop of the hooves until she finally raised her head, looking in the direction where the royal siblings were headed, making their way towards the front entrance of the palace.      

As she walked towards the back of the palace, she noticed a young man walking in the opposite direction, carrying gardening tools in his arms. He wore a frown, as if deep in concentration, while he stared at the palace walls. Just as they were about to walk past each other, the things in the young man's arms fell to the ground.      

"Pardon me," the young man apologised, while picking up the fallen objects from the ground.      

Anastasia also bent down and helped gather the scattered belongings before handing them back to the young man.      

"That was nice of you. You didn't have to pick them up for me, as it was I who didn't pay attention," the young man gave Anastasia an awkward smile.      

Anastasia doubted she had seen this man in the palace before. He stood two or three inches taller than her. He had a square-shaped face, dishevelled light brown hair, and piercing grey eyes that were currently fixed on her.      

Noticing the curious look on the maid's face, the servant introduced himself, "I am a new servant here, sent here upon Lord Dunkirk's order. Gabriel Brampton at the Blackthorn family's service," he added with a slight bow. Before anything else could fall from his arms, Anastasia swiftly placed her hands on the things that the young man was holding.      

Anastasia only bowed at the man's words, as she didn't want to include more people on the list of those who knew she could speak.      

"It has been only four days since I arrived here, and I am still trying to familiarise myself with the palace. Though I must say that this place is a little scarier than Lord Dunkirk's. I heard that beheading is common here," the young man named Gabriel remarked, while his head turned to his right to stare at the palace walls.      

Anastasia raised her finger to her lips so that he would stay quiet, and she looked around to make sure no one heard him. She didn't know how things were back at Lord Dunkirk's place, but this was Versailles' main palace, where even thinking badly about the royal family or the palace was strictly forbidden.     

"You don't speak much, do you?" The young man frowned, and Anastasia indicated that she couldn't speak. Surprise registered on his face before a look of disappointment filled his eyes, and he murmured, "It must be difficult for you and your family… To think you cannot speak. Your family must be worried about you, just like any other family would be."      

His words struck a chord of longing for her family, and she wondered how worried and in pain her parents were because two of their beloved children had been stolen from them.      

Gabriel offered Anastasia a bow and said, "I should go before I blabber something I shouldn't and get us in trouble." He excused himself, heading in the direction of the garden.      

Anastasia stepped inside the kitchen and found Theresa engrossed in work. She walked up behind the woman before hugging her waist.      

"Oh, my! You have returned, Anna!" Theresa recognised Anastasia's hands and turned around with her hands covered in flour from working the dough. "I thought I heard you were expected to arrive yesterday. Nonetheless, it is good to see you are fine," she whispered the last words.      

Anastasia was glad to see Theresa, who was her sole family-like figure in this palace after Marianne left them. She pulled up her sleeves, washing her hands before helping Theresa with her work.      

Now standing in the corner of the busy kitchen, Theresa updated her in a whisper, "Things here have been busy. The new king and Queen Maya have been hosting meals for important ministers. And the workload has increased because of all the changes. This room to that, that room to another, transforming them one by one." She asked, "How was your trip to the old palace?"      

Anastasia moved her hands quickly, keeping the information brief, and she saw the older woman's mouth hang open in shock.      

"How could you not be careful about it, Anna? You have been reckless, lowering your guard," Theresa lightly scolded Anastasia in worry. "You are lucky that it was them. Every time another person finds out the truth about you, the chances of the lie coming to light become that much higher."     

Anastasia was aware of it. Once they finished their work in the kitchen and stepped into her room, she asked,      

"Were new servants brought to the palace recently?"      

"I think there are a few, maybe five or six of them," Theresa replied, before continuing, "I heard one of them mention that they are Lord Dunkirk's gift to King Maxwell. A few servants and concubines."      

When Anastasia finished arranging her clothes back into their designated place in her room, she found Theresa staring at her. She asked, "Is something the matter?"      

"I was only watching you. You grow more beautiful with every passing week," Theresa smiled. "But it is to be expected, considering some people are late bloomers. Men will soon begin to flock around you, Anna, especially now that you are serving Princess Emily. Has any man taken an interest in you that I should know of? Who is it?" The woman asked, noting Anastasia's sudden silence.      

"There was one at the old palace, but he wasn't a good person," Anastasia shook her head. She said, "We are women from the low class, Auntie. And when you work within the confines of the palace or in the homes of any wealthy men, people assume that we spread our legs for them."     

"Oh… I am sorry to hear that, Anna. Though there are people like that, there are also people who will respect you as a person, dear," Theresa assured Anastasia.      

"It's fine," Anastasia smiled at the older woman. "It was just a passing moment. Before Marianne departed, she taught me a valuable lesson; to avoid falling in love in a place where love cannot thrive, because it will only bring about pain."     

"Has there been any news about the murderer?" Theresa asked, and Anastasia shook her head. It was as if the murderer had done what they intended to do and disappeared without a trace.      

​​"I should return to Princess Emily's side. She might require my assistance," Anastasia leaned forward and kissed the older woman's cheek.      

"I will see you later. Careful where you speak," Theresa warned Anastasia as she stepped out of the room.      

As Anastasia made her way towards the inner side of the palace, she walked past the Paradise Tower, where the rotting head continued to decorate the front wall. When she made her way to the room where she could find Princess Emily, she could hear the Mother Queen's voice coming from behind the closed doors.      

Coming to stand in front of the door, Anastasia watched the guard open it, revealing the Mother Queen, Prince Dante and Princess Emily, who now stared at the concubine who claimed to have slept with the first prince.      

"Come in, Anna," Princess Emily called Anastasia inside the room and gestured for her to stand beside her.      

Dante sat there with his legs crossed, glaring at his grandmother before his eyes shifted to the concubine, who had dared to spread the word that he had slept with her. He questioned the concubine in a low, threatening voice,      

"Did we sleep together?"     

The concubine shook her head. Dante deadpanned, "There you have the answer. So stop pushing women into my lap."      

The Mother Queen stared at the concubine with a look of disbelief and demanded,      

"Didn't you say in front of me and my granddaughter that you spent the night in Prince Dante's room?" Kailani nodded. The old woman's eyes narrowed, and she warned, "I haven't ripped your tongue out yet, so speak before I give the order,"      

Mother Queen Ginger didn't like anyone making a fool of her because she was no fool. As she didn't know if or when Dante's soulmate would arrive, she wanted to keep all options open and hoped to secure an heir from her first grandson. She glared daggers at the concubine, ordering, "Speak!"      

The concubine trembled as she stood before them, not meeting anyone's eyes as her gaze remained fixed on the ground. She stuttered, "I—I never lied, M—Mother Queen! I was asked if I spent the night in the prince's room and I—I did."     

"So you are saying you only slept in his room and not with him," the Mother Queen stood up from her seat. "When I spoke about great-grandchildren and you took my jewel as a reward, where was your explanation then?"      

"I w—was hoping for that to happen in the future! To be Prince Dante's concubine!" Kailani nervously replied because, in all honesty, it wasn't her fault that people had misunderstood her words.      

Anastasia's eyes moved from the concubine to Prince Dante, who looked unbothered by what was happening. But that was only because Dante knew his grandmother would handle the concubine and would also learn a lesson to stop sending any other woman to wait to ambush him in his room.      

The Mother Queen looked more than annoyed as she stared at the concubine silently. She then said, "You remind me of someone. Someone ambitious and ready to climb the ranks, eager to push aside those of higher standing to make space for yourself." It was no mystery to anyone in the room whom the Mother Queen was referring to. It was Queen Maya, who was a former concubine. "Guards!"      

Upon hearing the guards open the door, Kailani quickly fell to her knees and pressed her forehead to the floor. She pleaded, "Mother Queen, please, don't punish me! I didn't lie! I only answered what was asked!"      

The Mother Queen ordered the guards, "Cut her tongue out."      

"No!" Kailani shouted, "Don't do this to me, please!"      

Hearing one of the guards pull out their sword from its scabbard, Anastasia became highly uncomfortable. She pressed her hands to her sides.      

Princess Emily noticed the look of worry on Anastasia's face. Aware that there was another falsehood present in the room and feeling the need to safeguard Anna's future, the princess spoke up,     

"Grandmother, why not let her off with a warning? It isn't like she caused anyone any harm."      

"No," the Mother Queen firmly rejected Princess Emily's suggestion. She said, "If we allow this one to escape the consequences, another will follow suit, and before long, the entire kingdom will turn into a circus worse than it already has. And I am hurt by the lie. My happiness was stolen just like that," she snapped her fingers.      

"Open your mouth," one of the guards ordered Kailani, who had a look of horror on her face, and she screamed.      

"No! No! Please don't!"      

One guard restrained the concubine to ensure she couldn't move, while the other held the sword threateningly. A third guard attempted to force the concubine to keep her mouth open, intent on cutting her tongue out, while the concubine's whines and pleas echoed through the place.      

"Hold your sword!" Queen Maya commanded the guards, who quickly stepped away from the concubine, bowing before their queen. She noticed the top concubine crying, tears streaming down her cheeks, shaking in terror.      

Queen Maya stepped inside the room with her daughter, demanding of the Mother Queen, "What do you think you are doing by trying to scare her?" The prince and the princess in the room had risen from their seats, observing the scene.      

"Scare?" The Mother Queen questioned with a frown before she said, "I want to see her tongue on the ground. Do it," she ordered the guards.      

"And I said stop," Queen Maya came to the concubine's aid. She asked, "Did you forget that I am the Queen of this palace? And that you don't hold the authority to override my orders."      

The Mother Queen chuckled, "Queen Maya, I wouldn't be so sure about that." She pulled out the rolled parchment from inside her coat and stretched it forward. "I might not be 'the' Queen, but I am still a woman of the royal family through marriage," she added before her lips curled up, and Queen Maya snatched the parchment to read it. The old woman continued, "My position stays the same as before."      

Queen Maya's eyes moved down the paper before she glared at the older woman. She clenched her jaws before saying, "The concubines are under my care, and neither you nor anyone else is allowed to bring any harm to them. I am sure you are already aware of it, more so than I am."     

"Are you saying that you are going to defy the rules, when your precious concubine is the one who broke them, lying that she slept with Dante? I should have her beheaded," the Mother Queen's eyes narrowed at the sight of the concubine, who now cowered behind Queen Maya.      

"Kailani will be punished appropriately," Queen Maya assured the Mother Queen. "But it will be on my terms after I hear exactly what happened. I hope you won't interfere with the concubines again?"      

"I will let her off the hook this time, but let us hope another one doesn't lie because next time, I will take control of the situation," the Mother Queen softly harrumphed before exiting the room. Queen Maya stared at the rest of the people in the room before ordering, "Back to the concubine's quarters, Kailani. I will speak to you there."      

Soon the others left the room, leaving Anastasia and Princess Emily alone.      

Princess Emily said in a low voice, "Let us hope no one comes to know that you can speak. Because if someone found out the truth, everyone would be ready to punish Anastasia. Especially if they find out that you are Tasia Flores."      

After seeing how forgiving the princess was, Anastasia had told the truth to Princess Emily during their ride back to the palace. It was better to come out and tell the whole truth rather than tell only a little and face the consequences later. She had also mentioned that she and Prince Dante had not slept together, while withholding the part about how she was planning to escape from the palace.      

As the day progressed, Anastasia shared a few words with Princess Emily when they were alone and had no company.      

[Music Recommendation: Second Son- (K)NoW_NAME]     

During the time of night, Anastasia walked through the quiet and deserted corridors of the palace. For some reason, Mr. Gilbert had given her the task of extinguishing the lights in one part of the palace. She carried a long pipe in her hand, which she used to snuff out the fire burning in the chandeliers.      

She took a turn at the end of one of the corridors when she caught sight of a shadow lurking in front of the Paradise Tower. She took a peek, wondering who it was this late at night.      

King Maxwell?     

No, it wasn't him. She walked closer towards the staircase when she noticed the shadow taking a step on the stairs. However, as the shadow turned, Anastasia realised it was the servant named Gabriel whom she had met that morning.      

"You gave me a fright!" Gabriel placed his hand on his chest.      

What was he doing here? It seemed like everyone wandered through the night, coming to stand in front of the Paradise Tower.      

Anastasia gave him a questioning look, and Gabriel said, "I heard so much about this tower, so I thought I would take a look. Women here are beautiful." But she could tell he was lying, and she continued staring at him. "You don't believe me…"      

She shook her head in response.      

Gabriel scratched the back of his head and said, "Considering that you haven't spoken a word, you must be mute. So it should be okay… I came here looking for my little sister, who was stolen. I have moved from one place to another, not knowing where to find her, in hopes of seeing her again."     

Did that mean that this man had planned to come here? Had he become a servant out of his own free will? Anastasia asked. She could understand the young man's intention, but his search for his sister was akin to finding a needle in a haystack.     

"I left home four years ago in search of… and heard where the pirates usually send the young girls. This palace holds most of them, and I look for her in the hope that nothing has happened to her," Gabriel said to her.      

Anastasia then heard Gabriel say, "Please behave as if you didn't see anything." When he began to walk up the stairs, she heard Madame Minerva's voice coming from the top. She climbed the stairs and caught hold of his arm to stop him, and she shook her head.      

"You can go back to your work. I will be quick. I am very good at talking when it comes to women," the young man assured her, without understanding why the maid held him back.      

If Madame Minerva saw a servant walking up the tower steps, he could forget about finding his sister, as this man would find God before anyone else!      

Knowing the pain of being torn from one's family, Anastasia dragged the young man down the stairs. When she turned to her left to walk near the end of the corridor, she heard the distinct sound of shoes resonating against the floor, and out of the shadows emerged Prince Dante.