Douglas knelt down neatly, assuming a submissive posture, yet he didn’t appear the least bit subservient.
It was truly a fascinating sight.

“Elisabeth has been a benefactor to me and my family.”

“And so?”

“Your Majesty, Miss Elisabeth has expressed her unwillingness to marry.
Please accept the divine artefact and kindly reconsider her wishes and understand her intentions.”

Nicolai let out a brief chuckle, the corner of his lips curved up in a smirking manner.
It was the creepiest smile I had ever seen.

‘This is the same guy who was the playboy that smiled so cheerfully? He’s more like a murderer than a tyrant! Run away, Douglas!’   

As my hands grew cold and sweaty, Douglas’s expression remained unchanged.
That seemed to riled Nicolai further, distorting his judgment.

“The imperial decree was directed at her, not you.”  

“Your Majesty!”

“The power to defy rests solely with the Nettleton family members.
The lady with whom your engagement had ended possesses no such rights.”  


“You there, take the Consort to her chambers.”

I was grabbed by the palace guards, their strong grip caused and involuntary frown to form on my face.

“Let go!”

“Don’t resist.
You’ll only end up getting hurt.”

Nicolai was livid with anger.

“What are you guards doing?!”

He seemed angry at the knights who failed immediately remove the unpleasant sight.

“Elisabeth!” Douglas reached out his hand towards me.
I wanted to grab hold of that hand as well.

“Lord Douglas!”

However, neither the knights nor the Emperor allowed it.

“Do not behave rashly if you want to live with your body unharmed,” Nicolai warned grittingly, a piercing aura emanated from his body.
Douglas propped the box containing the divine artefact in both hands, undeterred.

“Please accept Nettleton’s honour and loyalty.”

“Do you intend to defy me until the bitter end?”

“If I were to marry Elisabeth, wouldn’t she then possess the power to defy?”


“I, Douglas Nettleton, hereby take Elisabeth Amster to be my wife, right here and right now!”

The room fell into a deafening silence as astonished nobles fixed their gaze upon the young lord of the fallen marquisate.
Douglas’s brown eyes, moist and soft like freshly baked bread, shone with unwavering determination.
He brought not the divine artefact, but rather his readiness to sacrifice his life, All for the sake of saving me from the clutches of the tyrant, Nicolai.

“I have brought the marriage contract.
Please grant your approval.”

It seemed he believed that determination alone was not enough as he took out a neatly folded piece of paper from his breast pocket.
I stared at the paper with saucer-eyed astonishment.
It was the marriage contract that the original Elisabeth wrote five years ago to harass Douglas.

“Get down on your knees and beg, Dougie.
You never know, I might accidentally have this notarised?”

I couldn’t believe he held onto that piece of paper despite the humiliation he had endured.
What kind of feelings did Douglas have as he waited for Elisabeth? What did Elisabeth mean to him? As someone who had never experienced love or romance, it was a difficult and frightening question to contemplate.


In the suffocating silence, Nicolai erupted into laughter.
However, his dark green eyes, colder than ever, flashed like a sharpened blade.
I instinctively sensed danger for Nicolai had completely discarded his Casanova mask.

“There are no laws that prohibit a man from marrying a with whom he ended an engagement.
However, I will never let go of the woman I desire.”

“Your Majesty!”

“Do you think a worthless piece of paper like this can stop me?” Nicolai tore the contract to shreds, scattering Douglas’s sincere love in all directions.
A fleeting despair flickered across his classically handsome face, but he refused to surrender.

“Please remember the promise made by the First Emperor!”

Nicolai picked up the box containing the divine artefact, his expression inscrutable.

“Very well, I shall accept the divine artefact.”

“I humbly present it.”

“While I cannot acknowledge the marriage with Marquess Nettleton, I shall rescind the order for Elisabeth’s conferment.”

“I will dedicate my life to repay this favour! I swear as the Marquess of Nettleton!”

“Please do not forget your oath.”

As the tension eased, Douglas’s shoulders slumped with relief, and the nobles too, who had been tense, showed subtle signs of relief on their faces.
However, an uneasy feeling lingered within me.
Sure enough, Nicolai’s lips curled into a sinister smile, showcasing why he was the main villain.
And then, his voice rang out.

“Instead, I shall crown Elisabeth as the Empress.”

“Wh-what are you saying?!”

“Don’t you understand the difference between an empress and a consort? If you want to defy this decree, prepare to offer another divine artefact.”

Nicolai snapped his finger, as if egging him to produce it swiftly.

‘He wants to make me the Empress? He must’ve a screw loose somewhere!’

A shock comparable to the dawn of creation swept through the audience room, leaving the nobles quivered as if they had been struck by lightning.
Nicolai, however, seemed unsatisfied.
His eyes gleamed with an ominously sharp intensity.

“If you’re so desperate to be with Elisabeth, then I shall grant you the opportunity to serve in the imperial court.
Won’t there be occasional opportunities for you have an audience with the Empress then?” Despite his sarcasm, the nobles in the audience room seemed frozen by the tyrant’s attack that was as icy as the midwinter’s frost. 

“Your Majesty, I beg you to please reconsider…”

“Are you not satisfied? Then I shall bestow on your sister the honour of serving the Emperor as well.”

“Your–Your Majesty!!”

Douglas, pale as a corpse, slumped down in despair.
As he left the room, Nicolai added arrogantly, “Behold, the birth of the Empress awaited by the entire empire.
Prepare for a splendid ceremony that will go down in history!”

I found myself transported to a section of the palace that stood in stark contrast to the overwhelming opulence of its surroundings.
This particular area was adorned with a bright palette of white and mint colours.
The landscape paintings that hung on the wall, the embroidered velvet cushions, the silver candelabras, and the porcelain decorations—all of them were harmonious and elegant in their own way.

There were no inconveniences either as there were a separate bedroom, dressing room, bathroom, and a drawing room.
There was even a small garden attached to the terrace.
However, it was surrounded on all sides by a dense hedge of thorny holly bushes, resembling a prison.

“The knights will guard you day and night.
Don’t worry and rest comfortably.”

The knights’ attitude became noticeably polite, but they were still nothing more than prison guards.
Outside the door, the distinct sound of a lock clicking could be heard.

“This frigging tyrant.
What does he want from me?!”  

My head throbbed.
So much had happened in such a short period of time.
It was clear this wasn’t solely about me, Douglas’s and Susan’s future hinged on me as well.
 Each time the image of how despaired Douglas looked as he was led away resurfaced in my mind, a wave of guilt washed over me.
Not to mention, the unfathomable expression on Nicolai’s face as he coldly looked down on him.
Was there ever a time when I felt such intense animosity? He was as bad as the Nicolai in the novel, if not worse.
I regretted thinking he might be a decent man, even for a moment.
The fact that I had kissed him and even received a kiss on the back of my hand filled me with unbearable embarrassment.

“First, let’s sort out the situation.”

I sat at the desk and picked up a pen.
There was lot to do.
I couldn’t just let Nicolai play me in the palm of his hand like this.
Suppressing my anger and frustration, I began to write.

He’s completely insane.
(Sadly, he’s a smart guy.) He’s trying to use me.
(Is he trying to flush out the rebelling nobles?)

He’s merciless.
(What can be done to save Douglas and Susan?)

The more I wrote, the bleaker it seemed.
Just in case, I had a little trick up my sleeve, but I had no idea how useful it would be.
The second perk wasn’t much of a help either.
If anything, Nicolai would devour it to the core if he were to learnt about the Iris of Mourasynthia.
I didn’t know where to find the second artefact, or when my soul would disappear.
I was deep in my thoughts when I heard a rustling sound coming from the garden.
The leaves of the thorny holly bushes, serving as a fence, rustled softly.
Was it a cat? Or perhaps a mouse? I approached the window and craned my neck out to get a better look.

“Hey, who’s there?”

Was it just the wind? There was no answer.
I returned to my desk, but the feeling of someone else’s presence lingered, and I could feel a gaze bored through the back of my head.
There was no doubt someone was watching me.

“Ah, I must’ve been mistaken,” I raised my voice deliberately.
While pretending to be distracted, I swiftly leapt out onto the terrace the moment the other person let their guard down.
I couldn’t let the stalker who was peeping into a woman’s room and get away!


The stalker screamed, and I nearly screamed as well as the person who appeared was completely different from what I had imagined.

“Your Majesty, you must withdraw the order immediately.”

Nicolai remained unperturbed despite Cares’s grave expression.

“Why? Didn’t you also say that I couldn’t leave the position of the Empress vacant?”

“Didn’t you also say that you’ll use Miss Elisabeth as a tinder?”

“Quite the excellent tinder, is she not? Everyone seemed to have amusing expressions, especially the heads of the four greats.” Nicolai said with an amused tone.
Of course, he was well aware that the situation wasn’t ideal.
It had been highly impulsive of him to kidnap and brought her into the palace, and it had been equally impulsive to use the position of the empress as a provocation.
Unfamiliar anxiety often gave rise to impulsivity, and he couldn’t control that urge.
In the back of his mind, he wondered, was it because it stemmed from an ardent desire to possess Elisabeth as soon as possible?

“Rather than smoking out the rats, we risk blowing up the munitions storage instead, and in the process, Miss Elisabeth will also suffer.”

“Since when did you start caring about her?”

“The longer I look at her, the more magnificent she becomes.”


“I misunderstood her due to the malicious rumours surrounding her, but upon seeing her up close, I realised I’ve never encountered anyone as beautiful and elegant as Miss Elisabeth, and—”

“I think you’ve eaten something wrong.
Are you alright?” Nicolai cut off Cares’ words.
Cares bowed slightly, as if expressing gratitude for Nicolai’s concern.

“I’m in perfect shape.
With your permission, may I say a few thoughts about Miss Elisabeth?”

“Stop it.”

“Your Majesty, it’s crucial for you to understand her true worth, just as I have.” A faint blush rose on Cares’s cheeks.

‘Why is Cares, who knows nothing but work, acting like this? He has never voiced any personal feelings, let alone discussed women.’

While glaring at Cares who was spouting nonsense, Nicolai rang a golden bell.

“You call for me, Your Majesty?” The chamberlain approached briskly.

“Summon the Imperial doctor.
My Interior Minister is seriously ill.”  


“It seems like he might’ve injured his head.

“I will bring him immediately!” The chamberlain quickly retreated, while Cares maintained a serious expression.

“Didn’t you say that you would use Miss Elisabeth to divide the ‘Four Great Noble Families’?

What about it?”

“If you insist on going ahead with her coronation, instead of dividing them, it will only unite them in resistance.”

“So, you’re saying the risks outweigh the benefits?”

“It may lead to even more dangerous actions.”

“Such as?”

“What if they make an attempt on the future empress’s life?”

Nicolai’s dark green eyes rippled.
Even a cornered rat will fight back, especially one that believes itself to be the tiger.
It might not hesitate to bare its claws and pounce.

‘Elisabeth being targeted for assassination because of me? Someone dares to take a life belongs to me, in my palace?’

Nicolai clenched his fists tightly as a blood curdling rage surged within him.

“But I already proclaimed that I will not take Elisabeth as my consort.”

“You have accepted the divine artefact, so you must honour your words.”

“I can’t send her away from the palace.
She already belongs to me.”

“What if there’s a way to keep Miss Elisabeth in the palace without making her a consort?”

“Even if she’s the empress, it doesn’t matter, right?”

“Of course.” Cares’s eyes twinkled.
Although he appeared enthralled, Nicolai was intensely curious about what his loyal vassal would say.

       To be continued…

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