The emperor’s face was red with anger and a cold chill of fury radiated from his body.
The cold gave me goosebumps, but I was relieved that he was near me.
“Are you hurt” Emperor Ridrian lowered a hand to me.
I was still reeling from all of the confusion, but I grabbed his hand and stood up, nodding that I was all right.
I could see in his eyes, the same red eyes that used to bring me fear, a sense of relief.
His presence brought a sense of security.
The emperor had not yet taken off his mask.
He didn’t want to frighten the innocent people of the masquerade with his intimidating look.
Considering the fury I could sense from him, staying masked was probably a good idea.
“Your Majesty!” Lord Russen fell to the floor; his face having drained of colour in fear.
He knew the man who had come to my rescue instantly from the great sword, Lotuburu, in his hands.
Everyone still saw the emperor as a merciless tyrant and a man who you shouldn’t anger.
He held his bleeding wrist and cowered.
He knew he was dead, yet he still couldn’t stop himself from babbling out the thoughts in his head.
“That girl is my slave! You’re a slave, and you’re at an imperial banquet!” Lord Russen had become manic, pointing his good hand at me.
“This is nonsense! This is ridiculous! There must be someone behind this atrocity! If you give me the order, I will catch the culprit.
Instead of an investigation, I will…”
Suddenly, Lord Russen went silent.
The motion had been so quick, I hadn’t even noticed the emperor’s movement until I saw the sword raised above his head.
Someone in the crowd screamed as Lord Russen lunged to grab my throat.
I closed my eyes, but the attack never came.
Opening them again, I could see the floor before me covered in blood.
Lord Russen collapsed in a heap, his head bleeding from where he had been struck with the hilt of the sword.
I tried to back away from the horrible scene in front of me but stumbled as I stepped down on the ankle I had forgotten was injured.
“Iona!” Ravis came through the crowd and helped me, saving me from falling down by giving me his arm.
His face looked as pale as the rest of the guests.
“Are you all right I’m sorry I left you alone.”
I shook my head to stop him from continuing.
The emperor had turned and focused his red eyes on Ravis.
I needed to calm down.
It wasn’t Ravis’ fault that I had been put in this situation.
“Your Majesty, it’s all right,” I said, trying to quell the tension.
Ridrian frowned and turned back to Lord Russen.
I sighed in relief, but my body was still trembling like an aspen.
The shock of seeing the blood was so great that I couldn’t calm down, even though I tried to take deep breaths, Ravis saw my pain and focused some of his divine power into my back.
My body, which was shaking in pain and fear, calmed down little by little.
Soon I could stand on my ankle again without any pain.
The emperor wiped the blood from his sword and held it aloft once more.
“There is no mercy for a villain such as this,” he announced to the gathered crowd.
“Now, hold on a moment, Your Majesty!” Count Russen, the unconscious man’s father, stepped out from amongst the masked faces.
He was an elderly noble with graying hair.
There was bewilderment and sadness in his face as he knelt down next to the body of his son.
Taking his mask off, he bowed his head to hide the tears.
“Please, Your Majesty, forgive my family! What did my son do wrong”
Count Russen looked up, pleading with the emperor, when he saw me standing just behind Ridrian.
His eyes opened in astonishment, and he choked on his next words.
“You are an educated man, Count Russen.
You should know of your son’s manic ways,” the emperor said.
Count Russen prostrated himself, once more, before the emperor.
“My foolish child dared to disturb His Majesty’s palace.
Please forgive him and me! This beloved slave appeared before his eyes, and he seemed to have gone wild without knowing it.”
“Slave” The emperor’s voice darkened.
“Who are you saying is a slave”
“The platinum-haired girl over there.” Count Russen pointed at me.
“That woman is under my protection,” the emperor snarled.
“Oh, it can’t be! I’m certain that girl was in our house not too long ago.”
The emperor lifted his hand, silencing Count Russen.
“You are referring to Iona Lesprey.
She is the last in a line of descent from a family that was involved in the high crimes against Marquis Shamalon ten years ago.
I have my reasons to keep her by my side for a while.”
“Lesprey Isn’t that the family that committed the crime of treason” I was also astonished by his words.
How did the emperor know about my family I had kept hidden my past, for I felt this knowledge would endanger me.
“Raven, give me the documents.” Raven shuffled through the portfolio he always kept with him and pulled out several sheets of paper which he handed to the emperor.
The emperor threw them before Count Russen with contempt.
“The Viscount Lesprey,” the emperor began to explain as the Count looked over the documents, “was charged with high treason for transporting weapons to distribute to the Marquis Shamalon.
But what he actually transported was food for the consumption of the people of Shamalon Territory.
I believe it was potatoes.”
The emperor tore off his mask to make sure the Count fully understood him.
Thankfully, his red eyes had subsided, and his hair had returned to black, but his face still looked terrifying.