He was a man with a strong physique, dressed in a white shirt. He was sitting on an extra bed in the corner of the barracks, his presence filling the room with a sense of pressure. His slightly tangled dark hair was swept casually over his forehead, revealing dark eyebrows and piercing horizontal eyes.
He was loosening the collar of his shirt, a predator who had stumbled upon an unexpected prey. His eyes seemed to quietly overpower Elise, who was frozen in place as if she were pinned to the spot.
I know that man, she thought to herself as a small whisper escaped her lips. “Kyr…stan.”
Archduke Kyrstan. The half-brother of Emperor Van Yela and the owner of Rotiara, one of the few blessed lands in the north. Elise couldn’t believe she was in the presence of the man she had only ever seen once.
Elise had only caught a glimpse of him from a distance, but the Archduke Kyrstan was a presence that was hard to forget. His dark hair and piercing blue eyes were already the stuff of legend across the continent.
Rumor had it that Kyrstan was the illegitimate child of the missing lover of Emperor Van Yela, a vagabond. Technically, he had no royal blood at all, but the fifth prince of the imperial family had welcomed him as a brother.
Six years later, when the fifth prince revolted and took control of the imperial family, Kyrstan was at the center of the chaos. The new emperor immediately made him the Archduke and granted him the fertile Rotiara Territory.
Under the emperor’s aggressive expansionist policies, Kyrstan gained a reputation as a war ogre across the continent. His military prowess and ruthless tactics were feared by all.
A suffocating silence hung in the air as Elise struggled to find her voice. She couldn’t help but wonder if the Archduke would remember her. Despite being the princess of Argan, her face and name were not well-known on the continent. Andrei, her twin brother and the Emperor of Argan, had kept her hidden and prevented her from attending imperial ceremonies.
All the public knew of her was that she was the sickly twin sister of the Emperor. Rumors circulated that she couldn’t tolerate being in the sun for long and that she was unmarried because of her poor health. Some even whispered that she was a half-beast, not well-behaved enough for marriage. There were even rumors of inappropriate relationships between her and her brother.
Desperate to clear her brother’s name and put an end to the rumors, Elise had begged Andrei to allow her to attend his birthday banquet. She hoped that by appearing in public, the scandal would finally die down. That was the only time Elizabeth had ever been seen by the world, and it would be the last.
The banquet that day had been attended by envoys from all over the continent to celebrate the birthday of Emperor Argan. It was then that Elise had first laid eyes on the Archduke Kyrstan, the War Ogre of Van Yela.
If only he had seen her that day. If he remembered her. If he discovered her true identity now, it would be much harder for Elise to escape safely from this place. To Kyrstan, she was a princess of an enemy country, a captive to be captured and killed without mercy. And now she had killed one of Van Yela’s knights and fled, making her situation even more dire.
Tears welled up in Elise’s eyes as she realized the gravity of her situation. Why did she have to meet Kyrstan now, of all times? He was most likely the commander-in-chief of the entire camp, and her life or death rested on his decisions.
The Archduke looked at Elise without saying a word, his expression unreadable. She couldn’t tell if he knew her true identity or not, but either way, her fate was in his hands.
An urgent voice came from behind the door again. “Sir Kyrstan! Are you inside?”
This time, Kyrstan responded to the call. His low, resonant voice was tinged with a hint of frustration. “What’s going on?”
“Sir Roderick has been assassinated! It looks like an intruder is hiding. Come on, give me instructions!”
Kyrstan’s pale blue eyes scanned Elise, taking in the sight of her blood-soaked hands and the torn top that barely covered her body. His gaze lingered on the hem of her skirt, also soaked in blood.
Elise’s heart was pounding in her chest. One word from Kyrstan and her life would be over. Desperate, she scratched at the magic circle tattooed on the back of her ankle.