Genovia tenderly held Elise’s hand. “The Duke, you see, he doesn’t quite grasp the intricacies of emotions. He operates on a rigid set of principles he’s acquired over the years. Of course, it’s not entirely his fault. My father once told me that when His Majesty rescued the young dragon from the arena, a creature who couldn’t even scribble his own name, the first thing he did was christen him. The family name carries more weight than the given name.”
Elise found herself whispering the surname without conscious thought. And then, it struck her. Kyrstan. Kyrstan’s origins lie in an ancient tongue, signifying ‘worshipper.’
Genovia couldn’t resist a mocking tone, “Doesn’t it make for a rather fitting family name?”
“The obsidian lightning that faithfully serves the royal bloodline, the eternal devotee of Van Yela’s lineage. All tamed by His Majesty in such a unique way.”
Elise fell into silence, absorbing the weight of those words. Had they been more than just allies in the past? She discreetly studied Genovia’s face, detecting traces of resentment and animosity beneath the icy facade as Genovia lowered her gaze.
“He allowed people to misunderstand him in such a manner. How could a dragon, even a young one, dare to assume such a position over others? Whether or not the others misinterpret his intentions…”
Misunderstanding. Those two syllables etched themselves deeply into Elise’s heart. Oh, indeed, she found herself ensnared by that very concept—misunderstanding.
Even as autumn descended upon them, Elise clung to the delusion that Rezette would stand by her side. It was a grave and potentially fatal misconception.
Elise couldn’t help but contemplate how Rezette treated the noblewomen in his homeland. As she envisioned it, a bitter taste filled her mouth.
Genovia’s eyes gleamed with significance, as if she possessed the knowledge of all secrets.
“But you see, what truly sets Rezette Kyrstan apart? He’s utterly indifferent. He couldn’t care less about how he’s perceived by others. Whether he inspires fear, reverence, or resentment in people’s eyes, it means nothing to him. Oh, he truly cares for nothing except his master. It’s almost as though he’s entirely apathetic toward anything that isn’t his master, to the extent that it sends shivers down my spine.”
Elise fell into silence.
“Consider this, Elise. In just fifteen years, Van Yela expanded its territory by a mere third. So why isn’t he celebrated as a war hero? Could it be because he doesn’t conform to the world’s expectations?”
Genovia’s voice grew more animated, and beneath her smile, devoid of mirth, a trace of madness lurked.
“But who truly has the power of choice? Who is it that always pleads and clings to him?”
Elise remained silent.
“He chooses. Rezette Kyrstan selects those whom he will serve. And he selects the rarest and most brilliant of all, like a crow drawn to shimmering treasures. Ah, yes, wasn’t his childhood nickname Galeus’s Crow? How fitting.”
Elise remained in the dark about who Galeus was. Genovia let out a weary sigh, addressing Elise, whose expression remained impassive.
“Do you still not comprehend?” Genovia pointed at Elise with her index finger. “Whether it’s the Emperor or you, you’re merely one of his countless trophies. When the shine fades, he’ll move forward without any lingering regrets.”
Genovia continued, “And as for me, I’m not even worthy of being considered one of those trophies. Or perhaps I should say I’m fortunate not to have been chosen? What good is it to receive such a dubious distinction?”
Possibly influenced by alcohol, her words became increasingly elaborate. She chuckled to herself, gently touching her forehead.
“When he showers his care and affection upon that precious collection of his, do you have any idea how swiftly that attitude will change when it loses its luster?” she asked.
“It’ll change in the blink of an eye. He’ll treat it like any other unremarkable thing. Lately, his feelings towards our dear Emperor have been far from pure. Maybe he’ll be discarded soon, just as I was, you think? Like me…”
It was only at that moment that Elise comprehended. Genovia Irrien may not have been his lover, but one thing was evident: she had been abandoned by him, to the extent that her bitterness and resentment had ignited to such an extent.
Genovia clenched her teeth as she continued, “He’s the one who reigns supreme above everyone’s heads, just like that.”
“Even if he willingly kneels down, gazing upon his master with unwavering loyalty, it’s he who’s truly placed the leash on everyone. And the one who’s most aware of this fact is none other than himself. I’m certain you once had that leash around your neck as well, didn’t you?”
A leash… The notion didn’t strike Elise as entirely wrong, and it left her with an unsettling feeling. Despite Rezette’s courtesy towards her, the reality was that he held the upper hand in their relationship. Images of herself, one after another, begging, clinging, and pleading with him flashed through her mind.
“I don’t have any particular desire to place my neck back into that noose. But the power that stems from his strength is undeniably alluring. It’s tempting enough to… to possess Rotiara, to be the master of Rotiara… Do you grasp the immense value held within the blessed lands of the North? I doubt the Southern Princess comprehends it.”