Chapter Twenty Four: Sting of a Rose
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「 Back to the present 」

“Master, may I?” Jade's voice was heard on the other side of the door. 

“You may enter,” I turn my body and see him entering the room. He closes the entrance right before I continued, "What did you find?"

“It is as you suspected master, Gilbert is acting strangely. It seems it will be tonight,” he kneels on the floor while delivering me the information. I signal him to rise right before getting up from the chair I was sitting on. 

“Duke Criswell must already know I survived and now is pushing him into finishing his business,” a pained chuckle escapes my lips. 

Alvin wanted me dead, that was an undeniable truth but I guess I keep being surprised by his eagerness in murdering his own flesh and blood. If there really is a world ruled by demons then I'm sure that's where he will be going. 

“Jade... You’re my wildcard, my joker, my...” I approach him and place my right hand on his soft cheek, forcing him to look down at me, “...so be sure to only think of me until I die” his eyes widen in surprise once he sees a grin on my lips. 

“Master, I will protect you, I promise you that, this life, you won’t die. You have my word,” he quickly grabs my hands tightly. His pitiful eyes showered me with concern and his words were filled with conviction and determination. 

'This guy...' talking about this matter was tiresome. I felt like I was having a conversation with my old self, someone who was still filled with hopes and expectations that would never come true. 

“I won’t die because you are there? Jade...” I shove his hand away and head towards the bed.

I kneel and remove a small locked chest from beneath it. Then I head towards the desk right before opening the first drawer and removing a very cheap-looking necklace. I reach the white sheets quietly and open the container filled with several loose paper sheets and an old book. 

"These are my lives," I state softly as my hands grab all the paper sheets, leaving the book inside. Jade's eyes were looking at me, filled with anticipation, without knowing what I'd say next, "Everything I remember is in this chest."

“Master that’s...” his eyes widen as he analyses the thickness of the book and the number of loose sheets lingering around. Maybe he was also surprised I had taken the time to memorize every event or maybe because I had taken the time to write them down. 

“But... Do you think I’m stupid enough to believe that I won’t burn to ashes?” my voice tone changes as I coldly glare at him. The paper sheets in my hands begin to crumble as I gripped them tightly, “Kids that try to play with destiny end up sinking into despair Jade, so if you are confident enough to counter God’s wishes then be my guest.”

“God’s can’t...” Jade bites his own words as he sees my psychotic grin flourish. 

“Gods can’t? Then are you saying that me dying nine times was pure bad luck? Or maybe... Do you think I deserved it Jade?” his eyes were focused on mine as I approached him.

He swiftly backed away until he hit his back against the door, blinded by fear of this side I was portraying. Words were failing him as he remained silent.

“Then by all means Jade... Show me the true power that controls fate!” I yell obnoxiously loud as I throw the sheets onto the air, making them fall as swiftly as leaves all over the room. His eyes widen in surprise at my actions and he finally gathers the courage to speak. 

“I can’t master... That’s something...” he averts his eyes. He understands that there is no way he would be able to prove there was a higher power and that they weren't heavily affecting my life. 

“Jade... If you ever try to fill my mind with those despising things I will kill you myself,” he clenches his fists tightly in frustration, “Clean this mess and get out of my sight.”

 

After dying over and over again right before rewinding back the time, I realized there was no logical explanation for these events. No matter where I went, no matter who I searched, there was no one like me. I was alone in a place that people would soon forget, in a time that people would soon return to. 

In order to maintain my sanity and all my leftover self-worth, I blamed the superior entities for this undeserving fate. Gods, Demons, Angels, it didn't matter who was at fault unless it was me. That was the only justification I could find in this surreal world and that's why I don't try to live anymore. Fighting is useless since death always finds me in the end, as if I am placing bread crumbs on the floor, creating a trail, wherever I go. 

 

✽ ✼ ✽ ✼ ✽ ✼ ✽

 

「 A couple of days before 」

“I’m afraid you can’t enter my lord,” Bradley states coldly. 

Four days have passed ever since Ophelia drank the poison and lost consciousness. Finally, her convulsions and fever had stopped so everyone was hoping she would wake up soon. 

Somehow, word got out that her health is improving and thus, her extremely caring fiancé appeared to take her back to her rightful place. 

“Bradley! She is my wife! I have the right to take her!” Terrel asserts while pointing a finger right at his rival's face.

‘You filthy life form... You should know who you are talking to in the first place...’ as Terrel moved his finger Bradley felt the temptation of breaking it increasing but, even then, he needed to keep his composure. Even if this was an Earl's estate, he knew he should conceal his true side to avoid giving birth to new rumors. 

“Your wife? When was your wedding held and why did our family not receive an invitation?” Bradley smiles coldly. Terrel grits his teeth in frustration. 

“She will be my wife soon so those are just formalities! Nevertheless, as her fiancé, I must care for her and help her but I can only do that in my estate,” Terrel pushes his coffee-colored hair back after thinking of a new argument. 

“Lord Terrel, are you implying that his grace has already passed away? Some might consider your careless words an act of treason,” Bradley glares at him proudly while both Jade and Ivy blocked the door behind him.

“Of course not! I wouldn't dare but everyone knows I will be the successor and we all know that death comes for us all,” Terrel’s statements were filled with his emotions and thus, they were neither clear nor precise. At the end of the day, he was still a man unable to control his feelings and his mind that was filled with both avarice and craving. 

“Indeed... In some cases, death comes earlier than others... Isn’t it such a shame?” Bradley’s cold and psychotic glare made a shiver ran down Terrel’s spine. He understood this was a threat to him, almost as if he was clearly showing their difference in power. 

“Is that, perhaps, a warning Lord Bradley?” he laughs to try to fight his fear of the monster standing in front of him.

“I couldn’t think of something so treacherous Lord Terrel... You’d do well to remember your place,” Bradley's charming but cold smile made Terrel’s body shake in anger as he clenched his fists, making its knuckles turn white. He knew he couldn’t get in, not with Bradley and that platinum-haired fellow guarding Ophelia.

He then shifted his attention to Ivy, the maid who had escaped his grasp. His lips portrait an evil grin as he speaks loudly.

“Ivy, you look like a woman who enjoys plants, don’t you?” she looks away instinctively. Ivy was scared of that man since she knew what he had done from all the maids.

“I-I guess milord...” her body trembled slightly as she tried to keep her composure straight. 

“Come here Ivy, I want to ask you something... Personal,” Terrel smiles warmly and the maid ends up complying. She knew she had no other choice since, at the end of the day, her owner was this man's father and, as Ophelia was in a coma, she had to obey him.

“Y-Yes milord?” she held her body in her arms tightly as she felt a cold breeze pass by.

“I knew you liked flowers...” he places his hand on her shoulder and leans onto her, right before whispering, “... So if you don’t want to have my seeds within you, you better let me in.”

Ivy's eyes widen in shock after hearing this monster's words. Her body trembled heavily as she realized the imminent danger.

'Am I...? But I can't... I...' she didn't want to betray Ophelia but she didn't want to lose her worth as well. As her mind was compelled by conflicting thoughts, a voice echoes, shattering away her worries. 

“Lord Terrel, I’m afraid that if you continue speaking you won’t have any further seeds to give,” Bradley had his arm stretched to his left, holding Jade back from beating the man in front of him.

“I am sure you know what this action means Lord Bradley,” Terrel grins but Bradley continues to ignore his threats with his smile, charmingly as usual. He knew this man was nothing but a dog, unable to do anything useful, and thus, he was only a small obstacle that needed to be taken care of, sooner or later. 

Terrel lets out an extremely frustrated chuckle right before taking his leave. As the ominous presence disappears, Ivy falls onto the ground, hitting it hard with her knees. All this time she had been holding on, and now that the cause of her stress was gone, her body gave in, losing all its strength.

“If you are done crying, go wash her body, she must be filled with sweat," Bradley glares at her and, without giving her a chance to recover her composure, she speedily gets up, "Do what you were born to do, maid.” 

"Yes milord," his cold eyes made Ivy wonder which of those two men was the monster and which one was the beast. 

 

✽ ✼ ✽ ✼ ✽ ✼ ✽

 

「 Some hours after Ophelia's awakening 」

“Where is she!?” Jade’s loud voice wakes up Bradley from his sleep. Ever since Ophelia had passed out he barely managed to eat or getting a good rest. His heart was heavy and filled with feelings he had never experienced before, making him conflicted and frustrated at everything. 

“What...?” his eyes widen as he notices the absence of Ophelia in the bed.

"I don't know Jade! She was here when I left...! I...!" Ivy was trying to explain herself but the slave wasn't giving her a chance to. 

"If something happened to her Ivy...!" suddenly a loud sound is heard as Jade punches the wall harshly, venting out his anger. 

‘Don’t tell me... Terrel...!?’ Bradley had a bad feeling within his gut as he watched this scene unfold.

After learning that Ophelia's appearance had returned to normal, Terrel decided to take her back and, no matter how many times Bradley showed his authority, that filthy man wouldn't give up. He was extremely persistent and thus it would only be natural that he would try other means to obtain what his heart desired. 

Jade dashes outside, leaving Ivy standing beside the door with a painful look on her face. Bradley quickly gets up and walks hurriedly down the stairs.

‘But he couldn’t... We were sleeping beside her... Unless... Did she go on her own free will!?’ Bradley’s mind was filled with questions that could not be answered, 'That's impossible...!'

As he wandered the estate he couldn’t help but feel the same sense of despair he felt once Ophelia drank the poison. He should’ve been able to avoid it and, if that had killed her, he would make sure that hideous father of hers and that crimson-haired bitch would suffer his pain, tenfold. 

 

“Ophelia!” as Bradley saw her in the distance the pain in his heart was lifted, however, he soon realized he wasn’t the only one who discovered her. Simultaneously, Jade, her servant, had yelled her name and was now heading towards her. 

‘That rat...’ he grits his teeth right before beginning to run, something he had never done publicly.

Bradley resented Jade deeply. He knew he was nothing but a mere slave, however, during the time Ophelia was unconscious, he stuck to her like glue. No matter who was there, he spent the majority of his time in the room which, in Bradley’s mind only meant that Jade didn’t saw Ophelia as a mere master. There was something else and he couldn’t allow such a thing.

They both end up arriving at the same time but as they see Ophelia up close they realized she was only wearing her nightgown. They quickly hid their shame by looking away from her, glancing only from time to time once the necessary courage had been created.

‘Why am I like this...? It’s not like I’ve never seen a woman’s nightgown...’ Bradley felt a slight confusion insert within him. He didn’t understand why he was being so considerate to this woman who he disliked.

 

“Why are you searching for me so frenetically?” Ophelia was talking low, her voice was rough but Bradley thought that was due to the cold morning weather.

“You’ve been asleep for a week milady...” the maid comments and the leftover color in Ophelia’s complexion disappears.

“What did you say!? One week!?” her voice was now loud as panic inhabited her body.

‘Why is she like this?’ Bradley couldn’t understand what made Ophelia act in such a unique way. She was always very proper but, right now, he was seeing a new side of her. Usually, Bradley would find this displeasing since he hated when a proper lady didn’t act according to her obligation, however, as he saw Ophelia, he didn’t mind it, in fact, he thought it was amusing seeing her so concerned.

“Jade, go back to the Duke’s mansion immediately,” everyone looks around confused since they couldn't understand the reasoning behind Ophelia’s words.

‘Why is she ignoring me? I am a lot more important than a mere slave,’ a sense of annoyance was growing within Bradley. He despised Jade and, as he noticed the attention Ophelia was giving him, his frustration grew.

“Are you sure master?” Bradley could understand the confusion in Jade’s words since, even for him, nothing she had said made sense.

‘Is something going on in the Wharton’s estate...?’ it was very unusual for someone who had been asleep for a week, especially a noblewoman, to worry about such trivial matters, however, Ophelia's mind was set in stone.

Over the years, Bradley had learned how to deal with nobles and aristocrats, especially women, and, he couldn't understand what could make Ophelia become so worried. He then concluded that something wasn't right within the Wharton's and, seeing her pained expression, he understood it was something of importance. 

‘Should I send someone in? But right now would seem too suspicious... I guess I’ll have to watch from the sidelines...' his frustration was growing as he understood his own powerlessness, ‘I’ll try to bribe someone...’ he needed to understand what was happening in that mansion, no matter what.

“As you command,” Jade ends up obeying Ophelia’s order and leaves.

“Ivy...” Bradley heard Ophelia whisper something into Ivy’s ear right before placing some distance from her again, “Go pack everything.”

In a glimpse of a second, Ivy leaves, making her presence among them look like nothing but a simple ancient time frame.

 

“Ophelia, are you alright?” Bradley’s eyes were averting Ophelia's figure. For some unknown reason he couldn't help but feel flustered as he saw her in such revealing clothes. 

“Lord Bradley, it would be wise to understand your standing,” as he finishes hearing these words, his thoughtfulness disappears as he realized that the woman before him was nothing more than his prey, “I don't think we are familiar enough to treat each other without honorifics, wouldn't you agree?”

‘Ophelia...’ Bradley knew women, he knew what they liked, what they wished. He knew the sweet words that were able to melt any young maiden’s heart, ‘I didn’t want to use this but you give me no other choice...’ adding to his previous frustration, now was a desire he couldn’t control. He craved to see Ophelia bend down to his will and his patience was starting to grow thin.

“I love you, Ophelia,” he did the most pitiful yet charming expression he could, making it look like his love was nothing more than a painful sin.

“Bradley, I...” his heart raced as he felt Ophelia’s warm touch on his cheek and saw her pink pale lips approach his. He couldn’t help himself, we wanted to devour her but he knew that if he pushed her too deep, this rose would be lost so, he gently placed his arm on her waist, pulling her closer to him.

‘You can’t escape me, Ophelia... I win,’ he grins as a slight sense of disappointment roamed in the back of his heart. He thought she would give more of a fight, he thought she was different but, as he was about to take her lips, he understood she was nothing but a mere woman, without any proper worth.

“...Won’t fall for that,” Bradley’s eyes widen in surprise and, as Ophelia created some distance between them, he couldn’t bring himself to stop it, “But it was a good attempt”, she smiles coldly, making Bradley feel almost as if he was being mocked.

‘Ah... Ophelia... Indeed... You are such an interesting woman...’ he felt silly while he thought about the stupid disappointment he sensed a couple of seconds ago. How could he have felt such a thing? Ophelia was indeed the most interesting woman he’d ever encountered and he couldn’t wait to break her resolve.

As these thoughts embraced Bradley’s mind, his lust for the cursed girl increased, making him desire her more than air itself.

Ophelia turns and starts to head back, however, she is quickly grabbed by her wrist and pulled towards Bradley’s chest forcefully. His hand was holding her chin, making him look down at her and Ophelia look up to him like it should always be.

“You are playing a game you can’t win...” Bradley grins as he focuses his glare on her soft lips, approaching them slowly, “I always get what I want.”

“Lady Ophelia? Lord Bradley?” he lets her go as he hears another woman’s voice. No matter what he knew he couldn’t pursue Ophelia openly as he was still engaged to Amanda. He looks up and sees Patricia Hillgarden, looking down from her window.

“Lady Patricia, good morning,” he politely replies, and as he sees Patricia’s broad smile he wished she could fall off the window ledge and smash her disgusting face on the ground.

‘This bitch...’ words couldn’t begin to describe Bradley’s feelings.

“I’ll be right there!” Patricia swiftly heads inside her room to get properly dressed.

During his stay at the Hillgardens, she had been a complete and utter annoyance. Every time Bradley left Ophelia's room she was there, waiting for his presence, waiting for an opportunity. It was clear she wanted to gain his affection but that was something no one could obtain. 

He shifts his attention and looks to his side just to be greeted by the beautiful scenery of nature, as Ophelia's figure is already far away, walking elegantly like a beautiful dark butterfly in the broad daylight. 

'Fly as much as you want, you will be mine soon...' A sense of adrenaline fills his body as he recalls the actions that had happened a few moments ago. 

He then remembers Ophelia's pained expression. He wanted to investigate whatever was happening at the Wharton's mansion and for that, new eyes and ears needed to be hired. 

‘I should talk to father...’ Bradley knew he needed to end Amanda’s engagement and find a way to get rid of Terrel Wharton. He couldn’t bear to have that bastard touch her. Just that simple thought made him feel sick to his stomach, ‘If he tries to... even once I’ll...’ he knew he needed to be fast. Time wasn’t generous and wasn’t on his side, however, now that Duke Criswell's image was tainted, he knew it was the perfect moment to strike.

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