But apparently the gods today decided to test his patience. The Black Judge only managed to take a couple of steps from the gates of the Red Lord's estate, when a breathless messenger from the Palace flew up to him with a call from the Emperor himself.
Devon's eyes immediately darkened. He was kind of expecting this turn of events. The surprising thing was that it came this late, and not when Lady Marsters had just appeared in the capital. The fact that the emperor waited so long could only mean one thing. This cunning old man needed time to think out some insidious plan. And knowing his uncle, Devon did not doubt that he would not like it at all.
But there was no choice. Lord Trevelyan sighed and with mixed feelings turned his steps to the Middle City.
Those people who first visited the Imperial Palace may have felt like they were in heaven. Everything around was so beautiful that the brain literally refused to believe in the reality of all this magnificence. But Devon was "lucky" to be born here, so all this brilliance and pomposity evoked in him only the most negative emotions.
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And the Black Judge himself stood out like a sore thumb against the background of all those white walls with gold trim.
In the Black Castle people simply tried to stay away from him. But here he, like the Black Plague, made everyone around run away in panic as soon as his figure even appears on the horizon.
Therefore, most of his journey through the Palace passed in absolute solitude. One would have thought that the castle suddenly died out. Corridors were completely desolated. Only myriads of portraits of old leaders were staring down at the lonely black man swiftly marching ahead. However, the subtle ears of the Black Lord constantly caught screams and hasty stomps somewhere in front.
Devon smirked a bit, imagining how this flamboyant crowd of useless noblesse, which was always idly wandering around these corridors, now is scurrying away with distorted in horror faces and trying to find cover like a bunch of rats.
This thought lifted his mood a bit and made his stapes lighter, as an exited predator playing with his prays. But the fun didn't last for long. As soon as Devon entered the courtyard his gait faltered. Apparently, the cowardly nobles did not have time or did not dare to warn of his advance a colorful group, which inhabited a picturesque lounge space near the fountain in the inner garden. And it was precisely these people that Devon wanted to see the least today.
"Damn peacocks with chicken guts." - the Black Lord grumbled to himself, trying to pass around the garden imperceptibly along a small aisle encircling it. The big bushes should have covered him at least partially, so he hastened his pace and pried that those people won't be able to notice him.
"Honey, you should pay attention to your health more." - a female voice flew up to him and made Devon stop and lean against the column, which with difficulty but still hid his impressive figure from the group in the garden.
Devon saw and experienced a lot in his life, it would seem that his heart should already be so stiffened that nothing could make him feel pain. But no matter how many years have passed, and no matter how many times Devon convinced himself that this is just nonsense, his mother's voice still was making something itch inside him, like an old splinter that went too deep under the skin and every time becomes inflamed when you least expect it.
Devon breathed out through his teeth as quietly as possible, carefully looking away from what was happening in the garden. It was enough for him just to catch a glimpse of a monstrous cloud that was floating from their directions, swallowing the bushes and spreading around like a suffocating gas. Envy, pride, narcissism and perverted enjoyment of all this circus that occurred in the lounge. Devon started to feel faint.
"Aunty, you're so right. You should scold him even more. He's not listening to me at all. He's always so busy! If I hadn't forced him to eat every day, he would look like a skeleton right now, I tell you!" Another high female voice came piercing Black Lord's brain like a needle. He grimaced, his face becoming even darker.
Many believed that Countess Brand's voice was exceptionally pleasant and melodic. The girl literally beamed with positivity and energy.
"Disgusting and really scary!" - was the only thought on Devon's mind each time he had an unlucky encounter with this lady. Black Judge frowned as soon as the image of this bright girl stood before his eyes. Like a fairy just fresh out of a fairy tale, airy and infinitely charming.
He could still understand if only she just pretended to be a naive, unbelievably kind and sincere girl. But no. No matter how much he watched her at the balls or random meetings in the palace, the fiancée of the third prince was never surrounded by any negative emotions. Even sadness, blues, or frustration appeared in her aura just for a moment and then disappeared. And it really terrified him! No sane human could have such a castrated range of emotions, fluctuating only on a positive scale. She was either too stupid to live or a psycho. And even though Devon mostly leaned toward the first one, he never discarded the possibility of both at the same time.
At this very moment, the image of one particular girl appeared in front of his eyes chasing away all those unpleasant thoughts away. Her cold face, and sharp, deep blue eyes. And the very moment it came to life, with anger or fluster.
For some reason, Devon recalled Blaiz's words that once Lady Marsters was a cunning seducer, a real insidious aristocratic predator. The corners of his lips crawled up by itself, as soon as he thought about it. Now he really wanted to see her like that, a dangerous beauty with eyes full of devilish fire.
"Darling, you take such good care of me that I'll definitely never face starvation. It's just that there has been too much work lately. My father is not feeling well and I am trying very hard to help him." - The male voice interrupted Devon's daydreaming at the most exciting point, making him grimace even more. It was not difficult to guess to whom this voice belonged. His cousin, the third prince of the Riol Empire, Raul really was adding up nicely to this unpleasant group, which Black Lord preferred to avoid even on the sunniest day. And he had not reached the Emperor's reception room yet...
Gods were certainly trying his patience today!
Devon gathered his mental strength and trying not to even look that way, continued on his way. His steps were almost inaudible, and the shadow from the walls was supposed to hide his dark figure. But today was definitely not his day.
The lively conversation of three people in the garden suddenly broke off. A young girl with long fluffy hair suddenly turned around and smiled broadly towards the hastily walking figure along the aisle.
"Aunt, isn't that Devon? Oh, Devon! Wait! Come join us!" - She cried out, bouncing in a chair like a small child full of delight and frantically waving her hand.
The Black Head almost stumbled from such impudence. At first, he wanted to act like he did not notice these inviting cries. But now that he stopped - pretending was pointless, these three clearly understood that he heard them.
The only thing Devon could do at this point is to turn his face into an impenetrable mask and head into the depths of the garden with heavy steps. The sole consolation to him was the instantly blackened face of the young prince.
However, the fog swirling around Lady Trevelyan made Devon stop short of a few steps before their table.
The father of the Black Lord, the Duke of Trevelyan, as befits the Emperor's younger brother, was one of the 12 Governors of the province. He did not appear often in the capital. As such even during his scarce visits such a crazy idea as to visit his son never even appeared in his mind. Devon, who became a true black spot on the reputation of their family, was completely erased from his father's life and memories since a curse was discovered.
Mother, on the other hand, almost always lived in Arilla, enjoying too much her social life and all the pleasant things that a carefree existence of aristocrats could bring. But despite this, Devon met her only by chance. And such meetings did not bring pleasure to either side.
When Devon was still a child, he sincerely believed that his parents did not come close to him because of this damn curse. He was sure that they as well as he was suffering from the inability to communicate with him as other parents should. However, each coming year it started to get harder and harder to deceive himself. Especially when he learned to understand what this fog means, swirling around people that only he could see.
Hatred, disgust, and shame. Now Devon could hardly recognize the features of his mother's face, the cloud around her became so thick.
But the face of the Black Judge did not express a single emotion when he elegantly bowed to those present and did a short proper greeting, as court etiquette demanded. Sometimes all these aristocratic manners could really help out in those kinds of moments.
"I apologize for interrupting your tea party." - He said extremely coldly. And that's it. He didn't utter anything more and just kept staring at them.
All three froze for a moment, not knowing what to do next. Well, to be precise two of this group, prince and Devon's mother didn't want to talk to him from the start. On the other hand, Lady Brand was thrown off by Devon's strict behavior and now was struggling to find any words. And Devon himself obviously didn't plan to give her this chance. The man only silently gave all those present a cold look and was about to turn around to continue on his way.
"Wait, Devon!" - Ringing voice of Countess Brand broke the silence. - "Are you not even going to ask after your mother's health? She constantly talks about you and is so upset that you very rarely visit her!"
The girl ended the last sentence on such a high note; one would have thought that she would now break into singing. Devon could barely hold the disgust off his face, catching the sparkling gaze of a young girl out of the corner of his eye. She shone so brightly, shifting her eyes from the duchess's gray face to the cold face of the Head of the Black Castle as if a child that had just found a new fun game.
"I was neglect. I will try to visit mo ... duchess more often." - Devon drawled in such a cold and colorless voice that it sounded more like a threat. The old woman's face immediately turned pale, she opened her mouth, as if to object to something, but the words stuck in her throat.
Devon did not wait for a reaction to his words and added: "Please forgive me, the Emperor is waiting for me." - and headed away.
"Aunty, you see. I told you that everyone just misunderstands Devon. In fact, he is probably a good person and loves you very much!" - the high voice of the young countess sounded right behind Devon, forcing him to grimace in disgust.
"Leave him, dear." - answered her the harsh voice of an elderly woman with barely concealed notes of hatred. - "I already told you that you should not approach this person. All those rumors that this ... thing personally tortures his victims in the dungeon of the Black Castle are all true. Such a clean and bright child should not deal with this monster. I curse the day I gave birth to this freak. "
Devon quickened his pace as if trying to escape from the words oozing poison thrown into his back by his own mother. But even when his feet brought him to the deserted hall in front of the Emperor's reception room, these words still echoed in his mind, as if some demon continued to whisper them from behind him from time to time.