The moment she woke up, Zushi clenched her chest in pain. What is this? The throbbing sensation from earlier, and there is something else. It felt like her insides were on fire and that her organs would burst at any second.
"I told you Lillian wasn't trying to kill her!"
"But she messed with the potion you gave her and mixed something else. Surely you noticed this earlier?"
"I did, but I didn't know what it was!"
She woke up mainly due to the two bickering voices. Zushi weakly glanced over and saw the magician, sir Lucas, and Liden arguing.
"How can you not know? Has her magic advanced so much that you can't even control her now?"
"Don't treat Lilian like some kind of pet."
"But you told me you would keep an eye out on her."
"I only said that so you would stop nagging."
Zushi wanted to tell them both to shut up. Cant, they see she is on the verge of death over here? For two magicians, don't they have their priority wrong? She wanted to curl up into a ball shape and hide, but it was far too painful for her. So she remained resting on her left side.
Lucas is the first one who noticed that she was awake.
"Empress!" Linden exclaimed as he rushed over. "Are you fine? How do you feel?"
"Oh no, what do we do?"
"It is really strange, you know? Lilian didn't mix anything bad after she messed with my potion. What on earth is wrong with you? Why are you suddenly dying?"
She blinked, startled at the words he just said. Wait, did he just say she is dying? What on earth happened? Despite how toxic that smell was, even she understood there was nothing bad in it.
"Empress, who did you meet with before us?"
"My sister." Zushi managed to say.
"The other general?"
"No, miss Astra."
At that comment, Lucas sighed deeply. "Well, now I know what the problem is. Empress, I suppose you didn't know about it? But the enemy poisoned everybody sent to the North, all except Linden's forces."
"To be exact, they used dark magic that would possess another person. The person you spoke with was not your sister. It was a beast that devoured her skin."
Zushis face turned paler when she heard those words. "What does that mean? Is she--"
"The monster cannot completely take over the other person's body; at most, they can possess half. If you are lucky, the other half of her is still alive. But how many people can survive in the North with half a body?"
It was too painful to think of.
"Then why were we celebrating my coronation? Should we not have sent forces up there?" Zushi recalled how many guards were present during her ceremony.
What on earth were these people thinking? Why did they send so few people to the North when there was a war?
She suddenly felt very angry. All those people laughing merrily and eating and dancing during the banquet. All of them could have aided those in the North.
"This is why I called you naive. If you became the Empress over something as superficial as protecting your son, then you may as well step down now. Some humans behave exactly like monsters."
"So the people sent there, they sent them there to die?" Zushi mumbled understanding.
She looked over at Linden. "You too?"
"They wanted to kill your teacher so you would have nobody to protect you. You are concentrating on Lilian and the Ageha family. But the cruel ones are the people in the royal palace."
"Initially, when the summons came from your husband's family, I was ordered to decline. But when I learned that you were his wife, I accepted."
Does Linden know him? Before Zushi could inquire any more, she felt the throbbing sensation in her heart worsen, and she winced in pain.
Lucas sighed. "I was supposed to be accompanying Lilian today. But I know how disappointed she will be if something happens to you when the game has just started. Stay still, Empress. I will now fuse my mana with yours for several hours."
"I need to get rid of whatever that beast did. Once I have identified the source and removed it, you can naturally heal yourself."
Zushi slowly nodded her head.
The next few hours felt like hell to her. At some point during the procedure, she would fall asleep. Every single time she woke up, however, it hurt more than it did before. Zushi looked over at Lucas; there was a strange magic bubble in his hands, and inside were small black toxins. No, they looked like mini demon creatures.
"That was inside me?" Zushi muttered.
Lucas looked irritated, and she flinched. Why is this man so scary-looking?
"Look over there."
Zushi followed what he was looking at and saw many trays, all of them contained the same bubble in his hands. She knew even without turning around that there was enough to fill the entire room.
"I sent a warrant to arrest your sister."
"People started to appear and ask for you earlier. I could not hide your condition. Many people started to suspect Lilian since they saw her, so I told them the truth."
"Is that where Linden went?" Zushi noticed that the magician was not in the room anymore.
"Yes, he went over to meditate the situation."
A relieved sigh passed her lips when she heard those words. If Linden went over, then they should not treat Astra too harshly. Zushi recalled what sir Lucas said earlier, and she clenched her fist tightly.
Why did her sister have to go through that? Astra has served the palace for so many years; why did they send her off to a place so she can die?
"I may be stepping out of line if I say this but Empress. If you do not harden your resolve, you will not survive another day. Only a week or so has passed, and you are already in this bad condition. I predict you will die within a month if you do not get your act together."
"I have learned a lot, and I will continue to learn."
Lucas shook his head. "Listen, I am telling you directly. Start doing your duties as an Empress and reform this nation, or get swallowed up by other people's schemes."
"If you care so much for the Empire, sir Lucas, then why do you remain with the Ageha family?" Zushi challenged.
"Correction, I am not loyal to the ageha family. Do not put me on the same wavelength as those people."
Zushi could not miss the disgust in his tone when he said those words. If he genuinely thinks that way but remains with the Ageha family, then the one he is loyal to must be miss Lilian? Linden did say something earlier, but this still surprises her. For a person to be this loyal, no Zushi recalled the sight from earlier, and her gaze softened.
"Sir Lucas, are you in love with Miss Lilian?"
At that comment, she watched as his cheeks turned red. Ah, bingo, she thought so.
Lucas averted his gaze. "I am not even going to try and dodge that question. You have strange magic, so I know you can tell even if I deny."
This time around, she did not use her magic at all. But if Lucas wants to think that way, then she should allow him. It would most likely hurt his pride more if she said she didn't use magic at all.