Helios’ violet eyes looked down sharply, a silent threat that the duke must tell the truth here.
‘You’ve never shown your claws like this before.
Was all that just an act’
Duke Bethmann clenched his fists as they grazed the ground.
It was shameful even to just turn his head towards Sera.
He managed to control his distorted expression, trembling.
“I… I’m sorry.
You’re just like my daughter so, that’s… why.”
Even for a forced apology, this was terrible.
Sera looked down at him with an expression mixed with fear, anger and incredulity.
If the emperor wasn’t here next to her, she wouldn’t even have heard an apology, although it was like this.
She knew that it was too good to be true, in its own way, that a person who had a lower status was receiving an apology from the one who had a higher status.
She pretended to receive the duke’s meanspirited apology, but Helios blocked her.
“Stand up, Duke.”
Duke Bethmann faltered, but eventually got up from his knees as he heard Helios’ stern voice.
The well-dressed duke’s glossy pants were now dirtied by soil and grass.
The knee area was particularly ruined, so anyone who’d see him could guess that he had knelt down.
As Helios’ gaze left Sera, he looked down at the duke with cold eyes once again.
His lips were definitely smiling, but his eyes were devoid of any joy.
“This must never happen again, Duke Bethmann.”
The frost in his gaze never left as long as he looked at the duke, then he turned to Sera.
He took off his coat and draped it on her shoulders.
His gentle touch was the opposite of how he was treating the duke just now.
Then, the emperor carefully steered her away from this place.
* * *
“Are you alright”
Helios asked Sera in a hushed voice.
They had just entered an empty room in the Star Palace, and he cautiously gazed at Sera with purple eyes so unwavering, so filled with worry.
Here, he was as friendly as usual, looking to see if she had any injuries or if she was in shock.
It’s all because Your Majesty came to save me.”
Sera smiled brightly, but she couldn’t hide her hands.
While sitting down, the hands over her lap were trembling.
Helios’ eyes naturally turned towards that direction.
Seeing the pale hands, his expression quickly hardened.
She acted as though this was nothing and tried to fold her hands together tightly.
Still, however, the tremors were still there, so she hugged herself and hid her hands by covering them with Helios’ coat.
The thought crossed Helios’ mind that he wanted to hold those hands that she hid, but Helios couldn’t just easily reach for her hands.
That would be crossing the line.
‘If my younger siblings were here instead, you’d be more comfortable.’
“It’s okay to say you’re not okay if you aren’t, Miss Popo.”
“No, I really am fi…”
However, as Sera tried to say that she was fine, tears flowed from her eyes.
Now that she was in a safe space once more, the fear she had for the duke, which she had been enduring until now, broke out and she couldn’t do anything about it.
Sera bit her red lips hard.
If she were to be perfectly honest with herself, none of this was fine at all.
She was lucky on the day she went for the tutoring consultation with Elijah.
She didn’t expect that Duke Bethmann would do such things in broad daylight—inside the imperial palace no less—even if there weren’t many people around.
She knew that she should avoid the duke, but this incident was something she didn’t have control over because she wasn’t able to predict his sudden appearance at all.
At that moment, she felt it thoroughly, this sense of helplessness from not being able to wield magic.
And when she tried to struggle and get out of the duke’s arms, no matter what she did, he didn’t let go.
If Helios didn’t come…
Would she have gotten slapped in the face
Or would he have done something much worse than that
This was why when she heard Helios’ voice, she almost collapsed right then and there from the sheer relief that flooded her veins as she saw Helios before her.
It happened not once, but twice.
As the unpleasant smell around the duke seemed to overpower her senses once more, Sera pulled the coat tighter around her without realizing it.
“Ahaha, really, I would have been in big trouble if Your Majesty didn’t save me.”
With an awkward laugh, Sera lowered her gaze and stared at the marble floor.
She wiped away the tears that flowed down, the hands reappeared still shaking.
Helios had a grim expression as he looked at her.
Then, he slowly went down on his knees just the same as he did with his younger siblings.
Helios placed a hand on her shoulder, patting her like whenever he comforted Rosé and Ferre.
Seeing the angel-like smile on his face, Sera knew that he was treating her just as though she was a younger sibling, but still, her heart fluttered.
The violet eyes that were as deep as the night sky looked into her own eyes, smiling warmly as if soothing her.
“You’ll be just fine now.”
A calm voice whispered.
Immediately, a warm, golden light flowed from his hand and seeped into her body.
Like last time, a sense of warmth that was as soft as a cloud surrounded her.
Her heart had been pounding earlier because of her fear of Duke Bethmann.
And here, those tremors started again, but this time, it wasn’t because of the duke.
It was a much softer, more ticklish, more pleasant throbbing.
A bright peach color lit up her face as she was looking at the hand on her shoulder.
Then, she slowly raised her head.
What met her gaze was Helios’ own eyes.
He blinked once, his long eyelashes following, then smiled.
Thump, thump, thump.
That smile once again accelerated her heart.
Sera realized what it was, these emotions that she should never, ever have.