Two women clad in cloaks strode through the streets under the night sky, the streetlamps emitting a soft, yellow light into the darkness as it illuminated the women’s silhouettes onto the pavement. With their hoods pulled over their heads, the two went on with their evening walk, passing by a pair of soldiers.
“So, what happened to Hans?”
“I have no idea. I’ll find out tomorrow.”
Eugene, who was deep in her thoughts, overheard the conversation the soldiers were having. She turned her head towards them, noticing the scene around them.
Despite the glooming hour, the street they were walking on had no strange ambiance to it, no sense of anything menacing due to the lampposts set at certain intervals. There were quite a few people walking too, others even heading in the same direction as Eugene and Molly.
The sight of two women walking together was not something unusual, nor will it make anyone suspicious since people of different ages and sizes seemed to frequent the area— whether it’s early in the morning, or the late hours of the evening.
She only came to appreciate the tranquility of the streets later on, since she was quite a nervous wreck when she went to see Rodrigo. She regarded both the stillness of the street, and the energy that came with it with such reverence.
‘Jin must have come out like this too, when she met up with Rodrigo before.’ Eugene thought, deeming the place safe enough since Jin used to bring only one maid with her with no escorts. ‘There are only a few countries where it’s safe to roam around at night. I wonder if other Kingdoms are like this too.’
During Eugene’s first outing, there were about five warriors that escorted her as per Kasser’s command. Eugene laughed at the memory.
Living in the capital meant that the security was sufficient. However, Eugene couldn’t help but feel unsure since there were many people in the vicinity. She did not expect this crowd at all.
In commemoration of the oncoming dry season, almost all shops came up with offers like discounted prices, buy one get ones, and other promos to lure people inside their store. And with that, the number of people that went out at night increased tenfold, making the plaza brim with life due to the onslaught of the masses. More patrols were also assigned at certain posts to keep a watchful eye over the bustling crowd.
Eugene had no idea that this is the first time that a large-scale event was occurring when the active period is not even over yet, and it is also the first event that was instructed by the King himself.
She felt a slight movement on her arm, making her glance down at the basket she was holding on. ‘Just for a while now, Abu.’
Fortunately for Eugene, there was no need for Abu’s appearance today. But the beast’s company sure made her feel at ease when she’s having a meeting with Rodrigo. She didn’t feel the initial anxiety she had, all thanks to Abu’s presence beside her.
Eugene and Molly stopped at an intersection in front of the square. They noticed that the plaza, which is supposedly overflowing with people, was empty, save for the few operating workers. Eugene could see the trees centered at the square very well.
“It looks like they are checking the oil container, Master.” Molly said, seeing the workers working in pairs all over the square.
Eugene nodded. “I see.”
Molly took in their surroundings, completely perplexed at the sight in front of her. ‘Why did they start the maintenance today?’ She also noticed that the carriage they had ridden going here was nowhere to be seen.
Before Molly entered the castle, she was informed that she would be serving the queen. She was told that Anika Jin was nothing but a harsh woman who doesn’t forgive one’s mistakes, making Molly grow conscious whenever she’s around her. And because of that, Molly made sure to attend to the queen’s needs dutifully, and do whatever it is asked of her.
It would surely look suspicious if there’s only one carriage standing in the vicinity, so the king instructed them to park the carriage in various places nearby. Molly sighed in relief, suddenly remembering the wagon’s location. “Master. The wagon is over there.”
“Alright. Let’s go then.” Eugene answered.
Molly led the way towards the wagon’s spot. Upon reaching the carriage, Molly knocked on the metal repeatedly, but the coachman paid them no mind. Molly placed the old book she was holding in the nook of her arm, and with one hand, she grabbed the door handle and pulled it open. “Master. What—“
Molly’s face grew pale the moment she pried the door open. The old book fell from her grasp with a loud thud.
Kasser stared at Molly with such cold, ferocity that it made Molly tremble where she stood. After today, the spy of the cult would never see the sun shine again.
Molly swallowed nervously, her palms sweating as fear engulfed her entire being. The king looked at her like a wild beast about to devour its prey, and like a prey, Molly stood rooted on her spot, completely unmoving.
Eugene, who was also waiting outside the carriage, immediately noticed Molly’s still form. She came closer and peeked inside, making eye contact with Kasser in the process. Kasser smiled at her, his eyes turning into crescent moons as he extended his hand towards Eugene, urging her to go inside the carriage.
Eugene made a confused expression, surprised at Kasser’s unexpected appearance. She smiled back at him sweetly, unaware of Kasser’s grim expression just moments before. She took his hand on hers, and she was abruptly pulled inside, landing straight into his arms.
The door closed behind her with a soft click, locking them inside the small, dark compartment.
Kasser fidgeted at the metal rod beside him, adjusting the opening of the curtain as moonlight streamed inside the wagon, casting both of their faces with shadows. Their faces were so close to each other that they could feel each other’s breaths.
“You didn’t tell me that you’re going here, I thought you’d wait for me at the castle. Was this your plan all along?” Eugene asked.
Kasser shrugged. “I changed my mind.”
He knew that he couldn’t keep still waiting for her at the castle, so he decided to wait here instead, which is so much closer to her, should something unforeseen happen.
“You worry too much. Don’t you trust me?” Eugene asked softly as she continued. “There were many people on the street, and it was bright too, so it is entirely safe for a woman to wander.”
“Yes?” Kasser asked.
“Didn’t you know that it’s safe to walk the streets at night since the capital’s security is good? I remember hearing it from Marianne, but I didn’t think too much of it. And when I went out before, you had me escorted by a bunch of warriors since you’re nowhere present.” Eugene said, her voice slightly higher than intended. If only their surroundings were bright enough, Kasser would definitely see Eugene’s reminiscent expression pasted on her face.
“You sound excited.” Kasser said as he reached for Eugene’s hood, flipping it behind her.
“The tone of your voice sounds different.” Kasser said.
“Oh.” Eugene cupped her face with her hands, willing to calm her pounding heart inside her chest. As soon as she saw Kasser’s face, the feeling she held in suddenly burst.
The more she thought about it, the more she came to realize that Jin only used Rodrigo to get that old, dated book. It wasn’t like Jin tried to use Mara’s Church for some specific reason, nor was she trying to make some type of conspiracy. It was her hobby— the hobby that made her use most of the budget under her royal name, draining her bank almost entirely.
Eugene has yet to know the reason why Jin had been collecting those old books specifically, but it somehow gave her relief to find out that Jin wasn’t connected deep within the Mara’s Church, and she felt like she could finally let the burden off her chest.
“I met Rodrigo and I remembered something important.” Eugene said, her mouth slightly curving upwards as she struggled to keep her smiles in.
“What is it?” Kasser asked, thinking that it must be something good since Eugene’s eyes shone so brightly it reflected the meager light surrounding them. Kasser supposed that this enthusiastic demeanor of hers is much better than her feeling dispirited.
However, Kasser wanted to see her infuriated towards Rodrigo, and maybe be a little upset over the fact that he only sent Abu to accompany her. Kasser wished that Eugene would rely on him, and ask for his help since it’s really difficult to do things alone. A burden shared, is a burden halved.
Kasser was astounded how insecure he’s gotten.
“I gave him money so he could get information about collecting old books. I used to buy books directly from him.” Eugene said.
“Didn’t you know that already?” Kasser asked in a puzzled tone. “I just didn’t know that he supplied the books himself.”
“Oh.. That..” Eugene stopped, as if trying to form her words inside her head. “I thought that.. I might have done something terrible.” She said sheepishly, her voice small and trembling.
Kasser chuckled slightly, recalling what she said last time. “You mean summoning Mara?”
Eugene stared at him intently, not amused at Kasser sneering at her. “I’m being serious. And this is what I get…” Eugene stopped talking, feeling her throat constrict from the emotions bubbling within her.
Hearing her voice slowly die down, Kasser immediately looked at her with a stern expression. “I’m not laughing at what you’re saying. I just thought that you couldn’t have possibly done anything wrong.”
“Why? Why do you trust me so much?” Eugene asked.
“Because I believe that you didn’t do anything despicable. You’re still you, after all.”
“Why do you believe me then?” Eugene prodded.
“Like I told you, because it’s you. That’s it.”
“You don’t know how people are on the inside. What if I suddenly turn my back on you?” Eugene challenged.
“You worry too much.” Kasser grinned. “You’re afraid of things that might not even happen.”
Eugene realized that Kasser was too naïve for his own good, and she understood why there’s so many good-hearted people surrounding him. He was not the type to be easily shaken once he sets his eyes into something, giving his complete faith in everything that he does, and to the people around him too. Perhaps he has yet to be betrayed by someone he wholeheartedly believed in.
With this, she was suddenly reminded of the king in her novel—a person with a hardened heart; a man who cannot turn back to the person he once was.
‘If this person is greatly betrayed, he will surely be like the King in the novel.’ Eugene felt her chest tighten at the thought of Kasser turning into a cold-blooded King.
Eugene knew what he had been afraid of. Kasser might have thought that she would suddenly disappear after meeting up with Rodrigo.
‘I don’t want to let him down.’ She was glad to have come here and met him before Jin had the chance to do anything.
“You can’t forgive him.” Kasser said, making Eugene snap out of her thoughts. She looked at Kasser and didn’t say anything, only realizing then that he was talking about Rodrigo.
“Not a chance.” Kasser added.
“I don’t plan to.” Eugene answered, blinking her eyes.
Kasser’s eyes softened at Eugene’s assuring words. “I thought you changed your mind since you gave him money for information.”
“It’s true that I bought information from him, but it is also true that I covered it.”
Jin wouldn’t be foolish enough to not know that Rodrigo was asking for too much. Jin was probably aware of it, but decided to turn a blind eye for the sake of the old books.
“Your Majesty. I am—“ Eugene was cut short, distracted by the whimpering sound that seemed to resonate inside the carriage. Eugene burst into laughter when she realized that it was Abu. She lifted the cloth from the basket and consoled the wailing beast. “Sorry Abu. I totally forgot about you.”
Abu wailed continuously, clearly upset for having stayed inside the container for too long. Abu’s matte-black hair blended with the shadows. His red, glowing eyes were the only thing visible about him.
Kasser reached for the basket and scooped Abu out with one hand. He adjusted the small beast in his hands, grabbing Abu by the collar and lifted in front of him.
The kitten-sized Abu cried loudly, his paws wiggling frantically from the uncomfortable position he was in.
“Abu. Go to the castle.” Kasser said as he opened the window beside him, throwing Abu outward as if he weighed nothing. Eugene let out a shriek, completely shocked with Kasser’s actions.
“Your Majesty! I wasn’t able to thank Abu yet!” Eugene said as Kasser closed the window.
“You can do it later.” Kasser said nonchalantly.
Eugene took a bated breath, clearly in disbelief. “You’re so mean.”
“Well.” Kasser said, facing Eugene’s direction. “You told me that it’s enough to just take Abu with you, and you didn’t even let me see you off. Who’s the mean one now?”