“Did you tame it?” Riner asked. “How?”
As soon as the priest had left them alone, his eyes had instantly turned to Eugene’s left wrist. It had made her feel strange to see his red eyes grow dark with aggression. He looked like a mad scientist on the verge of some great discovery. Eugene quickly covered her sleeve with her right hand as if to protect Kkoma.
“I didn’t tame him,” she told the Fire King. “He’s a lark.”
“Are you his owner?” he pressed.
Her eyes narrowed. “Of course not,” she said. “Only a king can own a lark.”
“So he’s a king’s lark?”
And, just like that, Riner’s expression changed completely. He went from looking like a completely mad man to a relatively sane one. If anything, he just looked disinterested now.
“A king’s lark,” he said as if he was contemplating. “I must say that it is odd for someone else to be charged with taking care of a king’s lark. And even stranger to see him so calm by your side.”
Though his eyes were no longer as wild as they were a few moments ago, it was clear by his voice that his interest was growing once more. Eugene wanted to leave the uncomfortable situation she was in, not because she was scared, but because she was starting to get annoyed. So far, though, she had confirmed that the Fire King was just as he was in her novel.
His interest in larks was so strong that it almost seemed like an obsession. Perhaps it was because of his ability to sense larks that he only ever seemed interested in hunting them.
Of course, this obsession meant that he basically abandoned his kingdom and left it to fend for itself. He was more of a figurehead than an actual king. It was only thanks to the fact that the kingdoms in this world were structured strangely that the Lava Kingdom survived without him.
In her novel, Eugene remembered that the only reason why Riner even joined the Kings’ campaign was so that he could hunt larks to his heart’s content. But it wasn’t like his motivations couldn’t be faulted anyway. All the other kings had joined the campaign for their own purposes, not world peace. Kasser had even joined for revenge.
“He’s been tamed,” Eugene said. “And larks follow the orders of a king.”
Riner shook his head. “Still, larks don’t like people. They refuse to listen to anyone but their owner.”
“I’m also an Anika. Larks don’t harm us.”
“Perhaps…” he trailed off.
It was clear that he had lost interest when he learned that the lark belonged to a king. He couldn’t hunt those kinds of larks. Although physically he could, hunting another king’s lark would make him the enemy of all the other kings. He may have been crazy, but he wasn’t blind to the rules of this world.
Still, even if the lark no longer interested him, the Anika in front of him did.
Everyone Riner had been in contact with before was afraid of him. Anikas, however, were always different. While they feared him, they were also uncomfortable and disgusted by him. Normal people would try to keep their composure in front of him, but Anikas didn’t even bother.
The reality was that Riner would need to submit to an Anika in order to have a successor. He was not a big fan of that idea. So, even if he was already of marriageable age, he was out hunting larks instead of committing to anyone.
Anika Jin was different, though. She didn’t fear him nor was she disgusted by him. She still tried to be polite despite her obvious discomfort, and he found that very charming.
Charming. That was never a word he used when describing Anikas.
“Do you have anything else to say?” Eugene asked. A part of her was worried that Riner might ask to see Kkoma. She didn’t want the creature to be subjected to the inspection of such a harsh predator.
“You’re a beauty,” Riner blurted out.
Eugene flushed. She looked directly at him, expecting him to be making fun of her, but finding such a serious look on his face.
“I’ve never seen an Anika as beautiful as you,” he continued.
Confused and embarrassed by the strange compliment, Eugene responded courteously, “Thank you. You’re too kind.”
“Let’s get married.”
That took her more aback than the previous statement. There was no reason for him to say something like that, as a joke or otherwise. She always believed that kings were smarter than most, but she was starting to wonder if the Fire King was an exception.
“That wasn’t funny,” she told him.
Riner shook his head. “I’m being serious.”
Eugene stared at him in disbelief. “I think you should know a few things about someone before you ask them something like that. Maybe ask if they’re single?”
“Are you married?”
“Yes,” she said firmly.
The Fire King’s expression turned sour for a moment before he continued. “It doesn’t matter,” he told her. “It wouldn’t be the first time a married Anika married a king.”
“I’ll give you everything you want,” he said, ignoring her bewilderment. “You won’t even have to come to my kingdom. You can stay in the Holy City forever if you want. Just have my child, that’s all I ask.”
And just like that, Eugene’s expression shifted from flustered to disgusted. She remembered the vile words an Anika had told her before, telling her that a queen was just a king’s tool to have his child.
Seeing the Fire King’s behavior now, it was clear that the Anika hadn’t been wrong. To him, she was just a means to an end.
Eugene was frustrated by the way he saw Anikas. But she was even more mad at the twisted relationship between kings and Anikas in general. It wasn’t the fault of either side, and yet they were both trapped by their circumstances.
She believed that things hadn’t always been that way. Sang-je must have changed things from what they were to create this disturbing system. Eugene couldn’t help but grow even angrier at him, at the thought that this creature who pretended to be a divine entity would do such a thing.
The cunning bastard.
She calmed herself down as much as she could before turning back to the Fire King and saying, “I no longer have anything to say to you.” She tried to turn around and walk away, but Riner stopped her.