“Immediate action was required, given the presence of these potent larks. Failure to address this swiftly might bring ruin to the vicinity. Hence, our urgency in seeking an audience with His Highness, Your Holiness.”
Sang-je then beckoned the knights who had been stationed at the gate and delved into the circumstances of that moment. He inquired if the warriors had displayed true urgency, whether they resembled travelers on a long journey, or if they were the same ones who had accompanied the king’s departure. However, from the knights’ accounts, nothing struck him as particularly unusual.
The knight tasked with confirming Anika Jin’s presence at the concluding Arse Mansion event returned with his report.
“The gathering is wrapping up, and the carriages are beginning to depart. I personally saw Anika Jin bidding farewell to the attendees, Your Holiness.”
While the king had unexpectedly departed the city, Anika Jin had opted to remain behind. However, a sense of unease permeated the air. Something seemed awry, likely linked to the timing of these events.
Alber was likely immersed in her spellcasting at this very moment. Divination magic generally necessitated a span of several days to reach fruition. During this period, Sang-je would typically stand by Alber’s side, awaiting the insights she garnered about the future. Ordinarily, he would declare a protective seal and not return to the palace for several days in such instances.
Yet, on this occasion, his instructions veered from sealing matters, opting merely to avoid causing disruption. This choice stemmed from his curiosity regarding Flora’s state of mind following the Arse Mansion gathering. He had briefly returned to the palace to assess the situation and now an unforeseen development had unfolded.
Nonetheless, Sang-je needed to maintain the charade of retiring to the prayer chamber and engage in a conversation with Alber. The outcome of Alber’s divination magic held more weight than any other concern. Thus, Sang-je convened the knights and issued his commands.
“Proceed to the Arse Mansion and ensure Anika Jin’s safety. Anika Jin is poised to play a pivotal role in the upcoming Celestial Festival. However, I’m apprehensive that today’s commotion might cast a negative shadow over the festival. I’ve been informed that the gathering has extended for nearly five days. Crowded events tend to invite unpredictable occurrences. You must remain vigilant over Anika Jin without a moment’s lapse.”
Furthermore, he offered distinct directives to select knights.
“Set out at once and tail the king discreetly. Confirm if he’s crossed the mountain range and the Hashi Kingdom’s border. I’m not urging you to catch up immediately. Maintain a reasonable gap and search for signs.”
Concluding his initial set of orders, Sang-je called upon the gate-guarding knight once more to inquire about the results of the baggage inspection.
“We’re meticulously examining all belongings. The items you specified haven’t turned up yet, Your Holiness.”
“What about the king and his guards who departed earlier?” Sang-je probed further.
Following a brief moment of disorientation, the knight responded, “A small pouch dangled from the warriors’ belts, though it seemed to contain only jerky. Apart from that, there were no other possessions.”
Sang-je acknowledged the information. Given the vigilant eyes stationed at the gate, it was unlikely anything had gone unnoticed. Expressing his commendation, he dismissed the knight.
Sang-je harbored deep concerns, particularly regarding the elusive transparent seed that still eluded discovery. In recent times, a medley of vexations had arisen, contributing to Sang-je’s mounting unease.
This time, I must glimpse a future of consequence. Alber.
Summoning the priest, Sang-je cautioned against interrupting his prayers and firmly closed the prayer chamber’s door, determined to find his sought-after insight.
As the clock inched past midnight, a contingent of knights made their way to the Arse Mansion. Despite the late hour, the mansion gleamed with light, evidence of the gathering that had only recently concluded.
“His Holiness Sang-je is deeply concerned about Anika Jin’s safety. We’ve received his directive to ensure her security.”
“I’m profoundly appreciative of His Holiness’s consideration,” Dana addressed the knights. ”However, given the lateness of the hour, I request your presence tomorrow. The gatherings will commence again after tomorrow’s sunset.”
“We shall not depart Anika Jin’s side until all the gatherings conclude. We’ll maintain vigil around the mansion throughout the night. Wishing you a tranquil evening.”
Dana’s demeanor underwent a slight shift, yet she responded softly, concealing any irritation. “…To subject you to such inconvenience. Thank you.”
“Characterizing this as an inconvenience is unnecessary. We’re merely fulfilling our duty,” came the steadfast reply.
Left alone with Eugene, Dana’s gaze bore traces of frustration. “Sang-je’s actions are exceedingly conspicuous. Can this truly be termed surveillance? Jin, it might be best for you not to remain in the city.”
Eugene managed a rueful smile, her agreement evident. The way Sang-je had robustly curbed his actions immediately after Kasser’s departure seemed disconcertingly human-like. The interplay between human and monster raised the question: which side excelled at emulating the other?
The multi-day gathering spanned a range of starting and ending times due to its elongated duration. The inaugural day’s gathering commenced in the afternoon and concluded before midnight, while the subsequent day’s festivities kicked off in the evening and wrapped up around midnight. During the latter event, at least one or two knights always hovered in Eugene’s proximity.
“Indeed, the Arse Family gatherings possess a distinct quality. His Holiness dispatches knights and bolsters security measures.”
“Is this due to the Arse Family gathering or attributable to Anika Jin?”
Observers in the vicinity harbored no inkling that the knights dotting the gathering were present for surveillance purposes.
The third day’s gathering commenced once more in the afternoon. Carriages had queued outside the mansion since early daylight. Foreseen by many prior to the gathering’s onset, this specific occasion proved nothing short of a grand spectacle. Even on this third day, the hall bustled with a crowd hardly diminished from the turnout of the first day.
“Today,” Eugene softly uttered, her reflection meeting her gaze in the mirror as she finished donning her attire. Today marked her departure from the Holy City.