Fire King? Eugene moved closer to the balcony, her words slipping out from behind the curtain, “Who’s there?”
“It’s me, Riner,” said the voice.
“Your Majesty, this isn’t the proper entrance.”
“I took a different route. Would it be bothersome if I knocked on the lounge door?”
A chuckle escaped Eugene. The reasons behind the frequent clashes she had read about between Riner and Kasser now made complete sense. Their personalities couldn’t have been more distinct.
“What brings you here?” she inquired.
“I was intrigued by the Hwansu you’ve been wearing throughout the banquet,” replied Riner.
Eugene sighed softly. She had considered the possibility that Riner had attended the three consecutive banquets due to the little one. She had been anxious about him coming and probing her with questions. Yet, his distance suggested there might be motives beyond the Hwansu.
He possesses an unexpected level of awareness, Eugene observed.
Since Riner had indeed knocked on the balcony window as he had promised, it was a more discreet approach than formal entry that would catch the attention of all the knights.
Imagine in this world, if larks were to vanish, who do you think would mourn the most? The Fire King, perhaps?
Eugene couldn’t discern whether the Fire King’s fixation on larks was driven by fondness or resentment. However, his desires were crystal clear, making him easier to comprehend. While others might waver when confronting Sang-je in battle, it felt certain that the Fire King would inevitably become an ally.
Eugene released the latch, inviting Riner in with a simple “Come in.”
As the balcony window creaked open and Riner stepped into the parlor, a peculiar expression crossed his face as he took in Eugene’s appearance. However, his attention quickly shifted as he noticed the small creature perched on her shoulder.
“Is that the one?” he inquired.
“Yes,” replied Eugene.
“Didn’t the Fourth King depart from the Holy City?”
“He left on that very day.”
Riner’s gaze remained fixed on the tiny creature. The Hwansu seemed to retreat behind Eugene, almost as if seeking refuge from the intensity of the Fire King’s stare. Riner found it quite remarkable to witness this unfamiliar creature, the Hwansu, clinging to someone who wasn’t its owner, resembling a pet.
“Even though the king isn’t here, it’s as though this creature is willingly staying away from its owner?” Riner mused.
Typically, a Hwansu would exhibit its true nature as a lark when it moved a certain distance away from its owner. That was the commonly held belief.
“How is this possible? Could it really be due to this creature’s own ability?”
“Your Majesty, I promised I’d explain everything you’re curious about later. But since you’re here, could you assist me a little? I’m attempting to slip out of the mansion without the knights noticing. If you lend me a hand, I’ll divulge the location of the world’s largest and mightiest lark.”
“The largest and mightiest lark?” Riner’s eyes sparked with interest. “Just how big and strong are we talking?”
“It’s of a magnitude you’ve never witnessed before. I pledge my honor that I’m not even slightly exaggerating.”
“Very well. If that’s the proposition, I’m in. What sort of help do you need from me?”
Riner didn’t pester her with questions about her evasion of the knights or her destination. As he departed once more through the balcony window, Eugene found herself chuckling, her words a soft murmur to herself.
“He’s remarkably easy to strike a bargain with.”
Advancing toward the fireplace, she manipulated a concealed mechanism. Gradually, the entire fireplace began to pivot, unveiling a concealed passageway extending beyond. Eugene cast a brief glance at the sealed door before entering the tunnel. Once inside, the fireplace settled back into its initial position.
Leaving behind the dress she had brought at the passage’s entrance, Eugene traversed the dim path. Though her view was obscured, she pressed forward with assurance, having previously navigated this route multiple times. When the little creature on her shoulder emitted a soft squeak, she eased her pace. Before long, her foot detected the descent of stairs.
Gently resting her hand against the wall, she cautiously descended the stairs before proceeding along the path. Ultimately, the passage concluded, culminating in a dead end. She ascended an iron ladder affixed to the wall. Prior to lifting the ceiling hatch that led out of the passage, she whispered to the diminutive creature.
“Is anyone nearby?”
No response from the creature indicated the absence of others. With care, Eugene lifted the cover, revealing a connection between the passage and the floor of a greenhouse, partially separated from the main edifice. From this vantage within the greenhouse, she stood a short distance from the mansion’s rear exit.
Initially, slipping out of the mansion through the back door appeared to be a straightforward endeavor for her. Eugene assumed that Dana would handle matters, ensuring that guards wouldn’t be stationed near the rear grounds. However, the situation grew more complex with the knights’ arrival. Instead of confining their watch to the banquet hall’s interior, they extended their patrols to encompass the mansion’s entirety, using their duty as a justification.
In response, she crafted a plan to divert the knights’ attention. By now, there might have been an orchestrated incident within the kitchen involving a feigned patient. At some point during the festivities, an individual would suddenly collapse within the banquet hall, prompting couples seeking a private escape from the crowd to slip out to the courtyard, effectively distracting the knights’ focus.
Involving the Fire King could prove beneficial.
Eugene enlisted Riner to stir up a minor disturbance in the backyard. Should any knights be stationed close to the rear exit, they would be momentarily drawn away.
Proceeding with care, Eugene emerged from the greenhouse. Around the same time, Dana entered the lounge area where Eugene had been taking respite. A wistful expression clouded Dana’s face as she surveyed the empty room. Despite their prearranged farewells, parting remained a challenge. The timing of their reunion was uncertain, and reflecting on the past six weeks felt like recalling a dream.
Summoning a deep breath, Dana steadied herself before departing the lounge. Approaching the knights stationed at the door, she addressed them:
“I believe she’s a bit fatigued and resting briefly. She’s taking a moment to recuperate. Please ensure her rest remains undisturbed until I return.”
“Understood, Lady Dana.”
Dana bought them some time. By the moment the knights realized that Eugene had been absent for a while, she would have already slipped away from the mansion.