The knights stood guard outside the reception room where Eugene was resting. They had maintained a vigilant watch, initially honoring Dana’s request to ensure her sleeping daughter’s peace. However, as time continued to tick by without any word from Dana about waking Eugene, a sense of unease began to take hold among the knights.
One of the knights cast a glance back at the closed door, murmuring, “She’s been asleep for quite a while. The reception might conclude before she awakens.”
“I’ll go update Her Grace,” another knight volunteered.
After a period of absence, the knight who had ventured down to the first-floor reception hall to communicate with Dana returned on his own. When questioned about his solitary return, he explained, “They were deeply engaged in animated discussions with various attendees. The moment didn’t seem appropriate for me to broach the subject.”
With time stretching on, the two knights decided to knock on the door themselves. Throughout the event, they had been anxious about the possibility of Eugene missing out on the closing assembly due to her prolonged slumber.
“Anika Jin, the gathering is nearing its conclusion,” one of the knights declared, rapping on the door several times. Yet, their attempts to elicit a response from within went unanswered, prompting the knights’ expressions to take on a more serious tone.
“What’s going on?”
“Go swiftly and fetch Her Grace,” the other knight directed, urgency lacing his words.
As the entrance couldn’t be breached casually, one of the knights accompanied Dana to gain access. Returning with Dana, they stepped inside. Her gaze swept over the vacant reception room before settling on the fireplace.
How distant had she traveled by now? After sunset, the city wall’s security measures grew exceptionally stringent. Had she managed to bypass that vigilant perimeter and escape unscathed? The plan dictated her departure from the city, and in an ideal scenario, she might have rendezvoused with the Fourth King.
“Mother, my decision to leave without consent was solely mine. Neither you nor anyone else in the family should be aware of it. Please refrain from concealing my absence. If the knights grow suspicious, you should lead the way.”
The Holy City lay firmly within Sang-je’s dominion. His influence extended across various corners of the realm. Defying Sang-je without a justifiable cause was ill-advised.
Hence, Eugene’s intention was to portray her departure from the Holy City as an autonomous choice, defying Sang-je’s mandate to attend the Celestial Festival. She had departed for the kingdom abruptly, ensuring her family remained oblivious. Her exit from the estate had been executed independently, leaving no room for conjecture.
Though Sven might have appeared to assist her, it could be argued that he acted merely as her escort, dutifully adhering to the host’s wishes irrespective of the king’s intentions. Furthermore, Sven would eventually be intercepted by the knights at an opportune juncture. Naturally, Eugene would not be in his company.
Sven’s strategy revolved around a straightforward assertion—he would assert that he was on a mission commissioned by the king. Learning of Eugene’s vanishing act from the knights, he would artfully feign surprise. The knights who pursued Eugene would find themselves on the wrong trail.
Dana extracted a letter from a table drawer. Clutching the prepared missive, she hastened to the door and exited with an air of urgency. A perplexed expression adorned her face as she signaled the knights.
“Have you been guarding this place? Not taking your eyes off it for even a moment?” she inquired.
“Yes, Your Grace. We’ve remained steadfast,” they affirmed.
“Jin, that child has gone missing.”
“She left me with a letter before vanishing into thin air. You’ve been standing guard at the door, so where could she possibly have gone?” Dana’s voice resonated with urgency.
In a swift maneuver, the knights ventured into the reception room. The chamber didn’t offer an abundance of space and lacked concealed nooks. A knight inspecting the area, his gaze sweeping over the balcony window, interjected.
“The locks here are unfastened. Shouldn’t they be secured?”
Dana responded, “All the windows are meant to be locked after dusk!”
Dana’s words flowed with contemplation, her thoughts turning inward. Jin has managed everything with precision‘ The decision to leave the windows open after Riner’s departure—a seemingly coincidental detail—had proven fortuitous, aligning seamlessly with the present circumstances.
Dana promptly drew the reception to a close. Given the impending conclusion time, attendees began to depart organically. Simultaneously, with Dana’s proactive collaboration, the knights combed through every corner of the mansion.
By the time the last guest’s carriage departed from the premises, the knights confronted the unsettling reality—they had failed to uncover any trace of Eugene’s exit from the mansion, let alone her whereabouts. Certain knights hastened to the royal residence, while others directed their steps to the palace.
The knights dispatched to the palace, however, found themselves unable to meet Sang-je. The doors to the prayer chamber would only open the following morning.
“Mother, amidst the imminent turmoil engulfing the kingdom, that man is undoubtedly exerting themselves tirelessly day and night. Basking under the bright lights and laughter here feels like a betrayal.”
“I haven’t fulfilled my role as queen faithfully over these past three years. But now, I’m gradually realizing that this position isn’t solely about advocating for the underprivileged, but bearing onerous duties and responsibilities.”
“I apologize, Mother. Despite the gathering yet to conclude with two more days remaining, and His Holiness’s gracious invitation to partake in the Celestial Festival… I cowardly chose the path of secret escape. Please pardon my thoughtlessness.”
As Sang-je perused the extended letter delivered by the knight, his countenance turned frigid.