As the day began to wane, a nondescript carriage emerged from the castle grounds. There were no conspicuous markings that would identify it as belonging to the royal family. Seated side by side on the coach seat were two warriors, the only outward protectors of the carriage.
However, in truth, this carriage was far more secure than one guarded by dozens of warriors. Within its confines sat the king and queen, accompanied by two vigilant bodyguards. Eugene and Kasser occupied seats facing each other, flanked by Abu and Kkoma on either side of Eugene. As soon as they boarded the carriage, the little boy perched on Eugene’s shoulder and Abu on her lap instinctively heeded Kasser’s warning and descended.
Eugene found solace in gently stroking Abu’s small head, trying to calm her racing heart. Her mind was a whirlwind of thoughts as she contemplated the impending meeting with Mara. In the future she had glimpsed, Mara was depicted as a malevolent deity who sowed chaos in the world, but perhaps there was potential for an alliance.
But she couldn’t be certain if Mara was truly a villain. Sang-je, on the other hand, is malevolent. In fact, Sang-je is the ultimate evil, a monstrous demon.
Over the past two days, Eugene had experienced bouts of anger and terror while perusing the notes provided by Pides. These notes chronicled inhumane ritual experiments conducted in the name of magic within the sanctuary.
Alber had claimed that the rituals he had imparted to Sang-je were mere facades. Yet, in clandestine secrecy, Sang-je had taken records from the tribe’s ancient library and commenced instructing a human in these rituals.
When Eugene confronted Alber about her carelessness concerning the tribe’s library, she let out a sigh and explained, “The records within the library are not instructional manuals. Outsiders can never grasp the intricacies of the rituals merely by perusing those records. The rituals are a form of knowledge transmitted through personal guidance. That’s why, in ancient times, priestly mentorship was considered more significant than even parent-child relationships.”
Alber elaborated that the learning of rituals followed a staircase-like progression, with simpler rites accessible even to children. However, to advance to the next tier, one encountered an almost insurmountable barrier without the guidance of a mentor who had already ascended that step. The absence of such a mentor made it nearly impossible to make the leap.
Yet, Sang-je had managed the impossible. He himself could not personally master the rituals, but he possessed endless time at his disposal. Moreover, there were numerous devoted and disposable followers who blindly followed him, serving as experimental subjects.
Rituals represented a sophisticated and perilous form of knowledge. When a ritual failed, the practitioner faced a formidable backlash. The higher the grade of the ritual, the greater the risk associated with the backlash.
Within the sanctuary, countless priests had met their demise or were left as empty husks due to these ritual backlashes. The fact that these grim occurrences remained concealed from the outside world was the Holy City’s Palace’s darkest secret.
Their accumulation of knowledge about rituals had exacted a gruesome toll in terms of countless human lives, tainting the books within the concealed library with the blood of many.
Eugene couldn’t help but feel deep empathy for the anonymous author of the notebook. She could sense the agony that person must have endured while grappling with the stark contrast between their beliefs and the harsh reality they witnessed. Remarkably, the notebook wasn’t limited to mere psychological descriptions but also provided objective observations. It resembled a starkly realistic portrayal rather than a mere abstraction.
Although Eugene had never personally witnessed the rituals performed within the sanctuary, she could infer much from the notebook’s contents. It served as compelling evidence, shedding light on the dark secrets concealed within the palace.
“Could the priest… be still alive?” Eugene inquired.
“I don’t know his current whereabouts,” replied Kasser.
If that priest had been a close associate of Pides and was now missing or in a precarious situation, Eugene could comprehend how Pides’ emotions might have shifted after reading the note.
As the carriage came to a stop, Eugene snapped out of her contemplation. She gazed at Kasser with a tense expression, silently asking, “Have we arrived?” Kasser nodded and held Eugene’s hand.
“Do you remember our agreement? Stay composed, and if you sense even the slightest discomfort in your body, inform me immediately.”
“Yes, I promise,” Eugene affirmed.
Exiting the carriage, Eugene surveyed her surroundings. The vehicle had halted in a modest courtyard bereft of gardens, and before her stood a two-story house.
For the past two days, Aldrit had relished the comfort of the lodgings provided by Sven. Despite the watchful eyes scrutinizing him from all angles and his inability to venture outside, he had no grounds for complaint. In comparison to the previous fortnight filled with restless nights, this haven where every meal was delivered was akin to paradise.
Yet, Aldrit’s contentment would have been immeasurably greater if only Mara’s ceaseless chatter didn’t invade his thoughts.
Since his audience with the king, Mara had inflicted unending torment upon Aldrit, persistently voicing dissatisfaction. On the first day, Mara seized upon Aldrit’s words to the king.
“What? Playing tricks? Not dealing with it immediately? Are you suggesting we address it later? Is that all you can say? You and I share a common destiny. You should support me to the best of your ability!”
Aldrit pondered, Common destiny? What does that even mean? Nevertheless, unable to endure Mara’s incessant mutterings, he offered an apology, stating, “I expressed myself poorly.” Only then did Mara pivot to a different subject.
Subsequently, Mara probed Aldrit about his relationship with the king, curious whether they shared a close bond. Aldrit’s vague response only fueled Mara’s discontent.
And today, Mara had been fidgety since morning. As the day wore on, their sensitivity escalated to an unbearable level, making them increasingly vexing.
“It’s the promised day. Why hasn’t he arrived yet?”
“He mentioned he would come after sunset.”
“The sun has already set! Did the king never intend for me to meet Anika from the start?”
“His Majesty would not resort to such deceit.”
“How can you trust a human? They lie every time they open their mouths.”
“Aren’t the elders humans? How could you have spent all these years with humans if you can’t trust them?”
“…Those elders are special humans.”
Aldrit had grown irritated by Mara’s ceaseless complaints and had retorted with sarcasm. However, hearing an unexpected response, he became curious.
“In what way? To sustain the magic? The purpose of that magic is to hide your tracks. So, wouldn’t you most wish for the day when you can break that magic?” he asked.