The residual strip at the bottom of the page served as the lone evidence that a part had been intentionally ripped off. The cut was very neat, it could’ve only been done using a knife.
Was this deliberate? Or an accident? What was on the page?
As she looked at the mutilated page, Eugene’s eyes suffused with excitement. Finally, she knew what to look for. She had found her very first clue. The next two days saw Eugene scouring over piles of books until she happened upon another with a page ripped out in the same ‘clean-cut’ manner. Well, though it wasn’t much, at least her hypothesis was proven right- the who, what, when would only be an eventuality.
I have to figure out what was on the missing pages. Perhaps, a couple of days would be enough to look through all these books.
Though she might have been able to complete her search in a few hours, Eugene did not intend to spend all day in the study. Non-stop flipping through thousands of books could strain her and dull her senses, and she might overlook some missing pages and with that, her chance of solving this puzzle faster. The best approach now was a systematic approach, albeit slower.
Besides, she needed time to settle too.
She reckoned spending the remainder of her day exploring the palace wouldn’t hurt. After all, her arrival into this world was in a blink of an eye, and chances were she would return to her original world in the same way, at any moment. Before this was all over, she wanted to relish her indefinite stay.
Thus, she decided to take a detour to her bedroom. Instead of taking the usual route, she made her way down to the first floor. She had been through this path before, but for some reason, this had been her first to notice a small door…
Acknowledging her surroundings meant that she had slowly adapted to this place. Without the slightest hesitation, Eugene approached the door. She had Zanne following her, so she wasn’t afraid of getting lost. Throwing caution to the wind, today, Eugene gave it her all.
The door led to a long outdoor passageway, lined with marble columns. And at its end was yet another door.
As she walked along the corridor, Eugene stopped to admire the sky. This was her first time outdoors since entering the palace. The palace was large enough that she hadn’t felt the need to go outside before. Since the active period started as soon as she had come into this world, she hadn’t even considered it. But today, she felt fresh and invigorated. It could be because of her little discovery which made her feel pumped up.
Just then, she remembered the palace was not only beautiful indoors, but it was surrounded by equally impressive grounds. The flowers, topiaries, and statues in the gardens were meticulously done. She had never seen it, though.
Why not spend a couple of hours in the garden? It’ll be safe since it’s still inside the palace.
Eugene looked over her shoulder to where Zanne was, a few paces behind.
“Is this corridor a dead end?” she asked.
“Your Grace, this corridor is rarely used, but is not a dead end.”
Eugene nodded and gingerly stepped out of the passage and onto the ground. As her foot touched the earth, she felt the softness beneath her shoes. She liked the feeling and went about exploring the area around. Laidback, she strolled around the vast garden until something in the distance caught her eye.
Standing there- tall, impressive; lush, velvety black from head to hooves… It was indeed a beautiful horse. However, it had no business being here in this garden. And yet, here it was, living so freely within such an authoritarian place with unbending rules. It looked truly free, without any restraints.
“Zanne, do you think that horse escaped the stable?”
“Oh no, Your Grace. It’s always left there to roam freely.”
Just then, Eugene noticed something. She knitted her brows. “It doesn’t have a rein… is it tamed? Does anyone own the horse?”
“Yes, Your Grace. His Majesty.”
Now it all made sense to Eugene.
Whose else, but the king’s steed was allowed to move around freely?
What a surprise! He doesn’t seem like someone who’d keep pets. He must really love this horse.
“Will it harm us?”
Zanne shook her head and answered, “No, Your Grace, but…”
Before she could even finish, Eugene had started to take furtive steps towards the horse, absolutely disregarding the maid’s words. She didn’t want to scare the beast. Even so, when the beast noticed her approaching, its instincts responded before it did. It stood still as if frozen in its place but on high alert.
It was indeed a beautiful horse. Eugene was so enticed that she just couldn’t resist taking a few steps closer.
Once again, Zanne helplessly warned her. “Your Grace! It is best if you don’t…”
And once again, Eugene ignored her words of caution.
She had once seen a picture of horses in an equestrian beauty pageant. There were several good-looking ones, but by far, this one was the most beautiful. It had a compact and muscular body, unlike any. It was clear that the horse was of a pure breed, chosen with excellent care. Along its elegant, long neck, its mane swayed in the breeze. A warm beam of sunlight reflected off the smooth and silky strands. Its bright red eyes were like rubies. This horse was a sight to behold!
Eugene immediately froze. The eyes that met hers were clearly red. And red eyes were one of the attributes of…