“Why do you think that?” asked Alice.
“Because the ultimate goal of self-defense is to survive,” said Alex, “So most times it is to run away to find somewhere safe than to kill the opponent.”
She looked at him for a while then faced forward. “Wouldn’t a bear protecting her cub kill the opponent?” asked Alice, “That is defense too. Defending somebody.”
“Were you protecting someone?” he asked.
She didn’t know how much Alex wanted to know. At times, it felt like he believed her completely, other times it felt like he was just pushing her to see how far she would go. She too wanted to push him to see how far he believed her.
“Well, suffice it to say that it was for someone else,” she said cautiously. For most of her clients, she had been faster, efficient and made the deaths seem natural, as they wished. But there were blunders sometimes. Her clients had been satisfied with her work and she had earned her reputation of being meticulous with detail.
Her brother looked at her but didn’t comment further. Eventually, he went quiet. Alice scanned the shops on either side of the path.
“I wanted a matching necklace,” she said, “Where is the jewelry shop?”
At her words, Alex halted and looked around. Then he pulled her towards another direction. She already had a design in mind: a round stone on a thin metal. Something she could wear when she needed to. Also if she could alter her hairpin to fit more securely in her hair, that would be great!
Alice was lost in thought when she bumped hard into something and fell backwards. She gave a yelp and rubbed her arm where it hurt. A huge hand reached and grabbed her wrist, gently, to pull her up. She was still cursing in pain.
“Alice!” said Alex, “Are you alright?”
Alice blinked in surprise and looked before her. Her eyes followed the red-velvet cloth in front of her vision up to the delicately embroidered vines, up to the shoulders and collar of a stranger. She looked up to see a man. Her mind was racing. It would be easier to attack him waist down, if this broke into a scuffle. Being caught was no option, he could snap her neck as easily as a twig.
She realized that his hands were still on her wrist. She pulled it free, and he let her go. She shuffled to Alex’s side.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, “I wasn’t watching where I was going.”
“No, no,” said the man, “It’s my fault as well. Please forgive me.”
Now that she looked at him properly, he didn’t seem so threatening. His brownish-black hair was tied, hanging down to his neck, his eyes were grey. His face was sculpted and looked worriedly at Alice. He looked aristocratic, to say the least.
“Sorry for my rudeness, but aren’t you Grand Duke of Glouster?” Alex asked abruptly.
The man’s eyes shifted to Alex standing next to Alice, and a very faint smile appeared on his face.
“Oh, Viscount Wishburn?” asked the man.
Alex was granted the title of Viscount as the successor of the Marquess of Wishburn. Meanwhile ‘Grand Duke’ was a title given to royalty but not a successor. The King only had one child anyway, the princess Eleanor. So that meant the man before her was the King’s younger brother. Alice stared wide-eyed. No matter how renowned her family was, it wasn’t respectful to address royalty so casually.
“Yes, it’s been a long time, sir,” said Alex.
“It has, hasn’t it?” he said, “Are you here for Eleanor’s coming-of-age party? I think they usually stay on the estate.”
“Right, sir,” said Alex, “My family also has someone participating in the party.”
“Oh, the youngest daughter of Wishburn Castle. Who doesn’t know her indeed?” said the Grand Duke, “Is this the precious young lady right here?”
They’re talking about me. I better greet him, thought Alice. But the moment Alice’s eyes met the Grand Duke’s, her vision blurred and her head started spinning. She saw somebody else where the Grand Duke stood. A man with black hair and black eyes, shorter in height, skinny and in completely different clothes.
She had never seen him before and yet, she knew him somehow. She hadn’t known love in her past life but she had liked this man as much as her lack of emotion had allowed. Was it love? She didn’t know. But she knew Kim Eun-seo had wanted to be by his side. And now Alice wanted this man by her side, he wanted him to stroke her hair and hug her and look only at her.
This man had sent her to prosecution. Jang Seong-hoon. His name. The past and present mixed. The black and grey eyes mixed. Memories swirled in her mind. Miss Kim Eun-seo.
Don’t call me that. Don’t call me that. Not now. Where was she? Who was she? Darkness filled her vision.