Living As the Villainess Queen - Chapter 334.1
After methodically stamping the documents, Dana gingerly arranged them atop the neatly processed stack on her desk. The surface now gleamed, devoid of any lingering paperwork. She paused for a moment, her gaze fixed upon the vacant expanse before she carefully lowered the stamp.
Abruptly disrupting the ongoing banquet, the leisurely post-event cleanup had finally reached its conclusion. While most of her responsibilities had been delegated to her son, Dana had chosen to personally attend to this particular duty.
Raising her head, she turned her attention to the window. Everything had concluded right on schedule, with the impending sunset promising to paint the sky in hues of warmth.
Her emotions were a blend of satisfaction and melancholy. In the midst of tending to the mundane tasks that demanded her attention, Dana had momentarily overlooked the void left by her daughter’s departure.
It’s already been ten days. By now, they must have entered the Kingdom of Hashi.
Dana possessed only scant knowledge of Eugene and Kasser’s itinerary to the Kingdom of Hashi. She knew it would take roughly a week, but the finer details eluded her. Eugene had given his word to send word as soon as they crossed into Hashi, and Dana anxiously awaited the arrival of their letter.
“Milady,” a butler rapped lightly on the door. Shortly thereafter, he entered, wearing an air of apprehension. “A knight has arrived, requesting an audience with you, Milady.”
Dana briefly displayed a hint of irritation, her patience tested by the frequent summons to the Holy City’s Palace over the past ten days. “Let them in.”
“Yes, Milady.” The butler promptly withdrew.
A short while later, the knight relayed a message from Sang-je. “His Majesty wishes to see you urgently, Milady. He requests a meeting today.”
Sang-je may not have been the ruler of the Holy City, but his influence was substantial. Although he could apply pressure, he lacked the authority to issue demands for the head of the Arse family to appear. Sending a messenger at this hour for an immediate meeting was, to say the least, a rather impolite request. Nevertheless, Dana responded with composed grace. “Very well. I will go to meet him.”
Just as Dana was preparing to leave, Patrick, who had recently returned home, caught wind of the news and knocked on her bedroom door. “They’re summoning you quite frequently. The more you visit the palace, the more rumors swirl. Sang-je feigns concern for the missing Jin while pursuing her like a criminal. If he genuinely cared for Anika, he wouldn’t behave in such a manner.”
Patrick’s tone was sharp, no longer bothering with the formality of honorifics when referring to Sang-je.
Aware of her husband’s meticulous nature when it came to choosing his words, Dana suspected he had caught wind of troubling news from outside.
“Still, it can’t be as dire as we fear, can it? I’ll be back,” she assured him.
“Be cautious,” her husband replied, his expression firm.
Dana couldn’t help but smile at her husband’s seriousness. “Do you think Sang-je might hold something against me?”
“He keeps summoning you because Sang-je is growing impatient. Those lurking in the shadows are capable of anything,” he cautioned.
Taking her husband’s words to heart, Dana left the mansion and, guided by a priest, arrived at the Holy City’s Palace. Unlike her previous three visits, Sang-je did not make an appearance until she had nearly drained her second cup of tea. Keeping a guest waiting for an extended period carried various implications, none of which boded well.
As she sipped the last dregs of her tea, the door to the room finally swung open. Dana rose to her feet as Sang-je entered. Just as before, there was no discernible aura around Sang-je. Dana could sense an energy, a trace of a soul even when looking at the departed, but Sang-je remained an enigma, devoid of such telltale signs.
In the past, Dana had believed Sang-je’s authority stemmed from being God’s representative. However, ever since Jin had revealed that Sang-je had lost his divine power, unease had nestled within her.
“There was an urgent matter I needed to attend to. How have you been?” Sang-je inquired.
“Thanks to His Holiness’s care, I find solace,” she replied.
“Is that so? I had concerns that you might not find peace, but it’s reassuring to hear otherwise.”
A slight twitch of Dana’s forehead betrayed her discomfort as she lowered her gaze. Sang-je’s tone was unusually sharp, and she had an inkling that this meeting would prove taxing.
Sang-je’s spirits were currently at their lowest. Reports of consecutive failures in the tasks he had delegated had reached him. The knights assigned to track Jin’s escorts to the Delano Kingdom reported their inability to locate her. Those dispatched in the direction of the Slan Kingdom had met with similar failure, and still, there was no word from Pides, the one sent towards the Dicus Kingdom.
To compound his troubles, the messengers sent to confirm whether the Fourth King had entered the Hashi Kingdom had returned with perplexing news. “The warriors accompanying the Fourth King were verified to have crossed the mountains, but we cannot ascertain whether the Fourth King was among them.”
Upon careful consideration, a disquieting conclusion emerged: Jin had departed the Holy City, and the Fourth King had accompanied her.
Why had Jin fled the Holy City in haste, like one escaping a dire threat? What knowledge had she gained that prompted such a drastic change in her plans? She had originally intended to wed the Fourth King for her own purposes, so what had altered her course? What secret dealings did she share with the Fourth King?
Sang-je seethed with fury and apprehension, grappling with his dearth of information. The king and Anika should have been wary of each other. It had been a long-standing effort on Sang-je’s part.
“Milady, are you still unaware of Anika Jin’s whereabouts? Have you received any word about her prior to her disappearance?” His inquiry leaned more towards an interrogation than a mere question.
Dana, with a measured pause, responded calmly, “If I possessed any knowledge, Your Holiness, I would willingly divulge it.”
“Are you not concerned for Anika Jin’s safety?”
“Is there a parent who doesn’t fret over their child? She’s not impulsive; I have faith in her and await her return. Sometimes, that is the role of a parent.”
“Even in such uncertainty regarding your daughter’s whereabouts, you maintain composure.”
Dana met Sang-je’s gaze head-on and remarked, “Please do not assess the depth of my emotions solely based on my outward demeanor, Your Holiness. I can weep inwardly while wearing a smile.”
Now, having aged and retreated from the forefront for some time, the younger generation might not be aware. When the Arse family’s matriarch had been at the pinnacle of guiding their resurgence, she had been renowned for having ice in her veins.
Among the countless individuals Sang-je had encountered in his many years, the Arse family’s matriarch was one of the most unflinching.
The Arse family was not to be underestimated recklessly. Their wealth was nothing extraordinary; it was the trust they commanded among those around them that constituted their true power.
This was precisely why, despite the exasperating ordeal Sang-je had endured, he couldn’t relinquish his pursuit of Anika Jin, a scion of the Arse family.
Not too long ago, the longed-for future had appeared to him. Alber had claimed to witness an enormous tree soaring into the sky from the heart of the palace. The exact timeframe remained elusive, but it was undoubtedly not in the distant future. Alber’s visions seldom extended beyond a few decades.
Jin and Flora, the two dreamers, were a pair. A simple lake wouldn’t suffice; it had to be “the” lake. Therefore, one individual alone wouldn’t suffice. The inevitable conclusion was that for this vision of the future to come to fruition, two Anikas were an absolute necessity.
“Anika Jin has violated the rules. She has abandoned her pivotal role in the Celestial Festival and vanished. The fate of the Holy City hinges on this event. I have no intention of overlooking this transgression. Given that you are Anika Jin’s mother, I shall extend one final opportunity. Deliver Anika Jin to the Holy City’s Palace prior to the Celestial Festival. Should Anika Jin still fail to appear, I will hold her accountable as God’s representative.”
Dana’s countenance stiffened upon hearing this warning, which sounded more like a thinly veiled threat.