A fist struck Theo’s cheek without warning.
He turned his head to the side, the impact leaving him dazed, and a ringing sound echoed in his ear. There was a metallic taste of blood in his mouth.
The man who had struck Theo was one of the managers from Dom Industries. Unable to contain his anger, the manager yelled roughly.
“Someone could have died!”
Theo shook his head slightly, unable to say anything in response.
Yesterday, trouble had arisen due to the explosives Theo had been involved in developing. In the middle of transporting the new mana bombs to the warehouse, they had spontaneously ignited. The explosion had left two cart drivers injured.
It was clear that there had been an issue with the mana mixture. The fact that the bomb could detonate just from the shocks during transportation proved it. Fortunately, no one had died, but it also served as evidence that the explosive power of the explosives wasn’t that great.
It was a failure in terms of both stability and explosive power, and Theo stood there in a daze, unable to respond to the manager’s harsh words.
‘I’m responsible for people getting hurt…’
That fact tormented Theo. He had never wished for something like this to happen.
Theo was never really confident in manipulating chemical compounds with mana in the first place. He had been burdened with excessive work, surrounded by the glory of winning the contest, and this was the result.
The manager, his impatience evident, grabbed Theo’s collar, wondering if the anger would ever subside.
“Even if you can’t, you must show a finished product by early next year. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
Theo grimaced, biting his lip.
“I… can’t do it.”
“What, you can’t?”
Theo stared at the manager with eyes full of pain, and his pupils started to glisten with moisture.
He felt that it was impossible like this, that he had reached his limit. He no longer wanted to be responsible for inventing weapons. Whether he succeeded or failed, it would only end up hurting more people.
“With my skills… I can’t make something like this. It was all a lie. I’ll return the salary I received…”
“A lie? What on earth are you talking about?”
Theo wanted to spill everything, to feel relieved.
“I was never the main character of the contest victory in the first place. It was not me, but… Rose Bell did it all. I can’t create complex formulas like this…”
Before Theo could finish speaking, he was thrown to the ground with a thud.
The manager left the room, muttering the name Rose Bell several times, leaving a hopeless Theo behind.
* * *
The day of Berkley Academy’s graduation ball had finally arrived.
As many students had gone home last night to prepare for the ball, the fourth-year dormitory within the academy was quiet.
Unlike her friends who received help with dressing from maids at the townhouse, Rose headed to the dress shop early in the morning. If she came to the shop herself, the tailor would help her get fitted. As she walked out the front gate of the academy, there was excitement in her step.
‘I wonder what Jasper will be wearing today.’
No matter what he wore, Jasper was sure to shine brighter than anyone else. It was early in the morning, and the streets were still relatively quiet as Rose walked briskly.
She noticed three burly figures approaching from across the road. Rose’s face, which had been beaming with excitement, turned ashen within seconds.
They were members of the Redmark Summit, who had previously threatened her to repay her father’s debt. Their gaze was fixed squarely on Rose, and it was evident they were heading in her direction.
Rose had thought that the issue regarding her father’s debt had been resolved. She didn’t know why they were here, but it didn’t seem like it would be good news.
Rose froze in fear for a moment, but then quickly turned her body around. She intended to flee to another place before they could catch her.
But then, from behind, a desperate voice called out.
“Hey! Wait a minute. Let’s talk!”
The voice that requested a conversation had a menacing tone.
Rose sprinted toward the academy entrance. Once she entered the academy grounds, she would be safe. Unauthorized individuals couldn’t enter the premises freely.
But they had already walked quite a distance from the academy. Could she escape them?
Rose’s heart raced and her breathing quickened as she was on edge. If there had been more people around, she might have been able to blend into the crowd.
However, Rose had no talent for physical activity. It hadn’t been long, but her lungs were already burning, and her speed had slowed. The footsteps of the Redmark individuals were getting closer.
‘Why… why today of all days?’
A sense of despair briefly crossed Rose’s eyes. Everything had been going so well lately. But perhaps the world wasn’t always so generous.
A moment later, a strong hand grabbed Rose’s shoulder.
Rose’s body went limp as she was turned around. The men who had followed Rose showed no signs of effort as they seized her.
“N-no, let go… ugh!”
A man with a broken nose, courtesy of Jasper, used his hefty palm to immediately muffle Rose’s cries. Her screams didn’t reach far.
To make matters worse, this place was an industrial zone, and if it had been a workday, the streets would have been crowded with laborers on their way to work. However, on a weekend morning, there were few people in sight.
Even the few people nearby seemed indifferent to Rose. A child delivering newspapers on a bicycle hurried past her, glancing briefly. A maid carrying a pile of laundry from a mansion across the street seemed too preoccupied to pay attention to the commotion.
Soon, two men surrounded Rose on either side, completely blocking her from view. Sandwiched between the massive men, Rose was entirely hidden from sight.
Rose trembled, unable to move an inch.
“Miss, we’re not trying to harm you.”
Rose squinted her eyes as hard as she could.
“Okay, okay. I understand you might not trust us. But we genuinely didn’t come with bad intentions this time. A very important person wants to meet you, and we’re here to take you to them.”
This unexpected turn of events was puzzling. If something had happened because of George, it would not have surprised her.
She couldn’t allow herself to be taken away like this. Rose struggled to remove the hand covering her mouth but all her attempts were in vain.
The men next to her pressed her shoulders down to prevent any movement.
“Ah, it would have been better if you just came along quietly. All this struggling is only draining your strength.”
The men exchanged glances with each other. Rose’s trembling eyes darted about. A peculiar-smelling handkerchief was placed over her nose.
“It’s unavoidable. We’re trying to take you peacefully. Don’t bear a grudge against us.”
As Rose’s consciousness faded further, she caught snippets of the men’s conversation.
“If we keep this up, Conway’s second guy is going to cause a fuss again.”
“He’ll figure it out.”
“This all feels a bit fishy. Are we on the right side here?”
“It’s too late to turn back now!”
And then, Rose lost consciousness completely.
* * *
Edwin paced the narrow room, muttering to himself.
He was rehearsing the speech he would deliver in the evening.
“You have the right and freedom to rule. The capitalists who chase money, those in cahoots with politicians… Ah, darn it. What was next?”
Edwin scrunched up his face and ran his fingers through his hair, frustrated.
Tonight, taking advantage of the fact that all the attention in the capital was focused on the Berkley graduation ball, he planned to host a retro gathering. This gathering was exclusively for a select elite group.
Among the retro wave, the most ardent young individuals and supporters would meet at the Brittel Coffee House. To turn them into a meaningful political faction, they needed a stronger focal point. It was now Edwin’s turn to assume that role.
For the first time today, Edwin had to step in front of people and reveal his lineage.
Tomorrow or the day after, there will be extensive articles in the media controlled by Dom Industries.
Miraculously surviving son of the former Crown Prince. This headline would be placed on newsstands, and the retro wave would take to the streets in synchronized marches.
Today was the beginning of all that. Edwin slumped down into his chair, his expression already drained. He wasn’t confident he could capture the hearts of the retro wave.
Furthermore, his mind was preoccupied with something other than the speech.
It was a name he had already heard. She was said to be Jasper Conway’s commoner lover, and her name had been circulating in various places lately.
But the fact that this girl held the key to completing the new explosive was astounding. Theo Lixton, who was originally responsible for the research, had confessed that only Rose could properly adjust the formula.
To raise funds quickly, it was crucial to produce research results as soon as possible. But instead of seeing progress, there had been an accident a few days ago.
If the current state of affairs became known to the sponsors, they would undoubtedly be displeased.
Edwin needed Rose Bell immediately.
Moreover, she could potentially be used as leverage in case of unexpected situations, especially if she was someone Jasper Conway cared about. The CEO of Dom Industries considered this scandal to be a possible imperial melodrama.
“They aim to create a star couple that transcends social status to disrupt the class system. To think that Conway has fallen in love with a common girl. It’s such a preposterous event. However, it’s generating quite a bit of buzz. The emperor is truly cunning.”
The truth didn’t matter. Regardless, Rose Bell had various uses, and the key was to secure her involvement as soon as possible.
‘I wonder what kind of woman she is. Is Jasper Conway sincere about her?’
Edwin clenched his trembling legs with both hands. For a moment, Jasper’s clean face came to mind, making him feel even more repulsed.
‘Losing a woman he cares about will surely dirty his mood.’