Edwin had also experienced the loss of something extremely precious in the past – a lifelong hold on his sword.
Now, he couldn’t even hold the sword, let alone swing it, and his body had become weak.
‘I hope that Jasper loves that woman, Rose.’
Edwin’s mind was quickly captivated by dangerous thoughts. Once he obtained all the valuable knowledge from Rose Bell, what if he disposed of her?
Back when he was in the Port City of Valloch, Edwin remembered how Jasper never paid any attention to other women. He had thought that Jasper simply had no interest in such diversions, but perhaps it was because he had someone special in his heart.
‘If it was just a casual affair, he wouldn’t have broadcast it to everyone.’
Rose Bell was undoubtedly a precious presence to Jasper. Edwin started to feel a little better about the idea of tormenting Rose and causing suffering to Jasper.
‘Yeah, Jasper, you should experience despair for once.’
Edwin clutched his powerless legs with his hands and a faint smile crossed his face.
* * *
Rose awoke in excruciating pain as if her skull was splitting.
‘My head… it hurts too much…’
For the first few minutes, it was hard for her to grasp the situation. Her eyes were covered with a blindfold, and her arms were bound with her wrists tied behind her.
She slowly realized her condition. Her body was lying on a rough floor, and there were sounds of hooves outside. It seemed like she was inside a carriage.
Thud! The carriage continued to bounce roughly as if it was not traveling on well-paved roads. Although she had likely been on a main road in the capital earlier…
Rose tried to clear her foggy mind and remembered her last memory: being forcibly abducted by Redmark individuals. She recalled the sensation of a cloth covering her nose and mouth.
‘Was I drugged?’
She had no idea how much time had passed since she had lost consciousness. Even when she blinked, all she saw was darkness. She couldn’t even tell the time of day.
Rose’s lips quivered, and she felt her eyes moisten. It appeared that she had been kidnapped by the Redmark. They had said that they were not looking for her due to her father’s situation.
‘Why have they taken me?’
She had no clue about the reason behind her abduction. Being thrust into an unfamiliar situation, fear washed over her, and her eyes teared up. She was utterly terrified.
Rose found herself uttering Jasper’s name in the overwhelming sense of fear.
Her bound wrists and the leather straps on her back caused constant discomfort, and the friction of the leather against her skin was painfully sharp.
Rose panted heavily in a state of panic for a while. Her heart was racing, and her chest was tightening, but she eventually managed to regain her composure. She bit her lips tightly.
‘Calm down… I need to stay calm.’
It was evident that her current situation was highly dangerous. Merely being fearful wouldn’t help her; it might even lead to worse outcomes. Rose made an effort to think as calmly as possible while assessing her current condition.
‘It hasn’t been more than a day.’
She didn’t feel particularly hungry or thirsty. Did that mean it was still the same day as the ball?
‘The ball… Why today?’
However, she couldn’t afford to dwell on her emotions at the moment. Instead, Rose concentrated on the sounds coming from outside the carriage.
She didn’t hear any exhaust sounds or mechanical noises. The area around the factory didn’t seem to be where they were heading. She focused her ears, and faintly, she heard the sound of a train’s brakes.
‘A place with a train station.’
It wasn’t a city with large factories, but it was a region of some significance if the train was making a stop.
Rose recalled a few regional names from her geography class that fit the criteria.
‘Piorint, Huyern, Brittel…’
As Rose pondered this, the carriage gradually slowed down and eventually came to a stop somewhere. With a click, she heard someone get out of the coachman’s seat.
Rose remained perfectly still, crouched down and trying to make herself as small as possible. The door of the carriage opened, and a man’s coarse voice became clearer.
“Are you still unconscious?”
It was a familiar voice in her ear. It seemed to be one of the Redmark people she had encountered by the capital earlier. Beside him, an unfamiliar voice was heard.
“Bring her to the underground cellar.”
Swiftly, the man lifted Rose onto his shoulder, draping her there haphazardly. Rose relaxed her body to pretend to be unconscious while still trying to remain aware and gather information about her surroundings.
Beyond the black cloth covering her eyes, she caught glimpses of silhouettes in the surroundings. It still seemed to be daylight, which meant they must have reached a location within a half-day’s journey from the capital.
The options were narrowed down to one.
With Rose still perched on the man’s shoulder, they entered the building. Except for the sound of the door closing with a thud, there didn’t seem to be any other distinctive noises, indicating that it wasn’t a crowded place.
Shortly after, the man began to descend the stairs with Rose on his shoulder. Before long, Rose was unceremoniously dropped onto a cold floor.
A reflexive groan escaped as she collided with the hard ground. At that moment, the two men exchanged words.
“She seems to be waking up.”
“Should we remove the blindfold?”
“No, just leave her and go. I’ll bring the him.”
Afterward, both men left the underground cellar.
Rose huddled on the ground, trembling lips, as the coldness rising from the floor pierced through her body.
She couldn’t fathom why this was happening to her. She felt like she had lived without causing harm to anyone.
She wished to see the person referred to as “him” as soon as possible. Only then would she have a chance to make some sense of the current situation.
* * *
Around that time, Jasper Conway was consumed by a foreboding feeling as he rummaged through the Academy grounds looking for Rose.
“Miss Rose hasn’t come to find her dress.”
The tailor conveyed her concern, and from that moment, it was difficult to quell the rising anxiety within him.
It could be a simple matter of oversleeping, or perhaps some urgent issue had delayed her visit to the dress shop.
‘But Rose isn’t the type to break her appointments.’
If she was going to be several hours late, she would surely have explained her circumstances to the tailor in advance.
Rose was diligent and considerate of others, so something was amiss in this situation.
Jasper, while preparing for the ball at Town House, rushed out to find Rose. He went so far as to question members of the family to find her whereabouts and dispatched people to the city and its outskirts.
Some of the academy students reported seeing Rose leave early in the morning, headed toward the dress shop as scheduled. But what had happened afterward?
He had hoped it was just his nerves getting the better of him, but as time passed, he realized the situation was becoming increasingly serious.
By the afternoon, the fourth-year students who had finished their preparations for the ball began to make their way to the Grand Hall. They were filled with excitement and anticipation for the long-awaited event.
Except for Jasper and Rose’s friends.
Briley and Rebecca, having heard the news of Rose’s disappearance from Jasper, were lost in thought. Jasper ran his fingers through his perfectly groomed hair and asked.
“Did Rose mention anything unusual yesterday?”
Briley replied with a surprised tone.
“No, not at all. She was just talking about looking forward to today… Rose wouldn’t just disappear without saying anything.”
Rebecca nodded with an anxious expression.
Jasper sighed heavily. For a moment, his mind went blank, his vision blurred, then cleared again. Even Rose’s closest friends had no idea where she was.
‘Where could she be…’
Could Rose have been kidnapped by someone?
Jasper began to consider potential suspects.
The recent investigations into the retro wave group and the shadowy figures behind them, possibly involving Dom Industries and Edwin…
‘But why would they?’
There was no apparent reason for them to take an ordinary person, even if they were willing to risk exposure.
Besides, it seemed that today, the retro wave had important matters to discuss among themselves. Why engage in something risky on a day when they need to avoid drawing attention?
‘Perhaps it’s a public relations move.’
The moment Jasper introduces Rose as his official partner for the ball, the higher classes might not react favorably to the news. They would likely scrutinize the circumstances surrounding their relationship.
While he didn’t know the exact trigger if they had indeed taken Rose…
‘I’ll have to eliminate them.’
There was one more reason to dismantle them.
Jasper’s expression darkened rapidly. It was crucial to maintain a cool head, and Jasper began to reevaluate the situation systematically.
A familiar voice came from behind.
Briley noticed someone over Jasper’s shoulder, her eyes widening in surprise. Jasper quickly turned to look behind him.
Theo Lixton stood there with a pallid expression.