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1509-chapter-146

It was nearing midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Despite the celebration, the town square was silent like a ghost town where Leon parked his car and headed straight to a shabby three-story building on one corner.

The soldiers standing guard on the first floor saluted as he passed, but he only responded with a dismissive nod before ascending to the third floor. Approaching the only door marked ‘No Entry,’ he extracted a key from his coat pocket and unlocked it.

With a creaking groan, the door swung open to reveal the familiar scene of a cramped boarding room.

The room contained only a single bed with a mattress, a wardrobe, a desk, and various miscellaneous items. He entered and shut the door behind him. The room was so small that turning on the desk lamp was enough to light up the whole space.

Standing between the desk and the bed, he felt the room tighten around him. The musty smell of dampness hung in the air, evidence of long periods without ventilation.

Ha… D*mn it.”

The irony didn’t escape him; a torture chamber would be more comfortable and spacious than this woman’s room.

He had made some guesses about her from the sassy behaviors she exhibited—disliking cold showers, using the master’s bathroom without permission, and being fussy about food—suggesting she had lived at least a middle-class life.

Moreover, she was a member of the royal family that had led the revolution.

It was hard to believe that she had been treated this way even though she was an illegitimate child. Before being discarded, she was even the fiancé of the leader. At the very least, she should have been treated like a princess.

“Ha, what kind of palace is this?”

The idea that she had lived in this moldy boarding house in a remote village was beyond his imagination. It made no sense.

When he first saw this room and read her diaries, he felt a strong dissonance. The life he visualized for her from her belongings and writings seemed far removed from that of a ‘revolutionary princess’ or the ‘future queen of the Blanchard dynasty.’

“The treatment of the fallen royal family is terribly harsh. That foolish girl… to endure all this.”

In this cramped room, he was repeatedly haunted by memories of the cunning woman who had toyed with him several times.

He sighed as he looked around the narrow space again.

The floor, dusty and only marked by his own footprints, was a stark reminder that the woman hadn’t come back for her belongings, despite the town hall, where she was last seen, not being far away. It seemed she had completely abandoned her past without a trace of regret.

He could understand her feelings. Those she trusted had hidden the truth about her biological parents. It must have been shocking, enough to make her feel as though her entire past was a lie.

Yet, he couldn’t shake the feeling that her actions that day were more extreme than expected.

Perhaps she had heard more from her brother than he had anticipated.

Leon wanted to bring Jonathan Riddle Junior to the interrogation table right away, but it wasn’t time yet—he was still setting traps and waiting.

Though he knew it was probably pointless, Leon searched the room once more.

He pulled an album from the desk drawer and flipped through it. There were only a few photos, including one taken in front of Abbington Beach station, where she was smiling brightly. The rest were of her in ways he didn’t recognize, which made him feel a rising anger every time he faced Blanchard.

He snapped the album shut and put it back in its place before rifling through other drawers. From the top drawer, he pulled out a candy tin containing five passport-sized photos, which he stared at before sliding them into his wallet.

His hand through the room became more frantic. He was desperate to find something, yet he didn’t know what it was.

Or perhaps he knew, but it just wasn’t here.

He didn’t know what more he could do to find her. He felt he had done everything possible, and the thought that there was nothing left to do was unbearable. So he continued his futile search until he opened an old travel trunk under the bed, and for a moment, time seemed to stop.

…No, maybe it went reverse.

Carefully, as if excavating a relic, Leon picked up a straw hat surrounded by miscellaneous objects.

Why was this still here?

Why had she kept the straw hat he had bought her?

“I really… liked you too.”

Could that be the reason? No, that didn’t make sense.

Leon was trying to deny it when he remembered a vague memory from his past. It was after he graduated from the military academy and returned to his mansion.

“What should we do with this?”

The maid had asked, holding up a dolphin doll while they were clearing out his childhood items in the storage room. He hadn’t even remembered owning it. At that time, it had only been a trigger for unpleasant memories, yet instead of asking to throw it away, he found himself saying to keep it in storage.

Why do we choose not to completely forget?

Whoosh. Bang.

With the straw hat in hand, Leon was pulled back to the present by the sound of fireworks. He looked out the window as fireworks began to color the night sky, celebrating the new year.

Champagne, kisses, parties, and fireworks brought another night to mind.

…The night of his engagement party, which had been a turning point leading him here.

Bang.

The woman who was terrified into paleness that night for mocking exploding fireworks as gunshots. And he had mocked her.

His face reflected in the window beyond the illusion was twisted and joyless.

Leon closed his eyes tightly.

He had believed, at the moment he decided to walk this path, that if he could just impregnate her and break her brainwashing, everything would fall into place. How foolish he had been just two seasons ago.

“May the next year bring more hope than this one. That futile hope is all you have left.”

Whose words were those, really?

Bang.

As everyone wished for luck at the stroke of midnight, Leon silently wished for a happy misfortune. He hoped that the sound he heard was a bullet hitting him.

And this time, it would be her turn to mock.

Right in front of him.

 

º º º

 

Clank, clank, clank.

As Leon listened to the rhythmic clatter of the train wheels on the tracks, other sounds began to blend in, prompting him to open his eyes. The setting sun was obscured by thick raindrops striking the window, trailing down in diagonal lines.

He watched the rain idly, a deflated laugh escaping him.

Miserable.

As the train slowed, the familiar skyline of a city set against a sky tinged with gray and red came into view.

He was back in Winsford.

It was exactly one month since the woman had disappeared—without him. Leon scribbled on a napkin on the table with his fountain pen:

— One month.
— 31 days.
— 744 hours.
— 44,640 minutes.

Converted to seconds, it was 2,678,400 seconds.

He knew it was meaningless and would only add to the pain, yet he couldn’t stop himself. 2,678,401 seconds. 2,678,402 seconds.

2,678,403 seconds…

“Ha…”

He set the pen down, the sound echoing sharply in the empty first-class compartment with his sigh.

He had considered all scenarios but never truly anticipated returning alone. All his plans had been about preventing him from returning without her. Yet, he couldn’t just wait indefinitely in the place where she had vanished. There was no reason to.

Knowing this, he had lingered in the north under the guise of conducting prisoner interrogations and investigations, only leaving as the ceremony for his title conferment approached.

The royal event schedule was usually planned meticulously at least six months in advance. Yet, surprisingly, within less than a month of announcing a title conferment during the New Year’s address, the royal household notified him that the ceremony was to be held.

It was evident that they intended to use Leon to soothe some recent negative public opinion towards the monarchy.

At the end of last year, just before the operation, a rumor had circulated in financial circles and eventually made its way into the tabloids, claiming that the king was the actual owner of a joint venture that had won the mining rights to the Bria Diamond Mine.

Naturally, this rumor, strategically spread by Leon under the assumption that the woman would be by his side at this critical time, coincided perfectly with his plans.

Public opinion about the royal family’s covert investments was understandably unfavorable. If the monarchy directly denied these allegations, it could validate the rumors, turning them from whispers in the dark to accepted facts in the light.

Thus, the royal family countered this by deploying ‘anonymous royal sources’ to the media to dismiss these as baseless rumors while manipulating public opinion through more devious means.

And just when these issues were brewing, Leon’s successful suppression of the rebels captured public attention. It likely earned him gratitude from the king, who might have seen him as rescuing him, while not knowing he was the one who had drowned him in the first place.

 

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