Chapter 1. An Accidental Encounter
After Charlotte told the whole story, the duke left the residence without wasting any more time.
Thump, thump. His heart was beating so fast it was spreading through his body. Anxiety and desperation which he had never felt in his life enveloped Duke Hart’s whole body.
No wonder he had a bad feeling today.
So he took four pills to maintain his human form when Nelia went out.
Even though he felt his whole body throbbing due to the side effects of excessive consumption, he was grateful for his choice now.
He was in his human form, so he was able to go out and look for Nelia this time.
However, his continuously beating heart showed little signs that he would calm down soon.
He was afraid at the thought that he would never get to see Nelia again, in case something happened to her again.
The anxious feeling inside made him feel as if someone was strangling his neck.
So this is what it feels like to be so desperate.
At the same time, he gritted his chin.
The thought about Nelia who could be in trouble made him angry at the same time.
It should never and could not happen.
If they harm Nelia in any way, he wouldn’t spare their lives.
The duke tried to calm himself down upon realizing the burning smell was emitted from his body.
It was none other than Nelia who got caught in such a situation. She shouldn’t be caught up in the heat of the moment and mess this up.
The duke rode the horse from the stable and drove into the park in a hurry.
The sky was filled with dark clouds and the scattering sound of the running horseshoes.
Like a thunderstorm.
Nelia found the white knotted branch that Charlotte mentioned.
‘So this is the shortcut mark the hooligans were talking about.’
The white knotted branch led to the mountain that appeared to be even darker at night.
Nelia climbed the mountain while following the white knotted branch. The slope wasn’t steep, but hard, even so it was worth the climb.
She must have climbed up for a long time when she finally heard a human voice come from a quiet hill.
“Such an amazing trouvaille! He’s a tough guy, and he seemed to be pretty skilled at fighting, I think we would get 20 gold coins if we sell him off at the slave market in the southern continent.”
“I know. I think the pendant necklace that the siblings stole today would be quite expensive, too.”
Nelia hid herself behind a big tree.
The men were talking under a large rock while building a large rock.
It might be the member of the hooligans who took Ton. They seemed to be guarding from the corner of the street.
“Have you had a look at the pendant?”
“No, it couldn’t be opened regardless of what I did to it.”
The pendant can’t be opened in a normal way. Even Charlotte, the owner of the pendant, never opened it.
She was very curious when reading the original story. What was inside the pendant that couldn’t be opened easily?
Of course, it wasn’t important in this situation.
“It doesn’t matter. It seemed to be made of platinum anyway, so it will be worth it.”
The hooligans spoke nonchalantly. The topic was quickly diverted after that.
“It’s such a shame that we missed the woman from earlier, she has a rare beauty.”
“We have no choice. That man was good at fighting, the four of us almost got knocked out in just one second. Nevertheless, we got the man in exchange for the woman.”
The hooligans seemed to be talking about Ton and Charlotte.
“Now that we’re talking about it, you’ve locked him up properly, right? Otherwise, he might run away as soon as he escapes from the cage.”
“Of course. I even put an extra shackle on his ankles just in case.”
Nelia frowned as she overheard the conversation.
“He was shackled even on his ankles……..”
When she was drowning in a rush of frustration, some helpful information reached her ears.
“What about the key of the cage? We have to go to the port soon.”
“I hung it on the tree in front of the cage. I always hung it there, so Recarl will find it in no time.”
Fortunately, no one seemed to carry around the key.
Upon getting the information, Nelia decided that she had nothing more to gain, so she crept away and walked quietly through the trees.
After about ten more minutes, the flat ground on the summit of the mountain came into her sight. This seemed to be the headquarters of the hooligans.
There were cloth huts and small mud huts in the headquarters, and fires were put everywhere to illuminate the darkness of the place.
As the siblings said, there were about 10 people in the headquarters.
When she came to the hooligans’ headquarters, her heart was pounding so much that she forgot the pain in her legs.
Nelia closed her eyes once and opened them again.
‘Let’s get yourself together.’
If Ton leaves for the port as they said, it would be difficult to find him again. If the ship departs, Ton would be sold as a slave in another country.
Nelia leaned flatly on the ground and tried to find the iron cage where Ton was put. But she barely found the iron cage.
‘Where the hell is he……..?’
When she was getting anxious, she found someone coming out from behind the hut. There seemed to be a room behind the hut.
It might be the place……..
After taking another look around, Nelia quickly hid herself in the trees and walked quietly to the back of the hut.
Rustle, rustle. There was a sound of falling leaves on the floor, but the headquarters was quite noisy and no one seemed to notice that there was a stranger nearby.
Upon reaching the back of the cabin, Nelia found a cage and someone who was a sight for the sore eyes.
Her voice almost due to the overwhelming happiness, but she tried to swallow her voice altogether.
Nelia looked around first. Luckily, there were no people behind the cabin. But there was one problem.
The key to the cage, which was said to be hung on the tree branch around here, wasn’t visible.
‘Where is it?’
Nelia looked around and approached the cage first since she couldn’t find it.
Ton slowly turned his head upon sensing someone’s presence.
Ton, who was seeing the person with a black robe walking up to him, opened his eyes wide when Nelia pulled the robe back slightly.
“Young Lady Nelia………!”
Nelia approached the cage and spoke in a hushed voice.
“Ton, I’m glad you’re alright.”
However, Ton, who confirmed that Nelia was alone, soon hardened his face.
“How can you come to this dangerous place?”
“I was told that they would be taking Ton to the harbor before 9 pm, I couldn’t just stand still.”
“I will hear your nagging later, so tell me the location of the key to open the cage door first.”
Ton was hesitant, and he spoke in a subdued voice.
“The key that was hanging on the branch right in front of me was just taken away by someone else a little while ago.”
“Who was the one who took the key?”
“He was the one with a black hood.”
Nelia leaned over slightly and extended her head to find the man wearing the black hood.
She could find him without difficulty. The man who wore the black hood was sitting near the bonfire and eating a large chunk of meat with others.
His face was flushed and the look on his eyes were loose, he seemed to have had a drink earlier. Bottles of alcohol were scattered beside him.
‘What should I do………’
No matter how drunk he was, she couldn’t just go and sneak in.
Nelia swept her eyes through a bunch of hooligans who were chatting noisily.
Then at that moment, the reflection of the burning bonfire was visible in Nelia’s eyes as she looked at it.
She didn’t know it might be possible to confuse the bunch of hooligans and retrieve the keys.
There was just one more thing to look for.
“Ton, do you know where the key for the shackles is?”
The shackles were bound to Ton’s legs. There were heavy weights attached to the shackles. Even if she were able to open the cage door, it wouldn’t be easy to run away because of it.
“It must be in this cabin. I heard the hooligans say that they keep all the stolen items and keys in here.”
Perhaps, she could look for Charlotte’s pendant necklace as well as the key to unlock the shackles in the cabin.
Nelia’s eyes lit up at the moment Ton spoke in a subdued voice.
“But, Young Lady Nelia. It will be impossible to find the key for now. You should return before you get caught.”
“What are you saying? Do you know how I got here?”
“So you’re going to enter the hooligans’ hideout on your own in order to look for the key?”
“I’ll do it if it’s necessary.”
Ton distorted his eyes. Such an expression was seldomly present on Ton’s face.
“Please perish the thought. I beg of you, please return. If Young Lady Nelia gets into trouble, the master won’t stay still.”
Nelia had thought about it, too. The duke would be very sad if Nelia gets into trouble.
That’s what she could say for sure.
“I won’t get into trouble. I have a plan.”
Nelia said while raising herself to her feet.
Ton didn’t say anything, perhaps he also realized that it was meaningless to try to stop her again.
Nelia stepped forward as if putting her plan into action.
She leaned flat on the cabin and glanced at the bunch of hooligans.
They still seemed to be in a drunken state while chatting with each other.
There were no people there. Nelia picked up a long branch lying on the floor and walked to the campfire on the opposite side of the hooligans.
Reaching the spot near the hooligans, Nelia watched them while bringing branches to the bonfire and burned it.
The tip of the was burnt in a flash. Red flames were reflected in Nelia’s eyes.
And she walked to the position she had been eyeing. The place was perfect for carrying out the plan as the trees were sparse.
Nelia threw the burning branch at the pile of the gathered dried leaves under a large tree.
The small fire grew big in an instant.
Nelia hid in the darkness and shouted loudly.
She watched the bunch of hooligans get frightened by the screaming voice exclaiming fire. They began to freak out even more after seeing the burning tree.
Nelia had to move quickly.
There were only sparse trees here, so it would take a while for the fire to spread to other places.
The bunch of hooligans would get water and put out the fire probably before it could happen. Since there was a valley not far away from here.
That was the reason she deliberately set this place on fire. She didn’t intend to set a big fire which would be enough to burn the entire mountain.
Nelia’s eyes flicked to the black-hooded man who was moving around haphazardly.
Nelia approached the target after catching sight of him. All the hooligans were wearing black robes, so they wouldn’t find her strange when they were in such a confused state.
As she walked up to the man, she spotted a long key protruding out of his pants pocket.
Nelia grabbed the tip of the protruding key while brushing past him, and pulled it out slowly.
The man was so drunk and got distracted by the fire that he didn’t seem to notice her at all.
Nelia moved quickly after slipping the key of the cage into the pocket in her robe.
This time, her destination was the hut.
It so happened that everyone went to the valley to get water, so there were no people staying in front of the cabin.
Nelia walked into the cabin at a fast pace. Like Ton had said, there were boxes scattered inside filled with various items.
“First, the key for the shackles…….”
Nelia could spot a bundle of keys hanging on the wall without difficulty when she looked around.
‘But which is the key for the shackles?’
Nelia, who was agonizing, took all of them.
Charlotte’s necklace came second. There were quite a lot of things in the hut, so it wasn’t easy to find.
Then, she remembered the talk of the hooligans about the pendant necklace and mentioned that the pendant’s surface was platinum.
Nelia put out the light that was lighting up the hut. At that moment, the moonlight came in gently through the window of the hut and lit up the dark room.
There was a metal gleaming faintly on the desk in the corner of the cabin.
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