~ 82 ~
Lucinda was stunned and nodded her head. She soon changed the subject.
“…I am so worried about the first gate tomorrow. Isn’t Eleanor nervous?”
Eun-woo nodded her head in return.
“Bringing the clothes of an acquaintance of another candidate written on a piece of paper… What on earth is the point of such a screening?”
At her words, Lucinda raised her voice and shouted in protest.
“Oh, Eleanor! ‘Bringing stuff is one of the most frequently used judging methods for Flora competitions.”
“Is that so?”
What Lucinda said was true. There was no gateway that stimulated cooperation and exchange between candidates as much as this kind of screening.
The candidates naturally became friends by exchanging the names and contact information of the people they had written down to complete their missions before the sun went down.
And that friendship often continued even after the candidates finished competing this week. Such connections greatly influenced the future of the future candidates.
This was the reason why some candidates risked their lives to participate in the Flora competition.
Like Selena, there were cases where she participated purely to support the Knights Battle. In most cases, however, candidates participated in competitions to marry into better families and to ask for good connections through family and friends. In the case of nobility candidates, this was the case, not to mention a commoner candidate.
The more you make a name for yourself in the competition and the more you develop friendships with noble girls, the higher your chances of getting a higher status.
But that’s not all.
Although it was an extremely rare case, there were cases where the aristocrats caught the eyes of many and washed their identity overnight.
Therefore, among the candidates for the common people, they implicitly regarded the Flora competition as the only opportunity to raise their status.
Eun-woo looked down at Lucinda, who opened her innocent eyes in front of her.
‘Did this girl also have such a desire to attend the competition….?’
However, there was no such greedy gaze on her youthful face, her cheeks blushing with excitement, while blinking her cute eyes cutely. (TN: I have a bad feeling ‘bout you, Lucinda.)
Eun-woo had no choice but to blame herself for thinking like that for a while. In the end, she pushed her doubts aside and changed the subject.
“… But what’s the reason for bringing clothes?”
Lucinda tilted her head in response to her sudden question to divert her thoughts.
“Well. Well, I’ll tell you after I have brought it to someone. Ah! Someone who’s easy to find should be someone we should get! Actually, I wrote down my brother-in-law’s name. The candidate to pick the note I wrote is lucky. My brother-in-law’s cloth store in the capital is quite large. It’s so big, that anyone can easily go there.”
Lucinda even added that if she had known about this, she would have written hef youngest brother ‘s name and grunted in the end.
Eun-woo smiled brightly next to her like that.
“It was late at night. Go to sleep so we can wake up early tomorrow morning and prepare for the first gate.”
Lucinda said with a sly smile.
Soon afterward, they each lay down on the opposite sides of the wall and went to sleep. Saying good night, Eun-woo laid her exhausted body on the white sheet.
An exhausting day was passing.
Eun-woo could guess that it was midnight by hearing the cry of an owl outside the small window. Her joints were aching, and her palms were aching, but somehow she couldn’t feel the pain. Perhaps because of the tension about the upcoming competition, her pulse was beating faster than usual.
Eun-woo pulled the thick blanket up to her chin. She couldn’t sleep. Her body was slightly trembling.
Everything that happened today flashed through her mind like a lantern.
Who the hell threw her name into the fire?
The White Cathedral also did not seem to have received Reinhardt’s instructions, as he was somewhat embarrassed by her appearance as his new candidate.
Eun-woo blinked anxiously in the dark.
‘What is he trying to do with me……?’
The beautiful face of the chief, who was as pale as the flesh of a snake, came to mind. Just thinking about it gave her goosebumps on her forearms.
The golden watch he held out with his long, white fingers.
‘The watch went to Calista……’
She couldn’t get rid of the growing doubts. She remembered the look in Calista’s eyes as she stared with a ghastly gaze in the direction she was sitting.
The sound of Lucinda’s comfortable breathing could be heard next to her.
Eun-woo changed the direction of her pillow and lay down. She remembered that the item that Lucinda had submitted to the evaluation was a jewelry box. Adding to that was that she secretly got it from her uncle’s wife.
Eun-woo felt that her head was complicated by anything that could happen in the first place.
In the end, Eun-woo made a promise once again.
‘I’ll have to ask Lucinda tomorrow if there was Tashian’s necklace in the jewelry box…’
But not tonight. I was too tired, I was too tired. She tightly closed her eyes to fall asleep. She, of course, did not, but she could not sleep easily.
Eun-woo tossed and turned for a while before she was able to fall asleep with an even breath.
In a dream, Eun-woo ran aimlessly down a long and dark road. Someone from her was holding her hand and chasing her.
She gasped for breath, which reached up to her chin, but the boy who held her hand never stopped.
They ran through the dark back alleys, mercilessly crossing between piles of laundry and begging vagrants.
Eun-woo took a deep breath. Her black hair in front of her own eyes fluttered to and fro in the wind.
Then she tripped over a stone beak which made her stumble heavily and fell.
Her terrible pain ran through her knee. Eun-woo looked up at the boy who turned towards her with wide eyes. The boy, with his back to the sunlight, hurriedly bowed to her.
Eun-woo frowned to check the boy’s face. But all she could see was white light.
A voice unknown to the boy in her ear chanted a pagan incantation. The voice was urgent as if squeezed, and terribly desperate.
“I hope you are okay. Don’t get sick. May you be as strong as the abundant wheat and shiny soil…”
It was an incredibly sweet voice. In an instant, Eun-woo was enveloped in a warm and comfortable feeling as if she had surrendered her whole body to the light.
She blinked her teary eyelashes, trying to identify the face of the person speaking the words she was listening. But suddenly, a tremendous force pulled her skirt.
Eun-woo lost the boy’s hand that was holding her knee in an instant and was dragged wildly somewhere. She shouted with her hands wide open at the boy. The boy also called her name and shouted fiercely.
Eun-woo woke up, her body drenched in sweat.
Unknowingly, she woke up screaming from her sleep. She saw sunlight coming through the small window in the room, illuminating her bed.
Eun-woo raised her hand and wiped the cold sweat from her forehead.
Lucinda was nowhere to be seen. The door that should have been closed was slightly open. It seemed that the other candidates had already risen and were active as they were constantly walking on the aisle leading to the hallway.
Eun-woo also rolled up the blanket to get up. But she did something strange. Something wet ran down her leg as she felt it in bed.
She shouted in astonishment as she lifted her bed.
Blood was dripping all over her bed. There lay the corpse of a rat that had been cut in two. It was exactly the point between her two legs.
Eun-woo cried out in shock as she wrapped her arms around her chest with her trembling arms.
The door swung open, and someone entered the dormitory. It was Lucinda.
Eun-woo leaned on her arm that quickly supported her, and screamed as if to erase her nightmare.
“Lu, Lucinda. Blood, blood…! A rat carcass…!”
“Oh my God, what is this…!”
Lucinda also shouted with her face caught in her astonishment.
“Wh, while I was in the public restroom for a while… what the hell is this…!”
Soon after, other candidates and priests who heard their screams gathered one after another into Room 2. Among them was Selena.
All of them had their faces turned to earthen color at the disaster that happened to the fifty-first candidate.
“We need to find out who did it right now.”
Selena hardened her face and said as if affirming. The general priest who announced the first gate yesterday also nodded. And he muttered involuntarily.
“First, I will report this incident to Ma’am Irena……who the hell did this……”
“Clearly it was the work of her other cadets who disapprove of her to her.”
Lucinda stood by and insisted strongly.
“Yesterday, when she came in as her fifty-fifth nomination, there were young girls talking about her after all.”
“Who was that?”
At the priest’s question, Lucinda’s face was colored with embarrassment.
“I, I only look at the back… I don’t know who did it.”
When the priest heard Lucinda’s reply, he muttered.
“This has happened before. It used to happen especially frequently in years when the candidates were in check against each other.”
A priest named Charles, wearing glasses, turned to Eun-woo and asked. It was the same priest who yesterday, as Irena’s representative, explained the first gateway to the candidates.
“The fifty-fifth candidate will need to be careful while living in the dormitory. Never walk around alone, and make sure to lock the door when sleeping or bathing.”
Eun-woo nodded her head impatiently. With her uneasy heart, she began to clear the horrific sight that lay upon her bed. Selena and Lucinda helped her like that. Then they moved to the dining room.
The dining room was already overcrowded with candidates after having breakfast and gathering to take out the paper for the first gate. Some had already finished their meal and seemed to be waiting for the start of the judging, wandering around the boxes of papers.
Eun-woo also hurriedly finished eating while sitting at the same table with Selena and Lucinda.
“Look over there.”
She and Selena, who were sitting next to her, pointed in one direction, and whispered.
Eun-woo turned her head in the direction Selena was pointing. In the distance, Calista and her followers were walking proudly.
Eun-woo looked at Calista who had arrogant gaze, looking at the candidates as if she were the owner of the dining room.
“How was it to share the same room with Calista?”
Eun-woo asked Selena.
“It was just normal. It didn’t seem like she was doing anything special. And ahe took very good care of her neck.”
In a way, Selena was talking as if it was natural for her.
“It’s hard to say something like this… but I don’t think the world fame of a singer is obtained for free. The first thing she did before going to bed and when she woke up early in the morning was to rinse her mouth and throat with water mixed with salt and medicine. But there was no other movement. There was no sign of avoiding me or trying to make friends.”
Eun-woo was deeply surprised at Calista’s calm movement outside of her thoughts.
But Selena had a different idea.
“Don’t let go of your heart. The candidates are already following Calista. They are the girls who worship her so much that every word she speaks, every gesture she makes moves her body.”
Eun-woo nodded at Selena’s request.
She glanced around at the group of Calista, who were seated at a table quite a distance from where they were seated. They seemed to be the loudest and most lively in the church.
Unlike her, who was quietly concentrating on her meal with her sharp eyes downwards, she was busy babbling and chattering with the girls around her.
The girls were so excited that they were sitting at the same table with the singer they thought was their idol, and they didn’t seem to notice anything else.
Lucinda scolded Calista and clicked her tongue.
“Look at her arrogant expression, as if she have already won.”
Eun-woo quickly closed Lucinda’s mouth. But Lucinda didn’t stop her eyes from tearing up as if she had done something so bad.