“Is he alive?”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
“We must deal with this. We can’t allow a traitor who dared to assassinate His Majesty the Emperor and His Highness the Crown Prince to live.”
The man referred to as ‘Lord’ spoke rather quickly, but I had no trouble understanding what he was saying.
My mind was strangely confused, and it was difficult to comprehend the situation. Maybe it wasn’t so strange. After all, I had been bleeding profusely in the crumbling ruins ever since my head injury.
One of the knights behind me handed the man a longsword.
Even though I didn’t know much about swords, I could tell that the sharp blade had completely pierced Grand Duke Belroc’s back.
With a ruthless hand that didn’t seem to match his gentle and kind face, he plunged the sword into the Grand Duke’s back and then pulled it out, causing blood to spurt.
It was truly a merciless act, completely inconsistent with the image of the man who appeared gentle and kind.
Witnessing a murder right before my eyes, I gasped in shock despite my dazed state.
“There’s a rat here.”
Someone pointed at me.
“Should we kill it while it’s still alive?”
They’re going to kill me?
While I remained stiff and frozen, the man looked down at me without even wiping the blood from his face.
My vision began to blur and distort.
I couldn’t see the color of the man’s eyes, but I could feel that he was staring at me.
It felt that way.
Instead of meeting the man’s gaze, I focused on his mouth, trying to understand his intentions, for his decision would determine my fate.
Soon the man pursed his lips.
Reading the shape of the man’s mouth, I relaxed my tension.
“Why bother killing her when she looks like she’s going to die on her own?”
He made sense.
I was dying.
I had a strong premonition. Even if the man didn’t intervene, I would die on my own.
‘But I saw your face, my lord. If I happen to survive, it could become a problem later…’
The man brandished his sword.
In the blink of an eye, the man who had insisted on killing me suddenly collapsed.
I was overwhelmed by delayed shock.
While I gasped in surprise, the man remained calm and indifferent, and he casually spoke.
“I’ll just take the body of the traitor back to my father.”
“You are as merciful as ever.”
The man handed the bloody sword back to one of the knights, and the others bowed their heads in recognition.
They began to attend to Grand Duke Belroc’s body.
My vision was now truly chaotic. Everything around me was hazy and blurred.
But even in this state, I reflexively followed the actions of the man known as ‘Lord.’
As he turned away, his cuff fluttered slightly, revealing a ring on his hand.
The ring had a relatively large gem set into it, and there was a pattern engraved on it.
The pattern was quite small, but strangely enough, I could still make out the shape of a golden deer.
My vision, which had been blurred, suddenly became clear and sharp, as if it had all been a lie.
And that was the last moment of my life as I remembered it.
No, I thought it was my last moment, at least until I opened my eyes again.
Before I could even begin to survey my surroundings, a sensation pierced my ears.
My heart raced uncontrollably, a thunderous pounding.
It felt similar to the sensation that had echoed in my head a short while ago.
Reflexively, I covered my ears, but I slowly lowered my hands.
As I looked around, I saw an unexpected scene.
A beige carpet strewn with tattered dolls, small leather balls, and a box of toy blocks.
And, to my surprise, several children bustled about.
“Could this be… the palace?”
It was a far cry from the crumbling and burning corridors of the palace. Instead, I found myself in a yellow wallpapered room, an eerily familiar scene.
“Big Sis Marie, hey!”
Once again the resonant sound echoed. This time it startled me, but for a different reason.
‘Big Sis Marie? But… Big Sis died because of me?’
As I looked at the crying child, I heard another sound.
Turning my head, I saw a woman with gathered auburn hair enter through an open door.
This person was…
“Big Sis Marie?”
Without thinking, I mumbled in confusion, shaking.
What was that? It felt like the sound was coming from my own throat, but it reached my ears as if transmitted through them.
Despite this strange sensation, I found myself speaking again.
“Big Sis Marie.”
Once again the echoing sound rasped from my throat.
And for the first time, something else became clear.
“Wait, is that… my voice? Are these sounds I’m hearing actually voices?”
I can’t believe it. I can hear voices?
Also, I just…
“I died, didn’t I?”
My heart sank, but it was only a fleeting emotion. Right now, I couldn’t feel any pain, and the feeling of being alive was vivid.
Is this a dream?
But can you dream after you’re dead? It doesn’t make sense.
I absentmindedly touched my ear and something caught my fingertips.
Without thinking, I pulled it toward me, and something fell in front of me.
‘A hair ribbon…?’
It was a small, modest headband decorated with a ribbon. As I bent down to pick it up, I looked down at my hand in surprise.
‘Why is it so small?’
It was an incredibly delicate hand that anyone would recognize as a child’s.
“Whaa, Big Sis Marie!”
In the midst of my discoveries, the child cried loudly again.
Lifting my head, I saw the crying child being hugged by Big Sis Marie.
“Fabia, give me the headband! I decided to wear it today! I gave in to you last time…”
The child sniffled and swallowed her tears as she pointed to another child.
–Fabia, give the headband to Valia.
“No! It’s mine!”
Chaos surrounded us.
But in the midst of the chaos, I recognized where this place was.
It was the orphanage where I had stayed until Marlowe brought me away.
When I realized it, I thought I understood why the two children were acting this way.
Although the orphanage’s budget was not tight, there was always a shortage of supplies for the children.
“The director must have embezzled money to line his own pockets.”
Of course, the children paid the price.
Especially since there were few toys, such as headbands or dolls to decorate or play with, fights among the children were common.
The most notable were two children named Valia and Fabia who often fought like this.
Big Sis Marie, who was the only adult in the orphanage except for the director, was always busy trying to calm them down.
And this was still the case.
Big Sis Marie, sandwiched between the two children, gestured frantically.
“Fabia, we promised, remember? We take turns.”
“I don’t care!”
By now she would have taken the headband by force to give it to Valia, but Big Sis Marie couldn’t bring herself to do it.
“She’s always been like that.”
Big Sis Marie’s personality had been frustrating then, but now it only made my heart ache.
After all, she had stood up for me when Mrs. Marlowe had beaten her. She had said it was okay right up until the moment I was dying.
As I remembered, I couldn’t help but think that this couldn’t be real.
Well, in the first place, I had died, so the fact that I had come back to life was already strange… And the fact that I could hear sounds was even stranger.
“I thought death was the end, but it seems like I’m hallucinating.
I wasn’t sure why this was happening now, but I was grateful that I could see Big Sis Marie again, even if it was in this strange way.
‘Maybe it’s because I feel so guilty about Big Sis Marie.’
At that moment, Fabia stuck out her tongue and ran off.
Valia started crying again, and Big Sis Marie tried desperately to comfort her.
I approached them.
Valia looked at me with teary eyes. I handed her the headband.
“You can have this.”
“Yes. I don’t need it.”
“Thanks… Big Sis.”
Finally, Valia stopped crying and accepted the headband with a bright smile on her face as she walked over to the other child.
“With this, Big Sis Marie won’t have any more problems.”
As expected, Big Sis Marie turned her face away and gestured to me.
“Thank you, Annie.”
Then Big Sis Marie suddenly widened her eyes as if surprised.
“Wait a minute, did you understand Valia’s words and just give her the headband?”
“Yes. I heard her voice.”
“Oh my goodness. You can hear.”
Big Sis Marie covered her mouth in amazement, then gestured again.
Watching Big Sis Marie’s sincere delight, I felt a strange mix of emotions.
‘Big Sis Marie is still the same.’
Or maybe I just wanted to remember Big Sis Marie that way.
“But now you don’t have a headband. What are we going to do? Soon the director of the orphanage will come with the new parents. You should look nice to attract their attention.”
As I listened to her, memories of the past came flooding back.
In fact, back when I knew nothing, there was a time when I wanted to meet new parents and tried to stand out just like the other children.
“So you don’t have to worry, Big Sis.”
“No, I can’t let that happen. I’ll use my headband to braid your hair. Sit here.”
As Big Sis Marie gently squeezed my shoulder, I obediently sat down.
At the same time, I was quite surprised. Her touch as she held me and brushed my hair was so warm that it made me wonder,
“Could this be real?”