The man he served was both the owner of this mansion, befitting a noble, and an exceptional magician.
For over a decade, he had worked at this mansion and had seen countless things.
“Did you get the confirmation you sought?”
The man handed his coat to the servant.
Then, his irises turned red as before, and his appearance changed.
From a man with light brown skin and rough-looking blond hair, he transformed into a man in his early thirties with fair skin and black hair.
“It was my mistake.”
In a slight addition, the servant looked at his master with an expression of surprise.
“Was it a mistake?”
“No, no. I was just feeling good… An old man dared to guess your mood.”
The servant remembered the expression his master had when he first appeared.
‘Faintly, but he was smiling’
After his beloved wife passed away, his master had lived as if he were a person without a will to live. It had been so long since he had seen his master smile.
Apart from that, the servant knew that he had just made a serious mistake. Nowadays, his master was someone with such a cruel temperament that anyone could feel it.
He wouldn’t tolerate the smallest mistakes, and punishment would be inevitable.
“Oh, because it’s fun.”
However, what was heard were words unexpected beyond belief. Truly, something no one could have imagined.
Without realizing it, the servant looked at the man in front of him.
He hoped to hear more, but there were no further words.
In the end, he had to suppress the full-blown question marks in his mind.
* * *
‘He was smiling…’
I snapped to attention, petting the head that the man had stroked, and realized the situation.
Oh no, I don’t have the time for this!
I need to grab the money and run…
“Damn little rat! If I find you, I’ll kill you! Aaargh!”
The barking of a dog and the groaning of the madam alternated.
‘Is she already back?’
I was surprised at her early return. I had expected that she would catch me by my hair and beg me with a tearful face.
‘I should have just run away.’
It was too late for regrets; it was really too late.
The madam spotted me and ran toward me like an angry bull. She raised her hand high to strike me.
A loud sound echoed. I naturally thought my head had turned around, but my face was untouched.
In surprise, I looked ahead, and my older sister was blocking the space between the madam and me.
“What are you doing? Step aside right now!”
My sister held onto the madam’s arm and begged.
“I’ll teach you well. Just watch me.”
“It’s already too late! The lady who visited us today is incredibly important to our facility… It’s all over! If you don’t want to get kicked out, stay quiet!”
The director forcefully pushed Mari’s arm away.
Despite Mari’s fragile appearance, she desperately clung to the director.
Thanks to Mari’s tenacity, the director, who was holding onto her, struggled to push her away while getting increasingly agitated.
“You’ve ruined everything! Huh? Is that a rat, your friend? Where did you come up with such unbelievable lies that upset the lady?”
“Even after I fed you and clothed you despite your deafness, you dare deceive me like this? You, too, let go of this!”
The director finally let go of Mari.
Mari attempted to grab the director again, but the director, who usually acted leisurely, quickly caught hold of me.
Just that was enough to drain the life out of her, and she gasped for air while struggling to break free.
* * *
The next thing the director did was push me into solitary confinement.
“Reflect on your mistakes there! You won’t get any food today!”
She left that message and…
The door closed harshly, and I was completely alone.
“But it’s not as scary as when I was little.”
I scoured the dark and dilapidated solitary confinement while huddling my knees.
This solitary confinement, called the “reflection room,” was a place the director had specially modified, and most people found it particularly terrifying.
I was the same. This story was limited to “me when I was a child,” but back then, this empty and pitch-black place was so scary. Now, I could manage.
That’s not to say I wanted to stay here for a long time…
I was all alone in this gloomy place with an empty stomach, and tears welled up for no apparent reason.
It wasn’t really a situation to cry about, but perhaps it was due to the hardships my body had endured?
“But I’m still lucky.”
I wasn’t chosen by Madam Mallon this time. I wasn’t associated with Mari either this time. Even though the situation was still bad…
“Maybe I won’t be as hungry after I sleep?”
I closed my eyes and tried hard to fall asleep, but for some reason, I couldn’t sleep. The floor felt cold, maybe that’s why.
I tried my best to sleep, with my body curled up.
“What, what’s that?”
What is this sound?
I was terrified because I had never heard that sound before. In a state of high tension, I was looking around when it happened.
“Hello, friend! Snap!”
“Ugh! Aaah, snap!”
I was pressed against the wall with a thud.
At the same time, I saw “it” sticking to the opposite wall.
My heart raced.
What just happened? It spoke to me, didn’t it?
“Why, why are you screaming? I thought my heart was going to fall, snap!”
The voice came back.
I realized that the voice was not in my ears but inside my head, a realization that dawned on me belatedly, just like when I discovered the rat on the ceiling earlier.
My eyes, accustomed to the darkness, had recognized ‘it.’
I couldn’t quite make out the color, but it had round, perky ears that perked up all the time, a chubby little face with a prominent snout and long whiskers, a small body, a long tail…
–That’s right squeak!
For some reason, it was so excited that it wagged its tail and squeaked.
“Are you hungry, dreaming…”
I laughed after saying it. It was amusing to hear this sound again after returning to the past.
Having the ability to converse with a rat was now an addition to my abilities.
Distracted by my thoughts, I nodded my head absentmindedly, and a sound like a grumbling stomach echoed from inside me.
Huh, what’s this sound? It’s coming from my stomach!
Reflexively, I held my belly, and the rat looked at me intently.
Maybe it was because of my mood, but it seemed to have a hint of reproach in its pitch-black eyes.
–Are you really hungry? Well, I can’t help it! I’ll share the millet I collected earlier with you, squeak!
While I was puzzled, the rat muttered something, then spat out small seeds. Then, using its tiny paws, it offered them to me. Could a rat do that?
–Here, eat up squeak!
“Are these millet seeds, the seeds of millet?”
–I thought you knew that, squeak?
I couldn’t help but laugh. Millet seeds would obviously be the seeds of millet.
Even to myself, I seemed so foolish that I laughed, haha.
“But why is this coming out of your mouth?”
–These days, I save them as a hobby, squeak!
“You, you’re not a rat, are you?”
–A rat, that’s right! What kind of nonsense is that, calling a dignified rat something else, squeak?
These days, do rats store food in their mouths like squirrels?
While I was shaking my head, the rat offered me millet seeds again.
–Anyway, these were originally my snacks, but I’ll make a special exception for you. We’re friends! After eating this, get your energy back, squeak!
I was not particularly repulsed by the rat, but I didn’t want to eat millet seeds with saliva.
“By the way, why am I your friend?”
–I said that, didn’t I? You were surprised to hear that I could understand your words and found it fascinating because I called you my friend! Everyone hates me, that’s why, squeak!
The excitement came through the rat’s words.
Thinking back, I had indeed said something about being surprised when candy powder fell from the ceiling earlier and not wanting to be taken away by Madam Mallon because I was the rat’s friend.
Friends with a rat.
It was hard to believe that all this was happening as if it were reality when I returned to the past.
–Anyway, we’re friends! Friends, squeak!
Still, it was better to have some kind of company in this lonely prison.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, but I found myself nodding my head already.
The rat squeaked and, looking happy, turned around in circles around me.
My gaze fell on the rat spinning around, and I opened my mouth.
“I’m Ani. What’s your name?”
“Don’t you have a name?”
–What’s that, squeak?
After hearing that, I realized my mistake. Why had I thought that rats should naturally have names?
“It’s a word for calling you, a word just for you.”
–If that’s the case, I have one! My name is the one with attractive light brown fur, eye-catching pink paws, a relatively short but quick tail, and I like grains, squeak!
Why did I ever think that a rat would naturally have a name?