༺ A Surprise (1) ༻
As an apprentice witch, Ravi inherited her vessel from Duchess Tiphereth, and was the next in line to inherit her brand.
To describe her with one word, she was lovable.
Everyone, no matter the age or gender, loved her.
Even birds, animals and livestocks were drawn to her, willingly seeking her company. Stray dogs and birds would gather around her as she walked through the fields, competing for her affection.
With her cheerful personality, she always brought smiles to everyone.
This playful nature of hers even managed to crack a smile on Eloa’s usually grumpy face.
One day, she approached her master and said,
“Master! I want to go to the modern world!”
Knowing how adventurous the child could be, Eloa had already anticipated this request.
As a response, she asked the child with a biter smile.
“What’s gotten into you, all of a sudden?”
“As an apprentice witch inheriting Duchess Tiphereth name, I thought I should broaden my horizons and explore a wider world!”
“You do have a way with words, don’t you?”
Eloa let out a chuckle, laughing at her apprentice’s resolute response.
They looked exactly like a pair of sisters talking to each other. Anyone who was unaware of their age difference would think that they were having a cheerful sibling banter.
“The modern world is dangerous, especially for an apprentice witch like you. There will be a lot of people who’d target you.”
“Well, that would be fine, I’m confident with myself! I’ve got a good handle on the magic you’ve taught me, Master!”
Just as she boasted, Ravi was an excellent apprentice witch.
Though she only had received a small portion of Eloa’s power, she was already strong enough to fight back against an average witch.
The ‘Myriad Weapons Mastery’ Covenant gave her the ability to master any kind of weapons.
Her natural fighting sense made it as if the covenant in her bowl was entirely her own.
Even Eloa acknowledged that when it came to pure fighting prowess, there were only a handful of witches who could match Ravi.
While magic was crucial in combat among witches, arguing its importance compared to martial skills was a pointless thing to do.
“Master…please…? Pretty please?”
Seeing her master deep in thought, Ravi seized the moment, trying to win her over with cuteness.
She jumped around, giving her master kisses while swinging their joined hands.
Observing the scene, Eloa was unable to express her murmur as it faded away.
It turned into meaningless babble, fading away to nothingness.
‘You have to stop her!’
‘Don’t let her—!’
That was her honest feeling.
But, despite her screams, pleas and wishes, the dream she was witnessing remained unchanged, just like a scripted movie.
After all, this dream was a memory from the past. Its ending was already set in stone.
“Well, since I have some business in the modern world, do you want to come with me?”
“Really? You’ll bring me with you, Master?”
“Of course. Have I ever lied to you?”
Just like this, the Eloa in the dream chose to undergo this tragic path.
She smiled happily at Ravi’s cheerful look, the sight that she could no longer see.
No matter how dangerous the modern world might be, given time, Ravi could handle it by herself.
As long as Eloa was with her, nothing bad could happen to her.
Under that reasoning, she made this choice.
“Yes! I will do whatever you tell me, Master!”
“Don’t slack off on your magic training before you go. Promise me.”
“I promise! Actually, I’ll double my training time!”
“So you’re saying that you don’t want to sleep?”
“Hehehe, kinda, yes~”
At that moment, Ravi’s joyous expression as she bounced around, turned twisted.
Like a torn and damaged film playing through a projector.
The once-happy images of Ravi smiling and Eloa lovingly looking at her became distorted.
Those crumpled memories of happiness now emitted a metallic scent, stinging her nose and painting the view red.
Eloa looked down.
Beneath her, Ravi’s body was laid down.
Unlike usual, she looked a little lighter.
Her temperature was much colder.
And she laid there, motionless.
Covered in blood with her womb torn apart. Eloa helplessly pulled her into an embrace.
Just from a slight carelessness, she had lost the most important thing to her.
‘Foolish, reckless, arrogant Eloa.’
‘Eloa Tiphereth, foolish one.’
‘Did you think that the thing you cherish would last forever?’
‘You must not have expected your arrogance and carelessness would lead to such a tragedy.’
The woman’s mocking voice reverberated, piercing her ears like a shrill scream.
Frigid raindrops hit Eloa’s skin as the blood trickling down from her embrace formed a red pond on the cement.
A cry, like a wild beast’s howl, reverberated through the abandoned factory.
‘Ea Sadalmelik, Witch of Aquarius—’
‘I swear on my name—!’
‘I will kill you!’
‘I’ll tear you apart, leave you in pain and despair, neither alive nor dead!’
‘Once I’ve had my fill of your loud screams, I’ll set your filthy body on fire!’
‘As I burn your limbs, see you writhing in agony while pleasing your life, I’ll only make the fire burn even more while laughing at your pathetic face!’
‘I’ll never forget you!’
The echoes of agonizing screams and howls still haunted Duchess Tiphereth even after she woke up from her dream.
She sweated profusely and breathed heavily as if she had been held down by a nightmare.
Suppressing her nausea, she reached out, fumbling for a bottle of alcohol.
After downing a lukewarm whiskey, she finally released the breath that was stuck in her throat.
Using magic always took a toll on her body.
The immense power she wielded, though capable of cutting mountains and parting oceans, strained her small frame. Despite possessing a spirit body, she still needed ample rest to recover after using her power.
That was why she needed around four hours of sleep every day.
And to her, this condition felt like a curse more than anything.
Because as she drifted into a deep sleep, nightmares would haunt her without fail, accompanied by an indelible scent of blood that couldn’t be washed away even when she took a shower.
For a hundred years, she was forced to confront her past mistake, every single day without exception.
She steadied her dizzy head as she got out of bed, wearing her slippers.
One side of the dim room was filled with a night view.
Currently, she was in a hotel room generously provided by Ms. Sua, knowing that the Duchess didn’t have much money in possession.
Although it was a captivating view, the landscape didn’t hold her attention in the slightest.
Without a second glance, she headed straight to the bathroom.
She discarded the thin pajamas clinging to her body as she suddenly found herself face to face with the mirror.
Her bloodshot eyes filled with dread, a pair of violet irises wandering in their midst.
The chestnut-colored hair on her face was tangled, mirroring the complexity of her thoughts.
An inexplicable laughter emerged at the sight of her vacant appearance.
Within the confines of the bathroom, a hollow laughter echoed. No one knew to whom it was directed, or why did it emerge in the first place.
‘If I could tear Ea Sadalmelik apart with my very hands and bring her demise…’
‘Would this never-ending, sickening curse that haunts me every night finally come to an end…?’
Such a futile question that would never be answered wandered through her mind and disappeared in futility.
She rinsed off the sticky sweat with cold water.
As the water streamed down her body like icy rain, a thought suddenly crossed her mind.
In this world, countless literary works explored the futility of revenge.
Every time she encountered a work discussing how empty and frustrating one’s situation would be after they enact their revenge, Eloa would snicker at it.
‘Such an obvious truth, who doesn’t know it?’
Even a fool with a bit of imagination would know.
Since the object of her revenge was already dead, contemplating it further would only be futile.
She knew she had to stop having such thoughts.
Rather than being trapped in the past, she should make more efforts to create a better world, for the sake of others, to prevent them from suffering the same fate as hers.
Her inner voice whispered faintly.
But she vigorously shook her head.
The desire for revenge wasn’t something that could be reasoned with.
Just like a wildfire.
Revenge wasn’t only about chasing one’s enemy, but also destroying one’s own being.
And now that the real target of the fire was gone.
It became incomplete, like abandoned embers without any direction to go.
Facing this inevitable emptiness, she slowly sank down, muttering to herself unconsciously.
“There’s no way she’s already that…surely she’s still alive somewhere, surviving like a cockroach in a way even I can’t understand…using an artifact…”
Any other outcome would be undesirable for her.
Yes, her being alive was something Eloa hoped for.
Rather than living lethargically in an empty void, what she wanted to do was to burn herself together with that vile witch in a hellish agony.
Such was her desperate wish.
““Master! We have a favor to ask!””
Albireo, who was busy with her official duties, blinked her eyes at the sudden commotion.
‘These girls are on it again…what is it this time? Are they going to ask to meet the assistant again? Or are they going to say that they’ll inherit the brand soon?’
Odile and Odette, who had been passionately engrossed in their magical studies more than ever before, appeared through the door.
Their expressions looked serious, as if they had resolved themselves to do something.
“Don’t you think what you two did is rude? Go out, knock properly and wait.”
Receiving that scolding, the usually lively twins quietly left and closed the door.
““Can we come in, Master?””
After knocking on the door and receiving permission, they opened the door and entered the room again.
Then, what unfolded was a repeat from earlier.
““Master! We have a favor to ask!””
As Albireo watched the twins behaving like obedient puppies, she couldn’t help but hide her smile.
Trying to distract herself by scratching her forehead with the tip of her quill, she then dipped the quill back to the inkwell.
“What are you cheeky brats up to today? You even kicked the door open and all.”
“We didn’t kick the door, Master…!”
“Yeah! We just gave it a little push!”
Both of them seemed to be on the same page, eager to show that they hadn’t been acting rudely.
“Sure, sure, just be more careful next time. So, what is it that you want?”
Their cute display had brought some much-needed joy to the Countess, making her willing to consider almost all of their requests.
However, the twins remained silent, not uttering a word.
Odile gave Odette a nudge, urging her to speak up.
It seemed like the former had won their silent rock-paper-scissors game.
“M-Master, do you know what day tomorrow is…?”
“Of course I do. It’s our little darlings’ birthday, isn’t it? I’ve already arranged for a fancy cake from Kipushi Bakery for you two.”
Usually, just hearing about a special cake from Kipushi would make the twins cheer loudly, but their reaction this time was rather lukewarm.
This made Albireo suspect that there was something going on with them.
She guessed that they had more to discuss than a simple birthday request for tomorrow.
“T-That’s great, but, um…we have something specific we want as a birthday gift…”
“Is that so? You can go ahead and tell me.”
Seeing her sister hesitating, Odile, unable to hold back her impatience, stepped forward with confidence.
“Master, for our birthday present this year, we want to go to the modern world and have some fun!”
Their request was exactly what Albireo had anticipated.
This was the reason why they chose to approach Albireo directly at this hour as they knew that she was more lenient compared to the strict Deneb.
In this late night, Deneb would usually be locked away in her lab, engrossed in her magic research.
‘Playing the weak card in negotiation before getting to the favor, huh…?’ Albireo mused, admiring their unusual cleverness.
She casually folded her arms before asking,
“Be honest. Do you want to go to the modern world, or do you want to meet with Assistant Shin Siwoo?”
“…Meet with Mr. Assistant.”
“I’m sorry, but the answer is no, regardless of the options you chose.”
It wasn’t a surprising response,
After all, the modern world was a dangerous place.
Even experienced witches were in danger of being attacked by criminal exiles, and Homunculi, and the danger was even more so for mere apprentices like the twins.
Duchess Tiphereth herself lost her own apprentice due to a momentary lapse of vigilance, there was no way Albireo would carelessly give them her permission,
“M-Master, please…! We promise we won’t do anything strange! You can even monitor us closely!”
“That’s right! Not seeing Mr. Assistant for five whole years…? That’s unfair! It’s only been 141 days and it’s already tough on us…”
“He’s our friend! A friend!”
Despite hearing Albireo’s firm answer, the twins kept on pleading. In the first place, they realized that obtaining her permission wouldn’t be easy.
They earnestly shared various reasons to convince her, all the reasons that they had prepared prior to this.
Meeting face-to-face and addressing lingering doubts would be more beneficial than leaving things unresolved, at least they believed so.
In their persuasion, they even mentioned that just by glancing at the Assistant’s face could motivate them to study even harder.
Not only that, their curiosity about the modern world and their eagerness to learn something new would also fuel their determination.
They even proposed that the visit wouldn’t necessarily need to be on their birthday, as they could just accompany her whenever she planned to visit Korea.
Furthermore, they expressed their concern about their dear assistant living by his lone self in the modern world.
And many more.
They stated at least fifty different reasons on, ‘Why we need to meet Mr. Assistant.’
“Please, Master… We have been attentive and well-behaved recently…”
“Yeah! If you grant us this request, we’ll work twice— no, thrice as hard!”
Albireo thoughtfully considered as she rubbed her chin.
“Go back for now, I need more time to think it over.”
“Yeah. Also, this is not a decision I can make by myself. I’ll consult with Deneb.”
The twins widened their eyes, not expecting her to actually consider their request.
“It’s late so go back to bed. I’ll give you two the answer before your birthday ends.”
“Okay! Thank you!”
“Thank you so much, Master!”
They beamed with satisfaction at their accomplishment.
Like job applicants at the end of an interview, they bowed politely before leaving Albireo’s office.
In reality, this matter had always been a dilemma for her.
She didn’t show it, but she did notice the sadness in the twins’ heart, and more importantly, she felt a little guilty for throwing the Gemini Household’s benefactor into a somewhat solitude life in another world.
But, she had to consider the risk of doing so, that was why she couldn’t simply nod her head.
“Well, maybe keeping an eye on them from the sidelines wouldn’t hurt.”
‘Given their personalities, they might decide to run away without a word.’
‘Since that’s the case, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to give them some lenience under supervision…’
Her dilemma only deepened as she contemplated the situation.