༺ The First Letter (33) ༻
The hallways of the temple were submerged in silence. The only people around were the priests of the temple and some of the patients’ relatives. Besides those two types of people, there were only a few others who had been recently discharged, just like me.
There was no reason for it to be noisy anyway. Friends and acquaintances who came to visit a discharged patient could cause a little noise, but the temple’s atmosphere deterred possible disturbances.
It was common practice for people to leave the temple first before talking with each other.
I had also completed the discharge procedures, but no one was there to meet me.
It was because Celine had left.
Compared to when I fought with Seria or during the demonic beasts subjugation, my injuries this time were minor. I was going to go through the discharge procedures earlier today, but Celine came to me as soon as she heard about my condition.
Then, after ending our meeting like that, there seemed to be a tense atmosphere between us for a while.
When I thought about her, my mind got dizzy again. I scratched my head.
Celine had appealed to me how unfair it was till the end.
“I was just talking about her behind her back. That’s all I did! I never told them to bully her. I was just saying how unlucky you were!”
“That might have been the trigger…….”
“Then how many people do you think are being bullied at the academy every day?”
At Celine’s icy voice, I had no choice but to turn my head and bite my lip as she continued to grind her teeth in anger.
In the world of women, gossip was commonplace. It was something I wasn’t aware of.
“It’s that bitch’s fault for being a loner! There’s been rumors about her for a long time, but has she ever been harassed so blatantly before? Does it make sense for lower aristocrats to gossip about the Yurdina family’s blood?”
“Of course, the high-ranking nobles are behind it, for god’s sake!”
Celine was so frustrated that she stomped her feet after saying that. Taking all of that into account, it seemed that Celine wasn’t the instigator.
Still, I couldn’t help but sigh. Even if the mastermind was someone else, Celine’s actions couldn’t be justified so easily.
“……Still, it’s true that you made Seria’s image worse.”
Celine didn’t respond. She just turned her head, indicating that she didn’t want to hear my nagging.
“Even if you didn’t, Seria’s a girl who already gets unfairly hated for being a loner. Why would you do that to someone like her?”
Celine snorted. However, based on how she avoided my gaze, she seemed to have already started regretting her actions.
However, it still wasn’t too late for amendment. She didn’t bring up Seria’s family history, nor did she actively participate in the bullying.
She just gossiped and stained Seria’s image. That alone was indeed a mistake, but it wasn’t such a terrible sin that it couldn’t be forgiven.
Considering Seria’s personality, there is a high possibility that if Celine opens her heart and sincerely apologizes, she will be forgiven. After all, Seria must be longing for a friend of her age as well.
As I pictured a beautiful future in my mind, I spoke to Celine.
“Celine, let’s go apologize to Seria.”
Celine remained silent. She whimpered and turned her head away.
But I knew that she was wavering. I softened my tone in order to not accidentally hurt her pride.
“If you get to know Seria better, you’ll find that she’s a good kid. If you take this opportunity to become friends…….”
“……Never, I hate her.”
A firm and icy tone.
My voice froze at her unexpected reaction. I couldn’t understand why Celine hated Seria so much, so I looked at her curiously.
Celine trembled and approached me, pointing her finger at me.
“Ian Oppa, just explain to me, how can I become friends with a bitch who shoots arrows at my prey?!”
When I turned my dull gaze to her upon hearing her sudden metaphor, Celine let out a voice filled with annoyance.
Is it a metaphor related to the Haster family? The Haster family’s roots date back to being a renowned family of hunters, so it was a reasonable guess.
Celine tried to leave the room, overwhelmed by her rage. At first, I tried to call her back.
“Where are you going, Celi—”
“I don’t know, don’t follow me!”
After being shouted at before I could even finish my words, I kept my mouth shut.
It seemed that Celine was furious. In such cases, it was best to wait for her temper to cool down before trying to speak with her again.
Celine, who left the infirmary with a bang, looked back for a moment.
She warned me again.
“I told you not to follow me!”
“……Oh yeah? I wasn’t planning to anyway.”
I hadn’t even thought of doing so in the first place, so I answered immediately.
Mysteriously, upon hearing my words, Celine seemed to have become even more furious and screamed in annoyance.
“……Screw off, you idiot!”
Celine stormed out. I couldn’t figure out why Celine had gotten so upset at the end.
I just remembered Leto’s words that he once told me. A woman’s heart is akin to a well, and the only thing you can see there are distorted reflections.
So, although I could roughly guess the scenery inside, Leto told me that I wasn’t seeing the real thing.
In other words, it meant that a woman’s heart was completely incomprehensible.
I gave up trying to understand Celine’s feelings and went through the discharge procedures alone. My posture as I was walking down the hallway was miserable.
Then, I stopped in front of a hospital room.
It was the intensive care unit. A place where only critically ill patients stayed. I had been taken care of here many times, especially in recent days.
And here, one of my friends lay hospitalized.
After hesitating for a while, I finally made up my mind and opened the door to the room and entered. Carefully closing the door, I saw a girl with a pale complexion lying on the bed.
She was an attractive girl with reddish hair. It was hard to believe that she was from a commoner family, as she had such fair skin and her gently curved eyelids looked as if they were manifestations of a painting.
However, now she was just a figure who was only a breath away from being a corpse.
An elderly man, who had been sleeping soundly in a chair as he lay his head on the bed, felt my presence and opened his eyes.
And as soon as he saw me, he was startled and immediately got up and tried to kneel to the ground.
“Oh, my Lord…….”
“No, no, don’t do that. Uncle.”
It was a treatment I was already accustomed to, so I naturally settled him down, and looked down at the face of the girl lying on the bed without saying a word.
The name of the girl who was sleeping soundly was Emma.
A student in her third year at the Alchemy Faculty, and the ragged man guarding her side was her father.
How such a beautiful daughter could have a father who looked like a bandit was still a mystery.
I talked to Emma’s father. I told him several stories about his daughter.
How kind Emma was, how much her friends cherished her, and what had happened at the academy recently.
At each word I said, Emma’s father’s eyes welled up with tears. It must be painful to know that his daughter achieved so much, yet was still anxious.
Carefully, I asked about Emma’s condition.
“H-How is Emma doing these days…….”
“It doesn’t seem like it’s life-threatening.”
The man’s voice subsided.
Hearing that, I could guess right away.
Emma’s condition wasn’t life-threatening, but it wasn’t far from that either.
Not being able to know when she would wake up almost felt like a death sentence.
No matter how the academy claimed to take full responsibility for the accidents that occurred while attending school, it was impossible to occupy a hospital bed for free without a glimpse of hope for recovery.
In a few years at most, the academy will evict Emma from the hospital.
Without the academy’s support, Emma’s life would no longer be sustained. Emma’s father, who was only a herbalist, could not possibly afford to pay for her treatment, which required specialized intensive care.
‘Delayed death,’ is that what her condition should be called? I felt my throat dry out when that realization dawned upon me.
Emma’s father smiled in vain.
“If only this father had a little bit of power…….”
“It’s not Uncle’s fault.”
In response to the man, who had begun to sob, I had no choice but to comfort him with such clichéd consolations.
After just a few words had been exchanged, Emma’s father bowed his head as if he had suddenly remembered something.
“The thing is, I heard that the Young Master had taken care of the demonic beast that attacked Emma…….”
I was amazed at his display of gratitude and quickly waved my hand. After all, I was also responsible for Emma’s current condition. Killing the beast wasn’t something I should be thanked for.
“At the very least, wasn’t that the only way for me to redeem myself?”
A somber voice came out of my mouth.
“No, no. That child…….”
He spit out those words while clenching Emma’s blood-stained cloth, biting his lips until they bled.
“There is no need for you to—”
I was about to say that, but I kept my mouth shut.
I could talk about someone’s death with my friends, because we all knew that it was something that was looming over our necks. Leto, Celine and even myself, we all could perish one day prematurely.
That is why we could talk about such tragedies with a smile, as if it wasn’t that big of a deal. However, it was an attitude that only those who were prepared to die could share.
Emma’s father was a herbalist. It was impossible for me to tell him a story that would remind him how Emma was attacked.
So I had no choice but to spit out a brief excuse.
“……They attacked me, so I just dealt with them. It was an accident, and I wasn’t actively seeking revenge. It is not something you should be grateful for.”
Emma’s father, however, did not raise his head. Instead, he continued to thank me over and over again.
“Still, it’s true that this poor man has received your grace. Oh my, I’ll have to give you something…….”
“It’s fine. Again, it’s not something you should be grateful for.”
It was only after a few more minutes that Emma’s father gave in to my insistent denial.
He sighed and let out a hoarse voice.
“Young Lord, you really are mature.”
At that, I smiled bitterly. Mature you say, yet I still feel like a child.
But no matter how I felt, the herbalist continued to preach to me. His voice was filled with deep regret as he lamented.
“So was Emma. From a young age, whenever she had a problem, she tried to solve it on her own somehow. And then, she didn’t even expect anything in return, as if she had done the obvious thing.”
Thinking back, it seemed that the Emma I knew indeed acted that way.
She always reached out her arms for help, and even if she said a few words in defiance, she would still eventually help out.
In those moments, she looked really mature. She was different from me, who couldn’t even properly comfort the father of a friend who might lose their child.
But the man’s next words made me quiver.
“Don’t live like that, Lord.”
Confused, I turned my gaze away from the floor. There, the herbalist was looking at me with earnest eyes.
They were sincere eyes.
“My Lord, you must not live like that. If you have a hard time, share it, tell your trusted friend your secrets. So then, if something were to happen…….”
Once again, Emma’s father’s voice subsided as his head drooped. Tears rolled down his face. He was crying without emitting a single sound now.
“The people around you… wouldn’t feel so miserable…….”
Coincidentally, that advice fit my current situation to some extent.
I couldn’t answer casually. It wasn’t polite to respond with only empty words to his sincere advice.
However, I thought about it for a long time. The answer that came out of my mouth was brief and clear.
“……I will engrave this advice on my heart.”
The few sheets of paper I held my arms felt heavy.
It was a love letter from the future. While contemplating whether it was the most serious concern I had right now, I bit my lips several times in anguish.
There was only one problem I was facing. To protect the future written in this letter, and to prevent further casualties.
To do that, I needed to have at least one colleague with whom I could share this secret.
And the next day, the problem I was facing increased once more.
Seria started to act a little weird.
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