Two Sides of a Coin (3)

Translator: Alice

Editor: Claire

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Two Sides of a Coin (3)

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He listened to her silently, stood up, and reached out to her. 

 

‘Does this mean that he’s going to help me?’ 

 

She stared at his hand for a long time, not knowing if she should take it.

 

Suddenly, Ian Kerner opened his mouth.

 

“I’m not offended”.

 

“Then…?”

 

“I was perplexed.”

 

“Why?”

 

Ian didn’t elaborate and shut his mouth. She didn’t pry either. She gave up on being a desperate woman a long time ago, so it wasn’t good to bother him too much. It was better to make him angry rather than sick of her.

 

So when he answered unexpectedly, she was dazed, like a fool.

 

“…I thought you might be right.”

 

“…?”

 

“We may have similarities.”

 

Of course, she had spouted that nonsense to him. But that was never what she meant.

 

‘How can Ian Kerrner and I be the same?’

 

She didn’t even know if it was truly his voice that said it or an auditory hallucination.

 

‘What on Earth should I say?’

 

Her inner self urged her to sit quietly.

 

“Let’s go.”

 

“Where?”

 

“You have to get dressed. Your dinner party is waiting for you.”

 

“So you have to go out so I can get changed…”

 

Ian pulled her out of the tub without waiting for her approval. This time he didn’t pull her chain or hold her hand. An unfamiliar warmth wrapped around her waist. In a moment, she was lifted by him, though it wasn’t a very romantic move. It felt like she was a wounded soldier on the battlefield, being carried to safety. He opened the bathroom door with her slung over his shoulder.

 

“You don’t have to do this! What’s wrong with you? If you let the crew in-“

 

“How can I trust you? You have to take off your handcuffs when you get dressed.”

 

He responded as if she asked something obvious. Her mouth fell open, shocked by the obscurity.

 

“So it’s not possible.”

 

“What are you going to do now?”

 

“I will have to keep an eye on you while you’re getting dressed.”

 

She snorted. It was funny that he called five crew members useless.

 

“Put Henry at the door.”

 

“…I can’t trust Henry anymore.”

 

She struck him on the back with her handcuffed hands and kicked her legs in a meaningless rebellion. However, Ian Kerner did not budge, and the more she struggled, the less strength she had.

 

“I knew I was too easy on you.”

 

When? He didn’t let her take off her handcuffs when she was taking a bath.

 

“I should have trusted your record a little more. ‘Good at deception, placation, and persuasion. Is intelligent and has excellent speaking skills. Be careful while interviewing. High possibility of getting caught up or persuaded by conversation.’ I guess I didn’t pay enough attention even after reading it. Maybe you really are a witch.”

 

“How many times do I have to say it? I was tested… ”

 

She stopped struggling and took a deep breath. Ian abruptly stopped walking. His long shadow was cast on the red carpet in the hallway.

 

“People call women they fear witches.”

 

“…”

 

“You saved Layla Reville, Captain Alex Reville, the sailors, Henry Reville… I am the only one on this ship whose heart is not weakened by you.”

 

It didn’t matter. She was on guard around him, and no matter what other people thought, it wouldn’t change. He was holding the key.

 

“So are you afraid of me? You’re afraid I’ll escape?”

 

“Yes. I’m afraid of you.”

 

Before she could ask why, he opened another door and threw her on a bed. She grabbed a fluffy blanket to cover herself, reflecting on his words. 

 

‘Is this another way high-ranking people speak? Twisting my words to attack me?’

 

If so, she was a complete failure. Because she really didn’t understand what he was talking about.

 

-We may have some similarities.

 

-I’m afraid of you.

 

What was wrong with Ian Kerner? It was him who had the key. 

 

He was a guard, and she was his prisoner. He was definitely the one to be afraid of.

 

“Rosen! I brought a dress!”

 

“Necklace and shoes, too!”

 

Five crew members rushed in at once and surrounded her, so her thoughts were cut off. Ian took out a key, released her handcuffs, and left the cabin casually. While the crew was making a fuss and dressing up her body, she stared at him, who was standing like a guard in the doorway.

 

Ian blew smoke into the air after taking a puff from his cigarette. At first glance, his figure was as tall and straight as a statue, but…

 

For a hero of war returning home draped in gold, his figure looked lonely.     

 

***

 

Ian Kerner suddenly felt anxious. The reason for his anxiety was unknown, which made him even more anxious.

 

He sent trusted crew members to wash a guilty convict. There was nothing that could cause a problem. He didn’t release the handcuffs on her wrists, and Rosen Haworth was neither military-trained nor a witch capable of sorcery.

 

Was he afraid she’d knock the crew down and make a boat out of soap and escape?

 

Didn’t he touch Rosen Howarth’s arm himself? 

 

Her arms were skinny and made up of skin and bone. It may be because she was chained for a long time, but she didn’t have a body that could form strong muscles.

 

Even considering the worst scenario, there was no need to worry. He thought she might try to run away in the short time it took to wash and dress her, so he sent Henry. In addition, they were sailing on a sea infested with beasts. Where would she go if she escaped?

 

He began to pace around his room again. Why did he get nervous?

 

Because of Alex Reville? 

 

He was definitely showing excessive favor to the prisoner, but Alex wasn’t acting outside of common sense at all. A captain was the Emperor of his ship, and the unwritten rule of sailors was that they never disclose what happened at sea. Moreover, this was payment for saving his granddaughter. Even if it was known to passengers, it would not be a problem.

 

Was it because of Layla?

 

She was a little shaken up, but she was fine. The doctor praised Rosen Howarth until his throat dried up.

 

Rosen Howarth? 

 

She really only saved Lyla. Henry unchained her at will, but she did not make a fuss or try to escape by holding the child hostage. Rather than asking for excessive compensation, she calmly held out her wrists so she could be handcuffed again.

 

So, in the end, he made himself uneasy. He stared at the desk, cluttered with papers.

 

There was a notebook among the official documents, decorated in a familiar typeface font.

 

It was a crude scrapbook that contained articles cut from newspapers. Ian picked up a notebook that was lying on the edge of the desk. He ordered it to be burnt, but it was still there. There was likely a miscommunication.

 

<Where is the witch who escaped from Al Capez?>

 

<Witch of the Century? Or just a lucky girl? Rosen Walker evaded the Leoarton raid by breaking out of Perrine Prison.>

 

<A large number of search teams, including the military, pledge to arrest Rosen Walker within 2 weeks.>

 

<The Prison Break of Rosen Walker – Volume 2>

 

Faded newspaper clippings rustled as he turned the pages. From credible newspapers representing the Empire to low-quality tabloids sold at market stalls. Rosen Haworth’s name was mentioned in social gossip, advertisements, serials, and even reviews.

 

He rubbed his forehead and sighed. The scrapbook was much thicker than he thought.

 

He didn’t want to admit it, but he voluntarily collected it. Every day he opened the newspaper, circled Rosen Walker’s name, and cut out the articles with scissors.

 

It was just a pastime. A hobby that he started because it was hard to endure the slow crawl of time. It was definitely like that at first.

 

Ian Kerner became too free after the war. He had returned to a peaceful daily life. In other words, he was unemployed.

 

The Empire ordered him to take care of himself until a position became available for him. Perhaps this was, as Henry expressed it, ‘precious daily life’. It was a reasonable command. Because fame usually incentivised assassins. He stayed in his mansion as ordered.

 

Only silence surrounded him.

 

Of course, there were servants in the mansion. They swept the floor, washed the dishes, and didn’t make enough noise to sour their master’s mood. But he was always crushed by the unbearable stillness of everyday life.

 

His thoughts raced every morning as he opened his eyes.

 

‘Why is it so quiet?’

 

‘Where did the gunfire go?‘

 

‘The roar of cannonballs?‘

 

‘The engine?’ 

 

‘Did I fall?’

 

‘If I did, where am I?’

 

The nightmares choked him. When he woke, he felt as if he was on a crashing airship, being sucked into the black sea. In a cold sweat, he would open the window and urgently inhale the air, wandering aimlessly around his room until he encountered the bluish dawn.

 

Ian knew that his condition was unusual. But he couldn’t seek out a doctor or tell anyone about it like Henry Reville. No one could know about it. Ian Kerner was a symbol of victory that couldn’t be broken.

 

He had to be fine. If that wasn’t possible, he had to pretend to be okay.

 

That’s why he, who wasn’t an avid reader before the war ended, grabbed onto something and started reading and rereading it like an addict. If he didn’t fill his head with meaningless words, he couldn’t handle the terribly slow flow of time. One second felt like a thousand years. It felt like he was going crazy.

 

During the nights when he couldn’t sleep, he read the newspaper in bed. His secretary bought five types of newspapers from the Capital every day and put them on his desk. It took him exactly one hour to read every single letter from the first page to the last.

 

Regular articles, feature articles, land sales advertisements, social gossip, crossword puzzles. He read it all regardless. He didn’t read to understand the content, but the word ‘Leoarton’ caught his eye every time.

 

A city devastated by his choice.

 

A city he abandoned six years ago.

 

His heart rate became faster and he broke into a cold sweat. Even though he knew it was better not to engage, he tortured himself by rubbing salt in his wounds. It was better for him to endure tangible pain than intangible anxiety.

 

<15,623 deaths, 12,568 injured, and 8,000 missing.>

 

Oddly enough, his name was nowhere to be found in any article mentioning the bombing of Leoarton. No newspaper mentioned the fact that ‘Ian Kerner’s choice led to the bombing of Leoarton instead of Malona’.

 

Soon he found the answer. Each place where Ian Kerner’s name should have been was a different name.

 

Rosen Walker.

 

Rosen escaped from the Perine Women’s Prison six years ago, just before the Leoarton bombing. War was a very ironic tragedy indeed. What the military wanted to protect were innocent people, but in the end, it was a lucky and ruthless prisoner who survived. It was unavoidable, but officials could not help but feel bitter. Not satisfied with one lucky break, Rosen escaped Al Capez. 

 

This newspaper understood the injustice and deprivation of the Leoarton survivors. Rosen Walker had a bounty of 20 million gold. In order to catch the prisoner as soon as possible and restore the pride of the Empire, it was essential that the people of the Empire actively report it. Rosen Walker’s description was…

 

Rosen Walker was a murderer. In her first trial, she was sentenced to 50 years and imprisoned in Perrine Women’s Prison in Leoarton. And luckily, she escaped just before the airstrike.

 

However, Rosen Walker did not destroy Leaorton. Her escape from prison and the Leoarton raid were two completely unrelated events.

 

Ian soon realized that Rosen Walker was chosen as the scapegoat for Ian Kerner. For Ian Kerner’s perfect return, the media, the government and the military worked together to create a witch. The public’s attention span was limited. One person was always enough.

 

Rosen was the villain who replaced Ian. She was the scapegoat for him.

 

After realizing it, there were facts that you couldn’t forget even if you tried. Things that kept piercing your heart and cluttering your head even if you wanted to forget them. Ian could no longer read the newspaper in an hour.

 

Every time he saw Rosen’s name, he had to close the newspaper and smoke for a while. There were days when he made cowardly excuses and comforted himself. His guilt about the city was enough. He didn’t ask the government to put the blame on her, accuse her of his sins.

 

‘We were just unlucky.’

 

‘You and me both.’

 

However, at the end of that thought, hatred for himself always soared. He couldn’t pretend he didn’t know. If they were just equally unlucky, then why did the world call them differently?

 

Why was Rosen Walker an evil witch, and Ian Kerner a hero who saved the country? Because their intentions were different?

 

A woman who killed one person with malice and a man who had no choice but to kill 15,623 people. If there was hell after death, both of them would go. Who would be punished more severely?

 

A strange sense of identity, curiosity, sympathy, discomfort, guilt… he had a turbulent mind. Ian began to obsessively collect articles about Rosen Haworth.

 

[Hindley Haworth and Rosen Haworth had a heated argument the day of the incident. Neighbours heard Hindley’s screams early in the morning, and they testified that Rosen’s scandalous behavior with other men had not been a good thing for the couple. A kitchen knife with Hindley’s blood was found at the scene. This was the knife that Rosen Haworth usually used for cooking, and as a result of the investigation, a scar found on Rosen Haworth’s hand matched the shape of the weapon. Despite all the evidence pointing to Rosen Walker, over the years she has consistently denied her crimes and asserted her innocence. But the basis for her claim is meager emotional appeal. She said that she loved Hindley, she had never cheated, and that they quarreled that night for trivial reasons. After her two escapes, some even hypothesized that Rosen Haworth was a witch, but an examination with a magic stone revealed it to be an unfounded myth…]

 

The public was eager to bite and tear into Rosen as intended by the government, but there were always two sides of the coin, so there were groups that followed the witch of Al Capez. In a chaotic world, crooked heroes were also in demand. There were those who turned to Rosen, who swindled the government, shunned soldiers, and spit on the triumph of a shining Empire.

 

<Rosen Walker’s Escape – Volume 1 Reprint! Now including analysis of public opinion by experts.>

 

<Why does Rosen Walker’s popularity grow despite her harsh criticism?>

 

Suspicion of being a witch, two daring escapes from prison, a bizarre succession of fortune that was rumored to have been contracted with the devil, the fact that her tail had been barely caught, her young age, pretty looks, and charges of murdering her husband.

 

All the conditions were perfect.

 

Ian flipped through the tattered scrapbook again. On the leather-bound cover, he affixed a map of the Empire. Lines of various colors were drawn on it, tangled in a mess. Before going to bed, Ian would light a small gas lamp by his bedside and draw Rosen Walker’s escape route following the newspaper articles.

 

He knew it wasn’t to help his comrades who were chasing Rosen day and night.

 

It was Ian’s secret self-consolation that no one could ever find out.

 

‘Run away.’

 

‘Don’t get caught.’

 

‘If you get caught, all the blame will be mine.’

 

‘Run away to a distant place and live a leisurely life. Just because you killed your husband doesn’t mean you deserve the ill will of all of Leoarton. Whether you’re a witch or a normal woman, it’s either really unfair or you’re just telling a blatant lie. In any case… you shouldn’t have to cover for my sins.’

 

‘This is unfair. I don’t want to become a hero with the glory I got from trampling over you. I didn’t fly my airship to be that kind of person.’

 

‘Not everything was a choice for you. You are a murderer who killed your husband, you are not an innocent victim.’

 

‘Nevertheless, after all, you are the only one I saved.’

 

‘I saved…’

 

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[T/N: The last part T_T I’m not crying. This story is so beautiful :’)]