A child was seen outside the cell. Running this way, that way, hiding and looking around again like they were playing spy. The soldiers who guarded them did not stay past their shift hours. The guards must have thought that it was okay because the cell was locked. It was common when shifts overlapped.
The kid was hiding in the gap…
“Whose child is she? How did she get here?”
“I don’t know. She brought my cigarettes.”
“What did you threaten her with? Can you do that to her?”
“She wasn’t even scared. What kind of threat are you talking about? I just asked for it.”
Her hair was neatly combed and braided. Her body was clean and injury free. She didn’t think the child was a neglected one. She soon realized that the clothes the child was wearing were quite luxurious.
She was a child of the upper class. If so, she was likely a child of one of the tourists.
‘Who is her guardian? How could they let her come to such a dangerous place?’
She grabbed the bars and whispered.
The blonde child, who was bouncing around, looked back. With a sound that was neither too loud nor too soft, she began to whisper-yell at the child.
“You can’t stay here. Where are your parents?”
She motioned for her to go away, but the child didn’t listen. Rather, when she saw her, she was more excited and ran to the door of the cell. Rosen glanced anxiously at the dirty floor. She could catch a disease, or an odor could get on her clothes.
Contrary to her worries, the child babbled on, as if the scenery didn’t make her sick. Children were different from adults, so if there was something interesting, they didn’t care if it was dirty.
“I am Layla Reville, hello! May I ask you something?”
It was a name she knew.
“… Do you know Henry Reville?”
“Are you talking about my uncle? Do you know of my uncle?”
“You could even say I know him personally.”
She had just met him as a prisoner.
That stupid b*stard should’ve taken better care of his niece when it was his time to watch her. Rosen swore she was going to tear his mouth apart the next time she saw him. She made a terrifying expression and shook her head.
“Don’t you know that you can’t come here? This isn’t a children’s playground. Go play on the deck or go back to your cabin. Or call your uncle.”
“But I’ve already bragged about it to my friends. If I come here, I can meet Rosen Walker.”
“Yes, Rosen Walker. The most famous jailbreaker in the Empire! Al Capez’s Witch! People said she was on our boat.”
Of course, her name appeared in the newspaper several times, but she didn’t know she was famous enough to be known by children. Before she could say anything, the child started revealing information about herself.
“No one believes me because my grandfather is the captain, so I had to go to the prison cell. I need to go meet Rosen Walker and tell the kids before Grandpa finds out.”
The captain’s granddaughter. She was a much more precious child than Rosen thought. She was more anxious than the child. She didn’t know what would happen if she got involved with a kid like this, so she wanted to send her away as soon as possible.
“I am Rosen Walker. Now that we’ve met, go back and brag about it. Don’t stay here long.”
“Are you Rosen Walker? Really?”
The child squealed. She sounded like a dolphin. It was also loud enough for a guard to notice and come inside. If she hadn’t been tied up, she would have covered her little mouth.
“Can you please be quiet? If you’re caught here, I’ll get my a$$ kicked.”
She put her finger over her lips. The child covered her mouth and nodded her head. The girl’s eyes still shone. She realized that she had made a mistake by revealing her identity. Rosen should’ve just said she wasn’t there.
“Is it true that you got out of jail by digging a tunnel?”
“Yeah, it’s true.”
“With a spoon? Is that possible?”
“As long as you have enough time and patience.”
“Wow! Everything in the newspaper was real!”
She tried to answer in such a dry way that the child would get bored. Unfortunately, what she had done was too interesting. Even if you recorded the simple facts of Rosen’s life, it was a thrilling story.
“…So can you really use magic?”
The expectant face was sincere. She was about to say no, but Maria, who was listening to their conversation, gently nudged her. She frowned and mouthed, ‘What?’. Maria whispered.
“Are you a fool? Say you can use it, and get something from the child. She brought cigarettes.”
“You sure are proud that you asked the kid to bring you a cigarette.”
“Are you really the woman who escaped twice? When an opportunity comes, you have to take it.”
“If it was Al Capez, I would have asked for a tool, but we’re on the sea. It’s useless no matter what that kid brings. Unless I tell her to steal the keys of her uncle’s boss.”
“What can’t we ask for?”
Jail drove people crazy. She, too, had been in prison for a long time, but she had enough reason to determine that Maria’s dream was impossible. But since this kid had come all the way down here, it wouldn’t hurt to ask a few questions. After glaring at Maria, Rosen lowered her voice.
“Did you say your name is Layla?”
“Yes, it’s Layla Reville!”
“I have a few questions, can you answer them?”
The child, who was excited to answer, unexpectedly paused. Rosen understood. It was normal to get scared when you thought a simple game had real consequences. She gently comforted the child.
“Do you want to see magic?”
“Huh? I won’t ask anything weird. I’m just curious.”
“…I’ll try to answer.”
Rosen tried to look as harmless as possible. Without even trying, she knew she looked pretty weak. She didn’t look like a threat to anyone. After hesitating, the child nodded her head.
Rosen raised the corners of her lips slightly. Everyone said that an easygoing appearance was a fatal weakness in this harsh world, but she thought differently.
Whatever you used was up to you.
“You know Kerner?”
“Yes, he’s my uncle’s boss. War Hero! Best pilot! His name is Ian.”
“Are you close?”
“Well, I don’t like him. He’s blunt and strict. He’s not interested in me. But Uncle Henry said that he doesn’t express it, but he cares about me. Because he’s known me since I was in my mom’s womb. I should think of him as another uncle…But I don’t know.”
“Is he married? Does he have a lover?”
“He doesn’t. He doesn’t even have a fiancée… The people around him are clamoring for him to get married soon. But Ian doesn’t seem to think much of it.”
‘Are you not interested in women at all?’
She refined the question she wanted to ask, and uttered it in a form suitable for a child’s ears.
“Have you ever seen women come out of Ian’s room? Or maybe you saw him with one.”
“A woman? Nope. Why?”
Fortunately, without noticing her intentions, Layla gave her exactly the answer she needed.
‘D*mn, upper class men are all moral and neat.’
There was only one option left.
“Ian Kerner… is he a compassionate person?”
“What is compassion?”
Perhaps it was a difficult word for a child, and Layla opened her eyes wide.
About half of her life she struggled to get compassion out of people, so when the child asked what it was, she couldn’t answer. The heart made people careless, and she had come this far by using countless hearts. That was all she could say.
“A feeling of pity for someone, sweetheart.”
Maria cut through the silence, and responded with a cheerful voice.
“Letting a dog in from the rain. Holding the hand of a child with a fever and praying. Bursting into tears when someone else is crying. That’s compassion.”
“…That’s pity, isn’t it?”
“Of course, it’s pity too.”
Maria’s long explanation was abbreviated by the child’s words. Maria nodded with a caring smile, but Rosen only smiled bitterly.
It wasn’t Layla who didn’t know what compassion was, it was her.
The compassion that Maria and Layla experienced was different from hers. Even though they were called by the same word and fell within the same category…
The soil that made different people’s hearts grow varied. The people she had met weren’t pure of heart. What they had was too ugly to even be called a heart.
“Ian… I don’t think he likes anyone that much. He is not very friendly.”
She remembered those gray eyes that were indifferent even when she cried. Ian Kerner was a soldier and a warrior. Being sympathetic was a flaw for soldiers. If he were such a person, he would not have been able to survive the war.
Layla, who was monitoring her expression, added hastily. Was she afraid that she would think badly of him?
“Still, I think Ian is a good person.”
“He is a hero who saved us all…”
Layla was worried about nothing.
‘I mean, it doesn’t matter what I think of Ian Kerner.’
Even if she cursed Ian Kerner until her throat tore, his honor would not be tarnished.
No one would listen to a witch’s words.
Besides, she didn’t hate Ian Kerner. She rather liked him. Ian was a hero to her. Just because he was not as kind as she thought did not change her mind.
The only reason she was planning to trick him was because he was a guard. If it weren’t for this situation, she would probably be doing something silly to get his attention and talk to him.
“Thank you, Layla. That’s enough. Now it’s my turn to keep my promise.”
She reached through the bars. Even though the bars were set at close intervals, there was enough space for one of her wrists to pass through. Layla looked at her hand and flinched. Rosen tried to calm the child.
“Do I have a lot of scars on my hands? It’s just that I burned them while working in the kitchen.”
“…Don’t they hurt?”
“It’s fine now because they’re old scars. More than that, since I don’t have anything, can you give me something? Even a small thing is fine.”
Layla’s big eyes moistened. She was a compassionate child.
Were all children like that?
Layla rummaged through her pockets and shook her head.
“I have nothing. Just a few coins.”
“A coin? That’s enough.”
Layla put a coin in the palm of her hand. Rosen stared at the slightly rusted copper coin.
“What are you going to do with it?”
“Magic always needs a medium.”
She answered like a skilled storyteller, and Rosen spread her palms out in front of her. Seeing her empty palms, the child exclaimed.
“The coin is gone!”
“No, it didn’t go away.”
She smiled and stretched out her chained hands as far as she could, bringing them close to Layla. She pretended to pull something from behind her ear, making the coin reappear.
Layla couldn’t even utter an exclamation this time. Rosen was a little surprised by her innocent face, her mouth wide open. She smiled.
“Come on, take it. It’s a lucky coin.”
“It’s a secret, but it will turn into gold by sunset.”
That much was enough to send the child back. Layla excitedly put a coin in her pocket and left the room. Rosen took the cigarette back from Maria and inhaled deeply.
“Did you really use magic?”
Maria asked playfully.
Rosen smiled mischievously.
“You know I didn’t. It was a simple trick. Not even as good as a street magician. When the sun goes down, she’ll notice, ‘Oh, I was fooled.’ But it’ll be too late then. I’ve gotten all the information I needed.”
“Isn’t Walker’s consistent argument that she can’t lie?”
“Is that so?”
“…How shameless. If I were a real witch, I would have caused a prisoner’s rebellion and escaped.”
“There’s water everywhere. Where would I go?”
“It would be unreasonable to sail in a lifeboat, but there is a place to go. The island of witches, Walpurgis. It’s not far from Monte Island.”
Maria knew she was talking crazy, so she burst into laughter after she finished speaking.
She inserted cold truths in the middle of her wide smile.
“Even if the power of the witches has decreased, it’s not easy. It’s their last refuge. If anyone from the general public approached, their bodies would be torn apart before even landing on the island.”
“I know, I was joking.”
“Yeah, good one.”
She laughed quietly. Maria narrowed her eyes and tried to say something more, but Rosen waved her hand to stop her. She was about to start a conversation that had already been tediously repeated.
– Did you really kill your husband?
– I didn’t kill him.
– Are you really a witch?
– Do you think I’m a witch?
– You sound frustrated. I’m not a judge, so why don’t you be honest with me? Tell me, did you kill him?
– Do you think I killed my husband?
– Everyone else thinks so.
– I really didn’t kill him.
– That’s what everyone says in prison.
Maria always smiled meaningfully with an expression that she knew everything. She didn’t necessarily deny or believe her words. There was no need to spill tears like she did in the courtroom. It made no sense. Whether she lied to Maria or not, nothing would change.
There was no need to change her argument.
“Lies work well on kids, Rosen.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“I wish you could do the same to Ian Kerner. What do you think?”
Rosen realized that Maria already knew her thoughts about him.
“Maria, I was thinking…”
“Yeah, what is it?”
“I want to talk to Kerner.”
Ian wouldn’t want to sleep with her. Maybe until the end.
But he was a soldier, a hero, a pilot.
That meant…he was used to looking down on everything. What did it feel like to breathe in the air above everyone’s heads? How small and insignificant did the world look from the sky?
His life was a series of victories. Ian Kerner was addicted to it.
“How helpless, easy, and powerless the witch of Al Capez is. How easy it is to have her. How interesting the night you spent with her can be.”
Men liked poor women. Surprisingly, appearance didn’t matter that much. They were attracted to women whose eyelashes were wet by tears rather than pretty and confident women. Endlessly helpless…
They loved the position, not the woman. That’s why they wanted a woman who they could pet and cuddle, then wield and trample as they pleased.
That was their compassion. It had a completely different meaning from what Layla and Maria knew. She just had to prove it. She was the kind of woman who could never defeat anyone, and who would only give them a sense of conquest.
She was able to match Ian’s level. She could be an infinitely humiliated person. Actually, that was her specialty.
She could be a poor rat, crouching, tears in her eyes, with trembling hands and feet.
‘Please save me. Even though I look rough, I’m actually very weak. Have pity on me and do something for me. I need you to conquer me. Then I can win this time too.’
She believed that conquering was a sweeter and more addictive emotion than love.
And it was a much easier feeling than love.
A moment of humiliation could be tolerated.
Because ultimately, she would win in the end, and have the last laugh.