Two Sides of a Coin (1)
She woke up in a luxurious room, her hands tied. It was late afternoon. She couldn’t resist the incessant pull of sleep. Just as she was about to fall back into the soft blankets, several people nudged her out of bed, took off her clothes, and submerged her in a tub of warm water.
Only then did she remember what had happened the night before. She saved Layla’s life, and thanks to that, she was sent to a room, not the prison. And she fell asleep on a strangely soft and warm bed. Of course, she was still under strict surveillance.
She had also asked Ian to let her take a bath.
“Miss Rosen, are you really a witch?”
“Excuse me for asking. Lady Layla came back one day and bragged about it…”
“Children are easily deceived.”
Whispers passed through the steam. One of the attendants gently dipped soap into the water. The solid pink square magically turned into fluffy bubbles.
Rosen stared at it with her eyes wide open in surprise, and the attendants burst out laughing, calling her cute. They were certainly Alex Reville’s people. It wasn’t easy for an ordinary attendant to have no complaints about bathing a dangerous prisoner.
‘Do those of a high rank have others wash their bodies?’
At first, she was embarrassed because she felt like a baby, but when the sponge with fragrant soap bubbles started to massage her body, she couldn’t resist.
She remembered her childhood in the orphanage. The women scrubbed the children’s bodies until their skin turned red with an annoyed look on their faces. If they moved even a little, they were immediately slapped on the cheek.
Maybe it was because the memories of her childhood were so strong that she was surprised when people said they enjoyed taking a bath. For her, washing was something she forced herself to do to not get sick.
However, if this was a real ‘bath’, it was understandable how ladies could spend all day in the bathroom.
Cozy and warm. It felt like someone was coddling, and she had returned to being a baby.
“Now that the water has cooled down, it’s a little lukewarm, isn’t it? Do you want it to be warmer?”
“No. Don’t do that.”
She shook her head. The attendants asked several more times to see if she would say yes, but she declined every time.
The longer you stayed in a warm place, the harsher the cold wind felt. She didn’t want to get used to the warmth. It was an obsessive habit.
From the moment she acknowledged that warmth was a luxury, she was as wary of happiness as she was of despair.
A few years ago she didn’t know that. She was stupid. But not now. She wouldn’t be fooled twice. She would never fall, hanging on to an iota of warmth like a [email protected]
However, the bath water was too warm, and her suffering body melted in the water. She mumbled ‘never’ in her heart, but eventually got tired, like a little beast basking in the sun and dozing off to sleep.
How long has it been? A small commotion awakened her faint consciousness. When she opened her eyes, the bathroom was still steamy.
“Huh? You can’t come in!”
The attendants had jumped up, trying to block someone. A person who did not match the sweet atmosphere pushed into the bathroom and broke her drowsy peace. She was naked, so the sweet attendants made a fuss.
“D*mn, I don’t want to do this either. But it’s for surveillance purposes!”
“Sir Reville! Surveillance outside the bathroom door is sufficient.”
“This is Sir Kerner’s order. There’s nothing I could do.”
When she heard the voice, it seemed as though the intruder was Henry Reville. She reached out and casually pulled the shower curtain back so she could see him.
“What? Do you have anything to say?”
He was embarrassed. When he saw her, he was so shocked that he couldn’t even blush. He stared at her for a moment, speechless, and barely opened his mouth.
“You know that I’m male, right?”
Rosen just shrugged. Her life was too turbulent to create s*xual tension with a kid like Henry Reville. Henry ordered the attendants while she washed her face.
“…Please leave for a moment.”
“I have a message for Rosen Walker. It’s confidential.”
“But… Miss Walker is not wearing clothes…”
“I won’t do anything strange. It was Sir Kerner’s order to deliver it now.”
The attendants were still restless, so he finally pulled out his trump card.
“It’s also the captain’s order.”
Apparently, on this ship, Alex Reville was in a similar position to the Emperor. The attendants rushed out of the bathroom without saying another word.
“What? Are you going to search my body?”
“Do you think I’m a pervert? You took everything off. There’s nothing to search for. Just stay there. I’ll just say what I have to say and leave.”
In spite of the announcement that he was about to leave, Henry closed the shower curtain and said nothing for a long time. The dirt on his boots dirtied the bathroom, making the bubbles stand out.
“You’re really obedient.”
“It’s Sir Kerner….”
“But you still need to think about your orders at least once. I wonder if your boss is really a good commander. I’m starting to get suspicious.”
“What does that mean? If Sir Kerner is not a good commander, then who is?
Henry was furious and began to refute her words. He seemed even angrier than when he cursed at her. She submerged her head under the water to block out his tirade. She spoke again when he calmed down a bit.
“No. Does it make sense to put the lieutenant in the bathroom with me? He surely isn’t worried that I would steal a boat naked.”
“Yes? Don’t you think it’s a little funny?”
She lifted her legs, which had become incredibly soft after exfoliating off the dead skin cells, and squinted at Henry’s shadow through the shower curtain.
“Henry Reville, you know what? You really can’t lie.”
“…You came here because you have something to tell me. Something you want to say secretly. Of course, Ian Kerner might have ordered you to guard the bathroom door, but I don’t think he’s the type of person to tell you to go into a bathroom with a naked woman.”
“So don’t make excuses. If you have something to say, say it.”
He hesitated for a very long time before opening his mouth. He took so long that she began to suspect that he had passed out.
“It’s about Layla.”
A strange sense of solidarity was bound to develop among those who had overcome a crisis together. One way or another, you became emotionally close. Rosen started to think of Henry Reville as an even stupider person, and Henry Reville thought of her… as a less dangerous witch.
“You are so stupid, Henry Reville.”
“… Yes, I have nothing to say, Miss Walker.”
Henry’s momentum faltered when she brought up Layla. His typically proud and guard-like stance shrank. His shadow through the curtain almost folded in half. As soon as he saw Layla last night, he had turned blue and froze up.
He looked powerless, to the point that it was hard to believe that he ever flew a plane, protecting the skies of the Empire.
“Are you a real pilot?”
“I have shot down over fifty enemy airships.”
“How great is that?”
“It means I’m the second best pilot in the Empire. If you added up the cost of those airships, you could buy an entire district.”
“So why were you so scared?”
Silence fell again.
‘Just say thank you, is that so difficult? You can’t even do that, so you’re standing there like that?’
If he couldn’t say thank you, it was useless for their conversation to continue.
Well, unlike her, he was the master of a prestigious family. He had a lot of achievements at a young age, so he must have a fairly high rank in the army. The Air Force had a shorter history than the Army or Navy, so there were probably fewer ‘higher ranking’ people above him. Except for his direct supervisor, Ian Kerner, she hadn’t met anyone else from the Air Force.
It wouldn’t have been bad to meet someone like him. Under normal circumstances.
‘Saying thank you doesn’t kill your pride. And why does he really want to say thank you? Why does he keep wasting time after coming into the bathroom?’
While she was lost in her thoughts, Henry finally opened his mouth.
“…I had an older sister. And brother-in-law. They were Layla’s parents.”
It was a little different from what she had expected.
“They are not there, what? Are they dead?”
“Yeah, a lot of people died in the war. When I escaped prison, the whole world was on fire. I thought about crawling back about five times, but I gave up. It was a waste of time for me to suffer, and when I think about it, a world that’s confusing for prison breakers is less dangerous.”
‘Why are you telling me this story?’
Rosen didn’t want to know how Layla became an orphan during the war. She had grown up bright, lacking nothing. Rosen responded half-heartedly, but Henry continued.
‘It’s like talking to a wall.’
“Walker, did you know there was a bombing in Leoarton?”
“How could I not know? I am from that city.”
“Were you there that day?”
No. That was the day of her first breakout. Her destination was Malona, which was about half a day away by horse-drawn carriage, but she stopped in the city of Saint-Vinnesée. Of course, three months later she was discovered on the outskirts of Malona.
It was in Al Capez that she found out about her hometown.
One day, during exercise, someone said something that flew like an arrow to her ear.
Leoarton was gone.
“My sister was there.”
“Layla was there too. She was a baby back then.”
At first, she didn’t know what it meant. She couldn’t believe the city had disappeared. Was that possible? There were many uneducated people in prison, so she thought that the idiot misused his vocabulary. But it was real.
Leoarton wasn’t a small town. It had schools, marketplaces, and a large population. She couldn’t read, but she wasn’t stupid enough not to remember the familiar scenery of her hometown.
Familiar roads, familiar buildings. But it wasn’t the peaceful city she remembered anymore. All that was left was terrain. Everything else was gone.
“You know what’s funny? I could have stopped it.”
“Even though I knew for sure my sister and Layla were in that city, I couldn’t stop the bombing.”
His story had nothing to do with her. She didn’t want to know. Her own melancholic dark stories were overflowing. She had nothing left in Leoarton. If there was, they were just nightmares. So when she heard that the city had disappeared, she wasn’t sad. Rather, she felt a sense of liberation that she couldn’t tell anyone.
Because she had wished hundreds of times that she could destroy that d*mn town.
However, she had no choice but to ask Henry, who was holding back his tears and could barely say a word.
Because that was the minimum compassion that humans should show one another.
“That day, while flying with Sir Kerner, I saw an enemy fleet preparing for bombing. There were two groups. It wasn’t difficult to figure out where they were going. Malona and Leoarton”.
Although Leoarton was a large city, Malona was the Capital of the Empire. If Malona fell, the country would be destroyed. How long could an empire that had lost its capital survive a war?
“We couldn’t stop them both.”
Life was a series of choices.
“We had to make a choice.”
“We had to make a choice…”
It’s a cruel word. No one could protect everyone. Henry Reville was a son, brother, and uncle. But he was also a soldier. At that moment, he was a pilot who held a city of thousands in the palm of his hand.
“We chose Malona.”
She thought of Ian Kerner, who was a natural leader. He was a commander who decided everything with a single word.
He knew. That his lieutenant’s family was in Leoarton. He knew Henry Reville, he knew his sister, and he would have watched Layla come into the world and burst into tears.
He also knew.
[You can relax. No one will be able to hurt you. When the air raid alarm rings, turn off your lights, go to the basement, turn on the radio, and listen to the broadcast. You just have to wait. I am always guarding the skies of the Empire. For you. Until the end of the war, until we all go back to our peaceful lives and forget all of this…]
That all of Leoarton believed in him. Ian Kerner would protect their skies. Throughout the war, he was a being who could reassure us with a single word. Before the raid, his voice would have resounded throughout Leoarton without fail.
People would turn off their lights, close their doors, and go down to their basements. They would cover the ears of their crying children and whisper comforting words.
- “It’s okay, Sir Kerner will protect us.”
What was Ian Kerner thinking?
- “Protect Malona.”
How did he say those heart breaking words?
“You don’t resent your boss, do you?”
It was a stupid question. It was only after she said it that she realized it. Henry stared at her through the curtain for a moment.
“…Sir Kerner made the right choice.”
Yes, if Malona had fallen, they would be dead.
But humans aren’t beings who can think logically. Humans think they are, but in the end, they stone without question.
“I am not resentful. It was inevitable. Unavoidable… ”
Henry told his story after that. It wasn’t long. What he saw when he went back to the city that could not be recognised. The corpses lying at his feet, the crumbled houses, the ruins of everything and everyone he loved. He said he would never forget the look, smell and sound until the day he died.
Layla was rescued from the wreckage five days after the raid. In a cradle with the lid half-opened and wrapped in a blanket, the child was crying faintly. It was Henry who found her. He had been searching through the debris like a madman for days.
Henry slumped with the child in his arms, hugging her tight, and crying for the first time since his hair and beard had grown thick*. He bawled until the rescuers pulled the child out of his arms and took her to the hospital.
[*E/N: essentially, this was the first time he had cried since he became a man.]
A body was found nearby. It was the child’s mother. Henry’s whole body stiffened, her child in his arms.
The child was severely dehydrated, but she soon regained her health in the hospital. Layla Reville was the last survivor to be found in the city. Doctors said it was a miracle.
“It’s strange to say, but I flew my airship in the war after that. I thought I had overcome it all.”
“But as soon as the war was over… I couldn’t get into the cockpit. The doctor said my body was fine, but in my head, something was broken. A wound that was left unattended and scorched, on the verge of bursting. I’m no longer what I used to be. What kind of pilot can’t climb a tall building because his heart pounds too heavily?”
“But I thought it was okay. I had Layla. There was still someone I had to protect.”
What could Rosen say to him, whose wings were broken, but still tried to fly in the sky with all his might?
Whatever this mean witch of Al Capez, who accidentally survived through her escape from prison, said, she would sound like she was pitying him.
In the end, she asked an obvious and stupid question.
“Because I’m from Leoarton… Do you hate me? The city where your innocent sister lost her life, but the guilty survived?”
Henry meekly admitted. She replied meaninglessly, playing with the bubbles in the cooling water.
“Yeah, it’s understandable to hate me. Keep on hating. That’s normal.”
‘Hate me, until the ashes are extinguished and only dust remains in its place.’
Some said hate didn’t change anything. Rosen wanted to refute that as bullsh*t. Hate was a cornerstone of life, just as important as love. People could live only when they hated someone as much as they loved someone.
People needed witches as much as heroes. Even more so in a world where there was no war. Behind every person who received a rain of flowers, there was always someone who received a rain of stones.
‘Like two sides of a coin, the hero on one and the witch on the other. In a sense, I am wanted as much as Ian Kerner.’
It’s a pity that she accidentally took on the role of a witch, but honestly, she understood why people hated her. She would have done the same. She had hated someone as much as she had loved them.
Perhaps he didn’t like her answer, so Henry pulled back the shower curtain and pushed his face in. His expression was distorted and wrinkled.
‘Did he stop being shy?’
As she stared, he raised his voice.
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