Rosetta smiled as she watched the dagger skidding across the floor.
There were times when people would look down on someone else who’d give up quickly, but Rosetta didn’t hate seeing it.
Even if it was pathetic, wouldn’t it be better to survive rather than to show a bit of courage that would still lead you to your death anyway
Ah, of course, that’s to say if you wanted to survive.
With one hand still over the back of Harron’s head, Rosetta slowly raised her other hand from their neck and away, as if she was caressing them with a lingering touch.
Their eyes widened as the distance between Harron and that hand gradually grew narrower.
However it felt as if that hand was not that of a woman’s, but like it was the fanged mouth of a monster.
They swallowed dryly.
The way their throat quivered imparted just how urgent the situation was for them.
The stuttered words eventually became a broken sentence, yet the hand did not stop and slowly approached its goal.
The hand went up near Harron’s nose bridge.
The fingertips that touched their face were cold.
Harron clenched their hands into fists because the cold sensation was much too sharp, which inevitably grounded them back to reality.
It would have been better if this were a dream.
The hand over their nose soon seized the mask covering the lower half of their face.
Then, it was pulled down without one hint of hesitation nor mercy.
Tuk. With that small sound, the knot that was tied tightly behind their hair broke without resistance, and the long, faded gray-brown hair drooped beneath the hood.
As their face was suddenly exposed, the lukewarm, early summer air hit them.
To the point that Harron couldn’t breathe.
Rosetta stared at Harron’s face for a long while.
A tan complexion and dark brown eyes, which was the most common coloring in the empire, then dry, chapped lips.
Well, the dark brown eyes couldn’t be seen properly because of how much their eyes were shaking—being averted in fear that their eyes might meet the eyes beneath this veil.
Even for a moment, even by chance.
As Rosetta faced them—no, as the veil faced them—Harron felt an intense sense of fear rising within.
The only thing they could imagine lying beneath that veil was the face of a monster with a torn mouth.
Common sense would say that this was impossible.
However, the fact that her face was covered heightened even greater fear.
Whenever ghost stories were told, it was much scarier to listen to the story while imagining it yourself.
Nothing was more frightening than that.
As the suffocating silence continued for the longest time, Rosetta nodded and muttered.
“…As expected, what an interesting act.”
Contrary to what she said was ‘interesting’, there was a subtle hint of irritation in her voice.
Soon, Rosetta let go of her other hand’s grasp on Harron at the back of their head.
Because they flinched so hard, Harron almost fell face forward.
Fortunately, they avoided a disaster by instinctively covering their face with their arms.
But because their body was so coiled with tension, fear and fatigue, they were frozen there on the ground, gasping out heavily.
As Rosetta glanced down at Harron with a bored look, she reached into her pocket and took something out.
Then, as they were still lying face down, gasping for air, she then turned to them and put that object into their own pocket.
At the height of fear, the man was immobile.
Just as though they were a deer in front of headlights.
Currently, Harron was in that state.
Harron was so uncomfortable and so terribly afraid of what Rosetta had pushed into their pocket, but they couldn’t move even a single finger because of this fear that went beyond rationality.
They just tried desperately again to move their arms and push themselves up so that they could find a way to escape.
Hitting Harron hard across the chest was a strong desire to live.
After shoving that thing into the collapsed person’s pocket, the woman raised herself.
She reached slowly towards the dagger that Harron had earlier, then picked it up.
Watching the woman’s movements with their breath lodged in their throat, Harron blinked.
They felt a hot sensation pooling around their eyes.
At this very moment, they suddenly wanted to see their family.
Someone Harron had to protect… Perhaps someone else who could protect them in turn.
“Sa… Save… me, please…”
Their lips felt so wooden that they had not been able to speak all this time, but another broken sentence was formed after many pauses.
With a dull step forward, the woman crouched down in front of the fallen person.
As Harron raised their head, what they saw instantly was the woman’s hand holding the dagger, right in front of their face.
Harron closed their eyes and groaned, but as they did not feel the flash of pain that they were expecting, Harron slowly opened their eyes once more.
And this time, the woman’s open palm was in front of Harron’s eyes.
Pale, small, soft-looking palms.
That palm, spread out as if to show its magnificence, folded in an instant.
Only one finger was left up.
“Now, look closely.”
Harron could only ask back in confusion at the woman’s brief command.
Soon, the lone index finger turned slowly to one side, as if telling Harron to focus there.
Harron stared at the finger just as they were told.
And, apparently, there was a small wound on her finger.
It looked to be a very thin slice, but still, small traces of blood could be seen.
After seeing that Harron saw exactly what she was asking them to look at, Rosetta raised herself to her feet.
“You’re the one who gave me this wound.
This—you did this.”
“From this point on, I’ll give you thirty seconds.”
Rosetta spoke with a firm voice.
After which, she backed away.
One, two, three steps backward.
Without realizing it, Harron staggered to their feet, just as Rosetta was leisurely distancing herself.
Exhausted to the bone, Harron staggered from the ground and nearly lost their balance several times, but they eventually managed to keep their feet on the ground.
Harron stared back at Rosetta.
Arms folded, Rosetta was standing still.
Then, she shook her head once, gesturing to one other side.
Over there, at the other side of the dead end alley, towards the only path of escape.
“I’ll give you thirty seconds to run.”
At the woman’s out-of-the-blue remark, Harron grimaced and blinked back at her.
Was she testing Harron right now, or was she really…
However, there was no time to think.
Rosetta started the countdown.
Absolutely nervous out of their mind, Harron looked left and right, then soon began to step back.
The woman stayed rooted on her spot and did not move.
And she continued counting like a machine.
Harron’s backward steps gradually accelerated.
Then, when there was a more significant distance between them,
Harron turned around and booked it.
The end to this encounter was something they couldn’t have expected—but the important thing here was that they got to live in the end.
With their back against those numbers that they could no longer hear, Harron ran and ran and ran.
They did not make the mistake of looking back.
Right before Harron turned the corner,
See you later.”
It felt like a small farewell could be heard.
* * *
Rosetta stood still in the same spot and tapped one finger against her forearm.
The gaze of her golden eyes was still on Harron’s urgently running back.
She followed the retreating figure until she couldn’t see it anymore.
Then, she spoke up.
“You can come out now, Maxwell.”
After hearing this faint voice, rustling could be heard as one person emerged from the bushes.
A tall man stood up and took a step away from his cover, the rustling sound following his every movement.
It was Cassion, who had been hiding silently while Rosetta had confronted Harron.
As he walked towards Rosetta, he brushed away the rubble and leaves from his clothes.
Then, he looked at her wordlessly.
Just as she caught sight of him, she soon turned to face him.
“What is it”
The question was simple, but the answer was complicated.
His lips, which were tightly closed for a long time, slowly spat out one unexpected word.
She was so dumbfounded that she laughed out loud like a fool.
Sorry, he said.
About what though.
Then after a moment, Rosetta realized what he was apologizing for.
Her golden eyes gleamed.
It didn’t seem to be from amusement.
“What are you sorry about Is it because you couldn’t help me just now”
Her voice also expressed her bad mood.
With no consideration.
After hearing her say that, she even sounded cynical.
It wouldn’t be strange to think that Cassion’s pride might be hurt like this.
But instead of shaking in anger, he only nodded unhesitatingly.
I’m sorry about that.”
The face beyond the mask also gave a plain answer.
At the time that Rosetta had been attacked, Cassion merely crouched down by himself over in those bushes.
Whenever the opponent wielded his blade, it felt like Cassion’s heart was about to plummet.
And whenever Rosetta successfully avoided the opponent’s attack with her fluid movements, Cassion breathed out a sigh of relief.
Even though he had to suppress that very breath in his throat so that he wouldn’t make a single sound.
Again and again, he wanted to run out.
He was the only one hiding in safety, and he felt so sorry that Rosetta had to deal with this situation all by herself.
Wasn’t it a little strange
Wasn’t she sacrificing herself too much
He and Rosetta were on the same path towards one goal, yet it was always him who hid and Rosetta who helped him.
However in the end, despite these thoughts, he couldn’t bring himself to run out.
His righteousness was unnecessary as he was too weak to help.
All he could do was simmer in regret and misery.
The worst-case scenario here was for a powerless person to try and help, yet eventually become a hostage.
Rosetta would have told him the same obvious fact, that’s why she told him to hide.
So, without acting out in presumption, Cassion focused on the one thing he could do to help in this situation.
He silenced his movements and his breaths.
It was a matter of life and death.
He might not be actively helping, but he at least should grit his teeth and stay put so that he wouldn’t become a burden.
It wasn’t easy for him to come out even when the enemy had shown his back and ran away.
Just in case, he didn’t know if the enemy would turn around again and try to take him hostage.
Then at last, when safety was guaranteed once more, his duty ended and he was able to come out from his hiding place.
Cassion awkwardly brushed off the dirt from his pants.
Those traces of his desperation to hide.
“It’s laughable to say this, but honestly, I’m not ashamed.
I hid because I know I’m weak, and as a result, I didn’t get in the way.
That in itself is enough already.
“I’m sorry that I had to make you go through that alone.
I’m sorry I couldn’t help.”
As the overly honest confession flowed out, Rosetta’s uncomfortable expression gradually returned to its original neutrality.
In the first place, the reason she felt offended was because she was worried that Cassion was feeling ashamed.
It didn’t matter that he was ashamed of his current level.
It was a good jumping off point for when he started improving his skills.
However, she knew that it was difficult to hide and he might feel ashamed about the fact that she was the only one who fought.
For him to hide because he was weak.
And to be protected by a stronger individual.
There was nothing to be ashamed of about this.
No, it was only obvious that there shouldn’t be.
If you’re strong yet still ran away from someone weak, then go ahead and be ashamed.
But someone who had to hide shouldn’t be feeling the same way.
Being fraught with such emotion would only bring out negativity.
A sense of inferiority, for one.
And oftentimes, an inferiority complex could destroy not only the individual, but also the people around them.
That was the kind of person that Rosetta disliked the most.
Meanwhile, Rosetta loved Cassion’s honesty and candor.
‘Fortunately, I was just overreacting.’
In a much better mood now, Rosetta smiled lightly.
Then, she slowly approached Cassion.
“Why are you sorry about that I don’t want you to feel apologetic towards me.”
Speaking in a calm tone, Rosetta reached out towards him.
Without any hesitation, she reached behind his head.
Fingers brushed across his earlobe and plucked out a dry leaf.
Because Cassion was leaning forward to brush off the dust in his pants, he looked up in an instant.
The eyes beneath that mask began to glow red.
Her fingertips felt so hot against his skin.
His shaky gaze then turned towards the dry leaf between the woman’s fingers.
“You know, each and every person has their own shortcomings.
No one’s born perfect, that’s why we all keep striving to improve throughout our lives.
To make up for those shortcomings.”
Her slender fingers twirled the leaf around.