‘It’s nighttime, but it isn’t cold.’
I leaned back and looked at the sky.
There, I could see the bright moon and a beautiful array of stars all across the sky, as if they had been poured over.
I think the same thing every time, but this world has so many stars.
I brought a thin shawl out with me just in case, and I wrapped this over my shoulders.
Beneath the shawl, I was wearing a short-sleeved indoor dress, and the air that touched my exposed skin was neither hot nor cold.
It wasn’t unpleasantly humid.
Rather, this warmth was a little comfortable.
Despite the nightmare I had, my throbbing head seemed to have been soothed.
Since the time I dreamed of Urien¹ that day, I’d been having nightmares one after another.
And even after meeting Diana, more dreams showed up in my subconscious, all of them related to ‘family’.
In my first transmigration, I had been afraid to deceive the family of the person I possessed.
In my second transmigration, for a long time, I acted as if I was a real member of their family because I had gotten used to deceiving others.
And, in the third transmigration, Rita’s family found out that I wasn’t the real Rita.
My nightmares were mostly about the third transmigration, where Rita’s family had shouted at me, blamed me, let out their resentment and anger at me because I wasn’t ‘Rita’…
And I accepted it all.
Then, as they grew resigned to the fact, it was a weight that tightened like a noose around my neck.
Every time they called me ‘Rita’ with dead, unfocused eyes, I wanted to wake up from those cruel nightmares.
Because they were so pitiful, I was so pitiful.
And, I woke up again today while heaving, trying to catch my breath.
My bed covers were damp with sweat.
I held onto my throbbing head and laughed helplessly.
It’s laughable that I was constantly having nightmares due to the influence of the people around me, like an animal that has a fluctuating body temperature depending on its environment.
It all started with a nightmare about being locked up in that cage when I first visited Katie at the dungeon.
That dark dungeon with the smell of blood permeating its stagnant air.
That was the onset of these nightmares.
And the nightmares related to ‘family’ were no different.
It was after I met Diana that I started dreaming about ‘family’, and so the trigger for those nightmares must be…
‘They must be because of Diana and Ria.’
Diana expressed that she would give up her life for the sake of her younger sister, and because it’s undeniable that the word ‘family’ was deeply rooted in Diana’s image, that’s how the nightmares on that theme started.
Diana’s desperation was an emotion that I couldn’t understand—that I would never understand.
Of course, I was also prepared to die for Alicia, but it was only for Alicia.
It was not necessarily because I viewed her as ‘family’.
Though the future was changing, Alicia was a female lead of a novel whose circumstances were similar to what I had to experience in the past.
Yes, it’s all for the poor, pitiful female lead.
To someone like me, who had gone through three transmigrations in the past and now living through the fourth, something like ‘family’ was entirely out of reach.
I had never been able to hold onto it.
And now, I don’t want to anymore.
It’s like that.
So, if I were to put it bluntly…
I’m willing to die for Alicia, but I don’t want to put my life on the line for Damian or Duke Valentine.
We were strangers to each other.
Nothing more, nothing less.
Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one who thought so.
Damian was too guilt-ridden and anxious to play brother and sister with me.
And the Duke, who had returned to the manor only a few days ago, wasn’t present in my life at all.
Not to mention, he always, without fail, looked at me with aloof, indifferent eyes.
He seemed to feel responsible and apologetic for not knowing about Katie’s long-term abuse.
But that was it.
The frosty gaze turned towards me contained not one speck of affection.
Even if my neck would be cut and my head were to fall right in front of him, he would still look at me with the same gaze.
If the real Rosetta had been faced with this realization, then she would have wept with such disappointment, but I was fine with it.
Only one person needed to be submerged with guilt, and that was Damian.
There was no need to get a second person who would pity me and hang around me for no reason.
Would it be easy to attain peace when the world was always in the right balance
Walking through the quiet evening and lost in thought, I suddenly stopped in my tracks.
A strange sound came up somewhere.
It sounded like a snake’s slithering, or the sound of a sharp gust of wind.
It was too loud to be the former, and it couldn’t be the latter either because of its repetitions.
‘A person, then’
The place I was in right now was behind the lateral mansion.
Far from the main path.
And since it was a late-night stroll, I purposely headed towards a place where there weren’t any other people.
Turning around, I snuck quietly towards the suspicious sound.
I walked down the path adorned with overgrown trees, through the grass that grazed my ankles.
Then, the deserted clearing strewn with weeds.
The source of the sound was right there.
A polished wooden sword cut through the air.
As it was gripped with both hands, the sword was raised up in the air, gripped tighter with both hands again, and a horizontal slash was made.
The sword turned at his fingertips.
The direction of the sword’s swing changed in an instant, and he slashed down at the area in front of his hand.
Reaching out like that, he lowered his body.
And at the same time, he drew the sword in a circle over his head.
His bent knees and toes turned in the same direction as the sword.
With one heel as an axis on the ground, he moved as fast as the sword did.
Beneath the moonlight, his movements flowed seamlessly, making it look as if he was dancing.
His deep blue hair was soaked with drops of sweat, which flowed over his face as it was illuminated by the moon.
Then, black eyes that carried darkness and the night’s chilly air.
For him to be darker than the night sky, for him to shine regardless…
‘When did he manage to improve his skills to this point’
Cassion had been staying here for only a little over two weeks.
Obviously, when I first watched him train, he still looked sloppy, but…
His skills were quite acceptable now.
If I had seen him do this before we met Diana, then I wouldn’t have asked him to scurry away and hide himself during an ambush.
Deliberately making my presence known, I walked closer to him.
He was immersed in his training, but as he noticed my presence, he stopped his movements and urgently turned to look this way.
Avoiding his gaze, I took off my shawl and gripped the end of it.
At the same time, I infused it with qi.
Anything infused with inner qi would turn into a weapon.
A fan, one’s bare hands, a piece of cloth.
Even leaves and flowers.
The shawl turned into a whip in one split second and tore straight through the air.
And it made a much louder sound than Cassion’s wooden sword.
At the appearance of another person’s presence along with the sudden attack, Cassion started to back away.
But it was already too late to retreat.
The cloth hit the man’s skin slightly.
On the thin skin of his neck, there was a faint scratch that looked like the claw mark of a wild animal.
A shallow redness appeared on that spot, but no blood flowed out.
Perhaps if he had noticed a moment later, he would have gotten hurt more, but there was still a wound on his neck now because he couldn’t avoid it properly.
‘There’s still a long way to go…’
I adjusted my grip on the now loose cloth, which sagged on the ground, and rolled it up with my hand.
Once I got back to my room, I’d have to throw this away later.
While I was rolling up the shawl, Cassion continued to stand dazedly, then he turned to look straight at me.
Evident in his eyes was an unobscured shock.
His eyes blinked rapidly as he stared at me with an puzzled expression, and he gaped openly at me.
“I saw that you were working so hard, so I thought I’d give you a hand.”
As I replied to him with a smile, Cassion straightened his posture.
He then sighed briefly and swept up his sweat-soaked hair.
“It’s already late.
Why aren’t you asleep”
Why are you practicing at this hour”
It was an evasive answer.
“I’m just guessing, but do you practice every night until this late”
There was no response.
However, at a time like this, his silence could be taken as an affirmative.
‘If you’ve been practicing like this every night, then it’s no wonder why you’ve improved this much.’
Besides, despite not being the main villain, the person in front of me was a talented man.
With crazy efforts and an added character buff, I didn’t have to wonder why he was showing such fast progress compared to others.
But apart from that, what he’s doing seemed to be quite tiring.
Cassion was given the position of my temporary escort knight, so he also needed to get up in the morning even earlier than I’d wake up.
After getting out of bed, he’d immediately need to go to the knights’ training grounds to participate in their training.
Then after dinner, he’s also training his magic here in this clearing.
That’s his schedule as far as I knew.
But I couldn’t believe he’s been doing extra training every night as well…
‘Looks like he’s been sleeping only four hours a night’
Furrowing my eyebrows, I shook my head.
“It’s not good for your health if you don’t have enough sleep.
Prioritize your health first before this.”
It’s commendable that he’s going the extra mile, but draining his stamina like this would only have adverse effects.
Why else was it said that sleep and food were the best medicine
But on the contrary, Cassion just averted his gaze and didn’t give me a straight answer.
“Rather than that, why are you here at this hour”
What came back wasn’t an answer, but another question to my question.
It’s an obvious attempt at changing the subject.
As I thought for a moment about what to do here, I decided to just brush this matter aside for now.
To be honest, even if I told him to go to sleep now, I don’t think he’d listen to me.
There were certain things in the world that one would have to experience first-hand.
‘If you collapse, then you’ll come to your senses.’
Thinking ahead, I pretended not to have noticed that he’s changing the subject, then I nodded as I answered.
“I was already sleeping, but I woke up in the middle of it.
The dream I had wasn’t so pleasant, so I thought I should go out for a walk, but I heard some noises over here.”
“You should have avoided coming here if you heard such noises.”
“…I’ll avoid it only if I’m scared.”
Ah, what a ridiculous expression he had on his face right now.
At my brazen reply, Cassion looked back at me indignantly.
But what do you want me to say.
It’s the truth.
¹ minor spelling change: Yurian → Urien
the pronunciation is still the same, but I figured the new spelling makes more sense for the setting.
plus, the Urien of Arthurian legend might have some relevance to the character we have here.