Waking from a Dream
When I woke from my long dream, I found myself lying on a soft surface. Slightly springy, but soft and yielding. My arms were unnaturally arranged behind my back. The slight pressure on my wrists informed me that I had been bound. A similar pressure was being applied around my ankles. I took a deep breath and opened my eyes, finding myself lying on my side on a large, comfortable bed. The room was familiar – it was Rosalind’s room. Right in front of me, sitting in a chair while watching over me with a smile, was Rosalind. Her hair had returned to its fiery red colour, causing me to wonder whether I had only imagined the strange scene where she had suddenly changed in front of me and restrained me. Of course, I dismissed that thought immediately. The fact that I was able to have such irrelevant thoughts was more than enough proof that I was of perfectly sound mind.
Placing strength into my abdomen, I began to force myself into an upright position. Rosalind, noticing that I was awake, stood up and helped me. Once I was stably upright, leaning my back against the headboard of her bed, Rosalind took my chin in her hand and turned me to face her. She locked eyes with me.
“What’s your name?”
I blinked, surprised by the intensity of her gaze. I tried to answer her, but my throat was too dry for me to formulate a proper response. I ran my tongue over my lips. They were cracked in various places. How long had I been asleep?
Rosalind, noticing my difficulty, poured out a glass of water from a jug placed at the bedside and brought it to my mouth. I obediently drank, feeling the cool water slide down and soothe my parched throat. When the glass was empty, Rosalind returned it to the bedside table.
“Is that better?”
I coughed a few times and experimentally tried speaking.
“Ah… Ah… Yes, that’s better. Thank you.”
She smiled, then stared into my eyes again.
“Now, let’s try that again. What’s your name?”
This time, I was able to properly answer.
“My name is… Advent. No family name. My father’s name is Cain, my mother’s name is Esther. We’re a family of carpenters… I have six siblings – four brothers and two sis- sisters-”
When I finally said my name for the first time in seven years, tears began to well up in my eyes. When I gave my parents’ names, I began to choke up. When I began talking about my dear siblings, I couldn’t take it anymore. I started sobbing. Rosalind’s eyes flashed to that strange rainbow colour I had seen earlier, then back. She nodded and hugged me, letting me cry into her shoulder. As I let out the relief of finally being myself again, she spoke out loud.
“It’s all right. I’m not detecting any interference. She’s clean.”
I had thought the two of us to be alone in the room. Certainly, I had not seen anyone else when I woke up. However, I heard the sound of a knife being drawn, and the ropes that were binding my hands and feet fell away. The first thing I did with my newfound freedom was to place my hands around Rosalind and hug her back, clinging her to her as wave after wave of regret and relief overflowed from my eyes. At that moment, I didn’t care who she was. I didn’t care that she was the Empress. I didn’t care that I had just recently attacked her. I didn’t care that her eyes were weird. All I cared about was that she had saved me, and that she had embraced me, and that she was willing to let me just keep crying into her shoulder. She placed a hand on my head and stroked it, whispering words of comfort into my ear.
“You’ve suffered a lot, haven’t you, Advent?”
“I- you- you have no idea… no idea what I’ve done… what I’ve been made to do…”
“I don’t. But that’s why I need you to tell me. Can you tell me about yourself, Advent?”
“Yes. Just- Just let me get all these tears out, first.”
“Go ahead. Cry all you need, Advent.”
And so I did. After I had calmed down a little, I removed myself from Rosalind’s arms and told my story to the two others in the room – somehow, Glint had entered the room without my noticing. It seemed that he was the one who had cut the ropes, too. As I told my story, I kept glancing at him. I wanted to see his reaction. I wanted to see how he would react to hearing about what had happened to me. I wanted him, in particular, to know about my past.
Based on what Julio’s intelligence had dug up, his background and mine were both drastically different, but surprisingly similar. Both of us grew up in poverty, though admittedly his was likely more severe than mine, given that he had grown up on the streets. While I had a loving family, he was an orphan with no parents – however, it seemed that he had a surrogate family of thieves who took care of him like one of their own. Both of our lives were changed dramatically due to a single encounter – his for the better, mine for the worse. Furthermore, based on Julio’s information and my own interactions with him as Alpha, he was possessed of remarkable intellect and great talent for administration. When I was Alpha, I had no capacity to be interested in anyone or anything, but now that I had regained my sense of self, I found myself inexplicably fascinated with him. I wished to have a conversation, a proper conversation – not as Alpha, but as myself. I wanted to know more about him. I wanted him to know more about me.
As I spoke about my time in the Academy and my subsequent expulsion, I noted that his hands progressively curled into tight fists. When I got to the part where Julio had found me in the alley and forcibly made me his puppet, Glint’s face darkened with an expression that was a cross between disbelief and rage. When I continued to recount how I had been trained as a maid and assassin, that dark expression grew darker. When I finally reached the part where I recounted what I had been forced to do to Rosalind, he flared up and struck the wall in rage, causing the skin on his palm to split and begin bleeding. The noise caused Rosalind to glare at him in disapproval.
“Sorry. But I couldn’t take it any longer. Forcing Advent- forcing you to do to another what he had done to you… that’s too much.”
“Be that as it may, if I hadn’t already blocked off sound in the room, that would have attracted undue attention. I understand how you feel, but remember that we are in enemy territory.”
“…I understand. I apologise.”
I felt myself smile for the first time in years – Glint’s sympathy was, strictly speaking, unnecessary, but for whatever reason, it made me relieved to know that he felt so strongly about my situation. Also, I got to see him being apologetic – this was a first. In all my time as Alpha, I had never seen him give in to his emotions. It was a refreshing sight. I cleared my throat to get us back on topic.
“Well, now you know my circumstances, and what I was sent here to do. Under ordinary circumstances, I expect that I would be executed for attempting to place such a dreadful curse on you, Your Majesty, but I doubt that you would have taken the time to let me cry into your shoulder, or to listen to my story, if that was your intention. As such, I believe that it is safe to infer that our circumstances diverge from what can be strictly termed ordinary. I owe my life to you, in various senses of the word. So what would you have me do, Your Majesty?”
Rosalind blinked as she heard my question. Then she laughed.
“My, your true self is certainly a big change from how you acted as Alpha.”
“I humbly ask that you don’t take my actions or words when I was Alpha as representative of my true self. That girl was nothing more than a puppet, a doll. Advent is so much more than that.”
“Naturally. Well, to start with, let’s address two things. First: call me Rosalind. I don’t like being called by my title in private contexts. In public, naturally, there’s no helping it, but when we’re on our own, like this, among the three of us, I’d like it if you could just call me Rosalind, just like Glint does. Second: what I want you to do is ultimately dependent on you. What do you want to do, Advent?”
It was a question that I had not been expecting, yet I was not surprised – it was a question that aligned perfectly with my assessment of Rosalind’s character. Without hesitation, I answered.
“My desire is simple: I want Julio Kronschild to suffer. I want him to curse the day he caused my expulsion. I want him to regret that he ever heard of me or my name. I want him to curse himself for daring to take me as a possession. I want him to feel the weight of every life I’ve taken, every crime I’ve committed in his name. I want revenge.”
The intensity in my own voice scared me. But I knew that these were my true feelings. What Julio had done was unforgiveable – I had no intention of trying. I had lost my name. My body’s appearance had been altered beyond recognition. My innocence had been shattered to pieces. I had no way of knowing whether my family was doing well. If I went to see them, they would see me as a stranger – I no longer looked like their daughter. The same went for my colleagues at the Academy. I had no friends left. All that was left to me was the pain and regret I felt, and my burning hatred for the man who had caused them.
Rosalind held my gaze for several seconds, unflinching despite my malice-ridden words. Then she broke into a smile.
“Excellent. Our desires align.”