Is there anything more boring than a story about a princess stuck in a tower? One can find variants of such a tale just about anywhere. Think about it, is there anyone who hasn’t heard some story about a wealthy, young noble lady stuck in some godforsaken tower god-knows-where?
“…Maybe they’re all just trying to fool us?”
Lettice’s offhand opinion was immediately shot down by Benja. That is to say, he simply made fun of Lettice. “No, if anything, it feels like something you’d come up with. Not funny, not cool, just plain stupid and…”
“What? Seriously, what happened to respect for your elder brother?”
“Please, have you ever acted like one?”
“C’mon Sasha, you really don’t know anything about what’s happening? This kind of feels like a prank you’d try to pull, too.”
“Oh ho. Now that’s an interesting thought.”
I was just about ready to yank my hair out in frustration. Whether their antics were merely a front to stave off their fear or not, the end result was just plain annoying. It boggled my mind how these two devil-may-care brothers would grow up to be the villains who would subdue the empire under their feet.
“Sasha?” …Well, I guess I did see it a little. I was beginning to kind of understand how they became villains.
Estelle seemed to have finally noticed the unspoken fear in the air, inching closer to me until she was practically glued to my side. Having been born with a sickly constitution, she was naturally a lot more sensitive and vulnerable to her surroundings. In the past, the only ones she would turn to for comfort were myself and my late mother.
“Sasha, do you really not know what’s going on?” Unfortunately, I’m not omnipotent. Although I could’ve certainly done with some prior knowledge of this.
This being our current dilemma of three aristocrat children and the daughter of the nanny imprisoned in some obscure corner of the estate somewhere. What really took the cake was that the culprits weren’t demons or dragons or the like, but rather, their own blood relatives.
That aside, the biggest problem here was my inability to reconcile our current situation with what I knew. No matter how much I combed through my memory, I couldn’t recall reading a single detail about this dilemma.
Part 1. To think I’m Oldboy*!
Up to this point, my life had been pretty much normal – well, you could argue that normal is rather subjective, but I would still consider myself a kid just like any other in this era. With that said, I was probably a little luckier than most given that my mother struck it pretty big in life as a nanny for the Serpente dukedom. My father, on the other hand, had passed away before I was born, so I have no memory of him. According to my mother, I inherited these ruby eyes of mine from him.
In any case, we moved all the way from the southern side of the empire to the capital. With a recommendation letter from her previous employer in hand, my mother managed to secure a position as a nanny for the Serpente’s newborn daughter. As for myself, I spent my early years playing around as a half-nanny, half-friend to said newborn daughter.
The duke and his wife were very good to us. I had no idea if this was the case for other noble families but the couple treated my mother and I as one of their own. Under normal circumstances, a mere commoner such as myself would’ve never had the opportunity to interact with any, let alone so many, noble children in this way. And believe it or not, the duke even scolded his own son for making me cry at times! With our two families getting along famously, my childhood was, needless to say, simply amazing.
I first felt that something was horribly off on the day my mother passed away – a victim of the plague that indiscriminately took the lives of seven thousand people in the capital within the space of a week, including that of the empress. It was only thanks to the duke my mother was given a proper funeral instead of being burned in a mass grave like everyone else. It was also thanks to the duke that I was able to remain in the estate instead of being kicked out.
Back then, I wasn’t actually caught up in my mother’s death at the tender age of fourteen. My thoughts were completely preoccupied by something else entirely. You see, at the time my mother died, memories of my previous life flooded into my mind unexpectedly. Everything, be it about myself or my current situation.
I initially thought that my mind was playing tricks on me due to depression. After all, those memories were telling me I was living in a fictional world from a novel. And that I was an orphan in my previous life, which came to an end as I died alone in a broken elevator.
Who would believe such a thing? No one, that’s who. Not even myself. …Or so I thought until a few weeks later when the Duke and his wife died, just like they did in my memories of the novel. That was when an uncontrollable sense of fear and unease started to take over. If this world really was a novel… then what was to follow was tragedy upon more tragedy – not just for myself, but for Lettice, Benja, and Estelle as well.
According to the main character’s POV, the children of the Serpente family spent two years studying abroad in a foreign country. They say this was done by their relatives in order to manage the Serpente household better in the duke’s absence. By all accounts, it was assumed that I had followed them there for Estelle’s sake. That wasn’t a problem: the problem was, there was nothing about what happened to the children during those years. All I knew was that Estelle was to die somewhere in that time. And I, Sasha, would return with Lettice and Benja to bring about absolute chaos in the empire.
You got it. I was supposedly the book’s last boss, the final villain. The queen of the serpents, the demoness in human flesh, yours truly. Also the person who gets tortured to death in the end, by the way. And here I thought I’d been a pretty decent person in my past life. To think I’d end up reincarnating as a villain… Just what unforgivable sin did I commit anyway? God, my luck of the draw is just…
Well, at least I know what will happen now. All I have to do is not do what I did in the novel! There was just one little problem…
As the novel was written from the main character’s perspective, it was only based on what that person knew, truth or otherwise. Thus, as a reader, I lacked all the information of the actual goings-on. For example, who would’ve dreamed that the four of us weren’t actually in a foreign country, but imprisoned in the basement instead? There was literally no mention of that in the book whatsoever.
That night was one I’d never be able to forget. On that night, when the funeral for the duke and duchess ended, I was staring up at the sky wordlessly with Estelle while Lettice and Benja dealt with their relatives. We were silent, hugging each other tightly with our tiny hearts beating madly, neither crying nor talking.
To this day, I have no idea why one star managed to look so mysterious to me that night. It felt like that one star twinkling above was trying to send me a strange signal from afar….almost as if…it were trying to send me a message from the future. The light almost looked like the sparkle of a single tear…
As I gazed at it, I could not dismiss the increasing feeling of uncertainty despite having the assurance of knowing everything that was to happen in the future. It was as if my instincts were clamouring, trying to warn me of something I had missed. A warning of something having gone horribly wrong.
“Estelle.” I turned to look at the voice, finding Lettice, still in his funeral garb. His empty blue eyes were somewhat unfocused as he gazed at us.
“Uncle wishes to speak to us.”
Poor kid. Lettice, funnily enough, was a shy child who was rather bad at keeping a poker face – a rather critical weakness for an aristocrat. I could only imagine how uncomfortable he must’ve felt to have come out himself rather than have a maid convey the message as was customary. Perhaps he had been desperate to have some time to himself, away from the crowd.
Estelle seemed rather unsettled by the lack of expression in her brother’s eyes, if the way she was now looking at me was any indication. She relied heavily on my mother and I whenever she felt uneasy, and today being her parents’ funeral of all days meant she was especially vulnerable. I knew what she wanted but even so, my identity meant that I couldn’t be by her side at a family meeting. No matter how close to them I was, I wasn’t actually a family member. I could only send her along with a few reassuring pats and an encouraging smile.
The two children headed back into the mansion, throwing glances back at me every few steps. Were they worried about me? I wanted to tell them that it wasn’t necessary since we’d be together for a long time yet.
If only I had known then that there was indeed something to worry about… If only I had known this would be the last time the four of us would be able to step foot out under the blue sky for the next two years… It would’ve been nice if I had managed to get a flower or something as a memento.
* * *
I passed the first day in a state of confusion, unable to make sense of what was happening. It started when I first opened my eyes to gaze upon an unfamiliar ceiling. Or as I’d like to call it: my first surprise. The second surprise came when I turned my head to see my strawberry blonde locks intermingling with Estelle’s pale blue ones. My last memory was of falling asleep in the room I used to share with my mother…so how did the two of us end up sleeping here together? And speaking of here…this wasn’t my room, nor Estelle’s.
Still floundering in shock and confusion, I stared blankly at her peacefully sleeping face. She must have felt my gaze on her for she soon opened her eyes. Drowsy blue eyes looked around in confusion before her sleepy voice questioned just a moment later, “Did you bring me here, Sasha?”
….I guess she’s still half-asleep? It was the only explanation I had as she couldn’t have been serious otherwise. In any case, who could’ve brought us here to begin with?
“Are you in there?”
*Oldboy is a reference to the 2003 Korean film, Oldboy, the plot which is described as: Oh Dae-su, who is imprisoned in a cell which resembles a hotel room for 15 years without knowing the identity of his captor or his captor’s motives. When he is finally released, Dae-su finds himself still trapped in a web of conspiracy and violence. His own quest for vengeance becomes tied in with romance when he falls in love with an attractive young sushi chef.
TL: Soju Jimmy
Editor: Midwinter Gimlet
QC: Solistia Cosmopolitan