A grave silence settled among them.
At that moment, time stopped, and all Aria could see was Lloyd and herself.
It was as if they were the only two people left in the world.
“Lets fall down to hell together,” he smiled.
That day, the clouds swept the earth.
Her vision was veiled by the lightest of mists.
She gazed into his gray eyes, but the haze blurred her field of vision.
He stared back, yet his orbs showed no light.
They were hollow and empty.
As the fog dispersed, so did Arias illusion.
It was just a memory.
Aria could see her breath forming a small, misty cloud in the cold air.
‘That was close.
She had almost spoken.
She snapped back to reality.
The time, which she thought had stopped, began to move again.
“You dont seem to understand the situation, do you”
Aria was composed, her face stark.
Lloyds expression darkened and he pressed the blade deeper into her flesh.
Blood oozed down her nape.
It was painful, but Aria made no sound.
She was used to enduring pain and suppressing her moans.
“So its true.
You cant speak,” he snarled.
‘Was he testing me
Aria nervously looked at him.
He doubted her since the very beginning.
Was I found out
The cold, icy rain poured over her pale, soft skin.
Her posture weakened under the weight of her soaked dress.
Her fingers loosened.
Aria dropped her umbrella.
At last, Arias face, which was hidden by her umbrella, was finally revealed.
Lloyds cold expression was now replaced with a puzzled look.
Her rabbit mask had caught him off guard.
“Rabbit…” Lloyd murmured.
He creased his forehead at the sight of Aria shivering in the torrent of heavy rain.
“If youre going to answer my question by disclosing your true intentions, just mouth your words and Ill read your lips.”
‘True intention If it was my true intention…
She had escaped her cage just to meet him.
She was willing to sacrifice herself for his sake.
Aria would voluntarily be a stepping stone if it was meant to help achieve his, her benefactors, goals.
She wouldnt mind completely burning herself out just to let him shine his brightest, like the splendid afternoon sun, but would instead feel honored just to be given a chance.
‘I… I cant say it.
Aria recalled her memory with Diana.
It felt really nice when she was stroked.
So she patted his head.
Lloyd stared at her as if she was insane.
* * *
“Seems like youve never held weapons before.” Lloyd said, touching Arias hands.
He observed her slender fingers, they were soft and smooth.
She had no calluses.
“Dont you have to learn at least one weapon at your age”
‘The age of ten
Aria was shocked.
“There are only bones in your body, where are your muscles”
‘Why would ten-year-olds have muscles
Aria tilted her head.
Lloyd grabbed her wrist and held it for a while.
After that, he placed his fingers on his own wrists, and then, he frowned.
“Its a miracle for you to even be alive! Youre very frail and your pulse is weak.
Your bones are so fragile that they might break if I squeeze too hard!”
“Are all humans outside our territory this weak” Lloyd paused.
“Youre even worse than Mother…,” his words trailed off.
He stared at her as if she was a rare animal.
One he had never seen before.
‘I was feeble from the start… and my body only grew weaker because I was abused and malnourished. Aria thought to herself.
She inadvertently put her hand on her neck, and trembled in pain.
She sucked in a sharp breath as the pain spiraled across her body.
Lloyd pulled out a handkerchief from his pocket, and flinged it towards Aria.
Instinctively, Aria grabbed the flying handkerchief.
“Use it and throw it away.”
Aria alternatively glanced between the handkerchief and Lloyds face.
Then, she lightly pressed her napes open wound.
Lloyd, who couldnt stand watching, scooted closer to her and snatched it back from her hands.
“Let me do it.”
He skillfully tended to her wound.
The wound was not actually deep, but it seemed as if the blood kept gushing out due to it being diluted with the rainwater.
He stopped the bleeding in an instant, wrapped the handkerchief over her neck, and tied it.
“Why are you wearing a mask”
Lloyd lightly tapped her mask with his finger.
Stunned by his sudden action, Aria flinched.
The rabbit mask was soaked with rain water.
‘I was glad that the cotton was soft, but now it feels uncomfortable. Aria thought.
Her appearance was quite funny and amusing, but Lloyd kept a serious face.
“Were you raised by a Gutter Rat”
Aria staggered at his words.
She hadnt thought that she was under suspicion.
His intuitions were rather sharp.
Gutter meant the criminal world.
He used such terms to lessen the fatalness of his words.
“Those that are raised by Rats are unable to speak or have their tongues cut off.
This is so that they cant expose their masters.”
The Rats underlings lived and died for their masters, serving them with loyalty all their lives.
They were meaningless without them, just like lifeless puppets.
“You came here as Count Cortezs daughter, but your name isnt listed in the family register.
How will you verify yourself if we didnt believe you at face-value” Lloyd scrutinized.
As he had said, Aria couldnt prove her identity.
‘Moreover, theres a lot of bad blood between the Valentines and the Gutter Rats, Aria belatedly thought.
As infamous as the Valentines are, they particularly had many enemies
Therefore, it was understandable as to why he was so wary of Arias sudden appearance.
“Theres only one way to tell if someone was associated with a Rat.”
‘Was there such a way
Rats had infiltrated and spread out all across the empire, and because of that, the Emperor suffered from massive headaches trying to distinguish them from his trustworthy subjects.
“Theres no other way than to kill the Rats underlings.”
Aria was unable to comprehend how such a conclusion was made.
“As expected, youre one of them.”
As Lloyd was about to unsheathe his sword again, she quickly placed her hand above his.
Her fingers were trembling.
For the first time in her life, she desperately wanted to curse.
She closed her eyes.
After a brief hesitation, she parted her lips.
ーYou son of a bitch.
That was her first time swearing.
Aria didnt say it out loud, so she wasnt as nervous as she had thought shed be.
“…Say it straight to my face next time.”
He was just about to kill her.
‘Did I pass something
Lloyds expression was not the best, but he relaxed his grip on the sword handle.
“If youre not working for a Rat, then get your hands off,” he grumbled.
“Standing up for yourself is a way to survive.
There is no place in the House of Valentine for a child as weak as you,” he retorted and shook her hand off.
As he took his leave, Aria was left alone in the hallway, and after he was completely gone from her sight, she walked away as well.
Suddenly, as she was about to turn around the corner, she heard a bunch of whispers.
“The Grand Duke is gone” the maid rattled on, circulating all the gossip she had heard among the other servants.
They were whispering quietly, but Aria could hear them quite clearly..
Sirens were weak in general, but their five senses were exceptionally sharp.
The five senses—sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.
Just like how a certain race was born with artistic talents, Sirens were known for their keen senses.
‘Im glad I wasnt found out by Lloyd.
In fact, Aria had barely escaped.
Shed instinctively reacted to the sound of Lloyds footprints and turned towards him.
Fortunately, he didnt seem to have noticed her senses because of her feeble appearance.
‘The powerless and weak Aria…
She hoped that he would continue to believe that.
“Are you sure”
“Yeah, whenever she gets sick, she drives out all the servants.”
“I heard that she wanted to be by herself.”
“Yes, even the Grand Duke and His Highness are no exception.”
“I also heard that there were a lot of deaths today,” the maid said with a sigh.
“I know! His Highness tracked down the spies who infiltrated the Grand Duchy the other day and he captured them all! Furthermore, he locked them inside the jaguars cage to set them up as an example,” the maid shuddered.
‘It seems like the father and son, who were driven out by the Grand Duchess, were taking out their anger on others.
She immediately understood.
The Grand Duchess had been fighting between life and death, this might even be her last.
If he couldnt be with her during her death, he might actually go berserk.
But he was still going around killing people.
Apparently, he wasnt the offspring of the devilish ducal couple for nothing.
‘Did he let me live because I seem weak
Aria felt lucky.
Nonetheless, she still felt a throbbing pain in her neck.
“It wasnt the first time that the madame fell, she has passed countless hurdles.
But this time… “
“Be careful with your words.”
“But, you know.
Its the first time that the madame has actually made a will.”
The maids went silent.
After a while, one of the maids muttered with a saddened voice.
She wishes to be buried beneath the cherry tree.
She was looking forward to springtime, but what greeted us were endless rainy days instead, so she must be disappointed.”
“She was really anticipating the cherry blossoms to bloom…”
“This damn rainy season.
Why is it raging in spring”
Fuck this world.
Just perish already!”
In fear of those in the devils mansion, they naturally exaggerated, cursing God and praying for the destruction of the world.
After a while, their voices faded away.
The moment Aria heard that, she remembered the cherry trees shed seen while strolling around the garden.
She immediately ran back there.
* * *
Fortunately, no escort had been assigned to Aria.
Furthermore, no one cared about where and what she was doing now that the Grand Duchess was on the verge of death.
‘And also because Diana had said that it was okay to admire the flowers.
She waited until late at night.
It was almost dawn.
Aria looked up at the sky with her head tilted back, and slowly rose from the cherry tree she was leaning against.
She placed her hand on the cherry tree.
Although the petals had fallen off after the rain, it was still a very huge tree.
Big enough to be seen from the Grand Duchess bedroom.
‘Song of Life.
She finally got to sing it again after a long time.
Aria closed her eyes.
Then, a sweet melody emerged from her lips.