Settling the Affairs of an Atrocious Noble - 29
Settling the Affairs of an Atrocious Noble
I thought that I had fallen into the darkness, but before I knew it, I was in a place where everything was white.
No. “Was” might not be the right word. I was in a state where only my consciousness exists. I could tell that I didn’t have a physical body. It was a strange feeling, like a dream.
…Is this the world beyond? Did I use up all my energy there and finally died?
Or so I wondered, but my viewpoint was so fixed that I couldn’t even look around.
I didn’t even know what it felt like to close my eyes, so I just let things be for a while. Scenery and figures slowly emerged in the empty space. It was still a white place, but… it was familiar to me.
White walls. A bed with white sheets. A hospital.
On top of the bed, my sister… Yurika was covering her face and crying. Beside her was my mom, her head down and screaming out loud.
Everything looked familiar. It was the same as the day my sister collapsed and we were told she was sick.
Is this, by any chance, my life flashing before my eyes? Is that something you see even after you die?
Those were the thoughts I had, as I wanted to look away from the painful memories. I listened to their voices carefully and figured that there was something different from what I knew.
—Stupid. Stupid. Brother, you idiot…!
…It was strange. At that time, Yurika just apologized in a trembling voice, trying to stifle her emotions. She wasn’t cursing at me like this.
—Ahh… If only… I had paid closer attention. Tsukasa… Tsukasa… Tsukasa…!
…How odd. The name my mom was calling should’ve been my sister’s. After all, it was Yurika who fell ill. I had no idea why she was calling mine.
I was confused by the sight that didn’t match my memories, when they soon turned their curses and mourning into different words.
—I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I really am. If only I… if Mom hadn’t become like this… if only I had done better. Brother. Tsukasa. I’m sorry… I’m sorry that I let you die…!
I was startled.
Don’t tell me… Is this how Yurika and Mom looked after I died?
Why… Why are they both apologizing? After all, there’s no way they could’ve known that I killed myself, so why?
No one answered my question. They were crying so hard. I was afraid that my mom and sister, my only family, would dry up from crying.
I didn’t have the legs to run up to them. Of course. I was dead.
I stretched out to pat them on the head, but I had no arms. Of course. I was dead.
I tried to make excuses and console them, but I didn’t even have a voice. Of course. I was dead.
I didn’t have the slightest amount of regret about ending my previous life. I felt as if a shadow was cast over something, like the kind of pride I had been protecting.
—Are you just going to let the survivors clean up your mess and walk away so selfishly?
A voice came out from the seeping shadows.
Those words were meant to accuse me of deceiving a virtuous knight in the name of an atrocious noble, but… that could apply to the former me as well.
—Please, don’t go.
It was so painful to be left behind, that even the atrocious noble cried out from within. I turned a blind eye to the inconvenient things. I didn’t know. I didn’t understand. Without understanding anything, I selfishly concluded that it was inevitable. I despised myself and resigned to my fate, without ever thinking of those who cared about me.
I was the one who should be apologizing. Mom… Yurika…
The guilt that occupied my heart was incomparable to the flimsy apology that I muttered in my mind, just before I committed suicide. Just as expected, those whom I wanted to convey my feelings to were once again painted white, not giving me a chance to speak.
Ah. I can’t reach them anymore.
To be separated from those whom I loved so much saddened me.
In a world that had once again turned completely white, the final words that resonated were…
—I’m… not going to let you die.
I woke up to an unfamiliar ceiling. It was not the hospital I had seen in my dreams, the rundown apartment of my distant memories, or the mansion I had grown accustomed to.
…I wondered where I was. I didn’t even expect to wake up on a bed in the first place.
“…Good morning, Lord Heinreid.”
My throat quivered at the sound of a voice beside me. I tried to say something in reflex, but my throat was strangely dry and I couldn’t make a sound right away. I coughed. I kept my lips closed for a little while, the saliva started to come up and wet my throat.
As my consciousness became clearer, my body began to feel again. It hurt. My whole body was in pain and felt so heavy that I couldn’t tell where it was hurting.
Ah, however… The fact that I can feel means…
“I told you I wouldn’t let you die.”
The owner of the voice responded to me in a disciplined manner. I didn’t even have to look, but… I managed to urge my creaking body to turn my head towards it. Only to find Craig, my former guard, sitting on a chair, staring at me with a blank expression.
“Where am I…?”
“It’s a room in the castle, in the Noble’s quarters. I temporarily rented the place where my family used to live.”
That surprised me. I was able to get a very luxurious room… I wondered if it was a kind of last mercy for the condemned. No, I would’ve died if I was left in the dungeons again, so it was probably more correct to say that they were just managing me until I was officially executed.
I thought it would be better to stay in bed and talk, so I tried to sit up… but when I moved around, I felt a sharp pain in my leg and made a miserable scream.
“Please stay still! …You’ve lost a lot of blood, to the point where you were extremely close to death. You should completely rest.”
“…No wonder I don’t feel well.”
I had no choice, but to return to my original position after being commanded by a stern voice.
While waiting for the tingling pain to subside, I remembered something.
“Craig. Thank you for coming to save me.”
That’s right. I couldn’t let myself die and leave things as is if I didn’t tell him that.
“To be honest, I thought you were a fool when you came. If you hadn’t done that, I might’ve regretted dying. Eberhardt told me that too. It made me realize how cowardly that was.”
Even if Eberhardt pointed that out to me and knew the sadness I felt as Heinreid… I would’ve easily thrown away my life in the end, if I hadn’t had someone who cared enough about me.
“But well, I’m really sorry that I’ll still have to go ahead in the end, but… that’s what I deserve. I’ll properly suffer for the rest of my days. I owe you one last apologweh?”
My sincere apology was physically interrupted. Craig hooked a finger around the edge of my lips and tugged them.
It didn’t hurt. He just pinched them to keep me from speaking further, but I didn’t understand his intentions.
“You really don’t listen to people, do you? I said I wouldn’t let you die.”
Craig removed his finger out of the corner of my mouth and placed his hand on my cheek. The fires of anger began to dwell in his eyes.
I was almost captivated by the deepening color again, but my instincts told me that I should be careful now, so I slightly lowered my eyes to get away from it.
“…But, I mean… they won’t allow that.”
Heinreid (me) had taken too many lives to live to atone for them. No matter how you try to gloss it over, no one would obviously be convinced. So… the fact that I didn’t even feel like I had to live was my punishment.
But as if to shatter my resolve, Craig dropped a bombshell.
“There is nothing to forgive. None of your sins ever happened.”
“How many people from Lord Sieghardt’s side did you think were in that place? Those who are going to run the country from now on, and even the princess of the neighboring country who is to be our ally, were listening. A man renowned for his love of the Nation’s Deadliest Poison above all else, has suggested that… you are ‘not’ one.”
—You. If he still lives… tell Heinreid.
The last moments of the tyrant I saw, before I fell unconscious, came back to my mind. I ignored the reaction of my heart skipping a beat, and thought about it… Surely, that could be taken to mean that…?
Craig went on.
“The soldiers at the castle where you were captured also complained, ‘If only the Duke were real’. You don’t even know that those words would save you. The witnesses who took the stand included myself, of course, but also Elmer Kisch, Lady Angelica Sekles, and… Karl Anker.”
“Karl? What is he doing…?”
I couldn’t help but react to the last name that came up.
Craig had a look of frustration, but he reluctantly explained it to me.
“…He has been named as one of the contributors to the overthrow of the nation this time. That man turned over to this side right after he took you away. He was the one who invited Sieghardt and the others into the castle, since the King’s attention was focused on you and security was a little thin.”
That’s just… But well, I did tell him to survive. Isn’t he being too good at everything? That guy…
Craig probably had mixed feelings about it and dropped the matter. In return, he started to cut to the chase.
“Therefore, you are supposed to be a completely different person who looks a lot like the lord. The story goes where you are a victim who was threatened by an atrocious noble and placed as his body double, or something like that.”
“Wh… W-Wait a minute…”
I was dizzy from all the talk that went on and on, as if it was a decision. I desperately tried to interrupt him.
“That’s absurd! Do you really think that kind of excuse won’t cause some harm?”
“And yet, Lord Sieghardt… the next King, will not unreasonably judge the innocent. If he does, he will be no different from a tyrant… Well, he can’t let you walk around freely, so I think you’ll have to stay in the confinement tower for the time being, under the guise of letting them know where the real Duke is.”
“It’s not that simple–”
I was about to argue with him, but Craig reacted sensitively to my voice. He grabbed my chin, using the hand that was on my cheek and held my face in place.
“How could it be that simple? I’d appreciate it if you stopped saying something so absurd. Do you have any idea how many underhanded methods I’ve used to put this story together so far?”
I didn’t have time to think about how his eyes were beautifully stained with anger or something, as I heard a voice that sounded incredibly irritated. He wasn’t yelling at me, but I could feel the air tense.
…I’ll just get straight to the point. It was frightening.
“You’ll suffer for what you deserve, right? You say that, but in the end, you’re going to be satisfied with that. How can you be so self-contained? This kind of selfishness of yours makes me really sick to my stomach. So, I have decided to take away all your freedom from now on, including harassment. I will not allow you to make any excuses, nor will I allow you to bear any guilt. I’m the one who’s keeping you alive, so I’m going to manage all of it… Oh, our positions have been reversed, huh? Serves you right.”
S-Serves you right, you say…
His words were quite harsh, but I kept my mouth shut because I feared I might step on another landmine if I refuted him.
I felt like a child being scolded… Damn it. Also, he was even younger than me…!
“—Although… I don’t expect you to behave after saying all this, so I’ll go ahead and say this… If you should ever take your life, I’ll be right behind you.”
I was frustrated deep inside when Craig lit another bomb.
Then, he smiled. He had this terrifying smile on his face with the same intense anger in his eyes, when he uttered the final words.
“You may be prepared to die yourself, but you can’t kill others, can you?”
He hit the mark.
I felt that I was being pushed back against the wall. When Eberhardt cornered me, I felt like I was being pushed off a cliff, but… this guy, Craig, wouldn’t let me get away in another way.
He wanted me to admit defeat. He was telling me to submit and yield, dragging me out of hiding in the face of atrocity.
My body that was unconsciously tense had relaxed.
“You… How did things come to this?”
Huh? Didn’t I hear something like that before?
I asked him with a sense of deja vu, but his answer was much more complicated than before.
“I have been meaning to talk to you about it for a while now, but… it has become hundreds of times more complicated than I originally thought. Well, I have prepared plenty of time for you… So, I could spend the rest of my life telling you.”
What’s with that? Scary.
The words that were said in a low voice, seemed to have come out from the depths of the earth, made me feel that way again, but I couldn’t complain since it was obvious that I was the cause of the problem.
I could no longer resist the reality that I was faced with. They wouldn’t let me.
Ah… They got me.
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