Chapter 64: Previous life
Everything was white.
A white mist covered the surroundings, a space with no sky or ground.
Various-sized mirror shards or something like them floated here and there, reflecting my familiar light brown hair and deep green eyes.
I was floating through such a space.
“Where is this…?”
I mutter to no one in particular, but my voice is absorbed into the white mist.
My head is hazy and my thoughts are not clear.
I have no idea how long I have been in this space.
As I drift around, something catches my eye at the edge of my vision.
A mirror shard, clearly larger than the others and about the size of a person, floats nearby.
I float towards it gently.
The large mirror shard seems to be reflecting a place other than here.
A row of telephone poles, a lifeless road, a residential area with the setting sun. A girl with a backpack is walking there.
The girl walks slowly, as if something painful awaits her at the end of this road, her face downcast.
I stare at the girl through the mirror shard.
(This girl is…)
Even my hazy head knows.
(My past self)
At the same time as I think this, memories from my past life come back to me.
My parents divorced when I was 11.
I knew it was coming.
The ruined house, the living room with nonstop yelling, my parents glaring at each other every time they faced each other.
So when I heard my parents were getting divorced, I wasn’t surprised.
After the divorce negotiations, I was taken in by my mother.
After living with my mother, she began to show abnormal attachment to me.
She tried to grasp every detail of my personal relationships and rummaged through my room’s trash can to inspect it.
When I played with classmates, my mother would unexpectedly appear and ask intrusive questions, so my classmates gradually stopped approaching me.
“You won’t abandon me, will you?”
That was my mother’s catchphrase.
I left my mother’s side as if to escape when I graduated from high school.
I knew I should be grateful to my mother, who allowed me to go to high school despite my father not paying child support and us having no financial leeway, but I couldn’t bear my mother’s increasingly abnormal attachment.
I ran to a shelter and looked for a job.
I saved up living expenses over several years and went to college using scholarship programs.
College was a paradise.
I juggled studying and working part-time every day, so busy that I was dizzy.
Even so, I was free. There was freedom there.
There was no management of my daily life in increments. No interference in my personal relationships. No impulsive yelling.
Having casual conversations with the person next to me during breaks or eating treats given by kind seniors at my part-time job.
I was incredibly happy with such ordinary days.
I remember that day well.
It was a clear, hot Sunday.
As I was getting ready to go to work while cicadas chirped, the rare doorbell rang.
(Who could it be on a Sunday morning?)
As I tilted my head and opened the door, two police officers in uniform were standing there.
“Excuse me, are you ——?”
As I nodded with confusion, the police officer’s face became stern.
“We have urgent business and asked for your current address at the shelter you used to stay at. I think the content I’m about to tell you will be shocking, but please try to stay calm and listen.”
The police officer continued speaking to me, who still didn’t fully understand the situation.
“Your mother was taken to the hospital. It is believed to be a suicide attempt, but we are currently investigating. In this case…”
The two police officers continued to speak, but their words passed through my head.
It seems that what my mother had tried to commit suicide was true.
They asked if I had any idea of the cause, but I couldn’t answer.
“In any case, I think you should contact your relatives and others.”
After the two police officers said that and left, I was unable to move from the spot for a while.
I returned to myself with the incoming sound from my part-time job and contacted to take a break on the phone, and headed to the station with my usual backpack.”
I took the train and came to the hospital where my mother was hospitalized without any sense of reality.
If I give my name, I can surprisingly easily pass through the room where my mother is staying.
A clean, sunlit hospital room.
My mother, lying on the hospital bed, seemed like a completely different person from the last time I saw her. Her skin was rough, her hair was frizzy, and her eyes were sunken.
I vaguely looked at my mother’s face, which had become like an old woman’s.
For me, my mother was an absolutely strong person.
A powerful presence that controls me.
However, the mother lying on the bed now looked small.
I don’t know how to express this feeling.
I stood by the side of the bed and looked down at my mother.
At that moment, there was a loud sound of the door opening from the entrance.
Suddenly called by my name, I turned around and saw a middle-aged man I somehow recognized standing there.
(I’ve met him several times. I’m sure he’s my mother’s younger brother, and my uncle for me…)
As I was thinking that, the man approached me, approached me, and suddenly slapped my cheek.
A burst of sound echoed in the hospital room.
I staggered at the sudden strong shock.
As I looked up at the man in a daze, he looked at me with an angry expression.
“What do you mean by coming now?! Even though you were so loved by my sister, you suddenly disappeared… “
The man twisted his face and bared his teeth, yelling.
“Don’t you know how shocked your sister was after you were gone?! She was half-crazy and looking for you all over. You even forgot the kindness who raised you… you ingrate!!”
At that moment, a middle-aged woman ran up to the hospital room door.
The woman pushed the man’s shoulder.
“You, calm down!!”
Even when stopped by the woman, the man continued to shout.
“My sister is in a vegetative state and will never wake up again, she’s as good as dead because of you, you murderer.”
The man waved his hand towards me again.
A nurse who heard the commotion ran into the hospital room and held the man’s arm.
“Calm down, please calm down!!”
The man glared at me hatefully and shouted.
“Never, never step on this place with those feet again! Get out!!”
Before I knew it, I was huddled in the dark bedroom of my apartment, not even turning on the lights.
“… Mom, you were so small.”
Words spill out bit by bit.
(She was just a human. Though I felt like she’s a monster that would destroy me, Mom was just a human too.)
I realize this obvious fact belatedly.
(Anyway, I thought I would break if I didn’t get away, and I ran away. I don’t think that was wrong. But…)
“I wonder if anything would have changed if I had just faced Mom a little longer…”
The joy of freedom has turned into guilt.
Even when I’m laughing, even when I’m eating something delicious, even when I’m dozing off. I can’t shake off the image of my mother, who has become like a stranger.
“The word “murder” seemed to always follow me.
Feeling crushed by guilt, I threw myself into my studies and part-time job as if possessed.
But I was afraid that if I didn’t, I would be consumed by an unimaginable madness.
Even if I became ragged and worn out like a tattered rag, I kept moving, moving, moving… as a result, I collapsed from overwork.
(Why did it come to this?)
As I receive an intravenous drip in the hospital I was taken to, I wonder.
(Was it good that I was born?)
On my way back from the hospital where I received the intravenous drip, I stopped by a convenience store feeling dizzy.
The voice of the listless clerk.
I walk aimlessly through the store like a kite with a broken string.
As I stop by the corner where books are displayed, I accidentally see a manga and pick it up.
I flip through the pages of the manga, which is labelled “The Highly Anticipated Latest Issue” on the cover.
In this “highly anticipated latest issue”, the story begins with a scene where a young man called the Duke visits a slum.
The Duke and his entourage, who had visited the slum on official business, were pelted with stones. The perpetrator was a young boy who was not even of age.
The captured boy spat at the Duke.
“You nobles have it good, you’ve never experienced hunger and had to drink mud! You probably just see us as disposable insects. Our lives don’t matter to you at all! If this is life, it would have been better not to be born…”!!
However, the Duke said to him,
“I may have limited power. But I will never give up on ensuring the right to live for all people. That is my role as a lord.”
The young Duke knelt before the boy.
“It’s natural that you don’t trust me. But I will try to make it so that you can live with peace of mind in the near future… There is no meaning to being born. But you know, everyone has the right to be equally happy.”
Saying that, the young Duke extended his hand to the slum boy.
As I was called and looked up from the manga, the convenience store clerk was standing close by.
“Are you okay…?”
“What is it?”
I responded to the clerk’s concerned voice.
To my surprise, the convenience store clerk’s eyes opened wide.
“What do you mean, “what is it”? … You’re crying so much…”
Upon hearing that, I realized that I was crying uncontrollably.
“I’m sorry, it’s nothing. It’s just…
this is the first time I’ve felt like my life was being blessed since I was born.”
I squeeze out the words with tears streaming down my face.
It didn’t take long before I became infatuated with Duke William Moore from “You and The White Rose”.
As I read “You and The White Rose”, I was sometimes delighted by his heroism, sometimes worried during his pinch, and sometimes felt heartache at his sorrow.
My grey everyday life was given color.
I felt like Duke William Moore had pushed me on the back and said, “It’s okay to be alive.”
The young man called William Moore became my hope for me to live.
His words, his way of living, gave me a reason to live, which was something I had struggled with every day as if I were already dead.
“It’s just a manga,” some people said. But for me, it was not just that.
He was undoubtedly alive in me.
“On that day, I bought the new edition of “You and The White Rose” and went home with a racing heart.
Last time William Moore was in a pinch and I was on tenterhooks until today’s release date.
(I’m sure it’s okay. If he’s managed to cut through various pinch points so far, he’ll definitely be able to…)
Thinking that, I opened the pages.
And he died.
I reread the story over and over again.
As I reread it, I hoped against hope that the story would change and reread it over and over and over again.
And each time, I was filled with despair.
William Moore will never return.
William Moore, who had a sensitive heart, was always thoughtful, and always tried to be kind and correct as a lord and as a person, will never wake up again.
He will never, ever again.
Many shards of mirrors float in the white space.
I slowly blinked as I sent my consciousness to the depths of memory.
The mirror shards in front of me, about the size of a person, no longer reflect anything.
At that moment, I felt something strange in my hand, which passed in front of my sight, and looked at the palms of both hands.
My hands, which have handled spears for many years, have changed into hands that seem to have never held a weapon.
Like the hands of “my previous life”…
I look up and see the mirror shards in front of me.
Before I knew it, “my previous self” was staring back at me from the mirror.
If I touch the mirror with a pat, the “me” on the other side will make the same movement.
This is almost like…
“‘I’ve become my previous self’?”
Even the whisper is the voice of “my previous self.”
I look around.
The figure of “my previous self” was reflected in all the countless mirror shards floating around.
(No, I am Leah Flores. I’m not my previous self anymore…)
Thinking that, no matter which mirror I peeped into, the “me” in the mirror remained the same as my previous self.
Then, the “previous self” reflected in the mirror shards opened its mouth.
[Did you think it was convenient to be reborn into the world of “You and The White Rose”? It was all just your own delusion. He’s a character in a manga. And in the manga world of “You and The White Rose”, he died.]
I cover my mouth and sway.
(That’s not… That’s not supposed to be. I am Leah Flores. I was reborn into the world of “You and The White Rose” and became a knight for William-sama…)
My thoughts gradually slowed down and my consciousness gradually disappeared.
The white mist around me becomes thicker.
When I am overcome with a feeling that even I am disappearing,
[Leah, you won’t leave me and die, right?]
Such words resonated in my head.
(…That’s right, it’s not a dream. They definitely existed)
My first ever friend, Riley.
The incredibly cheerful Poppy.
The crown prince Finlay, his knight Edward-san, Charlotte who faced adversity.
The kind Dr. Turner.
Captain Maurice, Johnson, and the good-natured Knights of Duke of Moore.
My lord and dear person, William-sama.
I collapsed from poison while protecting William-sama. I must be on the verge of death now.
The scene I am seeing now is probably an illusion reflected by my weak heart. A hallucination that invites me to death.
But I can’t die.
[I will do my best to live for you. I promise]
I promised him that in the cemetery where it rains frequently.
My physical senses become clear and my consciousness becomes clearer.
When I realized it, I returned to the appearance of Leah Flores, who had familiar ash-colored hair and deep green eyes, in the mirror.
The mist clears and light shines from above.
I shook off the mist and headed towards the light.