Under the moonlit sky, Nora continued looking at Roel with the same faint smile she looked at the night sky with, but her smile was starting to look a little strained.
A few steps away, Charlotte froze in shock for a couple of seconds when a thought suddenly surfaced in her head. Her face turned grave, and she solemnly lowered her head. Without saying a word, she walked over to Nora’s side and looked at Roel as well.
Roel’s eyes quivered ever so slightly before the confrontation with the two women. He squeezed out a smile and replied.
“What are you saying, Nora? We are…”
“Lovers. It has been so ever since we were nine. It has never been said explicitly, but you should be more than aware of it.”
Nora’s calm response put Roel at a loss for words. Seeing this, she sighed softly and continued.
“You should have been somewhat aware of it all this while, but you chose to turn your eyes away from it. I can understand where you are coming from. Our identities do complicate things, and there are many things you have to consider. I’ve never blamed you for it, and I’m willing to give you time and space to think things through.
“But what happened this time has exceeded the limits of my tolerance.”
There was a hint of disappointment in Nora’s eyes, and Charlotte turned her head away to hide her sorrow.
Both Nora and Charlotte were born with a golden spoon in their mouths. They were blessed with great talents and lofty backgrounds. Countless men hoped to woo them and take their hands in marriage. They were not so weak as to need to fawn on a man. On the contrary, they were highly prideful individuals.
They knew that their bond with Roel didn’t come by easily and their feelings for him ran deep, so, to some degree, they chose to suppress themselves and even implicitly permitted the existence of others in this relationship.
But it was different this time around.
Nora clenched her fists tightly and spoke frighteningly heavy words.
“I can tell that you’re afflicted with the side effects from the Witness State, and I understand that you’re powerless at the moment. But unlike that time with Charlotte, you made the decision to leave us this time around… am I right?”
Roel’s body jolted when he heard those words.
Even without him saying a word, the answer was already made clear through his reaction. Charlotte felt her heart lurch out of despondency, and her eyes started to moisten.
This was something that had been pricking at her heart for some time now. She had seen Roel and Lilian embracing one another on the balcony, and no matter how she looked at it, it didn’t look like he was forced by Lilian to leave their side.
If he wasn’t forced or deceived into leaving with Lilian, this act was, in essence, no different from elopement.
It frightened her just to think about the connotations of that.
“What kind of reason could have possibly prompted you to leave us and escape here with that woman? You should know full well what your actions signify. I want to know what you’re thinking. I’ll reconsider our relationship based on your response.
“You need not worry about this matter affecting the alliance between the Xeclydes and the Ascarts. After everything we have been through, even if we can’t stay by each other’s side anymore, we can still remain as friends…”
Those words were spoken with a gentle tone, but they sounded freezingly cold in Roel’s ears. Looking at the two women before him, he felt like something was tightly clamping on his heart, and the feeling that he was about to lose something left him feeling deeply fearful.
He finally understood what kind of situation he was in.
I have really hurt their hearts this time around. I-I have to quickly explain it to them!
“I-it’s not what you think. Senior and I are bloodline kin; that’s why…”
“Bloodline kin? That explains why that woman is so protective of you.”
Nora nodded her head in realization, but it didn’t stir the slightest change in her expression.
“But Roel, that only explains why Lilian is helping you. It isn’t a reason why you abandoned us. Are you intending to push the problem onto her?”
“N-no, it’s due to the bizarre side effect of my condition. It can regress time for a person, and it could put you on the spot if your family members learned about it. So… so…”
Roel’s voice slowly faded as he suddenly realized that there was something very wrong with what he had just said. As if answering his premonition, the two women standing in front of him were staring at him with horrified eyes. There was a long moment of silence before Nora encapsulated what he had just said with a quivering voice.
“You’re saying that if Charlotte and I learned of the side effects of your condition… we might betray you for our family members? In other words… you don’t even trust us at all?
“D-darling, is that really what you think?”
By this point, Roel was so flustered that he couldn’t even string his thoughts together anymore. The strained smile on Nora’s face finally faded altogether. She glared at Roel with quivering eyes and uttered hoarsely.
“My grandfather is indeed getting old, but you should never forget that we are the Xeclydes! Any attempt to tamper with one’s lifespan is a blasphemy to Sia. Neither my grandfather nor I will stand for it!”
“My father and the other elders of the Sorofya House might soon reach the limits of their lifespans and pass away, but that’s the decree of fate. Darling, do you really think that I would emotionally blackmail you into saving them?
Faced with their infuriated outburst, Roel felt his body turning cold. He wanted to explain to them that it wasn’t what they were thinking, but his mind had already stalled to a halt. Words were failing him.
With his lack of response, the final glimmer of hope left in Nora’s eyes finally extinguished.
“You have really disappointed me, Roel.”
“I’m sorry… but let’s end it here.”
Horrified, Roel rushed forth to grab Nora’s hand, but the latter took a step back before turning around to leave him. Charlotte hesitated for a brief moment, but she eventually wiped off her tears and walked away too.
Watching as the two women slowly distanced themselves from him, Roel felt his blood freezing up. An unbearable surge of sadness rushed into his mind, stinging every single one of his nerves. Even his stalled brain instinctively understood what was going on under this intense stimulation.
I have just been dumped.
Some said that going through a breakup felt like death, but Roel thought that this was much more terrifying and painful than death. Before the heart-wrenching pain gripping him, even the terrifying assault of the Magician King seemed to be nothing in comparison.
I can’t lose them. No matter what, I don’t want to lose them.
Ironically, it was only at this moment that Roel was starting to understand his own heart.
Did he distrust Nora and Charlotte?
Definitely not. He didn’t think that it was a big deal to tell them at the very start. So, what was it that prompted him to leave with Lilian without informing them?
Fearing that news would leak out?
Possibly, but it was not impossible for him to find safer ways to relay the news.
The truth was that he could come up with countless self-justifications why he made that decision back then, but there was something deeper within him that prompted him to go along with Lilian’s decision instead of searching for an alternative.
He spent the next few seconds furiously dissecting his own head, trying to make sense of his own feelings. He instinctively knew that he only had one shot, and he had to find the most authentic answer within him in order to move those two. Otherwise, he could lose them forever.
And in this final struggle, he felt like he had finally managed to grasp his truest thoughts.
“That’s because I was afraid that I would lose you two!”
Roel shouted out the deepest feelings that had been buried in a place so deep that he might not have even noticed it before. The moment those words were spoken, the two women stopped at the same time and widened their eyes in surprise.
“I think I finally understand why I didn’t look for the two of you. I was afraid. I have never felt so vulnerable ever since I met the two of you. I didn’t want you to see me this weak. I was afraid that I would disappoint you. I was afraid that you would leave my side!
“We weren’t meant to be. All of these weren’t supposed to belong to me! I don’t know how it happened, but it did. I don’t know how I can keep you all by my side, but I have to. I can’t bring myself to let go anymore! That’s why I need to be strong! I need to be strong…”
Under the moonlight, the boy shouted with a lump in his throat. Before he knew it, his vision had already started to blur and tears were falling from his eyes.
Was weakness a crime? Probably not for others, but to Roel Ascart, it was.
He was someone who was supposed to be dead in the original storyline. He only managed to change his fate and win over the female capture targets who weren’t supposed to be his because he was able to grow strong.
There was nothing special about him that justified Nora and the others’ feelings for him. In fact, he was nothing but baggage to them with a multitude of enemies out there seeking to claim his life.
And now, he had even lost the strength to protect himself.
He feared that the sight of his weakness would tarnish the image that Nora and the others had of him. He feared that their feelings for him would slowly erode once they realized that he was nothing but a hassle.
Somewhere deep in the recesses of his mind, he subconsciously thought that they would eventually part ways since none of them were meant to be, so he never answered their feelings properly. It was almost like a self-defense mechanism that he subconsciously avoided getting invested into those relationships.
Yet, as time passed, he found himself falling deeper and deeper for them. Before he knew it, he could no longer imagine a life without them anymore.
“I don’t know how long I’ll remain in this condition, but if it continues to persist, I might lose more than just my transcendent abilities. My attention span, my analytical ability, and my power of judgment; everything else could regress as well. I can’t even control my own tears now! I don’t want you to see such an unsightly side of me, that’s why I chose to run away. I’m sorry!”
Roel wiped off his tears with both his arms as he bared everything in his heart.
Seeing such a Roel and hearing such words from him, neither Nora nor Charlotte could bring themselves to walk away anymore.
When Nora turned around and saw the bawling boy in front of her, she felt like her heart was going to melt. Charlotte even burst out crying on the spot. They rushed back to Roel’s side and hugged him tightly together.
“I’ve no idea why you thought that we weren’t supposed to be, but there’s one thing I do know: You are a fool!”
“I’ve known that darling is bad with matters of the heart, but I never thought that you would be so daft.”
While helping the boy wipe off his tears, Nora let out a helpless reprimand whereas Charlotte sighed deeply.
“You thought that I would think that you’re a burden and leave your side if you’re weak? It seems like you have forgotten my interest. I would love more than anything for you to be weaker than me!”
“Your strength might have been an impetus behind our relationship, but darling, I don’t like you because you’re strong. I like you because you were willing to risk your life to protect me even when you weren’t strong. That’s why I left the final seven-colored bullet for you. That’s how our relationship came to be. It has nothing to do with your strength at all.”
Roel looked at the two women hugging him from both sides, and he suddenly found himself at a loss of words. His tears flowed out even more profusely than before.
Meanwhile, Nora and Charlotte were feeling touched for another reason.
“Still, you said it. It’s also the first time I’m seeing tears from you. You’ve done it, darling!”
“… Five years. I’m finally hearing those words from you.”
“What do you mean?” asked Roel in bewilderment.
Watching as Roel continued to wipe away his tears, Nora pinched his cheek and said.
“Did you think that I hadn't noticed that you were putting on a brave front all this while?”
“We did discuss this amongst ourselves in private. We thought that it’s unnatural how you have been bottling up your emotions and stress without venting them out, but we didn’t know how to talk to you about it. Darling, you look suave when you’re putting on a brave front, but I still like it best when you let it all out.”
“Feelings can only grow when both parties are willing to open their hearts to each other.”
“You all… I was wrong. I’m sorry.”
Hearing their words of understanding, Roel earnestly apologized to them with a sniffle.
A smile finally reappeared on Nora’s face, and Charlotte wiped her own tears. They continued hugging him until their emotions slowly calmed down.
“I’ll magnanimously forgive you this once, but if you dare pull such a stunt once more, I’ll make sure that you can’t even find a place to cry!”
“In view of the special circumstances, I’ll overlook darling’s mistake this once. But only this once!”
The two ladies gave out stern warnings while heaving a sigh of relief too.
This relationship crisis was the first not just for Roel but for Nora and Charlotte too.
The two of them were also feeling deeply nervous about the issue. The feeling of being abandoned constantly stabbed at them like a thorn lodged in their hearts. They knew that it would become a major problem if they didn’t address it, but they had no idea what would become of their relationship if they were to raise the issue.
To be honest, Nora had raised this issue with the intention of just leaving Roel with a warning, but she ended up losing control of her feelings and demanded a break up. She simply had no experience dealing with such matters. She didn’t think that it would hurt so much to be distrusted by the one she loved.
Now that she had calmed down and was looking back on it, she felt spooked just thinking about what could have happened there. Charlotte felt the same way too.
After accepting his apology, they began patting the boy almost as if to vent their pent-up stress. Charlotte started poking Roel’s soft cheeks whereas Nora couldn’t resist the urge to play with Roel’s ears.
“… Is this how darling looked as a child? How adorable.”
“You look smaller than what I remember from our first meeting. Eight years old?”
“W-wait a moment, you two…”
After finally resolving the knots in their hearts, the two women began immersing themselves with teasing the miniaturized Roel. It was only when loud cheers started echoing from the distance that their teasing finally stopped.
The aurora had appeared.