Chapter Twenty Six: Screams from Down Below
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「 Ophelia's memories, 2nd life 」

The man grabs my legs and places my whole body on the bed carelessly, making me feel the wound on my abdomen rip further. I look around and see the big bloodstain on the pearly white sheets. Horror feels my mind and panic begins to sets as I foresee the upcoming future.

“Please! I won’t say anything! I swear!” fate was repeating its course, like a broken clock, unable to be fixed. Everything was happening once again as if the experience I had gone through hadn't been enough. 

“Of course you won’t... Dead men tell no tales,” he breaks the lantern and showers me with its oil.

“N-No...! Please...! I beg of you...! Please!” I yell as loud as I can. I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want to feel all those sensations again. 

“Shhh... It will be over soon...” he lights up a match and I see him grin, right before throwing it onto the bed.

As predicted, the fire spreads vastly in the blink of an eye, devouring my body as if it was its last meal. 

“Please! Save me! Please! ” I look towards the window just to see him smirk right before jumping down. The rain cried and the bolts of lightning flew as I burned, "Don’t! Not like this! Please! Anything but...!"

I yelled but my screams were easily maffled by the heavy sounds of the thunders. No matter how much I tried to cry from the pain, it was helpless since the fire dried it as quickly as they fell. My skin felt like it was being consumed by the flames and, as it began to reach my muscles I couldn’t do anything else but scream in despair.

‘What did I do wrong this time...?’ were the only thoughts going through my mind, ‘Why does this keep happening to me...?’ I wondered as my consciousness began fading away.

The door opens and I see Maeve, with a horrified look on her face. She quickly runs away and the last thing I hear is nothing but screams of people trying to survive in the middle of the flames of hell.

 

✽ ✼ ✽ ✼ ✽ ✼ ✽

 

「 Back to the present 」

‘Kill her? Is she insane?’ Gilbert looks at her dumbfounded. 

“Kill you...?” he couldn’t figure out her mind, no matter how hard he tried. Those cold blue eyes were shrouded in thoughts he couldn't begin to imagine. 

“Yes,” she sat down once again right before opening her small cloth bag. Jade unties Gilbert and places some distance between them, “Now... Entertain me.”

“What about him?” he points towards the platinum-haired man gripping his fists strongly. That assassin may be many things but one thing he wasn’t was a fool. He knew he wouldn’t be able to win against that man, it would be only futile.

'He better not...!' Jade was clearly displeased with the situation as he glared down at the injured man but, even then, he couldn't intervene. He knew what his master wanted, he knew how much she desired this moment, and thus, he couldn't bring himself to take it away from her hands. 

“He won’t interfere,” she smiles, and right after hearing her answer the assassin dashes towards her, at full speed. His dirty hands grab Ophelia’s thin neck but, much to his surprise she grins, almost as if she was expecting it, almost as if she was enjoying it. Her body was now laying down on the trunk of the tree as the assassin held the upper ground. 

“Kill me Gilbert,” his eyes widen with surprise at her unusual statement, calm and monotone, as if she was peacefully accepting her death. Understanding the situation at hand, he tightens his grip around her neck but there was no trace of pain in her eyes. Frustrated, she then yells, "Do it!"

‘This girl... She...’ Gilbert had killed many people and so he was very familiar with nobles. He knew how to behave around them since he knew what they wanted or why they acted in certain ways, however, as his blood pumped in his veins, dropping onto Ophelia’s pale skin, he found himself confused, 'What exactly happened to you...?'

Somehow, he couldn't bring himself to kill her and, as doubt engaged on his mind, his grip around Ophelia's neck was lightened. His eyes become clouded with sorrow as he sees, for a glimpse of a second, a painful expression on the young girl's face, as if she was extremely sad for being alive. 

Even though his body kept on screaming in pain, sending red flags over and over again into his nervous system, his mind kept on going back to that expression, that dreadful expression. 

“What a disappointment,” she states and suddenly Gilbert falls onto the floor as his ear screamed in pain.

“It burns! It burns!” he yelled as he rolled his body onto the dirt, in a pitiful attempt to erase the pain he was feeling. 

“Of course it does, salt doesn’t mix well with wounds, didn’t you know?” Ophelia opens her shirt slightly, uncovering the top of her chest right after removing her cape. Both her face and clothes were tainted with the assassin's blood, however, she looked unbothered.

“Salt!? Don’t you have any mercy?” Gilbert cried out loud as he felt his blood dripping out more due to the rush of adrenaline in his veins. 

 

“Jade, bring her to me,” Ophelia grins and he takes his leave hesitantly right before bumping into the assassin who was trying to get up. Gilbert's eyes connect with Jade and he feels a shiver run down his spine, his gut kept on telling him he wouldn't make it out of here alive, “Mercy is nothing more than an idealism of righteousness that was lost long ago by both of us.”

“Ophelia! I will fucking kill you! I swear!” he stumbles while trying to lift his body, enraged by this situation. He couldn't accept that this would be his end, that a fifteen-year-old girl would be his murderer.

“Then please, come and kill me,” she opens her arms with a smile planted on her lips and Gilbert dashes but she swiftly dodges. With all the blood he had lost his movements weren’t sharp, in fact, they were extremely slow, almost as if he was nothing but a drunk man, “Don’t tell me that’s how far your determination goes?”

“I swear I-...!” he turns after regaining his footing in a tree and dashes once again, however, this time, Ophelia didn’t dodge, “You bitch!”

“Does it hurt?” the assassin falls on her body as he felt a dagger penetrate his leg, “Do you want me to take it out?” she whispered into his remaining ear while her other hand patted the back of his head. 

He was trying to hold back his screams but Ophelia already knew how much pain he was in. Without removing the knife, his leg was already soaked in blood. 

"Why...?" Gilbert groaned as tears flew down from his eyes. He was devastated. 

‘I must’ve hit a bad spot by accident... Shit,’ she clicks her tongue displeased after noticing the abnormal amount of blood on his clothes. 

Gilbert’s hands surround the dagger and Ophelia realizes his intentions. His anger had turned into pure despair and his ultimate goal was to kill that crimson-haired demon. 

“Are you sure? You will die if you take it out,” she pushes his body off her right before sitting down on the tree once again. Her clothes were now filled with blood and so were her skin and hair.

The assassin looked at Ophelia filled with disdain, hatred, and killing intent but he knew he wouldn’t be able to survive if he continued walking on this road. He needed to live, he wasn't done with his business in this world, he couldn't leave just yet. 

“I’ve already told you everything I know so let me go,” he glares at her and, contrary to his belief, her expression changes to enraged.

“A commoner like you dares to order me around!?” Ophelia gets up and pushes his body with her feet, making it sink into the muddy floor while placing an enormous amount of pressure on his head. He groans in pain as he feels the knife on his leg penetrate deeper. 

His face was now covered with bright red fluids that kept on pouring out, almost as if this was nothing but a theatre play where they exaggerate in everything they do.

“You are misunderstanding something important Gilbert... Your life always belonged to me...” as he heard Ophelia’s words he couldn’t help but groan since the pressure on his ear made his head feel like it was about to burst open, “I was only gracefully letting you live until you were ready for harvest.”

 

“Master, I brought her,” Jade arrives and Ophelia turns around just to see Ivy with a horrified expression on her face. Her eyes were wide and her hands were covering her mouth as she tried to keep her composure. 

“Mi-Milady... What’s...” Ivy was clearly confused and frightened. Her eyes wandered through Ophelia who was tainted with red and then towards the man on the floor which, due to the dirt and bloodstains, she didn’t recognize immediately, “J-John!!?”

“I...Ivy! Help me... She’s insane!” as Gilbert saw Ivy he quickly devised a plan with his remaining strength. 

‘I can use her to help Ophelia regain her senses, they are always together nowadays so even if that fails I can always use her as a bargaining chip...’ the assassin was so lost in thought that he didn’t realize that Ophelia was staring at him, grinning as she knew exactly what he was thinking.

“We have to get you treated! You’re so badly wounded John!” Ivy rushes to his side but Jade steps in, blocking her path, “What are you doing!? We have to help him otherwise he will...!” she finally realized that this was no mere accident. Her attention goes back to Ophelia, who smiled to herself while walking towards a tree trunk. 

‘She didn’t bring me here to help did she...’ Jade had told her that a bear had attacked Ophelia in the forest and she didn’t question it. If it got out that the daughter of the Criswell’s had been severely injured in the Wharton’s property then there would be harsh complications within the nobles.

 

Ivy couldn’t help but wonder how Ophelia had grown up to be like this. She saw the events at Lady Patricia’s tea party and, ever since then, she began to fear her master more than anything else.

Even then she didn’t hate serving her since, as far as she could see, everything she had done was nothing more but just. The accident with Terrel was still vivid in her mind, especially Ophelia’s words: "Then... Cut your index finger, show me I can trust you."

‘She’s nowhere near normal...’ Ivy had come to realize that this was a big risk to her or everyone in fact. Her soul, however, was still at ease since she knew that, deep down, Ophelia’s punishments were due to the consequences of bad deeds, and, at the end of the day, she respected her. 

 

“Ivy, did I order you to save him?” Ophelia’s cold voice sends a shiver down her maid's spine and suddenly, Gilbert’s screams and attempts to beg for help were nothing more but pure, devastating silence.

“No milady, I beg your forgiveness,” she quickly places some distance from the male servant and bows down. 

“You may rise,” right after Ivy stands Ophelia slaps her cheek harshly, making a large red spot appear on her pale skin, “Don't disrespect me again.”

“Yes, milady,” Ivy lowers her head to avoid Ophelia’s murderous gaze.

“Do you know why I brought you here?” she sits down right before seeing Ivy nod in denial, “I am going to test your loyalty,” Ophelia removes another small dagger from her bag and throws it to Ivy’s feet, “Kill him.”

“W-What...? Milady I-... I can-...” as Ivy was trying to find her ground Ophelia interrupted.

“I would advise you to carefully make your decision,” she places one of her legs on top of the other, “You know I hate empty-hearted promises...”

‘So it’s either him or me...?’ the maid looks forward and sees Gilbert’s eyes compelled by horror. Jade was now grabbing him by the hair, forcing his body to be kneeling on the floor as his torso was widely exposed. 

“You said you would let me go!” Gilbert screams at the top of his lungs.

“Isn’t that what I am doing? I am letting you go... to meet all the people you’ve killed,” Ophelia’s smile turns psychotic as her cheeks begin to blush underneath the bloodstains, “Can you hear their screams, John...? Because I can... And they are begging for your attendance.”

“N-No! You can’t! No...!” Gilbert never thought the tables would turn to this extent. Every night he would have nightmares from hearing the souls of the dead and he knew that the day would eventually come. The day where he would be reunited with the rotten souls in hell but he never thought it would be so soon.

“Ivy, please... Don’t do this... We can sort things out... Please...” he tries to reason with Ivy as he saw her eyes become flooded by tears. Her small hands were shaking as she got down and grabbed the dagger. Ivy looked too weak to even hold it straight.

“Milady I...” Ivy tried one last time but she couldn’t even finish her sentence since Ophelia’s glare was pressuring her too much. She knew there was no other way out of this.

“Ivy please...” as Gilbert saw Ivy walk towards him, slowly as a snail, with her body trembling like an earthquake, he knew there was no turning back.

The maid's nerves were crushing her sanity. She couldn't think straight, she knew it was either him or her and God knows how much she wanted to live. 

Her paces were small as she kept on trying to find her composure but, even then, the trembling was controlling her body. These emotions only became more vivid as she began approaching the male servant. 

'How could this...!?' her eyes widen in surprise as she sees the overwhelming amount of blood on him.

His clothes were filled with holes, mud, and bright red color, right below, there were small yet sharp cuts that allowed several drops to come out. In his left leg, a knife had been planted and so, the beige cloth was tainted with his fluids. 

As she was walking, she steps on something and decides to look down. She notices it was an ear, John's missing ear to be exact. Her feet stop right before her left hand begins covering her mouth. She was about to throw up. 

“I-I... I’m sorry John... I’m so so-sorry...” she could barely speak but, even then, she knew what needed to be done.

'Not like this...!' Gilbert knew there was no way out. Ophelia had made a fool out of him and he was the only one to blame. His mind kept on rewinding everything, regretting his past mistakes, regretting everything and anything.

The assassin struggles but Jade's grip only grows stronger. He could no longer move his body. 

'Please... Let me...' if he was going to die he wished that he could do it himself. A cold, ruthless yet swift suicide. He grits his teeth in frustration as guilt begins to consume him. 

“Ivy...” Ophelia’s voice was like a match in the middle of an oil stain. The maid dashes towards him, holding the dagger in her hands as her eyes remained closed. For a glimpse of a second, Ivy held the weapon in her right hand, just to grab her again with both hands right after.

“John... I’m...” Ivy opens her eyes as she senses the dagger penetrating something.

The man looks down just to see the knife placed in his lungs and soon his mouth starts to cough up blood. His body sensed his temperature drop while the voices that haunted him grew louder and louder. He felt his body fall onto the ground as Jade had let him go. A big blood pool began to form and, as Ophelia grinned largely he could finally understand.

Gilbert never had the upper hand in this story. He had been played by someone who he thought, didn’t even know the rules of the game but, as Ophelia’s figure became blurred he comprehended that she wasn’t even a player. That noble lady was nothing more than the game maker itself, the one who sets the rules, the one who decides the players, the one who has a guaranteed win.

“Milady I...” Ivy takes several steps back has her face portraited pure horror and disdain from her own actions. Her appearance looked compelled by regret and disgust from herself. Her attention is focused on her trembling hands as her insides became twisted. 

“You did well Ivy,” without her realizing, Ophelia was now standing beside her, petting her head softly with a kind smile on her lips, “You may go.”

The maid bows and hurriedly leaves. She knew she wouldn’t be able to utter a word about this matter to no one since, at the end of the day, the murderer had been her and, even if she tried to blame Ophelia for being the mastermind behind the attack she knew no one would listen to her.

‘Who would believe a maid after all?’ she thinks as her paces grew larger and soon, disappeared from the forest.

 

✽ ✼ ✽ ✼ ✽ ✼ ✽

 

“What do you think?” I ask Jade as he stood beside me. We were both watching Ivy walk away in a hurry, unsettled and nervous.

“It didn’t look like she was pretending but she is for sure hiding something,” he states as I turn my attention to Gilbert’s corpse.

I push it with my foot just to see the knife planted on his lungs, extremely far away from his heart. Ivy’s expression and actions were rewinding on my mind as I tried to revive everything again.

“Keep an eye on her,” I look towards Gilbert’s lifeless body once again, “What should we do with you then...?”

‘I wanted to show you to the Duke,’ I grin as I imagine the horrified face he would make. Even then, I knew how much of a risk it was. I couldn't let him find out how much I knew. I needed to feign ignorance until the time was right. 

“Should we just get rid of you then?” a disappointed sigh leaves my body.

“Master, if I may...” I signal Jade and he proceeds, “We could send his head to your father.”

“We can’t, that way he will know it was me who killed him,” I scratch my head, “I don’t want any further troubles.”

“Not if we signal it as the Nomads doing,” Jade grins.

‘The Nomads... How did I not think about this earlier?’ I thought as I realized my own foolishness.

 

Several underground organizations are working on this kingdom and each one of them has unique individuals with specialized assets. “Nomads” is just one of the many organizations that operate in the shadows of the realm but, contrary to the majority of the mercenaries, they don’t act upon monetary funds. They only offer their services to the victims of wrongdoings, in other words, they are people guided by the main attributes of a hero: honesty, justice, and integrity.

No one knows who are its members but, as time went by, they began to intervene in several social affairs from commoners to the high nobility.

‘A daughter held in isolation for fifteen years by her family, wasn’t enough so her father attempted to have her killed,’ that sounded like a perfect justification. Honestly, using the “Nomads” as a scapegoat for my greediness was brilliant.

‘It’s a definite way to put him in check,’ at the end of the day, this was a message filled with credibility, and, that way, Duke Criswell would have to be more careful with his stunts in his future.

“Indeed... Well then, do what you must,” I smirk, “I will be cleaning myself down at the river.”

Jade bows and I take my leave.

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