A tense and awkward atmosphere.
Sitting at a chair at the table between Titania and Nowun, Aria found herself glancing at both of the ones she held dear to her heart.
Titania was a wreck.
Aria could honestly say that she had never seen her older sister look so devastated in her entire life.
Titania’s gentle honey-colored hair was frazzled and frayed, her pretty green eyes that matched Aria’s own were red from sobbing, and her beautiful cheeks were stained from tears.
Aria wanted to comfort her sister, but she didn’t know where to start. Because of that, she glanced at the other person nearby.
Nowun. The enigmatic young man with plain looks and black hair. While Titania was in an emotional wreck, Nowun seemed calm and collected. His face was blank and inscrutable as always.
Even so, Aria felt that something was off about him. Although her memories were jumbled up and pieces were missing, she could still clearly remember the weak young man that sacrificed himself to save her.
It had been a calm and resolved action. Faced with certain death, Nowun simply stared at her and bought her time to escape. Even when he was cut down, he had been implacable.
Yet… Why did it seem to Aria that he was unsettled at the moment?
Nowun caught Aria’s gaze and then twitched. It seemed like he wanted to look away, but instead of doing so he forced himself to maintain eye contact.
Aria shook her head and then looked down at the food and drink that had been placed down for her.
A cup of green tea and some fluffy white pastries.
Aria wasn’t familiar with the food, but the savory smell was enticing enough to get over the initial uncertainty. That and the fact that she had to do something about the unbearable atmosphere led her to take a bite.
Slightly sweet dough, savory meat. And then a faintly bitter tea to wash it down.
Aria took her time to eat, hoping that the others would speak up. But even after she finished her food, the tense and awkward air still remained.
Titania had managed to gather herself a bit, sipping on a cup of tea. Even so, it seemed that she hadn’t completely calmed down since she didn’t realize that she was sipping from an empty tea cup.
Aria frowned and glanced at Nowun.
The black-haired young man was eating, munching on that white pastry, and staring off into the distance. He seemed lost in thought, but every now and then his eyes kept glancing over to Aria.
Irritated, Aria frowned and said, “What is wrong with you two?”
Titania flinched and dropped her tea cup against the table. Thankfully, the fact that it was empty meant that there wasn’t a mess. Even so, the eldest elf princess flushed and averted her gaze.
Aria’s frown deepened and she said, “Aren’t you happy to see me, Tani?”
“I… That is…” Titania mumbled and then shook her head.
Exasperated, Aria looked at Nowun. “What about you, Mister Nowun?”
Nowun finished his pastry and then washed it down with a cup of tea. After that, he looked at Aria and said, “I am. It is just…” He trailed off like Titania and then simply stared.
“Honestly.” Aria sighed and said, “It’s a beautiful morning and the weather is delightful. Would it harm you two to smile a bit?”
Titania let out a bitter smile and said, “You are as optimistic as ever, I see. Just the same as always.”
Aria frowned. “And you’ve changed, Tani.”
Titania flinched and then let out a deep sigh.
Aria could understand it, but she couldn’t accept it.
Her older sister had always been firm, prim, and proper. A bit cold at times and awkwardly stiff at others, but always caring and kind.
The one sitting before Aria… she could still see the traces of that kind and awkward older sister. But they were just that: traces. And as she wondered why her dear older sister had changed, bits of memories and knowledge floated to the surface.
Titania’s venomous hatred and accusations. Her determined resolve to face off against an inevitable cruel end just to stall for time. And then…
Aria jerked and clutched a hand to her throbbing skull.
Nowun immediately stood up. “Aria-“
“I’m fine.” Aria lowered her hand and then said, “I think I’m just a bit groggy still. That’s all.” As she finished, she glanced to her older sister.
Like Nowun, Titania had immediately jumped to her feet. Her hands were already reached out towards Aria, but the moment she saw Aria looking, Titania froze and forcibly folded them against her chest.
Seeing that, Aria let out soft sigh. “Do you really hate me that much, Tani?”
“No!” Titania gave an immediate response and shook her head. “I-“
“It’s fine.” Aria gave her a faint smile and said, “I can understand why you would.”
It was a secondhand account. The memories from other timelines played out like a story rather than experiences.
Even so, it was enough for Aria to know the reason for her sister’s actions.
How painful was it? Although Titania had succeeded in protecting her younger sister, she had lost everything else. And then, meeting again after being soiled while her younger sister remained the same…
Aria could only imagine it. But that imagination was enough for her to accept her older sister’s emotions.
Titania lowered her gaze, muttering. “That’s not fair, Ari.”
“But it is!” Aria stood up and placed her hands over her heart. “I ran away and left you all behind. I knew what would happen to you all and still kept running!“
Titania shook her head. “You didn’t have a choice. We didn’t give you a choice-“
“But I did have one! I could have stayed and fought!”
At the time, Aria had been afraid. Knowing the fate in store for her, she had just run away without looking back. Accepting the sacrifices without questioning, she had deserted everything and everyone to save herself.
“You have every right to hate me!”
Titania pursed her lips and kept her arms crossed.
Seeing that Aria wasn’t getting through, she turned to Nowun and said, “Help me here, Mister Nowun! Tell Tani that I’m right!”
Nowun blinked and said, “You… want me to tell your sister that it’s alright for her to hate you?”
Aria nodded. “It is, isn’t it? I mean, it’s only fair, right?”
“Fair, huh?” A complicated expression crossed Nowun’s face before he shook his head. “I… don’t think I have a right to speak here.”
“Why not?” Aria turned towards him and said, “If you hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have been saved and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
“That’s… true,” Nowun said. “But I think you’re getting a bit sidetracked here.”
“Sidetracked?” Aria frowned. “I-“
“Enough.” Titania’s cold voice cut through the air.
Hearing that, Aria paused and turned back to look at her older sister.
Titania withered a bit when she met Aria’s gaze, but she continued with her firm tone and said, “That’s enough, Ari.”
“I can’t hate you.”
Aria shook her head. “I said it’s fine-“
“No.” Titania sighed. “Hating you… I thought I did. But…” She unfolded her arms and then stared at her hands. “After… After I…”
“After you killed her, you wished that she was still alive.”
Titania flinched. She glanced at Aria and then averted her gaze. “That…”
Nowun sat down and shook his head. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone realizes too late what they really want. You’re just fortunate enough to get a second chance at it, so you might as well enjoy it, Princess.”
“Even so… Ari and I… Even though she’s alive now-“
Aria let out an exasperated sigh. “Is that what you’re worried about, Tani?”
“In that case,” Aria said. “Let’s just call it even. We had an argument and hit each other a few times. Now that it’s over, we can make up and go back to normal, right?”
A wry smile crossed Titania’s face. “I… don’t think we can just brush over what happened that easily.”
“Of course we can!” Aria smiled and said, “I’m alive, you’re alive, and we’re both healthy. That’s all that matters, right?”
Titania stared at Aria and then sighed. “Nothing ever fazes you. Even now, you’re shining as brightly as ever, Ari.”
Titania shook her head and then glanced over at Nowun. “…Can I trust you to stay out of trouble for once, ‘Mister Nowun’?”
Nowun scoffed. “As if I could even walk out to find any.”
“Good.” Titania nodded and then gathered up the food and utensils on the table. “I will leave to take care of this mess. It will not be long… but I expect the both of you to be here when I return.”
Aria nodded and said, “I’ll keep an eye on Mister Nowun, Tani.”
Titania nodded again and then walked off. Although she tried to keep on the same cold and sharp air she had earlier, she couldn’t hide the slight spring in her step on the way out.
Seeing that, Aria smiled and shook her head. “I guess some things don’t change after all. Right, Mister Nowun?”
Nowun watched Titania leave and said, “Right.” When Titania’s form vanished into the distance, he turned his gaze towards Aria and said, “Now… how much do you remember?”