“Yeah. That woman. The woman I’ve never seen before in my life had talked to me as if she knew me well which was both interesting and strange at the same time.”
But I knew. I would still be as flustered and bewildered as ever every time Dane made me wait for him to speak his mind. Because there used to be a time where I wouldn’t ever have to think about it.
“That’s the kind of person you are. Unlike her, even though I knew you so well, you’ve become a stranger to me the past few weeks.”
“But this was what you wanted. Right?”
With a firm conviction, I stared at Dane. And he did not shy away from my gaze. Soon after, he slowly lowered his head with a slight smile on his face.
“Right. If I hadn’t, you would have never looked my way.”
I never seemed to have a need to think about something like that.
“Do you regret bringing it up?”
“No. I could have confessed at any given moment. No, it was more like I might not have been able to control my overwhelming emotions. If I had not confessed that day, it was still bound to happen. It’s just a shame…”
Dane strolled towards me before stopping before my seat.
“That I hadn’t managed to say it sooner.”
He stared at me as his eyes squinted under the glare of the sun. I wondered if I should take a step back. His handsome face drew nearer as the shadows casted by his hair covered his face.
He grabbed my hand, lifted it before kissing my fingers slowly. Raising his head, he captured me in his red eyes that stood out even more under the sunlight.
“I don’t regret what I couldn’t control.”
Soon after, he tilted his head slightly before curling the ends of his lips.
“It’s alright now that you know how I feel.”
The Dane I knew had always looked like a boy but was mature beyond his age, someone so smart it was almost as if he knew everything. However, I could no longer see the boy I knew in the Dane who was standing before me now talking. He now had the appearance of a young man with a gentle and languid expression much like that one night he threw his mask aside.
“We’re not blood siblings. But you’ve always thought we were brother and sister. I think you need some time to process this.”
Instead of replying me, he smiled slightly. He looked a little sad.
He squeezed my fingers before letting them go and saying. Looking as if he was about to cry, he seemed to be taking in every part of my face but I wondered why the moment I saw his expression I wanted to escape his grasp and immediately run away from him. I knew this was the instinct that had been keeping me alive talking.
“I don’t know why you don’t remember this.”
My heart was pounding. It wasn’t beating because it was fluttering but rather because my gut was warning me.
“You might not remember this now but you knew the whole truth a long time ago. The 8th Queen, Auresia, had told the two of us the truth together. The fact that you’re not the emperor’s biological daughter.”
What was he talking about? I couldn’t hide my bewilderment. My body turned numb as if someone had just struck me.
“What are you talking about? I don’t remember…”
“Of course you don’t. You have no memories of your life before you were seven.”
To simply brush the fact I had no memories of that period off because I was too young to remember did not make sense since I clearly remembered every page and letter in the <Light of Rusbella>. Did I really forget my entire childhood when I had such an amazing memory? Just then, something like lightning struck me. This was certainly strange.
“That day, you were six and I was eight. You asked me to call you ‘Ahn’.”
“Then, you added that you were 28 years old.”
Goosebumps dotted my skin. 28, the age at which I had died in my previous life. What did he just say? What was he saying? I recalled asking Hernan to call me Ahn. What was I thinking of at that time? It had been a name that popped up in my mind without much thought.
“You had lost all your memories after you returned from the western regions to escape the plague. That’s why I hadn’t told you anything about it till now.”
“Did I mention anything else?”
“Yes. When you were six, you mentioned a lot of words that didn’t exist in this world.”
Words that ‘didn’t exist’. Dane had emphasised that. As if I was suddenly brought to the highest point in the world, I couldn’t feel my limbs. Did he notice my shock? My vision went dark. Dane called out for me as I closed my eyes.
Ashley. HIs voice sounded so distant and unfamiliar. Dane called for me again. I raised my head before taking his hand. I clung onto his hand like a desperate man.
“Dane. It’s hard for me to process all this so I’m feeling quite confused.”
“Ahn? Why did I ask you to call me that?”
“… You were having trouble pronouncing your words back then and that was what you asked me to call you. It sounded like that second half of another name.”
This was a world within a novel. I had been reincarnated into that world and I had not been the main character. I had always spectated the world as a stranger who knew what was going to happen because of the original novel. But now that I thought about it, I couldn’t recall the people I had loved in my previous life. My dad. My friends. The colleague I hung out with and my beloved pet dog that cherished me. Neither their name nor the face came to mind. And my name. What was my name?
“Dane, what was my name?”
“Ashley, come to think of it, I hadn’t thought much about it and can’t remember much about what you said.”
Now, recalling even the letters in the <Light of Rusbella> seemed insignificant when the people I had loved and cherished were disappearing as if they were vaporising into a puff of steam. It was shocking to know that there was something I couldn’t remember and even more shocking to know that I had just found out.
Why was I here? For what? Why? Dane seemed to be saying something. Are you alright? I was perfectly rational. I had died and survived before so was this kind of shock that big of an deal? But, my chest felt stuffy. All that was left of me was the fact that I had reincarnated into this world from my past life. The department store, planes, cars… Things that never existed in this world, I remembered everything but nothing related to me remained.
A vaguely normal impression of my life came to mind before disappearing. I had a dad, a friend and raised a dog. I had worked as a salaryman who was tired of her hard life. But what my name was, how tall I was, what my hair looked like or even what I looked like–nothing came to mind.
I recalled watching an animation where the main character had forgotten their name. They couldn’t return home unless they recalled their name. (1) Was I like them now? It wasn’t like I wanted to return to my past life. But what did this world want from me to erase everything I loved from my previous life without consent?
“Ashley. It’s alright.”
“You told me that it’d be fine back then.”
What do you mean it’d be fine? What would be? My mind was blank. I had forgotten my name, my appearance from my past life and yet I could recall the contents of the original novel so vividly it was as if I was reading the novel right now. What if too much time had passed and I could no longer find the memories I lost even if I wanted to?
“Back when you could recall everything, you told me that it would be alright. You said that you would soon disappear and forget everything. Now that I think about it, you must have been reassuring me for this very moment.”
Dane patted my cheek as he maintained eye contact. As if he was trying to comfort me. My trembling heart gradually calmed to the peaceful sounds of his breaths. He spoke to me albeit slightly out of pity as if he understood everything. His eyes that were as beautiful as jewels curled up.
“To assure you that it’d be alright through me.”
It was a day much like the night.
“Dane, what do you know?”
The sun was shining so brightly but this spot was so dark it was almost as if the sun had already set. No, perhaps the darkness was a result of what I was feeling. It felt like it was night. I wanted it to pass by like it had been nothing whilst I slept as I hoped for the morning to come.
But it was a night that did not want to pass. I had to face the truth.
“Ashley, I like your hair.”
“… I know.”
Dane smiled bitterly.
“I liked it so much the sight of it alone was enough for me to forget about my unhappy life.”
He waited for me to relax before slowly looking at me and saying.
“So I could understand whatever you said. The fact that you were originally not from this world. That you’ve caught yourself in the turmoil of this world and that there was another side to you, other than the 28-year-old ‘Ahn’.”
“Within you, the six-year-old Ashley and the 28-year-old ‘Ahn’ coexisted. Though one day you might be as ignorant as any other six-year-old, the next day you would know things no one else in this world knew as ‘Ahn’. You said that there were two people existing within you.”
A young Ashley and Ahn, the me who could remember my past life, coexisted? Dane seemed to have been explaining everything slowly so that I wouldn’t be too shocked. I still couldn’t help but to be shocked though I tried to calm down enough to listen to his carefully spoken words.
“Ahn told us she would soon lose her memories and she was right. And she said that she would never be able to recall them again and I think she’s right.”
A soft hand clasped my cheek. For the me who had lost her way, Dane seemed to be consoling me with his sad and sympathetic expression.
Come to think of it, when did I first meet Dane? He had been waiting in front of my palace after I returned from the western territories–the place I left for to escape the plague. Dane had been there since the beginning of my memories. I had always believed I couldn’t recall my first meeting with him because of the passage of time.
“I wanted to tell you this only when you were ready.”
Lowering his gaze, Dane murmured. A calm atmosphere dominated the space between us. I slowly pursed my lips.
“The reason why you’re telling me this.”
I repeated him after a moment of silence.
“Is it because you think I’m ready?”
“No. It’s because I couldn’t take it anymore.”
When I shifted my gaze slightly, I spotted the blindingly bright sun behind Dane’s shoulders. The curtains were fluttering as it covered the sun. With every flutter, the sun was repeatedly covered and revealed again.
“I thought I’d regret it if I didn’t mention it. This heart and the moment these feelings began.”
As if savouring the way I called his name, he closed his eyes.
“Ashley, what do you want to do?”
When Dane opened his eyes again, his eyes were red as ever.
“I can do anything for you.”
Without his hand on my cheek anymore, he smiled softly.
“Do you want revenge? I’ll bring the sinner before you. If you want to live a peaceful life, I’ll make sure this palace will be yours forever. And if you start to hate everything, I’ll bring you somewhere far away, towards the sunset.”
“Away from the palace?”
“Away from the palace.”
(1): Lmao is this Finding Dory?