Fugue of Truth and Lies
While abandoned, the well hadn't run dry. Lydia washed out the bucket that was buried in weeds before drawing water. She'd found a chipped cup and a dented iron pot in a corner of a dirt-floored room that she figured had once been the kitchen.
The dilapidated abandoned home was buffeted by the wind and the wooden door screeched in protest at being opened. The house was a little distant from the road and was hidden by the forest. Once the sun set, even if Huskley and the others were to try following after them, most likely they wouldn't even notice that the building were even there.
"Hey Lydia, shouldn't you hurry and escape?" Nico appeared on the rock wall of the well.
"Where were you? I thought you got left behind."
"I've been with you the whole time. I just kept myself hidden is all."
"No doubt. After all, you always disappear as soon as things get dangerous."
"So you say, but what do you expect me to do in that sort of fight? It was all I could do to keep up with you. Rather than that, shouldn't you be doing something other than drawing water?"
Lydia sighed as she sat next to Nico.
Perhaps he was right. If she were to escape, now was her chance.
While Edgar might be watching her from inside the abandoned house, he was injured. So, right now, she might be able to get away.
How far did they come since an injured Edgar had forced her into the carriage? After a while, he had the driver stop the carriage, then paying the driver handsomely both for the ride and to remain silent, he had the driver continue on to the next town. They then walked along the road going between the fields. Most likely, he figured Huskley and the others would follow after the carriage. Then just as the sun was setting, they found this abandoned house and decided to wait for dawn there.
Despite not being bound, Lydia ended up following as Edgar directed. Lydia couldn't help feeling it decidedly unjust that a thief's presence gave her some comfort against loneliness on this pitch dark country road without any street lights or signs of other people's homes.
That's right, he's a thief.
"That guy, he's the thief that's currently being sought after."
"......So it seems."
Edgar used the name 'Gotham' when referring to the man who'd called himself Huskley. The name Gotham had been mentioned in the newspaper; it was the name of the thief's victim who'd nearly been killed.
Huskley was Gotham's son. And he'd missed Edgar and ended up shooting his own father when Edgar robbed Gotham's mansion.
Lydia had managed to figure out that much.
"But he referred to the monies he'd taken as compensation. Not to mention it sounded like Gotham and his family were also up to no good."
"Lydia, if villains end up having a falling out, fighting among themselves and end up killing one another, that's up to them. But that's no reason to getting us caught up in their issues. Even without seeing the tattoo on that guy's tongue, that guy's no regular thief. They called him Sir John, right? The one who was supposed to have been executed in America......"
"I know that, Nico. But..."
Lydia stared at the light cut on the palm of her hand. She'd gotten it when she'd struggled against Huskley.
"He protected me."
"You know, that's because without you he won't be able to find the Lord Blue Knight's great sword."
"True, but it'd be pointless if he got himself killed while protecting me."
"Yeah, but he's not dead, and it's not like he's going to die from his injury either. When it comes to buying your sympathy, it's probably a lot cheaper than five hundred pounds."
Most likely it was just as Nico said.
Nico showed Lydia some white pills on the palm of his hand... or rather on the fleshy part of his fore paw.
"Dissolve this in some hot water and have him drink it."
"What is it?"
"It's a secret sleeping pill of the fae. Put him to sleep. That way, there'll be no fear of his chasing after you and your getting caught again. That walking weapon of a servant of his isn't here right now, either."
"I see. ......You're right, if we're to get away, it's got to be now when Raven and Ermine aren't around."
"Keep yourself together."
She really was out of it.
After all, she didn't know what would happen to her if she didn't escape and ended up staying with a thief. Lydia took the pill from Nico then stood up. Going through the wooden door that was falling off its hinges, she entered the abandoned house. Edgar sat to one side of the small room leaning against the wall looking exhausted.
Seeing him as a badly weakened and injured person was enough to make Lydia hesitate from fleeing. She couldn't help wondering if she were being too soft in not seeing him as a dangerous person.
A fire had been lit in the fireplace. Perhaps he was carrying matches. Red flames rose from pieces of broken chair and other various bits of junk that were being burned in place of firewood.
"Moving around a lot isn't good for your injury."
Edgar cocked his head slightly to one side as though he were surprised that she'd come back after having gone outside. Although it could be that he were just acting that way.
"I just lit the fire."
Lydia set the water-filled pot to heat by the fire. She then drew closer to Edgar.
"Does it hurt?"
She held out some medicinal leaves for Edgar.
"It's comfrey. You should bruise the leaves and put them on your wound. It's good for stopping bleeding and killing germs."
Edgar hesitated a bit, narrowing his eyes slightly as though to say something, before he finally took the leaves.
"It's dark outside. I'm surprised you managed to find it."
"Um, about that, would you give me one of your cuff links?"
"Ahh...... to pay for the medicine."
Edgar removed one of the cuff links from the sleeve of his shirt and tossed it at Lydia.
"Make no mistake. I'm not the one who's getting this," Lydia said as she tossed the cuff link out the window.
"Is someone outside?"
"I see, one that gives commonplace wild plants."
"But that's all the comfrey they've managed to grow right now."
Edgar stared at the tender leaves when he suddenly laughed.
"This is your trading ability with fairies?"
"What? Is my talking about fairies that strange?"
"No. ......My almost believing in fairies for a moment there is what's funny."
"In other words, you won't believe just from something like that?"
"Who knows? More to the point, I find it harder to believe that you're still here before me."
His being so weak-spirited made Lydia feel like the villain for thinking of escaping. He'd been injured in Lydia's stead, yet she was going to leave him behind. At the very least, Lydia wanted to see to his injury and make her escape after that--or so she told herself.
No doubt Raven and Ermine would go after the carriage like Huskley and the others, so there was no need to worry. And closer to dawn would mean Lydia wouldn't have to risk walking in the pitch darkness.
But having her feelings waver like this was also strange. After all, she was the one who'd been tricked.
Lydia moved away from Edgar and sat on a creaky chair.
"Why? Aren't you good at tricking and threatening people and getting them to do as you want, my lord earl?"
"It seems my magic's been broken."
"I wasn't being fooled by any magic right from the start." Lydia claimed boldly, but inside, she couldn't help wondering if that were really true. After all, she was still there unable to resist his dangerous charm.
Lydia firmly denied those thoughts. Certainly, he had the looks and knew the right words to capture a young girl's heart, but what Lydia felt in him wasn't anything so sweet but rather something much more frightening. He seemed like he'd been born to the nobility yet was also a cruel villain. His skillful conversation and perfect smile could captivate a person. But he hid the truth beneath that elegant demeanor and used people with his lies.
Yet why did he protect her and end up getting injured instead?
Perhaps as Nico said it was a cheap way to gain her sympathy, but ultimately, that was an end result. Given the situation, she couldn't see him having thought things through that far in that instant. Not to mention, Lydia's actions at the time were so rash that it would normally be unthinkable.
That's why she couldn't help wanting to know the truth behind him. But perhaps that, too, was a part of his magic.
"Who are you? Lord Edgar? Or Sir John?"
Edgar took off his frock coat and hesitated a bit before finally answering.
"Edgar--that was my first name."
"What do you mean 'was'?"
"Because it's dead. The young boy with that name died when he was twelve along with his parents. Suspected of treason, his father killed his family then committed suicide. And the family line came to an end. So, I am but a ghost. You can call me however you like."
"But you're alive."
"Right, I'm alive. ......While it's rude in front of a lady, I beg your pardon," Edgar said before taking off his waistcoat and his bloodied shirt. He frowned slightly as he examined his wound.
In any case, since he was away from the fire, the place Edgar was standing was dimly lit so Lydia wasn't particularly bothered. Edgar continued his explanation calmly.
"But it's not like I'd been saved. The place I awoke in was hell--a town in southeastern America. ......I'd been sold to a man who wanted a white slave. And a person who was supposedly dead was no person there. I'd been there for four years when I managed to escape along with Raven and Ermine. We hid ourselves in the entertainment district, avoided our pursuers, and did whatever we had to in order to survive."
Listening to his brave tale, Lydia didn't help tend his wound; most likely she was still filled with suspicion. She couldn't even tell whether what he was saying now was true or not.
"And the killer thief? Did you really kill a hundred people?"
"Rumours grow bigger and more exaggerated over time."
"Which is it?"
"We were in the worst of slums. Boys my age would either steal or sell their bodies in order to survive. They only lived as feral dogs unable to read and without thought--they had no hope. But that's because they just didn't know: where vast amounts of money lay hidden, or how they could get their hands on it... or that said money didn't exist in the eyes of the world and that it was dirty money that couldn't be used openly."
"......And that's how you became their master and the title 'Sir'."
"The king of the gutter rats, you mean? Well, perhaps that's true. Kings just order their troops around. They come up with plans, send out people, give them weapons, then give the order to 'go'. And on the battle field, there would undoubtedly be casualties. And since I'm responsible for that, I won't say I never killed anybody. But since I don't want you to feel uncomfortable, I'll have you know that the money I've given you was not stolen. I did day jobs and using the money I gained cheating at gambling as capital... ah, you might not care for that sort of thing, but in any case, I made a fortune investing in business. That's my current fortune. It's grown to the point that no one would question my fortune or my claiming to be a member of the nobility."
Lydia could only listen silently. Edgar spoke as though talking about another person and his expression didn't change as he continued his story.
"But I'm a nameless and rankless person who's supposed to be dead. Even when doing proper business, I trade using another person's good name. Wherever I flee, the mark of a slave follows me, and I live in constant fear of my pursuers' shadows."
"The mark of...... a slave?"
"You know about it, don't you? The cross that I bear. ......You tried to find out about it on the steam train."
He'd realised it yet did that sort of foolish thing.
Her annoyance must have shown on her face as his eyes narrowed gently.
"Your reaction was so cute, I couldn't help it."
How was it he could say that sort of thing when they were talking about something so serious?
"Next time, I'll throw freshly boiled water on you."
"I won't do it again."
"Fine. I take it you really do have a tattoo then?"
"It's not a tattoo, but a brand. The man who didn't let me die marks his livestock that way. I don't know where the rumour of a tattoo came from, but thanks to various other gangs copying it, it helped cover for me."
In other words, there were a number of gangs of thieves who'd copied Sir John. Which mean that it would be impossible to tell who was responsible for the acts that led to the rumour of the cold-blooded killer. Lydia began to see things more favourably in that manner.
"Then who's that Gotham person? How did you get back to England?"
"Gotham's a doctor who'd come to America in search for subjects for human experimentation. He wanted the brains of criminals for his psychiatric experiments."
"B-brains...... human experimentation?"
"That's right. Thanks to an anonymous tip, I'd been captured and was sentenced to hang in a few days time. Gotham secretly had me swapped for someone else. He must've paid the people involved a lot of money."
"And you ended up having your brain taken?"
"You say the most interesting things."
Lydia wondered if that were true. The conversation had become so strange that she had trouble grasping it.
Edgar used his tie as a makeshift bandage and wrapped it around his wound. He was clearly very practised at such things. No doubt injuries had been a part of every day life for him.
"Since Gotham was going through the trouble of bringing a live villain to London, he'd decided to gather as much data as he could. Administering various drugs as well as causing such pain that it was no different than torture. I wasn't the only experimental subject, and I saw some subjects who'd had their skulls opened up while they were still alive and the insides messed around with. He didn't only experiment on criminals, but used a number of innocent people as well."
Just thinking about it made Lydia feel ill. She couldn't even begin to understand such a world. The underworld where such conspiracies and madness reigned. She couldn't imagine what the people who ended up getting dragged down into its depths saw or felt there.
So most likely, she wouldn't be able to understand the person before her.
"Even more than the existence of fairies, it's harder for me to believe people have that sort of twisted souls. Being able to buy and sell people or use them as material for experiments readily... do you mean to say that there are people who have no goodness in them?"
Lydia looked away. It was all she could do to say that much.
"You're a very fortunate young lady. But people are capable of doing the most cruel of things."
Lydia looked up in surprise when she felt the air around her move. Edgar stood before her looking down at her. He was a young man of around twenty years of age, yet had literally had everything he'd ever had stripped from him. He'd lost his name, his rank, and his past. And if it everything he said was true and that he'd managed to survive on his wits alone, then hidden behind his bewitching smile was a dangerous person beyond anyone's comprehension.
In his hand was his cane with the rapier hidden inside. Lydia stiffened.
"I learned the stories and legends of the Lord Blue Knight when I was a child. I got hold of that gold coin in an antique shop while in America. I'd intended to return to England and look into it in due time. But even though I was in London, I'd been locked up by Gotham and was unable to move about. So I let Gotham discover the gold coin, let slip that it led to where the star sapphire was hidden, and then waited for him to do his own research. I couldn't let him kill me before Raven and Ermine came to get me, so that bargain was ideal for buying time. Thanks to that, I'm now fighting against him to find the treasure first, but that can't be helped."
"......But that means you're not the descendant of the Lord Blue Knight, right? Even getting my help, if you're not the real thing, it'll be impossible to get the sword from the merrow."
"Even so, I have no choice but to gain that sword."
"You'd be happy at getting a false rank? Shouldn't you be trying to regain your real name?"
Edgar bent down a little and drawing closer to Lydia.
"You're mistaken in thinking that false things have no value. What's the point in regaining a family name that's been branded as traitorous? The young slave and the gang leader are both dead. And even though it be false, I need a name that carries a great deal of presence. One with enough real power that the people who pulled me down into the depths of hell can no longer touch me. If I can't gain the rank of an earl, then I really will just die in a cesspit. I'll make the fake look like the real thing."
Edgar spoke gently almost as though trying to persuade her. He held his walking stick out for Lydia.
"Most likely, you won't be able to sleep if a thief's carrying a weapon, right? I'll leave this with you."
He moved away from Lydia and sat down against the wall again.
His real self was in a grave. If from there, he'd become another person's property and lived a false life, everything was a lie. For him, there was no real or fake, but only the difference between imitations with value and those without.
Lydia couldn't tell whether what he'd told her was the truth or not.
But no doubt even if he were to be dressed in glass baubles, he'd be able to make them seem like diamonds. Lydia couldn't help getting caught up in his argument and wondering what was wrong with being blinded into thinking that glass were diamonds. She had the strange feeling that he may well suit the rank of the Blue Knight Earl more than anyone else. And on top of that, he'd left his weapon with her and continued to act as a complete gentleman towards Lydia. Perhaps it was to gain her sympathy, but Lydia didn't want to think of him as a villain.
But naturally he was still cautious. Most likely, he left his weapon with Lydia to test and see if she would try to escape. Having her escape would undoubtedly cause him trouble. Not only would it make it difficult for him to obtain the Lord Blue Knight's great sword, it would also increase the probability of his being caught by Huskley or the police. It could be that he figured he could manage against one lone girl even though he'd left his cane with her.
If so, what would he do if she were to show any signs of trying to escape? Would he show the true nature of a criminal. It would be better for Lydia to put him to sleep with the sleeping pill before he had a chance to show that side of himself to her.
Lydia made up her mind as she got to her feet and looked into the pot set by the fire. She scooped up some hot water in the chipped cup. Dropping the pill Nico had given her into the water, she added a young mint leaf, then held the cup out for Edgar.
"While it's not the same as tea, it'll help you relax."
"Ahh, thank you." He smiled easily.
However, Lydia sensed something very sharp hiding behind that smile and she felt a chill run along her spine as tension gripped her. Edgar's hand touched hers as he took the cup from her. Lydia automatically drew away from him when he suddenly grabbed her hand.
"What did you put in it?"
"Eh...... wh-what do you mean......"
"Bad folk are wary of all sorts of things. Even though you intended to do so secretly, I saw you add something other than the mint leaf. It's dangerous to incite villains like myself."
"Let go of me."
"If I do, you'll run."
"......Of course I will. You're a thief, after all!"
Lydia ended up saying something that could only serve to incite him further.
"You really don't have any sense of self preservation, do you? It was the same when you were caught by Huskley, but regardless how many lives you have, you'll never have enough if you just struggle mindlessly to escape."
"D-do you mean you'll kill me?"
"Certainly not. If I did, I won't be able to get the sword."
"Even if you threaten me, I won't do as you say!"
"You really don't understand. There are plenty of ways to get people to do as you want, my naive young lady. No doubt you can't imagine despair so great that you can't forgive yourself for even breathing."
Lydia suddenly remembered Ermine's words describing Edgar as a tragic person. And even more than her fear, Lydia's heart ached as she realised that for the first time ever Edgar had finally shown his true self to her.
"......Did you lose all hope like that?"
Edgar frowned suddenly.
Could it be she'd said too much and made him angry? Perhaps she really didn't have any instinct to realise the danger she was in. However, just as she felt that, Edgar suddenly let go of her hand.
He looked anguished as he looked down before finally murmuring, "That's right."
"The Blue Knight Earl's sword is my only hope. Are you going to abandon me, Lydia?"
He looked at her pleadingly almost as though trying to keep his lover from leaving him. Lydia felt herself on the verge of forgetting that she was little more than a prisoner.
"......Saying that sort of thing..."
"Please don't go."
"You're not making any sense. You intend to threaten me and make me do what you want, right?"
"If you insist on leaving, then I'll die here."
"Wait a minute, is that supposed to be a threat?!"
"If I'm to lose my last hope, living will bring nothing but more pain."
Just as Lydia realised he was staring at the cup she'd handed him, Edgar drank the contents looking tormented.
"If this is poison, then my having said that I'll die here means your heart will no longer be troubled by this."
"Y-your kidding. It's just a sleeping draught."
"I see. In that case, my fate will be determined when I wake. If you're no longer here when I wake, my life ends then...... Ahh, that's no so bad. My fate is in your hands. It sounds rather like passionate words of love."
That's not funny.
Lydia could only stand there stunned as Edgar gave her a heart-rending yet genteel smile.
"Good night, my fairy."
Even such foolish words sounded like earnest courtship when he said them. With his voice still lingering sweetly in her ears, Edgar wrapped himself up in his coat and lay down on the floor. Lydia stood there staring down at a defenseless Edgar as he was quickly dragged down into sleep.
"Oh man, talk about seriously giving me a fright there," Nico said as he showed himself. "Lydia, your timing at adding that pill was simply the worst. At least he still ended up drinking it though."
Nico poked Edgar with a toe making sure the medicine had taken effect.
"Well, let's go, Lydia."
Just don't ask how many more pages are left in this novel. >.>