For one moment, Rhode thought that his eyes were playing tricks on him until he pinched his palm to confirm that this wasn't a dream. Looking at the girl, Rhode held his breath and closed his eyes. After a while, he finally calmed himself down and walked towards the little girl slowly. He bent down to her eye level and looked at her carefully.
Facing Rhode's actions, the little girl seemed a little startled. Both of her hands gripped the teacup tightly but, she didn't seem like she wanted to escape. Instead, when Rhode was examining her, she returned his gaze curiously at this young and unfamiliar man. She was equally doubtful as to why this person had the exact same face as hers.
"Hi there, young lady. I am Rhode Alander. Can you tell me your name?"
Rhode's tone was incredibly gentle. Even his usual cold expression seemed to have disappeared.
Upon noticing this expression of Rhode's, the three maidens widened their eyes in disbelief. After spending so much time with Rhode, this was the first time he'd revealed such an expression. A far cry from the feeling of an icy cold, sturdy, yet reliable Rhode from before.
But right now, the atmosphere surrounding Rhode seemed to be very warm and gentle. Just like the first rays of light from the morning sun, unconditionally embracing anything with comfort and warmth. If Rhode previously gave others an impression of "Cold as ice", then right now they would have treated her as the gentle, beautiful and kind princess. (TL: Yes, it's princess, not prince) To complete this fairytale-esque scene, maybe a fully armored knight should appear and kneel down on the spot while presenting his long sword to show his passion and loyalty.
"No wonder he was always expressionless..."
Looking at this scene, Marlene, Lize and Anne started having many different thoughts. Under normal circumstances, Rhode could easily be mistaken as a female. Although as a man, gentleness may not be the only thing that they lack. But, when a handsome man reveals his gentle side, compared to a beautiful man showing his tender side, the sensation is entirely different.
(ED: Handsome referring to masculine men; while beautiful refers to 'Bishoujo' looking men with feminine features.)
If a handsome man's gentle smile could make those maidens go completely crazy, then the smile that Rhode had on his face could make anyone let go of all fears and safely dive right into the warmth within.
Of course, from a bystander point of view, this scene looked exactly like a conversation between a pair of sisters.
Probably attracted by Rhode's tone and expression, the little girl dropped her guard. She raised her head slightly and opened her tiny lips, attempting to say something. But she as if remembered something terrible, she quickly shut her mouth.
Noticing the little girl's expression, Rhode smiled and touched her hair.
"You don't have to be afraid of cursing me. It's not your fault. Trust me, you wouldn't curse anyone. Talk to me. Tell me your name. Okay?"
The little girl dropped her shoulders and lifted her face. She said softly while looking right at Rhode.
"You have a nice name."
After hearing the little girl's answer, Rhode gently nodded.
"So, Christie, I hope you can stay here for the time being to have some food and drinks. You can have a good sleep later, and once you've woken up the next day, I have something important to tell you... is that okay?"
Christie slightly nodded. Rhode didn't say much after receiving her answer. He just smiled and rubbed the little girl's head gently. Just when Rhode was about to stand up and walk away, the little girl reached out to the corner of his clothes. She tugged lightly and raised her head. Deep within, her achromatic eyes were filled with care and expectations that probably the little girl didn't know it herself.
"... Can you say it again... your name..."
Hearing the little girl's question, Rhode was surprised and once again revealed his smile.
"Sure. I am Rhode Alander. Call me Rhode will do."
The little girl soft repeated this name. As if receiving a precious treasure, she wanted to keep it deep within her memories. After a moment, the little girl revealed a beautiful wholehearted smile ---- A smile that signified receiving the most precious prize in the world.
After exiting the room, Rhode quickly kept his smile and returned to his usual cold self. Marlene and Anne felt that it was a pity...
Afterwards, Rhode left Christie with Lize. Afterall, the maiden was a Cleric and when it comes to caring for others, she's very reliable. In order not to disturb the patient, Marlene and Anne chose to leave even though they wanted to stay. They knew that more people might cause messy situations, so they left in the end.
But the doubts in their mind didn't disappear.
"Leader. What relationship do you have with the little girl?"
Anne couldn't hold it any longer and ask out of curiosity.
"We shouldn't be related at all."
Rhode frowned upon hearing Anne and quickly made up an answer.
But this answer didn't satisfy both of them.
"But... Both of you look so alike..."
Marlene used a more subtle term. In fact, it was an understatement to call them 'similar'. Especially when both of them stood face to face, no matter how everyone saw it, Christie was just a Rhode that was ten years younger. To say that both of them have no relations, not even Marlene would believe that. Although, logically speaking , Rhode who originated from the Northern Mountains shouldn't have any relationship with this small village within the Paphield Region, but the existence of Christie didn't support this logic at all.
"Just as the saying goes. In this world, there will be at least three people who look exactly like you. So it isn't weird."
Rhode seemed to be very calm.
"... Could it be Leader's long lost sister?"
Anne asked, but she didn't notice that it caused Rhode's expression to darken slightly when her question reminded him of his past.
"... I do indeed have a sister. But it is a pity; she wasn't lost."
"Leader, you have a sister?"
Hearing this, the curious Anne spoke a little louder. Even Marlene started focusing on the conversation as Rhode had never mentioned his personal life before.
"That's right. If she's still alive, then maybe..."
Rhode shrugged his shoulders. Although he didn't continue, but both of them understood his words and started to quieten... the atmosphere turned awkward suddenly. Rhode stared at the scenery out of the window with his hands behind his back. Anne and Marlene didn't know what to say. After a moment, Anne bit the bullet and clapped her hands and said.
"Lea-Leader must have loved his sister."
"No, it's the opposite."
To their surprise was, Rhode straightforwardly shook his head and interrupted Anne.
"To be honest, I hated her from the start."
Anne and Marlene were surprised.
Marlene couldn't hold it anymore. Although she had been taught not to invade other's privacy, this maiden felt that his answer was too strange.
But Rhode didn't reply immediately. Instead, he raised his head, glanced at the maidens and turned back to the window.
"... Have both of you seen twins before?" Rhode said with slight melancholy in his voice.
"Eh? Twins... Yes."
"Anne had seen a few times too..."
Rhode kept surprising them again and again. Marlene and Anne almost couldn't keep up the pace.
"Normally between twins, many sisters or brothers look similar. However, if its a male and a female, they might look alike, but it can't possibly be exactly identical... Right?"
"This... As you said, it's actually true..."
Marlene seemed to have understood something. As for Anne, she looked around left and right, full of confusion.
Rhode nodded and said, "This is a normal situation. I wouldn't mention the specific principles because you wouldn't understand. All in all, you just need to know that usually twins who looked alike basically are the same gender. But for twins with different gender, their looks will never be the same ---- this is based on a general theory. Whereas my sister and I are just freaks that are an exception to that theory.
Marlene and Anne exchanged looks. They didn't understand what Rhode had said and felt a weird mixture of emotions.
"Not sure where went wrong or there was a problem with the genetics. In other words, our birth was entirely a special case. And this didn't bring us any benefits either. Maybe we have violated the laws of nature, so my sister was born two times weaker than normal humans. She couldn't even leave her room. Once she contracted a disease, even the smallest of all disease could turn into something serious."
"It sounds tough..."
Marlene softly mumbled. Although she had never read something similar in books, according to Rhode's explanation, she could imagine how scary things could turn out.
"But, wasn't your sister very pitiful? Why did Leader still hate her?"
Anne frowned and asked. Rhode sighed after hearing her question.
"Indeed. If it's just like this, then I wouldn't have hated her. But... between us, there was an explicit connection."
"To cut the long story short, she and I... can feel each other's physical pain. If I get hurt, she will feel it too, if she gets sick, I will also fall sick..."
Halfway when Rhode was speaking, he pushed the window open with his right hand.
"So at that time, I hated her. Even though she's the bedridden one, but our parents would stop me from going out to play with friends. I would get reprimanded if I sneaked out. And even though it was her who got herself sick, I had to also rest on the bed like a patient. And this face of mine..."
Rhode coldly laughed softly.
"For a female, this face wouldn't be considered inferior. But a pity, I am a man. I don't have any interest in this face. I had enough of being treated as a cute girl or getting laughed at for looking like a woman... To be honest, I had thoughts that ---- if it weren't for her, then I wouldn't be like this. If she's not around, then I wouldn't have to suffer too."
Rhode's voice sounded calm without emotions. But hearing his explanation, Marlene and Anne could feel the complicated feelings hidden deep within his tone.
"Afterwards... we had a huge quarrel. She could only cry and apologize to me for the hardship she'd caused for me... After all we are still siblings, so in the end, I tried to accept everything and hoped that we could come up with a solution that could be accepted by both of us. I started to take care and spend time with her, but a pity... her body condition was too weak. Our parents knew that she wouldn't live more than 14 years after she was born. And indeed, her body conditions deteriorated. Her organs started to fail, and there was no way to prevent it. Eventually..."
Rhode closed his mouth as he looked out of the window, at the leaves swaying in the wind.
The rustling sound of wind blowing through the trees brought a gentle and calm atmosphere.
Everything seemed so similar, just like that day.
Bright sunlight spilled through the window. The green trees on the outside were so vivid that no one could look at them directly. But alas, just separated by a wall, lay the veil of the shadow of death. He could only lie helplessly on the bed, staring at the busy doctors and crying parents by the side, unable to offer any help. He couldn't be like them, be by his sister's side to accompany her. Yet, he was the one who could truly feel her pain and hopelessness.
What an irony.
Eventually, she left.
And the nightmare that had been troubling Rhode finally ended.
To Rhode, this wasn't the ending he wished.
He got what he wanted, but lost something more important.
"Mr. Rhode, that girl..."
Rhode interrupted Marlene without turning back.
"She isn't my sister even though we look the same. She is herself, and she will never replace that part of my heart. I will not treat her as a substitute. But, I admit. I wish to do something for her..."
Rhode suddenly turned around and looked at both of them.
"Don't you two want to do the same?"
Hearing Rhode's answer, both of them nodded. Indeed, even though they didn't have such complex backstory with the girl, just based on the little girl's life experiences were enough for them to lend her a helping hand. Marlene let out a sigh of relief and at the same time blushed. She was worried that Rhode would treat Christie as a substitute for his sister. Although Rhode said that he hated his own sister, but after the change of attitude, Marlene could sense that Rhode cared dearly for his sister. This made her feel uncertain. If Rhode treated Christie as his sister, Marlene thought that it wouldn't be a good thing. As a noble, Marlene had seen many unimaginable things, and even though this was his personal matters, she felt that it was right to remind him.
But now it seemed that Rhode was more aware than she thought so she didn't say much more.
Of course, to say this didn't impact him at all was a total lie. Rhode was very clear on this. Besides, both of them looked identical and Christie was also as weak as her sister. Not only that, the difference in their age would only lead both of them to have a sibling-like relationship. However, to Rhode, Christie is just Christie and not his sister. In the whole world, there will never be two identical leaves. Even if the exterior looked exactly the same, the inner would never ever be.
If Rhode's heart was a hostel, then his choice now was not to open his sister's room and allow Christie to enter. Instead, he continued to seal this room and opened another door for Christie...
Everyone is unique.
Rhode kept his thoughts and returned to his original self.
"Both of you can go and rest now. We will prepare our battle tonight. As for Christie, leave it to Lize for now."
Anne and Marlene nodded and returned to their rooms. Rhode went silent for a moment then slowly walked down the stairs.
"Ah, Sir, you finally arrived."
Just as Rhode walked down the stairs, an anxious voice sounded. Rhode lifted his head and saw Randolf standing in the middle of the hall, full of anxiousness and uncertainty.
"What happened? Did those villagers decide to find trouble with us?"
As he spoke, his right arm subconsciously rested on the hilt of his sword.
"Ah, no, Sir, those villagers didn't do anything to us."
Noticing Rhode's actions, Randolf quickly denied.
"It's like this; Miss Celia found something. Hope you can take a look."
Rhode's brows twitched. A while back, he had ordered Celia to search for any traces on the spawn of undead creatures. After all, it's in the morning now, and the angel's energy was at her peak condition to detect nearby evil beings. No matter if it's the hell chasm, dark ritual or other sources, more or less, there would be some kind of trace. And now that it seemed that Celia had found something?
"Bring me there."
Rhode didn't hesitate and ordered quickly.
Under Randolf's lead, Rhode reached a big pit located not far from the village. This place seemed to be a quarry. According to the guard captain that tagged along, this place had been abandoned since a long time ago.
From the middle of the quarry, Celia spread her wings and flew to Rhode swiftly after noticing his arrival. She lightly bowed.
Rhode observed the barren stones filled with overgrown fauna and asked softly, "Are there any findings?"
"Yes, please come with me."
Celia quickly turned around and led Rhode to where she stood from before. Afterwards, the angel stretched her right arm and pointed downwards.
Looking at the direction of Celia's finger, Rhode was surprised, and his expression turned gloomy all of a sudden.
Deep within the bottom of the pit lay piles of bones and blood stains. All of them had odd shapes, from human bones to animal bones. On the surface, this looked like a non-hygienic qualified slaughterhouse. Pitch black, dried blood painted the ground like a shadow. Scattered around the bones were buzzing flies. The air was mixed with a strange odor, extremely disgusting.
Rhode didn't focus on those, but instead, he turned his attention on a circular ritual site in the middle of the pile of bones.
Celia said softly, with hatred and a sense of justice.
"Master, this was an act of the devil."
The angel maiden spoke, her voice turning cold.