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The footsteps resume. Then disappears.
I let out the breath I didn’t know I held. Vert too.
“Phew. Good thing I reserved the room below beforehand.”
“Won’t anyone come and check here?”
“Most likely not. Their number is small, so they’d have to do systematic search from the first floor. They don’t have time to check twice too.”
True to her words, no one comes even close to the door for what seems like a long time.
“They’re leaving,” Vert informs me. “They’re searching the next door. Not on our side, but we should stay out of the window just in case.”
I slump in relief. It has been a while since I experience that kind of fear and they’re not nice to my heart. “Why do we need to hide? Did we do something bad?” I ask.
“Something like that. Don’t worry. You’re the guiltless one here,” Vert assures. Not effective, but now that the situation has calmed down, a more important question surfaces.
“About my memories—you said it might not be wrong.”
“Ah yes, I did. What about it?”
“You never explained why you think so.”
“Right.” I wonder if I should have kept my mouth shut. Vert sounds totally disheartened. “I was saying, it could be because you’re not my brother—at least not the one I know.”
“What do you mean?”
“…Come here,” Vert says, pulling my arm. She makes me sit down on the bed before sitting down beside me. She let out a long sigh, and I wait for her to speak.
“I lost my brother ten years ago,” Vert begins wistfully. “Then I found you at the place where I lost him. You’d have to forgive me for assuming you’re my brother. You look just like him, at least if he’s grown up to twenty four years old. But now I’m not sure if you’re really him.”
I blink. “Twenty four?” Where does that number come from?
“Oh sorry, it’s just my approximation. He was fourteen when I last saw him, and it’s been ten years, so I assume you’d be the same age if you were my brother. I apologize if I get it wrong.”
“No, you’re probably right. My body feels weird. Me growing big must be the reason.”
“You don’t know you’ve grown up?”
“If there’s one thing you’re right about me, it’s the ten years sleep part. I was fourteen before I woke up,” I joke, but Vert doesn’t share my humor. I can tell she is staring at me.
“What is it?”
“Nothing. I just thought you’re so calm for someone in your current situation.”
I can’t help but I laugh at that. “Honestly, I don’t know what to feel right now. My sister died yesterday—at least that’s how it seems like for me—and I’m not even sure if that’s true or just a bad dream. The next thing I know I’m blind and ten years older. On top of that me and a person who sounds like an older version of my little sister are now a wanted person for reasons unknown. I suppose I’m just too confused to panic.”
Vert takes a moment to come up with a response. “Understandable.”
“Right. But enough about me. You’re still unsure if I am your brother or not, right? You should ask me questions that you know how your brother would answer. Something like preference or hypothetical question. My memory doesn’t seem to be reliable after all.”
“True. Let me think about it.”
Vert really takes time on thinking that I almost fall asleep when she finally asks her question.
“What did you give me on my fifth birthday?”
“Huh? But that question—“
“—is a memory related question. I know. Sorry. I can’t come up with any preference or hypothetical question right now.”
“It’s alright. I understand,” I say—and I’m not saying that for politeness sake. She doesn’t show it, but she too, must have much thoughts and worries in her mind right now. Who wouldn’t, if you just discovered your long lost sibling might not be your sibling? She has to think about getting away from the patrols too.
I search my rusty memory and get the answer.
“An old soccer ball. Mom and dad hate me for that. They said I turned you from skirt hating tomboy to mud loving tomboy, even though it’s you who asked for it.”
Vert snorts amusedly. “That’s what you say, but it’s actually because that was the only thing you had when I asked you for present, right?”
“Exactly.” No shame in admitting it. Vert already knows about that. Wait, if she knows, “Then—“
“But you didn’t give me that.”
Aaaand, the bird of hope is struck down before it can take flight.
“I don’t know what soccer is, but it’s definitely not a ball that you gave me.”
“Oh? What is it then?”
“A wooden sword.”
“A wooden sword? Why would I give you that?”
“Because that’s the only thing you had at that time.” Woah, deja vu. “But of course you won’t admit it. You said—”
“—this is a legendary item used by heroes of the past. Use well,” I finish, channeling my inner wiseman, then wait. I know I’ve just stunned Vert to silence with that line.
“You remember that?” Vert asks when she finally finds her voice, half astonished half hopeful.
“No. But I’ve always wanted to say that once, if I ever give someone a sword—not that I ever,” I add quickly.
Vert sighs in disappointment, but then chuckles.
“I think you two would get along just fine,” Vert answers. “You and my brother, I mean.”
“…Yeah.” It’s already clear that her brother and I, although similar, are two different people. But I still want to make sure. “Sorry, but I want to ask a question too.”
I take a deep breath and ask.
“Who ate the cherry tomato cake on the table?”
“Don’t remember that? Then what about ’is your red-head friend with you?’”
“I do have a red-head l-friend, but she’s not with me right now. But how do you know I have a red-head friend? I didn’t meet her until a year after the accident.”
“Well, that’s another memory difference. My Vert had been friends with a red-head since she entered school, but that’s not why I ask you those question.”
“Why then?” Vert asks, demanding for explanation.
“Me and Ver, used to ask those questions before we open the door for the other.”
“That’s… a unique way of greeting,” Vert says, but it’s evident that she doesn’t understand yet.
“It’s not a greeting. It’s our safety password. For example for the first question, if you’re alone, you answer ‘there’s no cake on the table.’ If you’re bringing a friend, you’ll answer ’you mean the strawberry cake?’ And if you’re with a bad guy, you’ll answer ‘I did.’ That way we know if it’s safe to open the door. Of course we change the question and answer every now and then, but this is the first one we used.”
“I see. But why go through all that trouble?”
“Because there was one time where I opened the door for Ver, who turned out to be forced to ask me unlocking the door for a robber. We don’t want a repeat on that accident, so we set secret questions and answers. That didn’t happen on you, right?”
“It didn’t.” Vert sighs. “So we really are not each other’s brother and sister then.”
“It’s—“ I pause to find the right word “—too bad.”
“It is,” Vert solemnly agrees.
No further words exchanged between us. Of course the dead won’t come back that easily. I wonder if Vert regrets asking me those questions, because I do.
“What now?” I ask after gathering myself.
“We escape from here,” Vert answers. “But after that, I don’t know. I didn’t exactly plan for the alternative.”
The alternative which is I’m not her brother. Understandable.
“Do I look like him that much?”
“Too much. Like a grown up version of him and more. So rest assured, I won’t just leave you here if that’s what you fear,” Vert says jokingly. “Besides, I can’t exactly return you to where I found you either.”
“And where is that?“
A knock on the door stops Vert from answering. Who could that be?
“My lady, it’s me.”
Oh, it’s Rosalys.
“Quick, hide!” Vert hisses, pulling me up from the bed I’m sitting on.
“Eh? Why? It’s only Rosalys,” I ask, keeping my voice low just in case.
“Me and Rosalys have a code, just like you and your sister!”
And what Rosalys said just now indicated to Vert that she wasn’t alone. Great.
Vert shoves me through a door—probably a closet, judging by the woody smell—and orders me to stay quiet before answering the door. I can hear her talking with Rosalys, but it’s not clear. Not knowing what’s going on makes me tense, even more than when we were hiding from the pursuers above us.
Two sets of footsteps approach. I freeze when they stop in front of the closet.
“There it is!”
I squeeze my eyes shut in reflex, fully expecting the door to be opened. But it doesn’t happen. The two footsteps retreat and the room’s door is closed. I don’t dare to breathe in relief until Vert tells me it’s alright.
“One of the patrols left their baton here,” Vert explains. “That spooked me. I thought they’re here for another inspection.”
“Me too. Hahahaha.”
“What’s so funny?”
“I almost got a heart attack because somebody forgot their baton.”
That earns a snort from Vert. “Yeah. That lucky guy didn’t know how close he was from getting injured. I almost attacked him when he got so close to the closet. You did a good job keeping silent.”
“Yeah, we’d be screwed if that was a real inspection. We should leave as soon as we can.”
“Not immediately though, it’ll only raise suspicion. Speaking of which, I should tell you the escape plan I prepared.”