Alice had previously believed that she no longer held too deep of an affection for Linley, but when she saw him once again face to face, especially when she saw the disbelieving look on his face, she felt pain in her heart.
“Big brother Linley.” Alice called out to him.
Linley’s snow-white face held not a speck of blood. He stood there, stunned, for a long time.
“Swish!” Letting out an enraged scream, the little Shadowmouse, Bebe, transformed into a vicious black blur and charged directly towards Alice and Kalan. Although Bebe was now highly intelligent, he was still a magical beast, and still possessed the vicious cruelty of beasts.
He could keenly sense the disbelief and despair in Linley’s heart. He was going to get revenge.
Bebe’s body suddenly enlarged by one size, and in the blink of an eye, appeared by Kalan and Alice. Bebe’s sharp claws gleamed with cold light, freezing the hearts of those two. They didn’t even have the chance to dodge or to speak!
“Return!” Linley’s voice suddenly rang out.
The dark blur that was Bebe shuddered, then landed on the snow, brushing right by Kalan’s face. Bebe turned his head to stare at Linley. “Squeak squeak!” He called out, while at the same time he began to argue mentally with Linley.
Linley slowly, but firmly, shook his head.
Bebe glanced at Alice and Kalan with his cold, cruel eyes, then turned. Once more mysteriously shrinking back to his usual size, he transformed into a cruel shadow once more and leapt onto Linley’s shoulders. Just judging from his superficial cuteness, no one could’ve imagined how terrifying he actually could be.
“Huff, huff.” Only now did Kalan began to gasp for breath. Sweat was beaded on his forehead, and with terror, he stared at Bebe, perched on Linley’s shoulders.
Alice stared at Linley. She took a deep breath. “Big brother Linley, I know that right now, in your heart, you must be in a lot of pain. It’s not convenient for us to talk about this on the street. Let’s go to a nearby tavern and have a good talk there. Okay?”
Linley nodded. He did not speak.
On the Dry Road, within a lavish hotel. Linley and Alice each sat on opposite sides of a table. As for Kalan, he quite intelligently ran off to sit in a corner of the room, not daring to get close enough to disturb them. He had just barely escaped with his life from Bebe’s near-assault. Kalan really was terrified of Linley.
The table was made of polished black marble. On it were two cups of warm fruit wine.
Linley and Alice were facing each other silently.
After a long silence, Alice let out a tiny sigh. “Big brother Linley. I’ve wronged you terribly in this affair. This entire time, I’ve refused to meet with you because I wanted you to be mentally prepared. At the very least, I didn’t want the two of us to part ways as enemies.”
“Enemies?” In his heart, Linley laughed bitterly, but he didn’t speak. He just quietly listened, looking at Alice.
Alice continued. “Big brother Linley. I admit that in the beginning, I really, really liked you. I had also thought about us getting married and having kids. But after we were together for a long time, I realized that in many ways, we really weren’t a good fit.”
Linley finally spoke. “In many ways? Alice, I don’t just like your strengths, I also accept your weaknesses. I believe that when two people are together, they should make allowances for each other and try to understand each other. No two people will be a perfect, flawless couple without a hint of discord.”
Alice bit her lips. With her two hands, she picked up her cup of fruit wine and took a sip.
“Back when we were younger, when we first met, I was fifteen.” Alice spoke only after a long period of collecting her thoughts. “In my heart, you were the hero who saved me, descending from the heavens. I once thought you were my earth, my sky, my whole world, but I now realize that isn’t the case. Aside from these things, family is important as well.”
Linley was startled.
“Big brother Linley, you’ve always been so filled with vitality, and you are also very good to me. You are very hard working as well. I must admit that you are very perfect. But…this isn’t enough. For example, this time, when my father went gambling, he lost several hundred thousand gold coins! But all big brother Kalan had to do was ask his family to help, and this matter was easily resolved.”
Alice looked at Linley. “Big brother Linley, this is something you aren’t capable of doing. Although my father is a gambler and an alcoholic, he’s still my father.”
“Just because of this?” Linley said gently.
“No.” Alice continued. “Not just this. I’ve discovered that big brother Kalan has always been very good to me as well. He grew up alongside me, and I’m very familiar with him. But with regards to you, I’ve always felt as though you’ve been shrouded by a layer of mist. I can’t see you clearly.”
“You are a genius magus at the number one magus institute in the continent, and at age 15, you were able to have your own private exhibition booth at the Proulx Gallery. By the sound of it, you are very perfect, but because of that perfection, I feel like I can’t see you clearly.”
Alice’s voice grew lower. “The most important thing is, the two of us are always in separate places. At the beginning, it wasn’t so bad, but as time went on, I got tired. I’m used to always having someone by my side, just like how big brother Kalan is always by my side.”
After saying all of these things, Alice fell silent.
Linley was silent as well.
After a long time passed, enough for the wine to grow cold, Linley spoke. “Alice, do you remember what we once said to each other? I once said to you, I can directly come live with you. But you told me, no. You don’t want to interrupt my training.”
“But now, you say that I’m never with you?” A very pained smile was on Linley’s face.
Alice wanted to speak, but there was nothing she could say.
Everything she had just said was just excuses.
Looking at Alice, Linley continued. “Alice, do you remember that first time we were together in a hotel, you said to me, you hoped that if my love for you disappeared, I would tell you and wouldn’t hide it from you. You would quietly leave me.”
Linley suppressed his agitation, forcing himself to remain calm. “Back then, I also said, if you ever feel like you’ve lost your feelings for me, I too would hope that you would tell me directly and not lie to me. I, too, would quietly leave.”
Alice’s eyes grew moist.
“It isn’t a big deal that you are now with Kalan. But I wish you didn’t deceive me. For you to now be with Kalan behind my back and not openly explain things to me, to let me continue to harbor hope in my heart, to let me wait for you time and time again….do you know how it feels to wait for someone like that?”
Linley’s body began to tremble. “September 29th, that was the first day you missed our meeting. I waited from midnight until nearly dawn. Every minute, every second, was hard to endure. When I returned to school, I was thinking, was it because I made you angry the previous time? So I wanted to make you happy. Like an idiot, I went to buy memory crystals to record the scenes of all the places around the Institute. I hoped that when we were not together, when you missed me, you could watch me.”
“Carrying these two memory crystal balls, in mid-October, I once again went to you, my heart filled with hope. But once again, you weren’t there.”
“In my heart, I started to grow restless. But I held firm. Because I remember that promise that we made each other. I believed that if you were going to leave me, you would let me know first. That’s why I held firm. The end of October, mid-November, I went as well. But in the end…”
Linley stood up, regarding Alice with a bitter smile on his lips. “I came again today. But I’m lucky. This time, you didn’t continue to deceive me.”
The tears were welling up in Alice’s eyes.
“Big brother Linley-”
Linley opened up his backpack and removed those two memory crystal balls. As he did so, Linley couldn’t help but think back to how he had gone everywhere in his school to record scenes. Thinking back to it, he felt himself to be such a fool.
“These two memory crystals, I’ve carried from the Ernst Institute to Fenlai City four times now. But now…they are meaningless.”
Linley was holding a memory crystal ball in each hand. Those two crystal balls suddenly collided….
Countless cracks appeared on the surface of each crystal ball. Linley’s hands went limp, and the two crystal balls dropped to the floor. “Crash!” With a splintering sound, they each split into over ten pieces, rolling about on the floor of the hotel. The splintering sound was very clear and high, and caused all the patrons of the hotel to turn and look at them.
Alice could no longer restrain her tears, which began to pour down her face.
“Big brother Linley, in the future, will we still be friends?” Tears blurring her vision, Alice raised her head to look at Linley.
On his feet, Linley looked at Alice, but he didn’t answer her question. After a while, a faint smile appeared on his face. “Alice, if I’m not mistaken, we started our relationship on November 29th of last year. Today is also November 29th. It’s been a full year. Thank you. At least you’ve given me some beautiful memories.”
Suddenly turning, Linley directly left via the front door of the hotel.
The entire hotel was silent. Kalan, previously in a corner, hurriedly ran over to Alice. As he did so, he ran over and stepped on some pieces of the shattered crystal balls. The crystalline sounds of the memory crystals being further shattered echoed in the hotel.
“Alice, are you okay?” Kalan embraced Alice comfortingly.
But by this time, Alice had been reduced to a puddle of tears. Despite being in Kalan’s arms, she still turned her head to watch as Linley departed. At this moment, in her mind, she began replaying every moment she had spent with Linley, but Alice knew….
From this moment onwards, Linley would never treat her like that again. Perhaps he would never see her again.
The Fragrant Pavilion Road was covered with white snow, and some snowflakes still fluttered about in the air.
Walking on the Fragrant Pavilion Road, Linley’s shadow seemed very desolate. Raising his head to look at the sky, Linley allowed the snow to cover his face with a layer of coldness. Right now, Linley’s heart was trembling. He couldn’t help but fiercely clutch at his chest.
His heart hurt. Deeply.
The pain penetrated his heart!
Within Linley’s mind, one moving scene after another floated through his consciousness.
That set of violet clothes. That beautiful, spirit-like appearance under the moon.
Hiding in the corner of the balcony, warmly talking to him in soft tones.
While the snow flew about, she had hidden her face bashfully in his chest.
At the hotel, she had lain coquettishly in his embrace.
Linley had once believed that he would forever be together with Alice. But today, his dream was shattered. And with it, Linley’s resilient, tough heart shattered as well.
Standing in the middle of the Fragrant Pavilion Road, Linley couldn’t refrain from letting out a pain-filled howl. That howl was like the howl of a wolf separated from his pack, a howl of desolation, of despair. All the people nearby looked at him in shock, and all of them slowly backed far away from him.
These people all looked at him as though he were an idiot.
Two rivers of tears flowed down silently from Linley’s face.
Idiot. He really was an idiot.
An idiot who believed in promises!
“Smash!” Linley suddenly, painfully, knelt to one knee, clutching his chest hard.
His heart hurt. Hurt so bad, it was as though it had been stabbed with needles.
Hurt so much, even his hand started to hurt. Hurt so much his ten fingers had lost all feeling. Linley could only tightly clutch at his chest with his hands. It seemed as though this was the only way he could lessen the pain.
Tears flowing down his face, Linley suddenly stood up and started laughing wildly. Laughing at his own stupidity. Laughing at his naiveness.
At this moment…
That savage pain in his heart caused Linley to begin coughing, so hard that he felt like his chest was being stabbed by knives. But Linley continued to cough, so hard that he curled up in the street like a caterpillar.
With a particularly vicious cough, a mouthful of bright, fresh blood was splattered onto the snow.
Staring at the fresh blood on the snow, Linley suddenly felt that this blood was like a rose, a blood-colored rose. In Linley’s mind, he couldn’t help but think back to an image from a year ago, an image of Alice holding a red rose.
“The moon’s reflection in the water, the flower in the mirror, the man in a dream. In the end, all of it is illusionary, is reduced to nothingness. Haha…” Linley began laughing wildly on the Fragrant Pavilion Road, as though no one else was there. But his laughter was so desolate…
Doehring Cowart, dressed as ever in his snow-white robes, stood quietly by Linley’s side. He didn’t speak, only looked sadly at Linley. In his heart, he sighed, “Oh, Linley…in the end, you’re still just a kid.”
This year, Linley was only sixteen years old.
Suddenly, a frantic shout could be heard. Yale, Reynolds, and George all ran over from not too far away. It wasn’t too far from this place to the Fragrant Pavilion Road, and so the three of them had also noticed Linley standing in the middle of the road. Upon seeing Linley spit out a mouthful of blood, all of their faces changed.
“Third Bro, are you okay?”
George, Yale, and Reynolds all hurriedly propped Linley up.
Linley looked at his three bros. He minutely shook his head. “I’m fine. Don’t be worried about me.” Linley looked up at the sky. “In the past, I liked the snow. But now, I feel as though the snow is very desolate, very cold.”
“You guys can stay here. I’m going back.” After speaking these words, Linley headed directly towards the end of the Fragrant Pavilion Road.
Yale, Reynolds, and George all looked at each other, their eyes filled with concern and worry. And then, all three of them chased after Linley…
That day, the snow continued to fall. Gradually, that rose-shaped stain of blood was covered up by the snow, with no traces of it left behind.