When I opened my eyes, the first thing that came to view were grey eyes similar to a cloudy, winter sky.
Bern was looking at me, worried, and behind him was a grey, high ceiling.
My back felt stiff and pleasantly cold. I felt the cold, rough texture of stone with the palm of my hand and finally noticed I was laying down on the floor, facing upwards.
Why am I sleeping on the ground like this?
Without taking in the circumstances, I wrinkled my brows and tried groaning but I just can’t seem to understand what had happened. Actually, I can’t even remember what happened. This isn’t good.
In the end, I blinked my eyes for no reason and Bern gently put his hand on my exposed forehead as I groaned.
His heavy hand that rustled about somehow wasn’t cold nor warm. It was as if it had no temperature whatsoever… There’s no way he really didn’t have any temperature, I thought thinking there must be something wrong with my sense of touch.
Hmmm, what happened? Anemia?
Now that I mentioned that, my body also feels heavy and I didn’t sleep the whole night yesterday so it’s very possible.
I thought that my redeeming feature was how sturdy my body was but in this whole journey, I caught a fever and rested on my laurels, which may have slightly worsened my health.
When I awkwardly raised my body from the floor, without delay, Bern’s hand supported me from the back and helped me raise my upper body. I knew it, that hand of his has no temperature but I couldn’t help but think it was more than that.
I can’t help but feel that something was wrong.
“Where does it hurt?”
I light shook my head of weird thoughts and in order to tell him that it doesn’t hurt anywhere, I looked up at Bern and froze.
He was smiling.
It’s different from the smile he always shows me as well as his business-like one. Even though he was completely smiling, gentle that I couldn’t describe it with words, his eyes weren’t smiling.
A cold chill went down my spine and spread throughout my body.
“I see, that’s good.”
He said coldly like he was thinking that I shouldn’t be hurt anywhere at all, got up and brushed the dust and sand from his clothes.
On the other hand, my body had frozen solid in the posture I had gotten up to, like I was frozen in ice, and could only look up at him.
What was with that smile just now?
But the most shocking thing was I felt fear from his smile for just a second.
I slightly shook my head, confused, and– come to think of it, where am I? I looked at my surroundings. I pushed aside the sense of discomfort I got from Bern and wanted to know more about what my situation was.
From the looks of it, it’s similar to the corridor at the monastery but to add to that, the air feels warm. They don’t have any fireplaces inside the rooms, right?
“Ah! Where’s Lila?”
I have yet to remember all the details of when I fainted here earlier but I did remember walking with Lila until the corridor.
Wait, so if Bern’s here, then I’m sure that Lila called him. Then just where did she go?
Without answering my question, Bern bent down and held his hand out.
His lips were drawn in a thin arc and he seems to be in a good mood.
Why is that? Is someone fainting on the floor that funny?
Without erasing my sense of discomfort and uneasiness, it happened when I was considering if I should grab hold of the hand he held out.
I could smell something weird.
An iron-like smell that went bad.
Even if I was told at that moment that I guessed wrong, it wouldn’t seem off but I’ve smelled this somewhere before so I immediately recognized it.
And the air surrounding me wasn’t winter, but a warm one.
I blinked my eyes multiple times and a single answer occurred to me.
This isn’t reality.
The Bern in front of me is–
He didn’t act surprised but was instead grinning. Then he quickly took back the hand he held out and straightened his body.
He looked up while sitting down on the floor, and looked strangely big.
“Should we walk together for a bit?”
The Bernhardt-like person began to walk, the hem of his coat lightly waving, and when I began to follow him 2 to 3 steps behind, the garden from my memories appeared.
Rather than my memories, it was actually the courtyard from our villa in the royal capital.
Of course the monastery shouldn’t have a courtyard. Unless this is a dream.
Clusters of white flowers bloomed on the small trees in front of us and below the flowerbed are pale purple flowers fluttering in the breeze. The former only blooms during spring while the latter only blooms in summer.
This is inside a dream so seasons don’t exist.
At first glance, it looks like all the flowers in the garden were blooming but rather than saying it was beautiful, it looked like a mess instead.
“This is a dream, isn’t it?”
I was also puzzled as to why I would unconditionally believe such an absurd thought but for some reason, no other idea came up except this.
Bernhardt casually answered and smiled.
This person has only been smiling since earlier. If I had to say, it was similar to the numerous expressionless faces Bern makes so for him to grin like this worries me that he had eaten something weird.
But, well, it’s normal for him to always be smiling. At the very least, the Bernhardt I knew was that type of character.
Cleverly covering up his true feelings with a gentle smile, his kindness and good manners.
That was the villain Bernhardt
“Then can I think of you as the game… No, rather, the Bernhardt from the Edwin route …Or does this have something to do with the dream I always see?”
It felt weird talking to the people in my dreams like this but he doesn’t seem to be one of those people. It felt like he was an external force that came rather than an illusion my brain made up.
Of course, even I’m aware that what I said just now was nonsense. But there’s no helping the fact that one or two thoughts like these pop up in this weird of a dream.
Bernhardt tilted his head to the side like an owl, saying, Hmm, you’re right.
“It’s related to your first question but it’s half right and half wrong. A part of it is true but the rest isn’t. I’m from all of your and the rest’s, or rather, your original world but– that’s right, I’m a collection of ideas from all three of you. Of many growths and the source of its possibilities. A being that exists with a condition. Bernhardt’s archetype, so to speak. Would it be easier to understand if I said I’m a model? But in your dream, you were consciously shown the me who lost in the Edwin route so you’re half right.”
What the hell is he saying? I don’t get anything.
Even saying it again just doesn’t make sense!
“Just kidding. I might just be an illusion that your brain made up or something poetic like the future ghost of the Bernhardt you didn’t choose. I mean, didn’t someone say this? Life’s but a walking shadow.”
W-What the hell? Saying something so random and then teasing me.
He looked at me who had probably– or to be more precise, exposed my stupidity nine times out of ten and let out an airy ahaha laugh.
“Was that a little too difficult for you? You’re bad with difficult things.”
“…You seem to know me so well.”
“No way! It’s like you’re telling me you want me to stop speaking in a way that shows that I love you.”
What the hell? He made it seem like I’m being too self-conscious but that just irritates me.
And even if I assume that Bern and the Bernhardt in front of me are two different people, saying those things with the same face as him hurts a whole lot.
“But you’ll understand if you look carefully. You’re simple, soft-hearted and unusually bad at knowing right from wrong. Or rather than that, you hate it. Nevertheless, you don’t hate deciding things on your own and even do inconceivable, daring things… Why is that? Are you stupid?”
Why did you have to say I’m stupid at the end?! You’re just saying whatever you please, huh!
“And it’s related to your second question, but–“
He moved on with no hesitation and feeling like I was the only one losing my cool like an idiot pissed me off even more. I was annoyed but he answered my second question– the one where he had something to do with the dream I’ve been seeing so I held back my complaints in the meantime.
“It’s going to sound complicated again but put simply, the nightmare you’ve been seeing is something I’ve been showing you.”
He can do that?
Actually, wait, so that was a nightmare.
As if he could hear what I was saying in my head, he smiled brightly and said,
“You’ve been reborn again into a game world so my mysterious existence and the mysterious dreams I’ve been showing you– nothing is mysterious about them.”
“But wait, mysterious things are still mysterious, right?”
“That’s what I really love about you.”
I don’t really get it but I thanked him. Even though about eighty percent of that was sarcasm.
“Which means that although I don’t know what you meant by idea or archetype, you– Bernhardt’s model? Ghost? have been diligently showing me these nightmares.”
Instead of agreeing, Bernhardt inclined his head to the side.
Ughh. He looks exactly like Bern so for a moment, my heart fluttered. I’ve failed.
“Uhm, why is that…?”
Without immediately answering, Bernhardt walked over to a place a little far-off that had heathers.
Then he picked one of those long, narrow, cylindrical flowers and spun it around with his fingertip.
Did we ever have that type of flower in our garden?
“I wanted to put a little crack in your happiness.”
The sweet smell of flowers blooming unmindful of the season and the grass mingled, and I could smell that rotten, iron-like odor again. It was the smell of that cold, underground prison.
“It was mere harassment. That’s right– childish, good-for-nothing harassment.”
A lonesome shadow flitted through his face as he criticized himself like that. But it was for a moment so it may have been a mistake in my vision.
“If you knew of Bernhardt’s miserable, unsightly death, you’d definitely grieve. You’d definitely be hurt. You’ll sometimes remember him and knowing it couldn’t be helped, you’d feel a helpless pain. I mean, the pain from a hangnail on your picky might hurt just a bit but wouldn’t it always be irritating and painful?”
I hate having to direct hostility and ill will towards anyone. I’m sure it’s the same for anyone so in reality, I would be daunted by other people’s ill will and hostility over and over and sometimes get hurt.
But what’s mysterious is that I was calm that even I surprised myself.
Regardless of him saying outright that he wanted to hurt me, no bit of sadness nor shock gushed forth.
If I had to say which, it’s that I feel sorry for him to say such hateful words.
Round and round, round and round.
He continued twirling the white heather in his brawny hand.
“Because you changed him. Because of that, we may look similar but we’ve become two completely different people. Even though I didn’t want to change. No matter what kind of end I faced, I just wanted to be myself… much less become something I can’t recognize.”
Exactly the moment he stopped twirling the flower in his hands did he look at me.
With his grey, slightly droopy eyes.
That was the thing I loved most about his appearance.
But this is different.
He looked down at me, his eyes cool and hateful, and once again, I was assailed with fear.
If I’ve done something to hurt him till now, I don’t know what he would do to me here. Rather, I don’t even know what he’s thinking. It was impossible of me to know. He instilled a fear like the person in front of me was a completely different being.
Bern doesn’t listen to what I say much but he still properly respects my intentions. He’d smile, troubled at how there’s no helping at how stupid I was, and whenever I got myself into some serious trouble, he would always save me. It was at this moment that I became aware of Bern’s gentleness.
Furthermore, furthermore. He raised his voice, and continued.
“You’ll still live even when he’s gone. But if you’re gone, he wouldn’t be able to live. You’re the only one for him but for you, he’s not. Isn’t that kind of unfair?”
By him, does he mean Bern? If so, then,
—true, I was about to say but Bernhardt opened his mouth faster than I could say that and cut me off.
“Why did you fall for him?”
He changed his question one after the other.
Instead, it felt like he didn’t need me to answer right from the start and hadn’t even planned on seriously conversing with me. Without confirming that I understood him, it looked like he just wanted to say whatever he pleased. Like he was talking to a kid that was hard to deal with.
“He needs you. Am I wrong?”
I thought, Where did you get that from? and was about to say that but I couldn’t say anything.
It was because for a second– and it was truly for a second, I thought that he might be right.
“You know that your existence is important to him. He knew that he wanted from you things that he lacked himself. Which is why he continued to stay by your side. Because you seemed like someone who would gently love him enough that it’s nauseating. You think that he– that I’m pitiful, don’t you?”
Bernhardt showered me with questions because he didn’t need my answer.
Immediately after, he sank into silence as a suffocating, tense atmosphere enveloped us, and then he tightly grasped the heather he’d been holding in his hand. Even though it looked like he was grasping them, he put strength into it to completely crush it.
Without understanding his actions nor the breadth of his emotions, I vehemently seized what his intention was, not knowing if it was out of surprise or fear, and then could only put my hand on top of my heart and sit still.
That’s not true, or what is he saying? or there’s a lot I want to say. But it felt like something was stuck in my throat, blocking it, and for some reason, couldn’t get past my tongue.
I didn’t know how much time had passed.
It might have been short, actually just a few seconds, but it felt longer than a few minutes. It seems that time is useless inside a dream.
“I didn’t want to be saved by you.”
He muttered irrelevantly and opened his fist.
Even though it should have been crushed with how much strength he put into it, none of it was. The beautiful, well-preserved heather silently fell to the ground.
The flower that fell to the ground, his figure as he stared at his empty hand– they seemed so extremely sad.
“That’s why you should also be free.”
There should have been several steps between us.
But the second it took for one blink, he appeared in front of me and with a completely light touch, pushed my shoulder.
My body lost its strength like a thread had been cut and just like that, I fell backwards.
What was his intention in telling whatever he is he wanted to say and also telling me to be free?
I rashly threw my arms out, and as expected, it only cut through air.
My body stiffened, the only thing I could think of was I would surely hit the ground, and I hit something from behind, making a heavy noise.
It wasn’t hard like the ground but by no means was it soft either. Actually, my breathe stopped for a moment because I landed on my back. When I kicked and struggled about, something white from my surroundings collapsed and fell on top of me so I hastily shook it off. I felt the top of my clothes feel colder and colder– it’s snow?
In the beginning, I was at the monastery, then the estate’s courtyard and now snow?
My whole body was covered in snow as I struggled to get up.
I could feel the coldness of the snow but I wasn’t cold at all. Am I still in a dream? This doesn’t feel like the same as lucid dreaming. That Bernhardt said that he can make mysterious things happen in the world as much as he wanted.
I brushed the snow on my hair with my hand, thinking, Let’s see, what should I do? while I surveyed my surroundings.
In the back were trees covered in snow but aside from there, there was nothing else I could see except an endless snow field.
An ominous sound howled and a cold, freezing gust blew from behind the still trees. The rustling of my hair and the hem of my clothes were slightly in the way.
Just where should I go from here?
When I let out a deep sigh, my breathe turned into a white haze and suddenly disappeared in the time it was blown by the wind. When I looked at its direction for no particular reason, I saw many far away figures ahead of me.
Just then, I heard a voice call out to me, He~y and strained my eyes, wanting to see even clearer.
Especially the two figures that were exaggeratedly waving their hands. They were…
“Mom… and Dad…?”
It wasn’t just the two of them.
Grandpa and Grandma. The friends I promised to go on a graduation trip with as well as friends that I’ve long gotten estranged from that I once promised to meet someday with. My juniors that I got along with as well were there.
The people I shouldn’t have been able to meet again were there.
Everyone was waving at me.
My feet trembled from this unexpected second chance at meeting them and my eyes felt warm.
I missed them and was happy at meeting them again, and I unconsciously dashed off to their side.
That’s right, I dashed.
And yet, I noticed that before long, the wind blowing from behind me had stopped.
It was just the wind that stopped. But even so, that realization greatly bothered me and my feet moved forward, unable to ignore it.
When I turned to look back, I could see small, red spots that hadn’t been there earlier on top of brand new snow continue at regular intervals into the forest.
Everyone’s voice that had been urging me to quickly come over to them slowly got smaller and smaller.
Suddenly, I realized, Oh right, this is really an actual goodbye.
The moment I said those words, tears freely spilled out in drops. A part of my throat below the base of my tongue hurt, like something swelled inside it.
But even so, I had to say it.
Rather than peacefully comprising, I had to say farewell to them this time. When I thought that, I felt my heart breaking, like it was being torn apart.
But I can’t go over to their side. I can’t.
I swallowed my tears and I shouted as loud as I can while swinging my arms in a wave.
Peaceful things are sometimes monotonous and yet, painful things are still painful.
And whenever this comes to mind, I remember that I have much more ordinary, happy memories with them enough to make me cry.
I’ve never forgotten this even till now. And also from here on out.
But it seems I’ve somewhat forgotten the minor details. That’s cause I’m just human.
But I definitely won’t forget them. Even if my heart hurts from remembering, this pain will meld with everything else and I’ll keep on living.
That’s why it’s goodbye, once and for all.
I almost couldn’t hear their voices calling out to me.
I burned the image of the people dear to me disappearing from behind white snow wave their hands and when I turned back, I leapt into the winter trees.
I weaved through the black trees that seemed like ink drawn onto pure white paper and ran, following the red spots.
Something similar to white, cold snow drifted about me like fine snow whirling about in the air and worsened my vision.
No matter how many steps I took going into the desolate, winter forest as if everything had died, the more snow fell as I ran, ran, ran like I was about to fall.
Suddenly, I could see a part of the haze in front of me turn dark.
The dark part gradually turned into a black shadow and then into a figure of a small person.
My heart was loud like it echoed beside my eardrums. For some reason, I ran out of too much breath and felt like I was going to be sick.
The figure’s small body looked to be in pain and yet, he continued to move through the snow.
His shoulders greatly shook when I called out to him, like he was surprised, and turned around.
Bernhardt, who was way younger than the first time we had met, looked extremely tattered with his nosebleed and cuts. Both his hands had been plunged into red paint and dripping from those fingertips were the red spots made on top of the snow that led me here.
I shamefully wheezed as I came closer to the surprised Bern, wading through snow.
“It’s true that I do pity you, Bern. If what awaits you in the future is ruin, I thought that I had to change you… But beyond this, it was fun being with you. I thought it would be nice if I could be together with you forever…”
I took in another deep breath, forcibly took out my feet that had been completely submerged in snow halfway and came closer to the boy a step– and another.
“Also, you’re someone who easily succumbs to loneliness. You’ll say that’s not true but it’s because of this that I… No, actually, that doesn’t matter at all.”
It felt somewhat difficult to talk and I didn’t need to give a reason anyways.
When doing things, simple is best.
Wasn’t this what I always ended up with in the end?
When I did so, what definitely came to mind was that one distant day in our childhood.
Ever since that day we went to our first Thanksgiving, when I held your blood stained hands from protecting me, I’ve always, always–
“I love Bern– you.”
To the question: Why did you fall for him? I could only give a terribly ridiculous answer: I just do.
I’ll say this as many times as I can. But I love what I love. Do I need any other reason besides this?
He stood still, mouth wide open.
Despite the stupid look on his face, a beautiful boy is still beautiful. Wow.
“Thank you. For telling me about Bernhardt.”
He breathed in multiple times, gasping, and he curled his body, face warped in pain, and slithered down to sit on the ground.
It was also painful for me to stand from running and sat together with him.
“I really love you.”
For no particular reason, I murmured this because it was the only thing I wanted to say. It felt like if I didn’t put to words the feelings of love that welled in me, I would cry.
I held out my arms towards the nervous and tattered boy and after confirming that he wasn’t going to deny me this, I softly hugged him.
As I expected, he didn’t feel cold nor warm. On the contrary, his body was small, bony like a child who was still growing, and felt like he was going to be blown away.
I put a tiny bit of strength into my hug, thinking that it would be nice if I could at least give him some of my warmth, even just a little bit. When I did so, I could hear a childish sob spill from within my arms and felt the tears that I once held back come out.
Frantically calming his crying voice, Bern said in pauses,
“Like I said… you’re an idiot.”
Something fell around us, making a very small sound. The object, white like snow, got even bigger and turned into something long and narrow. A heather.
Before we knew it, the coldness of the snow disappeared and our surroundings were covered entirely in heathers.
Their white petals shone brightly, looking extremely radiant which made us cry even more like fools.
And with this long chain of dreams, I woke up.