‘Be-Belinda has been watching me.’
Thoma’s warning rang eerily in Leo’s ear as he went pale.
“If she sees you, you’ll be watched for the rest of the day, and if you make one mistake, that’s it.”
It was over, everything was over.
Leo stumbled back to Belinda’s room, clutching the messy quilt in his arms.
‘Does this mean I’m going back to the orphanage?’
But when he went back there, he wouldn’t even have a name to be called by.
His steps grew heavier.
He thought he’d go somewhere new, and someone would need him, but he’d ruined it.
Leo buried his face in the quilt in his arms, swallowed his sobs, and knocked on Belinda’s door.
He knocked again and again, but the room was silent. Leo cautiously opened the door and stepped inside.
The lightless room was bathed in red by the sunset streaming through the window.
“Miss Belinda, I’ve brought your quilt.”
Leo looked around cautiously and spotted Belinda asleep on the bed.
Hesitantly, he approached the huge bed with a thieving step, and for a moment he was speechless.
His master, he realized, was noble and beautiful beyond belief.
It was then that he gazed at Belinda in a daze. Richly shadowed lashes twitched slightly, revealing amethyst purple eyes.
Blink, blink. Their eyes met.
“The servant that Miss Belinda flogged and kicked out eventually died, for daring to look a nobleman in the face, I believe?”
“So don’t even think about making eye contact. If you make a mistake – boom. You’ll be decapitated.”
A hiccup leaked out of Leo’s mouth.
He clamped his mouth shut and tried to hold it in, but his hands were shaking, and the hiccups wouldn’t stop.
Belinda pushed herself up to her feet and looked up at him. Her gaze, fiercer than a northern wind, turned to Leo.
“Yes, yes, yep! Hiccup.”
Belinda’s expression grew fierce as she watched the child hiccup like a broken ragdoll. A creepy smile tugged at the corners of her mouth.
“I guess I’ll have to cut your head off.”
Poof. Leo’s thinking stopped.
Thoma’s words echoed over Belinda’s voice.
“Your head will be cut off.”
“My, my, my, my, hic, hic, head?”
Leo’s complexion went from pale to blue.
Belinda pointed to a chair with her perfectly manicured fingertips.
“Sit in that chair.”
Leo staggered to the chair, unable to run away.
‘Adults don’t like crying children.’
So, Leo pressed his lips together and clenched his fists to keep from crying, but it didn’t work.
His big, tearful eyes turned to Belinda in the reflection of the dressing table mirror.
She was searching for something in the nightstand drawer.
When she finally turned around, she held a pair of blue-bladed scissors in her hand.
“I’ll use these to cut off some of your hair.”
The corners of her mouth twitched once more, sharpening into a demonic grin.
And with an iron clang, the blades of the scissors engaged, making a murderous sound.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, Miss Belinda. Huuhh… again, I’ll try again. Please don’t hate me, I beg you. Don’t treat me differently, please, hnngg…”
Leo, who was so startled that even the hiccups had stopped, burst into tears.
* * *
A cool autumn breeze blew in through the open window.
I hurriedly closed the window and pulled the duvet up to Leo’s neck as he slept.
My stomach burned as I watched Leo’s feverish breathing.
It was only this evening that Leo suddenly squirmed when I offered to trim his hair.
“Oh, I guess the recent change in environment has been stressing you out, and you haven’t had much sleep either…….”
Wincing at my murderous expression, the doctor placed a few potions on the table, claiming they would help restore his strength, and scurried away.
As I muttered that, a faintly glowing status window appeared in the dark room without a single light.
As a temporary guardian, there was very little information available to me compared to Ophelia, but it was enough to keep an eye on Leo’s health.
I stared at it, then buried my face in my hands.
‘This is the worst. I can’t believe I didn’t notice until he was in this state.’
I felt like it was all my fault.
No, it is my fault. I must be the reason Leo is so stressed. I should have been more careful with my behavior.
I’ll look for ways to improve my synchronization. I’ll find something else for Leo to do so he won’t bump into me.
I bit my lip and mulled over my regrets.
Leo, who couldn’t come to his senses, whispered something.
I hurriedly sat down with my knees on the floor and leaned over to him.
“Leo, are you awake?”
After asking that, I touched my lips with a strange sense of disconnect.
‘Didn’t I have just said something sane?’
I quickly checked my synchronization numbers, but they were still the same.
“Then why the hell…….”
The reason was quickly revealed.
“Ugh, mistake, please. Master.”
Leo wasn’t awake, he was talking in his sleep. Since he couldn’t hear me, I was free to speak.
‘You might be surprised to see me, but even so…….’
I was about to reach out to wake Leo.
The tiny words that escaped his parted lips echoed through the quiet room.
I jerked back to reality as if I’d been hit with cold water.
At that moment, I realized something so obvious that I had failed to notice. The fact that Leo needs a family and a protector.
Playing the game, Leo didn’t need his mom.
He already had Ophelia by his side when the game started.
But right now, in front of me, Leo was just a nine-year-old kid with me as the only adult he could trust.
‘Stupid. What was I thinking all this time?’
I thought it was my job to stay by his side for half a year to make sure the main story didn’t go wrong and then send him off to Ophelia.
No, I was actually scared.
I was afraid I’d get tangled up and die just like in the game.
Anger flared at my own complacency.
I bit down hard on my lower lip and squeezed Leo’s tiny hand.
His hand was tiny and fragile, like a baby bird’s heart, but at the same time it was so hot and rough that it made my throat close up.
“I’m sorry I’m such a bad grown-up.”
Yes, this is no longer a game.
The child in front of me now was not a potential hero, but just an ordinary nine-year-old who longed for his parents’ arms.
Just a normal kid, looking for his mom in his sleep.
How could I not know how he felt?
I, of all people.
I clasped his hand in mine and whispered a prayer.
“No matter what happens, I will protect you.”
Until you meet your real guardian, who will raise you well.
I was convinced that was my role as Belinda’s possessor.
I wonder how much time has passed.
The dim dawn light outside the window cast a faint glow on Leo’s face, which was now more peaceful.
Finding his sleeping face both endearing and disturbing, I kissed his rounded forehead and whispered.
“Sweet dreams, Leo.”
Then I got up from my seat before he woke up.
My body was heavy from lack of sleep, but my mind was clear.
I stood in silence in front of him.
When I thought about it, there was something strange.
On the first day, Leo had been unfamiliar with the sudden change of scenery, but he hadn’t been frightened enough to avoid my gaze.
I’d been careful with him, even if my language had been crude, and he’d suddenly started to fear me without any trigger.
‘Maybe there’s someone who’s been doing this to me.’
Even if there wasn’t, it didn’t matter.
I might as well take this opportunity to let the people at the manor know how much I care about Leo.
It was the middle of the night, but I pulled ferociously at the string.
I could faintly hear the distant, frantic ringing of a bell.
A moment later, I heard someone walking down the corridor and stopping at the door.
“Hah.., ha, miss, what’s the matter, Miss?!”
Into a dark room without a single light.
The maid, who had entered with a look of barely concealed irritation on her face, swallowed hard at the sight of me sitting in the unlit darkness.
“Get the butler.”
“Ha, but this is the time…….”
Clack. Clack. Clack clack clack.
The sound of my index fingernail tapping savagely on the armrest of the chair echoed creepily.
“Do I have to tell you the same thing twice?”
The maid’s face became contemplative.
Perhaps my glare now was murderous enough to rival that of a salty Belinda.