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The Red Queen's Swan Song

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It's so cold tonight.

For some inexplicable reason, Lacie had a strong feeling that it would start snowing within the next few days. It wasn't like she was particularly fond of the ephemeral and delicate substance, though. In fact, the sight of the world being buried in pure whiteness and complete silence was rather disconcerting to her.

It was like a mirror image of the nightmare she always had of herself being devoured gradually by the pitch-black darkness at the depth of the Abyss. The icy solitude, the soundless cries, the all-encompassing void of nothingness... She had always woke up from that horrible nightmare in cold sweat and violent trembles, as though she had been doused with ice water. For someone who was considered as fearless by all who had met her, Lacie was utterly terrified of the nightmare. And now, to know that tomorrow will be the day her nightmare becomes a reality...

With her head leaning against the edge of the window, Lacie smiled sardonically as she looked out of the only window of her room at the Tower, at the clear starless skies. For some reasons, she felt slightly wistful at the thought of not being able to see this familiar outdoor view that she had been gazing for the past two decades of her imprisonment within the Tower.

Soon, I will be gone from this world ... forever.

It would be meaningless to cry and be bitter about her impending fate now, even though she hadn't remembered herself as being so accepting of it when she was a little girl. When Levi had informed her of her fate, she had been truthfully bitter about it and had even cried herself to sleep whenever she pondered about it by herself in the Tower. It wasn't until she was a teenager did she realized the futility of those actions and had eventually learnt to accept her destiny as it is.

Well… that was only a part of the truth.

To be precise, her eventual acceptance was mostly due to her greatest weakness.

No, it wasn't insects.

Although the fear of insects was indeed a well-known weakness of hers, it was not considered as the ultimate one. Instead, Lacie's greatest weakness was in the form of the person who was the closest to her since her birth; her older brother, Oswald.

Even though she was born with the fabled red eyes of misfortune, he had never abandon her. He had sacrificed a lot of things in being together with her and yet, he had never expressed the slightest bit of resentment towards her because of it. He had chosen to protect her from the cruel world, even though he was as much of a child as she was at that time, being merely two years older. Without a doubt, Oswald was her devoted protector and her pillar of strength.

Even after they were taken in by the Baskervilles and their destined roles in the clan were revealed to them, Oswald had never ceased to look out for her and had expended any available opportunities to keep her company. Even though they both knew that this continuing attachment between them would only make their eventual separation more difficult and heartbreaking, Oswald had insisted on spending as much time as he could with Lacie and she couldn't agree more with her brother on that matter. After all, it was awfully dreary to be confined within the Tower and there was only so much she could do with her limited freedom.

Nonetheless, as the years passed and Oswald gradually underwent each of his Succession Ceremony as the future Glen, it became ever so evident that Lacie was running out of time as her day of judgement drew closer.

It didn't matter that the siblings were inseparable and had been dependent on each other since young.

It didn't matter that Oswald was in need of her presence in his life as much as Lacie was in need of his.

It didn't matter that the siblings hadn't done anything that deserved this cruel verdict, which had been passed upon them before their birth.

The fact remained that Lacie must be obliterated and it must be through no one but Oswald's hand.

The sole reason for such a cruel sentence was because Lacie was born with the red eyes of a Child of Misfortune, which made her very existence a threat to the Abyss.

How utterly ridiculous and dreadful… thought Lacie as she narrowed her eyes in contempt.

Since she had started to feel uncomfortable from sitting by the windowsill for some time, she stood up and intuitively straightened the creases on the skirt of her violet dress before she sauntered towards the vanity mirror beside her bed. Having sat down in front of the mirror, she stared blankly at her own reflection, particularly at her gleaming red eyes. The supposed symbol of her cursed existence.

It might be hard to believe, but she was personally fond of the unique color of her eyes for it made her special. Even though she had endured a lot of hardship because of it, she would rather be one of a kind in the whole wide world than to be a part of the monotonous flock. It was a pity that not many people could appreciate uniqueness as she did and had chosen to destroy instead of trying to accept that which was different.

"It didn't have to end this way."

Silently, Lacie's eyes had shifted towards the child version of herself, who was standing next to her within the reflection of the mirror. Her younger self was wearing the same white summer dress that she had worn eight years ago when she ran away from the Baskerville estate and met Jack for the first time in town. Currently, the young girl within the reflection was frowning disapprovingly at Lacie with her hands hidden behind her back.

"Why didn't you run away with Oswald?"

Since Lacie knew that the young girl was merely a figment of her consciousness, she didn't respond to her younger self's question. Instead, she mused on it within her mind.

Truth be told, the thought of running away from here together with her brother had crossed Lacie's mind more than once and she didn't doubt that Oswald had held the same thought as her at some points of his life as well. This was to be expected, considering how close the siblings were to each other.

In fact, they did run away once.

It was when they were still children and Levi had recently told them of their destinies. As one would expect, they were easily caught by the Baskervilles since Levi had already anticipated their intention and the siblings had the ill luck of encountering a stray Chain, which had entered the world through a random pathway from the Abyss, during their escape. Having sustained some severe injuries as a result of protecting Lacie from the Chain, Oswald might have died at that time, if not for the timely arrival of the Baskervilles that were pursuing after them. Even with the quick recovery rate of a Baskerville, Oswald was bedridden for one whole week before he was allowed to carry out his usual duties as Levi's valet.

The fact that her older brother had nearly died protecting her had made Lacie, who was five-year old at that time, realized certain things. One of those insights was that Oswald was not invincible as she had innocently believed, while the other realizations were mostly centered on the "what ifs" of them successfully escaping from the Baskervilles.

If they did succeed on running away, they will undeniably return to their previous lifestyle of constantly wandering from one place to another and worrying if they will have food or shelter for the day. How long will they, who were no more than orphaned children, be able to survive in that manner? Moreover, how many times Oswald's life would be endangered as a result of protecting Lacie from the people who discriminate against her due to her red eyes? Having experienced that nomadic lifestyle for three months, Lacie doubted that she and Oswald will be able to survive for a year on their own at the outside world, let alone reaching adulthood.

At least, by staying with Levi and the Baskervilles, they will not need to worry about starvation, they will have a roof over their heads and their safety was assured. Even if Lacie will eventually be thrown into the Abyss, it was something that would only take place twenty years later. Within that length of time, they could just find for other opportunities to escape. Moreover, they would have been older, stronger and more competent of surviving at the outside world by then.

It was because of Oswald that the five-year old Lacie had reached this conclusion at that time, which was to stay until they were strong enough to leave.

Little did she knew, her intention to leave will dissipate little by little as the years passed.

With all the things that Levi had showed and taught her throughout the years, along with the different people that she got to meet as a Baskerville, her once bitter outlook towards the world had gradually changed. She had seen the good, the bad and the absurd sides of humanity and had learnt to appreciate them as they are. Even though traces of her cynical nature still remained until now, she had grown to love the world that she once loathed as much as she loves the golden paradise of the Abyss that she was mesmerized with at first sight. As a result, she became less intent on running away from her fate and letting the world fall to ruin as she formerly would.

Lacie didn't want either this world or the Abyss to be ruined in any way. She especially didn't wish for any harm to befall upon the people she cared for the most in her life, the people who will continue to live on in this world once she was gone. If by any chance, her existence might truly lead to the destruction of the world, then she …

"What about Oswald?"

The expression on her younger self's face was unreadable due to her eyes being shielded by her bangs when she lowered her head, but Lacie had noticed from the reflection that the girl's fisted hands were shaking at her side.

"Do you know how much this will kill him?"

Of course, Lacie was aware of that. Oswald was like an open book to her. She understood him completely. Having to cast her down to the Abyss with his own hands, Lacie was certain that her gentle brother would be devastated with guilt. He will never forgive himself for failing to protect her and for being the one to end her existence. However, it was inevitable at this point of time.

"Once you're gone, I ... will be lonely without you."

Her older brother had spoken those words to her four days ago, when they were walking up the stairs of the Tower after she had bidden Jack farewell and had lied to the Vessalius noble about the day of Oswald's Final Succession Ceremony.

Her lonely brother with a gentle soul, who always have trouble conveying his opinions in a tactful manner and was constantly misunderstood by others as being cold and surly. Lacie had never expected him to honestly express his feelings to her, which almost prompted her to do the same. She would have told him that she will miss him too, but she restrained herself. The last thing Oswald needed was for her to add to his overbearing burden of guilt by showing him the slightest hints of her sorrow and reluctance towards her impending fate.

Therefore, Lacie had told him instead that although she will be gone once he became the next Glen, he will never be completely alone. There will still be Jack, his best friend. She had told Oswald to cherish his friendship with Jack for he was possibly the only person who will continue to treat him as an equal, in spite of his succession as the new Duke Baskerville, and that the Vessalius noble might also be the closest person to understanding him once she was gone.

"Don't you feel sorry for Jack, who knows nothing of your fate?"

Ah, her cute little Jack, who she had met on a whim eight years ago.

When they first met, Lacie found him to be an interesting boy since he didn't fear or be revolted by her red eyes. He was merely annoyed by her presence. Perhaps it was due to sympathy, curiosity or even a whim, but the boy had looked so broken in both body and spirit that Lacie just couldn't leave him be. When Jack had told her about his relation to the Vessalius family and how nothing matters to him anymore since he had lost everything, Lacie was so irritated by his words and the lifeless look in his green eyes that she couldn't stop herself from grazing his ear with the scissor, which she was using to cut his disheveled hair, just to see him flustered.

For Jack to give up on life so easily, it was a direct affront to Lacie who had wanted so much to live her life to the fullest but wasn't allowed to do so due to her cursed fate. She refused to stand by and let this boy wallowed in his own pit of despair. Therefore, she advised him to do whatever it takes to survive, to not have his view be limited by preconceptions and to analyze things from different angles instead of accepting them blindly.

Truth be told, she did not hold high expectations of ever meeting Jack again when they parted ways. After all, the Baskervilles led a hidden existence from society and was only known to a few high-ranking noble families. It was just improbable for Jack, an unrecognized illegitimate son of a third-rate noble family, to ever have the chance of gaining an audience with the Baskerville house. However, she did hope that the boy will be able to survive on the street and eventually grew up to be someone, who was different from the ignorant society.

Never had she expected that Jack would really took all of her words to heart and had never forgotten about her throughout the years. Even though she had forgotten all about him, Jack had devotedly searched for her within the past eight years. Aside from Oswald's brotherly affection, Lacie had never have anyone displaying such strong and sincere feelings towards her. Therefore, she was touched by Jack's pure dedication in wanting to reunite with her and his simple wish of just wanting to be by her side.

However, it was because of Jack's strong attachment towards Lacie that she had to lie to him about the day of Oswald's Final Succession Ceremony. If Jack ever learnt that she will die on that same day, she knew that Jack would have offered to take her away, in which she would have to refuse. Unable to accept her refusal, Jack might make a scene or even create complications to disrupt the ceremony. There was no telling what exactly the blonde man would do. Nonetheless, she didn't want to cause more trouble for Jack and Oswald. Moreover, by keeping the Vessalius noble in the dark about this, the two of them will be spared from the distress of a final farewell.

Without a doubt, Jack will be distraught once he was told of her death. She could only hope that her death would not break him to the same extent or even worse than when she first met him. Even though it was only recently that she had discovered her budding feeling of fondness towards the blonde man, Lacie would rather Jack gradually forget about her than to have him constantly pining for her long after she was gone. Likewise, she wished that no matter how difficult it was, Oswald would eventually come to term with her passing and move on with his life.

"What of your unborn child, who you will never get to see?"

At this point, her younger self had yelled exasperatedly from within the mirror's reflection. Despite the evident anger in her voice, her ruby eyes were brimming with unshed tears as she bit her lower lip and stared imploringly at Lacie, whose expression remained impassive like a doll. Her younger and wayward self was pleading for her to change her mind and not resigned to death, but …

Too late, Lacie thought with a faint smile before she looked downwards and placed a hand on her flat stomach. It's too late to change anything now.

Despite her usual appearance, Lacie was actually with child and the only people to know about this were none other than Levi and herself. She had become aware of her pregnancy when she started to experience mild bouts of morning sickness six days ago. After Levi had found the opportunity to secretly visit the Tower to conduct a thorough examination on Lacie's well-being, it was confirmed that Lacie was around five weeks pregnant.

Lacie was glad that her pregnancy had been so recent. If not, she wasn't sure that she could have kept it a secret from her perceptive older brother. It was cruel enough that Oswald had to be the one to cast her down to the Abyss. If he knew that she was with child when she was being cast off, he will be crushed completely by the guilt. Therefore, she will certainly bring this secret to her grave.

As for Levi, he was utterly delighted by her pregnancy as she had expected. However, it was not because he was the father of the unborn child. Instead, he was delighted because the child was conceived just in time to test out his lifelong theory of controlling the power of the Abyss through a corporeal vessel. In other words, this child was just a means to an end for this experiment of his, not that Lacie had any right in berating him. She wasn't much different from him, having willingly participated in Levi's experiment with the intention of using the unborn child's existence to relieving the Core of the Abyss's loneliness. Both she and Levi were probably the worse parents for using their own child as a tool to fulfill their own goals.

Yet, Lacie didn't regret in taking this step because she could both empathized and concurred with Levi's desire in wanting to make a change in this static world with what little time they had left. By doing this, the world might change for the better and there would at least be some meanings to their lives. Still, there also existed the possibility of the world becoming worse due to their actions and that they would be remembered as the people who initiated the end of the world for having done something as outrageous as giving the Core, which was considered the god of the world, a vessel. Likewise, there was also the possibility that Levi could have been wrong. This child might not be able to survive in the Abyss to become the Core's vessel and everything that they had done would have all been in vain.

Regardless, compared to dying senselessly, these risks were worth taking in Lacie's opinion.

While she gently rubbed her stomach, Lacie thought, I am sorry for bestowing such a fate upon you … and for being such an awful mother.

"Indeed you are."

Once she lifted her head, Lacie noticed that her younger self was gone from within the mirror. Remembering her younger self's last words, she smiled wryly for those words rang true. Having dammed this child before its birth, she had never expected to be forgiven by anyone for her actions.

"Lacie."

Startled, the sudden calling of her name had caused the woman to jump in her seat. As she turned her body halfway to face the veiled entrance of her room, she saw that it was her older brother, who was standing right outside the entrance with the curtains obscuring the upper part of his face from her sight. Although Lacie wouldn't have minded if Oswald had trodden into her room as freely as Levi usually did, her older brother will always ask for her permission to enter the room. Even after all these years, Oswald was still such a straight-laced person. It was something that Lacie found to be both endearing and dismaying, depending on the circumstances.

"I never expected you to be visiting tonight, big brother," said Lacie as she skillfully hid her feelings behind a sweet smile, "Please come in."

After receiving consent from her, Oswald stepped into the room and greeted Lacie with a silent nod. Even though his expression seemed to be stoic as usual, Lacie could notice the weariness and pain that were concealed within his wavering violet eyes and the unusual stiffness of his visage when they locked gazes with one another. Pleased to know that she was still right about her older brother being an open book to her, Lacie's sweet smile had widened slightly.

"Considering tomorrow's crucial occasion, I am surprised that you will be allowed to come here."

"Jiri was strongly against my decision of coming here," annoyed by the recollection of that particular moment, Oswald looked away from Lacie with narrowed eyes before he continued, "but I have insisted and Master Glen supported my decision."

At hearing that, Lacie breathed out a soft sigh.

She knew it wasn't easy for Oswald to come and see her every night within the past five days. Not just because it will make their eventual parting more poignant, but also because she was certain that the old hag, Jiri, would certainly raise objections to it. Since tomorrow will be the day of Oswald's Final Succession Ceremony and the day of Lacie's judgement, it was only natural that Jiri will be concerned about Oswald attempting to disrupt the ceremony at the last minute by either running away with Lacie or by helping her to escape through other means.

However, Lacie knew that wouldn't happen.

They were already long past that point.

"Still, you aren't allowed to stay here too long, right?"

Oswald was merely silent as he continued to avoid meeting Lacie's gaze. Seeing this, the woman shook her head from side to side before she stood from her seat by the vanity table and sauntered towards her brother. While she was standing before him, she placed a hand on his face and gently turned his head so that he was looking directly at her. Once they were face to face with each other, a faint smile crossed her lips as she spoke, "Even if it's just for a brief moment, I am glad that you came to see me tonight."

She watched as Oswald's violet eyes widened in surprise temporarily before a tender smile graced his handsome face and he leaned in to the touch of her hand that was still on the side of his face.

"Anything for you, Lacie."

The woman chuckled. "You are spoiling me too much, big brother."

"It didn't matter as long as you're happy."

Touched by Oswald's words, a smirk crossed Lacie's face as she retracted her hand back to her side.

"Then, I don't think you would mind being my accompanist as I sing."

It was more of a statement than a request, but Oswald had instantly nodded anyway.

It had been months since they had last performed together, with Lacie as the singer and Oswald as the pianist, and the song "Lacie" had always been a favorite composition for both siblings. While Oswald took his place by the piano that was situated close to the window, Lacie sat on the windowsill with her back straight against the edge of the window. When they were both ready, Oswald begin playing the familiar opening tune of the song. As his fingers were dancing across the keys of the piano with admirable elegance and sharp precision, Lacie took in a deep breath and started to sing.

Her lulling voice was heard by the Baskerville guards that were standing watch by the entrance of the Tower and by Levi, who had initially come to visit but had changed his mind and decided to wait for Oswald at the bottom steps of the Tower. Although this song was frequently heard within the Baskerville grounds due to Lacie singing it on several occasions, her singing tonight was somehow different from usual. It was more soulful and inspiring, as though one could feel and touch the very essence of the singer. Or to be precise, it was as though the singer was reaching out and touching the souls of all who listened. Judging from the hopeful tone and the vibrant intensity of the voice, it would be hard to believe that the song was sang by someone who will be facing her demise tomorrow.

Even for decades to come, the Red Queen's swan song had remained unforgettable to the privileged audience of that particular night.