CH 10

Annis stared at him, clutching the hem of her skirt with both hands. Tears threatened to fall from her large eyes at any moment. At the sight of her face, a sharp pain shot through Emilian, like a scalpel slicing through his flesh.

'Don't worry, I'm fine…!' He parted his lips as if to speak, but the pain made it hard to even breathe. Still, it was painful to see her face like that. Wanting to reassure her, Emilian pursed his lips.

"Don't cry…"

However, for some unknown reason, Annis' eyes fluttered like waves in high winds. She pressed her lips together, and a tear slipped from her hawk eyes.

*      *      *

The tears I'd been holding back burst out. I tried not to cry, but I couldn't help it when I saw Emilian's condition.

'I'm so late. I'm sorry…'

I'm sorry I didn't come sooner.

I swallowed the words I couldn't say. I wiped the tears from my eyes with my sleeve, but I couldn't swallow my sobbing. Actually, the argument between the director and Franz drowned out my sobs.

"Is it true that you injected Subject 175 with a regenerative drug?"

"…Yes, it is true."

"And why did you conduct the experiment, skipping the previous steps?"

"The individual's adaptability to the drug is particularly high; to the point where we could proceed with the experiment without any problems."

"This subject is special; didn't I make it clear that it shouldn't be handled roughly?"

"But please look! We have to go through at least four steps, but he's already reacting!"

"Certainly, a remarkable result."


"You haven't forgotten the case of Subject 117, have you?"

Franz chewed on his lip without answering.

Subject 117. That one, just like Emilian, had shown great adaptability. The researchers were optimistic at the time; they hoped to successfully complete the experiment and produce a transcendent. But on the eve of the final test, the child suffered a severe seizure and died. 

The researchers were hungry for results; they had skipped several steps.

"We have to be careful this time; we can't make the same mistake." The director gently patted Franz on the shoulder. "Proceed with the experiment on Subject 175 according to the manual."

Franz was silent for a moment, but then he gritted his teeth and replied,


The director had the researchers remove Emilian's handcuffs. He pointed to me and instructed me to take him back to his room. As I helped him up, I asked gently, 

"Can you walk?"


Despite wheezing in pain, Emilian still stood on his own two feet. With the director's permission, I brought him up to his room using a magic-stone-powered elevator.

Emilian leaned back on the bed and squeezed his eyes shut, breathing hard. His breathing was ragged. I fumbled in my pockets and pulled out a vial. It was the last of my painkillers.

"Drink this. It'll make it hurt less."

Emilian nodded and took the medicine.

'I wish it would magically make you feel better right away, but…' It would take time for the medicine to work.

'I should have brought the director sooner...'

With a heavy heart, I sat down on the bed and checked Emilian's condition. I ran a hand through his hair—messy with sweat and blood.

"Is there anything else you need? If you're thirsty, would you like me to bring you some water? Or…"

Emilian shook his head softly. He squeezed my hand and said,

"Just… stay with me."

I couldn't shake his grip. I'd seen with my own eyes what had almost happened to Emilian. The experiment was far crueler than I could have imagined. It wasn't something a 13-year-old could have endured. And yet, Emilian...

"It's okay. I'll be back soon."

He smiled at me with meaning, trying to reassure me. If I were him, I wouldn't have been brave enough to say something like that. 

'How are you so strong? After all you've been through, how can you comfort others? Even in this hell, you can't be broken?'

"I… can't stand it." I didn't want to see any more children hurt or die. In fact, I wanted to run away. The unspeakable words swirled around in my mouth. Strangely, the tears wouldn't stop. 

Normally, they would have stopped already… At first, I couldn't stand the experiment and found it hard to hold back the tears whenever the children left. But then I got used to it, and I was okay. At least, I thought I was… Maybe I've been fooling myself into thinking that I could handle the sadness I've been suppressing, but it finally overflowed. Maybe I had reached my limit…

'Maybe I'm just weak.'

I turned my head, wiped away the tears that were streaming down my cheeks without Emilian's knowledge, and said, trying not to break my voice.

"I'll stay with you. Just... get some rest."


Emilian smiled faintly, relieved to have someone there. After a short while, his eyelids fluttered shut. I stayed by his side in silence. His breathing slowly became even.

'Did he fall asleep?' I turned around to leave, but his grip was firm. Unable to pull away, I brushed a stray strand of hair from his forehead.

'I'm sorry, I can't stay with you until the end. But...

I don't want to run away from you, either.'

Contradictory thoughts jostled dizzily inside me. I knew I had to make a choice at some point, but my weak mind couldn't decide, and my hesitation only grew.

*      *      *

A few days passed. I woke up to a brilliant morning sun. Normally, I would have gotten up at the crack of dawn, but today I stirred a little longer under the covers. 

Today was my first day off in a long time. I only get three times a month; it's hard to go without them.

The researchers gave us a minimal amount of time off for just one reason. They were worried that if they pushed the kids too hard, some of them might not be able to handle life here and try to escape. As I washed and dressed, I glanced at the clock. It was the time of day when I would bring breakfast to my test subjects.

'Come to think of it, today is Emilian's day off too.' Emilian was excused from experiments for a week by special order of the director. Of course, it wasn't because the director was a kind-hearted adult. After Franz had pushed him too far, Emilian's body had suddenly gone haywire. Once he's recovered enough, they'll take him back to the lab. It was depressing, but at least he could rest for a while.

'Maybe if it was any other child, they wouldn't care, and they'd go ahead with the experiment.' It was clear that the director had given Emilian preferential treatment. 

'I wonder what she's doing now.'

He had no one to talk to, no friends, and the test subjects weren't even allowed to leave the room.

'He must be bored all day.' Come to think of it, there was something I could bring Emilian, and while I've been too busy at work to go there, today was different. I tied my shoes and left the room.

'I'm free today anyway, so...'

The second library was located in an annex far away from the research building. The smell of old books filled the air as I entered, and the librarian, who was resting his chin on his hand with a bored look on his face, glanced at me. After he asked me what I was doing there, I replied that I was on an errand for one of the researchers. It was common for errand children to come looking for books, so the librarian didn't doubt my word.

I passed several shelves with thick books. The book I was looking for was on the lowest shelf, classification no. 800. I squatted down and examined the shelf-backs.

'Ah, here it is.'

I hooked my fingers around the corner of the book and pulled hard, and a small, thin book slid out. It was a children's book that I stumbled upon one day while running an errand. I didn't know why or how a fairy tale book had ended on this bookshelf, but…

'I'm glad I recalled the place.'

I put the children's book on the bottom and picked up several thick academic books. 

'This should do, right?' A few moments later, I returned to the research building, my arms full of books.

'Will he like reading?'

Arriving at Emilian's room, I poked my head in. He was sitting on his bed as usual, but his knees were hugged tightly together and his head was buried in his hands.

'Is it because of the experiment?' I felt sorry for him, as he looked strangely depressed. I spoke up and put on a big smile.

"Emilian, what are you doing there?"

Emilian's head snapped up at the sound of my voice.

"Annis?" His eyes widened.

'Should he be so surprised that I'm here?' As I tilted my head in disbelief, he stepped closer to the bars. Blinking his red eyes, Emilian stared into my face.

"You... I thought you weren't coming anymore."

". . .?"

'Why did you suddenly think that…?'

For a moment, I was stunned by the out-of-context remark. And then soon I had a small epiphany—I wasn't the one who brought Emilian breakfast today.

'Did you think I was replaced with someone?' I tried to explain to him what had occurred and that it wasn't like that, but Emilian cut off my words, looking all gloomy.

"Is it because I'm being too much trouble for you?"

"Huh...? What do you mean?"

He paused before replying, biting his lip hard. 

"Before…I was troubling you, holding onto your hand not to go."

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