Their leader left our house while carrying my mother. The woman finally took her hand off my mouth and started to relax. I shoved her away.

”And who are you?! One of those guys?! What do you want from me?! ”

It is disrespectful, I am well aware, but I still yelled.

”I fully understand what you feel after what just happened but ”

”Understand?! You
e telling me that you understand?! How are you supposed to understand that? In a blink of an eye, my only family was taken from me! Without any reason why, without explanation! Id rather have the officials punish us, but thats not what happened! ”

I broke into sobs.

”They were just there a moment ago! And poof! They
e gone! ”

Tears started streaming down my eyes non stop.

Im tired, I can take it anymore so I just sat down and cried. I cried even if there was some stranger beside me. I cried even if it was embarrassing.

”Its my fault you know? I shouldve tried to stop them but I didn … ”

I whispered.

Im such a coward.

”Its not. Don blame yourself. You can still do something about it. Your mothers still alive. You may not be able to put your sister back to life but you can serve justice for what happened. ”

”Don you understand? I can do anything! I won be able to! Don expect such big things from me, I am not as great as my sister. I will never be. ”

I sighed.

”Im the useless one, I should be the one whos killed, not her. At least shed be of help. ”

”This is not what your mother wouldve wanted. ”

”You have no idea what mother wouldve wanted. You don even know her! ”

I shaked my head.

”Just… leave me alone please. ”

”Okay. But if you ever need me, just go to the next street. Id be there. That is if you wanted to fight back. ”

She turned her back to me.

”Just like what your mother did before everything that has happened here. ”

I ignored everything that she had told me and she finally left.

What now?

I buried my head in my knees.

I wish I had the answer to that question…

Once Ive submerged, I can hold my tears anymore.

At least now no one will watch how pathetic this useless kid is.

Sangria scandal*

The sound of children playing woke me up.

I opened my eyes and was blinded by the sun. The rough night has passed but the wound it left still aches.

The same question popped into my head.

What now?

I then remembered the woman who accompanied me last night speaking about how my mother was fighting back.

Fighting back to what exactly?

I heard the loud voices of the patrol so I stood up and dusted myself.

The patrol are headed towards our home, I need to hide.

I quickly ran and hid behind our neighbors gate, crouching. The ground is cold and the leaves prickle my skin but I shouldn be seen, I am never here.

They are carrying a straw mat* when they entered our house.

So this is final? My sister is dead?

They were just carrying one so my mother really is alive. The woman was right.

Who is she anyway?

Is she with those people who killed my sister and kidnapped my mother?

I wouldn get answers this way, if I need answers, Id need help.

My arms sting as I stand up. There mustve been thorns on the plant.

She mentioned that she was on the next street, so Id be heading there first.

Ive made up my mind. I can let my sister die just like that nor do I want my mothers sacrifice to be in vain.

Yes, I am not as good as my sister.

And yes, I haven done anything right, but…

At least I can say that I did something, for a change.

I can say that I tried.

And so, I need to move.

The next street was a dead end.

Where exactly does she want me to go?

I flinched when someone suddenly touched my shoulder.

”Youve made up your mind sooner than I thought you would. Your mother took longer. ”

She said in a deep voice.

”How do you know my mother? ”

”Before I answer that, we need to go to my place. It is not safe here, someone might hear us. ”

”How do I know that I really can trust you? ”

”You don have to but youll hear an answer to your question in my house. Whether youd come or not is up to you. I am not forcing you to go. ”

I scoffed.

”Okay. ”

~

After taking a lot of turns, though I think, we just went in circles. Weve reached an unusual place oddly familiar and different from the rest of the hanok* around the street. The lot is huge and grass is growing from it. The wood has a softer tone and I am betting it has around ten quarters including the maids quarters.

It is as large as an uigwans* place. Is she by any chance a physician or someone from a higher position?

”Are you coming in or will you keep staring at my house? ”

”Uh Im sorry. ”

I rushed to follow her inside and she made me sit inside her quarter. The place looks neat and white. Fabrics and clothes are at the corners instead of stacked books. A small table is at the back and her bed is at the other end. Ive noticed no doors other than the entrance.

”Do you drink tea? Oh, never mind, Id just make you one nonetheless. ”

She was about to leave when I spoke,

”You haven answered my question yet. How do you know my mother? ”

I stared at her and she didn move an inch.

”I work for her. I am your mothers assistant. And now, I work for you. ”

”Sorry, I must be missing something here. My mothers a market vendor, why does she have an assistant? ”

”After what happened last night, you still believe that your mother is a market vendor? ”

I came silent.

The way mother exhaled… She wasn nervous at all. Or she must be but she has a really good way of hiding it. And the way she fights… she looks like a…

”Professional assassin… ” I whispered.

The woman chuckled and left the room.

Theres no way a market vendor could fight like that. We have no history of having a relative working in defense or justice for her to be taught to do that.

What is mother hiding from us? How many people has she killed?

”The tea is hot so please watch your tongue. ”

The woman carefully placed the teacup in front of me. Intricate designs of leaves and pink flowers crawled through the cutlery.

”Is my mother an assassin? Is she a criminal? ”

The room is cold so I rubbed my hands on the warm cup as I spoke.

”I would no longer answer any of your questions. The next thing you have to do is find the answers to your questions yourself. ”

”You said youd answer my questions! ”

I am so frustrated that I accidentally raised my voice. I can help it. I feel like everything Ive known is lost. This still feels like a nightmare.

”Im sorry. ”

”I am, by any means, your assistant, however, it would be easier to accept the truth if it is you who found it out. My words would just appear as lies to your ears. ”

Shes right. Its no use asking her because I wouldn believe any of her words anyways.

I stood up.

”Thank you for entertaining me here. I really appreciate it. ”

I went to the door when she placed down her own teacup.

”You should stay here. Come back before dawn. If you are going to look into something, I suggest you start searching your house. Most of the answers you need are there. ”

I opened the door.

”And Mahri? ”

I looked at her.

”Your mother killed people but… you know that she isn a bad person. The person you
e chasing and the person she was hiding from is the one who should be blamed, not your mother. Whatever you see, please, I want to remind you that… ”

She looked into my eyes.

”She is still your mother. ”

I softly nodded before closing the door.

What Im about to find out terrifies me. What if I hate my mother because of this? What kind of person would I become after this?

I didn want to go but my feet led me in front of our house.

I have no choice. If I want something to be done, I must endure the pain of each slap the truth sends me.

And of all places, it starts in our house.

Where all my nightmares began.

How funny.

I walked towards the entrance where I last saw my mother. The smell of blood is still clear and the stains are dark. The memories are vivid.

Tears started to form in my eyes. I sniffled.

Thats not what I came here for. I can have another day to cry.

I have to look for my mother. And to do that, I have to know what exactly she is hiding.

I went inside my room, it was neat as if nothing terrible had happened last night. At the very corner of the room, right where I left it, I noticed the flower my sister gave me.

Its vibrant and full of life… probably the only living thing in this place.

I walked and opened the study where I saw my mother. I flinched as the images repeated. I harshly opened my eyes and forcibly walked around the room. I don want this, but I don have a choice.

I went around and searched books and notebooks, scrolls, and even the fabrics for any signs of odd things sticking out but I found nothing. It mustve been in her room then.

I walked out and went to her room.

My memory of her brushing her hair and playing with Riahme flashed back. It is true that time flies fast. You wouldn even realize its importance unless it is taken away from you.

I targeted her closet and looked at each of her clothes. I closed the doors and went under the table when I heard something creak as I went.

Something creaked where there shouldn have been any.

I walked back and there went the creak again.

I kept walking until I located the source of the creak.

This is a hanok, even our floors are made out of paper.

Which actually shouldve been made out of wood but mother insisted that it should be made out of paper. I couldn understand why back then and just assumed that she wanted the place to be cool and breathable. Now, Im getting to it.

I jumped and the creak went louder.

I went outside and broke a branch from one of the trees and went back inside and struck the floor. It left a hole big enough for two of my fingers to fit.

I threw the branch and tore the paper much further.

Then I backed off. What is this?

Sangria scandal*

”Mother, you don have to be hard on Mahri. Why do you have to treat her that way? ”

I wiped the glass until I could see my reflection. I clean it everyday, how can it be so dusty?

”Ha Ra, the pain from that kind of loss cannot be healed by words. It is healed by actions. Now finish whatever you
e doing, our lady is coming. ”

She said while carefully adjusting the angle of the teapot on the cupboard.

I stopped wiping.

”I work for her too? ”

”Of course. You are my daughter, you should be the closest to her, shed listen to you. She is not the same age as her mother. ”

I giggled.

”Id serve someone that cool? I can wait! ”

She walked outside as I happily wiped the glass clean.

”Hara, did you leave the pigs unattended?! ”

I was startled and immediately sat up by the voice of my mother.

”Oh, right, sorry mother! ”

Key term: (all words in italic and ends with an asterisk* excluding the title)

Straw mat They are usually used to dry grains but are also used in punishing people also known as meongseok mari* and holding a corpse. It is made out of wood chip boards or polystyrene foam. These are used to cover a corpse as a sign that the person was dead.

Hanok These are traditional Korean houses during the Joseon Era. They are made out of wood and use paper as doors (the same as the concept of traditional Japanese doors). These are made out of pure natural materials that make them breathable and make the summer heat bearable.

Uigwan Refers to Physician officers in the Joseon Dynasty.

Meongseok mari Flogging. It is a form of punishment in the Joseon Dynasty where people are wrapped in straw mats and beaten using clubs.

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