Elise gazed upward, her heart heavy with despair, as the surface of the water retreated farther and farther away. The wreckage of the carriage that she was trapped in was rapidly sinking to the bottom of the lake. It was only due to the weakened barrier that Andrei had conjured that Elise had been spared the full impact of the crash. Without it, she would have perished.
But luck, it seemed, was a fickle friend. The light that had shone above the water’s surface had now vanished, enveloping Elise in darkness. The oxygen that had been sealed within the protective barrier was dwindling fast, and she felt her breath becoming shallower with every passing moment. It was as though she had fallen into a dream, a nightmare from which she could not wake. Was this her fate, the end that had been foretold for her by some divine power? I came all the way to Van Yela and tried my best to survive, only to end up like this…
She had abandoned any sense of dignity as a princess or even as a human being, clinging to the hope of a single, worthless life. A single tear trailed down her cheek as she resigned herself to what seemed like an inevitable fate. If this was her end, she would have died long before.
As her consciousness began to fade, Elise was transported back to the day she had left Argan. In her mind’s eye, she could hear the voices of Andrei and herself as though it were happening once again.
“I can’t go alone,” she had protested to Andrei, her voice laced with fear. “They’ll catch me in no time. It’s pointless.”
But Andrei had refused to let her give up. “No, you can do many things, Elise,” he had countered. “We don’t have time to argue. Run straight away. Never give up. If you’re alive, even if Argan falls, it’s not a complete loss.”
Elise had protested again, unwilling to abandon her brother. But Andrei had taken her face in his bloodied hands and whispered, “I have to die for you to live.”
The memory played out before Elise’s eyes as if it were happening all over again. She could feel the warmth of her brother’s touch against her skin. “What do you mean?” she had asked, confusion and despair mingling in her voice.
Andrei had simply smiled, blood trickling down his face as he gently stroked her cheek. “You will get better,” he had promised. “So never give up on yourself, Elizabeth. Promise me you won’t give up on life like you used to.”
As the memory faded, Elise felt a deep sense of sorrow. Her heart ached for her brother, for the pain he had suffered on her behalf.
Andrei had risked his life to save Elizabeth, and despite the fact that her life was now hanging by a thread, she found herself without any desire to resist. It was as though she had been slowly withering away ever since she had arrived at the Argan Palace, and no one had been the wiser. To everyone else, she was still the precious princess, but Elizabeth knew the truth. She was struggling on the brink of life and death, silently cursing herself for her own weakness.
As the defensive barrier began to falter, Elizabeth felt a sudden surge of cold water rush in through a crack in the barrier, soaking her entire body in an instant. The icy lake water rose up to her neck, covering her completely. She watched helplessly as the barrier shattered under the water’s pressure, leaving her defenseless. In a matter of seconds, water was flooding her nose and mouth, causing her to gasp for breath in agony. It was as though the horror of her situation had finally caught up with her.
She began to struggle against the water, fighting for every last breath. She had not come this far, survived so much, just to drown here, alone and forgotten.
“Promise me you won’t give up, Elizabeth. Please!” Andrei’s voice echoed in her mind, giving her the strength to keep fighting.
In that moment, Elizabeth felt a strong current push her away, surprising her with a sudden burst of energy. She had thought that the barrier was destroyed beyond repair, but to her amazement, it was being restored before her very eyes. And then, something strong and forceful pushed against her back, urging her forward.
As her consciousness began to fade away, the darkness closed in around her. But then, she sensed someone swimming towards her, blocking out the light. Without warning, her hands and wrists were seized, and she was pulled into a familiar embrace. The comforting hold of her savior brought on a deep sense of drowsiness, and sleep came more quickly than before.
The water pressure that had been dragging her down to the bottom of the lake suddenly vanished, and she was able to lift her head above the water’s surface. But her body was still in shock from the trauma, and she struggled to breathe in the precious air that she so desperately needed.