Lil handed Cesar the doorknob and entered the captain’s room.
Julio didn’t take a seat.
Instead, he stood by the door and stared at Lil.
Meanwhile, Cesar insisted on standing behind Lil, who was sitting alone in the captain’s chair, staring at Julio.
‘Most Southerners despise the Empire, albeit not as much as Julio.
They hate the empire itself, as well as all imperial citizens and its products.
It’s in their past and present routine to steal, burn, and destroy flags from government buildings… Anger, resignation, vengeance, and fear.
These are among the variety of sentiments from the southerners, but Julio’s words and actions stand out because he’s broken.
He’s all too aware of his destruction and what had caused it.’
Julio’s hand caught Lil’s attention.
A few of his fingers were partly or completely missing, she could easily guess who made them that way.
Despite that, she had no intention of preaching or babbling nonsense to Julio about controlling his anger or finding inner peace.
On the contrary, she sympathised with him to some extent.
She would have gone insane too if everyone told her that all of her resentment as a woman was nothing more than a mere illusion.
So over the past few years when Lil was recruiting new crew members for the Bell Rock, she accepted men like Julio.
As she had no right to control their plight in the first place.
Lil made the decision to face the agitators affecting this journey as quietly as possible.
Their mission needed to be precise and quick.
They couldn’t afford to waste any more time or effort.
So she spoke calmly.
“No one saw your hit as courageous; it just turned into a laughingstock.”
“Personally, I’m not sure what you hope to achieve by shoving me on the shoulder.
If you want to rebel, find a more effective way.
For example, your status could rise if you rationally refute my decision as Captain and come up with a ground-breaking alternative.”
“I’m sure you’re just one of those imperialists, proudly pretending to take the moral high ground.
“You want more people to listen to you, right Then you have to use your head, not your body.
That’s your starting point.
It might be easier to hit it with your body right now, but it won’t work in the long run.
Don’t try to influence others in the same manner as the ones who vandalised you, did.
You’ll be able to see the futility of it if you take a step back and look at yourself.”
Julio, who was crossing his arms, snorted.
He shook his head and kicked the chair in front of him.
Lil dismissed it as a childish act of provocation, but Cesar, who had been silent for a while now, took a step forward.
Don’t think that the rest of the officers will let this pass just because the Captain goes easy on you this time.”
Lil extended her arm to hold Cesar back.
‘In any way, Julio’s first act of rebellion has failed, so unless there’s another big stimulus, I expected him to stay low for the time being.
In addition, increasing the crew’s surveillance should buy us enough time to reach Serlio.’
“I hope you behave yourself while on board my ship.
Let this be an agreement out of courtesy towards Valtano.”
For quite some time, Julio only silently glared at Lil.
This compelled Lil to add some more explanation, thinking that Julio was mistaken something.
“I won’t tell you to trust and follow me as your Captain.
We won’t be seeing each other after this voyage anyway, so let’s just put up with it.
I know your loyalty lies with Valtano.
Similarly, I trust Valtano, so I’ll treat you with the benefit of the doubt.
At the very least, don’t make a fuss on another Captain’s ship and ruin your Captain’s image…”
“There were some Navies in the bar that day.”
At his sudden remark, Lil stopped what she was about to say.
She stayed still as Julio approached her table.
He slowly reached out his hand and held it in front of the candlestick.
“I was working there, and they called me up.”
“I heard them say that my fingers looked like something.”
Lil had a hunch that Julio was going to be a tough guy to deal with.
“‘What kind of caterpillars are that’ I believe that’s what they asked, adding that they’d never seen such disgusting fingers before and wanted to bring them back to the mainland.”
Lil could only speculate as to what they might have meant or what made them say that, but there was a big chance it was due to the southern people’s thick bone structures.
‘Does that give them the excuse to be pathetic and childish …However, far too many people were dragged to the mainland in this manner to only dismiss it as a crude prank.
Imperial citizens are crazed for rare items and seek the help of the Navy, merchants, or high-ranking nobles.
Sadly, it also includes collecting various races too.’
Lil let out a sigh of defeat and touched her brow.
“At first, they offered me their silver coins and asked for only one each, but soon a brawl broke out between them because I only had ten fingers.
They eventually decided to settle it by rolling a dice to see who would take what.
I could only stand there and watch while peeing myself.”
“I know what you’ve gone through is unjust and wrong, but I don’t and never have defended them.”
“When they asked my age and I told them I was only 10, they said they’d cut me carefully and hand me over to someone somewhere.
I didn’t know, but I guess there are places like that in the great Empire Place where they sell out the little ones by making a spectacle out of them from inside cages.
Right I always thought the Empire’s culture was brilliant, so I could never fathom why they had to do that to me with my lowly mind.”
Lil looked at Cesar standing next to her.
He appeared to be on the verge of telling Julio that being a slave was unavoidable.
That he’d to stop whining and accept his fate.
Julio, thankfully, wasn’t looking at Cesar.
He only stared at Lil, as if he only despised her.
“Then they rolled the dice.
Deciding who’d get the most of my worm-like fingers, how they liked to call them.
Not a single soul in the bar came to my aid, they were all as scared as ** as I was.
Faces as white as ghosts, all looking down at me.
I still can’t forget it.
In that place I realised for the first time what hell was like.”
Julio clenched his fist.
Some of his fingers were indeed cut and mutilated, but in the end he wasn’t taken to the Empire.
Lil could clearly picture a young child who had to run for his life.
But she didn’t dare to imagine what an unforgettable disgrace it must have been for him.
“That’s why merely seeing your face makes me sick.
I can’t stand it.
It’s as if you were laughing at me there, too, a ten-year-old child peeing his pants.”
“If I were there, I would have helped you.
I’m working for the League to help people like you.
You may not believe it, but there are good people like this.
Besides, you’re not someone I should be laughing at, but someone who should be accepted regardless.”
“Me And why is that so”
“Because you’re a human being… If a child is in danger of having his hand severed, we have to help the child.
I’m not a strange or suspicious person.
I believe it’s a shame we’re born in this crazy world that doesn’t follow natural laws…”
‘However, I can’t help it if Julio won’t accept me.
The Empire exterminated the Southerners for their appearance, so it’s pointless to insist Julio to stop blaming me.
For those who have been harmed, there is no shortage of vigilance and suspicion of the perpetrator group.
Julio’s fitful hatred for me stems from a fear build-up over a considerable amount of years.
Such mental aftereffects are not something I can easily help him with.’
“I know only one sentence in which your kind uses the word ‘natural’.”
“It’s when you say it’s natural for us to be your slaves.
It’s actually a word that you’re very fond of.”
“Yes, but I don’t believe that slavery is just.”
“Ah! I see.
You’re one of those lofty hypocrites, aren’t you”
“Don’t get me wrong.
It’s not because I’m sorry for you or afraid of you.
I simply stand by the righteousness and fairness that I prescribe and think and act according to them.
Why don’t you read the Bell Rock’s code instead of having this exhausting argument with me Do as the code says, and if you’re still nauseous at the sight of me, I really can’t help it.
But as for you, do it for the sake of Valtano.
Why would he put you on the Bell Rock if he knew you couldn’t stand me”
Julio slowly turned without taking his eyes off Lil.
At the same time, Lil looked at him and saw a ten-year-old boy.
The face of a young boy that was trapped in a tunnel of fear and resentment.
Some wounds are difficult to heal or may never heal.
For Lil, Julio didn’t need to try harder.
She knew that even being proud of himself for surviving such trauma was difficult enough.
She was partly resentful of Valtano for entrusting her with such a child while they were on their way to perform an important task.
However Valtano, like Lil, couldn’t have predicted that there would be an exhausting battle.
Valtano let Julio board the Bell Rock with the intention of exposing him to the fact that good imperial citizens like Lil do exist.
‘While I’m grateful for Valtano’s goodwill, it’s only making my head hurt.’