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4 Enter, Hilde

    Silence fell.

    Mere moments ago, she'd have had a lot to say about the fact that Yong Fan Shu only had three major aspects to her personality, none of which could be considered decent.

    However, that identity had now been - for lack of a better term - "salvaged." All her usable parts were now owned by the female standing in the middle of the cube-shaped room. What remained of Yong Fan Shu was represented by the Cube's side that made up the floor she was standing on: it alone had turned black.

    For several moments, she looked at the obsidian floor that seemed to emit its own light. Now that she was no longer Yong Fan Shu, everything about the actress became easier to see objectively.

    On a personal level, she respected other peoples' abilities and valued authenticity in an industry where wearing masks was the norm. As a colleague, as long as she didn't outright dislike the other person, she was a perfectly civilized human being. If she truly hated someone, however, everyone will know it.

    Acting was her life. That's not an exaggeration, she really had little else going on outside of work. Undeniably, she was talented at what she did, but aside from her "sadistic tendencies," there was another reason she favored villainous roles: she lacked the emotional capacity to play the heroine to her own satisfaction.

    She did try in her younger years, but being an obsessive perfectionist, she knew her performances left a lot to be desired. She derived no pleasure from them. Even when others told her she did well, that was only her technical skills. She could not "become" those warm and loving female leads the way she could easily slip into the skin of an antagonist, all because she did not have the capacity to feel deeply about anyone.

    Only... that wasn't quite true. Back in her world, she had family and friends who genuinely loved her. When Yong Fan Shu had still been the active identity inside the Cube, she had willfully avoided thinking about how much they would mourn her loss.

    To the person she now was, it didn't appear like Yong Fan Shu could not feel deeply, it seemed more like she had been irrationally reluctant to.

    Then again, her assumption of this new identity was still incomplete. Maybe she was interpreting things wrongly.

    She raised her eyes and looked at the wall directly in front of her.

    "Prick?" she called.

    A beat passed, then the voice asked, [Is that supposed to be me?] He had the gall to sound displeased. When it became obvious he'll receive no response, he conceded. [Fair enough. What is it?]

    Drawing a deep breath to steady herself, Princess Hilde of Arnica answered, "Please tell me about me."

    ***

    The bedroom door opened and closed. At the sound, the young woman dozing on a chair by the bedside started lightly. By reflex, she looked towards the bed's occupant to see if there were any changes from the last time she checked. Aside from the subtle shift in the angle of the late morning light, however, everything else was the same.

    "She's still not awake?" the middle-aged woman who'd just entered the room asked, not bothering to lower her voice. She stopped beside the young woman's chair and stared at the girl who lay unconscious on the bed, her head wrapped so tightly in bandages that only a few wisps of her silvery blonde hair were left unconfined.

    The physician attending the girl had told them that her skull was not fractured, which was miraculous enough. The way witnesses described how she fell off a galloping horse, no one would have been surprised if her head had smashed like an egg on impact with the ground. Other than bruises, however, she didn't seem to have any other injuries. The physician still put her neck in a brace - a precaution he half-thought unnecessary.

    Earlier, he'd informed the women that injuries to the head were tricky to judge. Very often, they were also deadly. They would not know how severe this girl's case was until she recovers - or dies.

    Everyone was more or less aware of that. They knew all anyone can do now was wait for her to regain consciousness.

    "It's been more than a day," the young woman on the chair answered, her worry evident. The physician had indicated that this was a cause for great concern.

    Thinking there was little hope left, the older woman huffed in bitter exasperation. "The stupid girl," she said. "Her elder brother just died, and the first thing she did was endanger her own life."

    "Mother," replied her daughter in an imploring tone. "She must have been very upset by the news."

    "Yes, she was upset," the woman conceded. "But not about her own brother's death." The statement was met with silence. After all, there was no denying it. The speaker's tone softened as she said, "I simply worry for you. If she also dies, it will be you who-"

    "Mother, please..." her daughter interrupted gently. She sounded as tired as she looked: her deep-set, almond-shaped eyes had dark circles under them; her bronze-tinted golden curls were slightly unkempt. Ever since the other young woman was brought to their home the day before, she'd hardly left that bedside.

    Her mother sighed. "I'll call a maid in to stay with her. You rest." Not giving her daughter a chance to argue, she left the way she came.

    Silence returned to the room. No longer drowsy, the young woman whiled away the minutes watching the slow rise and fall of the bed occupant's chest...

    ...and caught the moment when her shallow breathing hitched.

    She rose swiftly to her feet and shifted her gaze to the other girl's face. She saw that while her eyes were still closed, tears had begun streaming from the corners, tracking both her temples.

    "Oh, dearest..." the young woman breathed out - in great sympathy and in even greater relief. She knelt by the bed and squeezed the other's rough and calloused hand. "I know - I'm sorry, I'm sorry..." she repeated, her own eyes tearing up. "I know you're in pain, but please, please... you must open your eyes now, Hilde."

    ***

    Complete access to the new identity's memories - her knowledge of the world, its language and customs, her own hard-earned skills... it's debatable whether that was the most ideal "cheat" for someone who was an actress in her past life.

    Many performers do go to great lengths to learn everything there was to know about a character. They want their portrayal to be as authentic or as "close to the source" as they could make it.

    But there were also performers who are big on "freedom of interpretation." They want to be told as little information as necessary so they could develop the character using their own creativity.

    Of course, the question of what Yong Fan Shu would have thought about this cheat was now moot. She herself had been a natural chameleon, and she had passed on her role-playing skills, not her views on it.

    It was now 'Hilde' running the show, and she was of the opinion that if she'd been a spy, there's no question - it would have been the best cheat possible.

    It was too bad that her true, nameless self was merely an identity thief.

    She saw no sense in being the exact same Hilde of the past; she had now been permanently altered by another person's memories, skills, and personality. But while there's no getting around her last life's influence, it was still Hilde's identity that's dominant and in control.

    The tears were proof of that.

    After Prick relayed the condensed yet still-lengthy version of Hilde's life thus far, her mind automatically converted the words into memories. However, she had not been given the chance to process her fully assumed identity, let alone think about her most recent circumstances.

    Instead, while her head was still spinning, she was informed: [This Setting's objective is endurance.]

    Hilde waited, but Prick didn't say anything more.

    "Will you please be more specific?" she asked.

    When Prick replied, he sounded amused with her for some reason. [All types of endurance, I suppose, and as much of them as you can... cultivate.]

    "I see," she said, thinking it over seriously. "Thank you. Until when?"

    [Until when indeed,] Prick replied with a chuckle. She still wasn't sure what was so amusing, but she gathered by his answer that it was one of those things she was not allowed to know. She didn't insist on finding out. [Your body's already trained to the nines, so there's that going for you.]

    At those words, Hilde's thoughts froze. Then, without warning, the memories of the last moments before she fell off her horse grew distinct.

    There were several reasons why she became an oddity of a princess who's well trained in the soldierly arts. One of those reasons had just been killed, along with her elder brother, in a treacherous ambush somewhere in their queendom's northern border.

    That was where Hilde - the old one - had been trying to get to before... before she was taken over. Though it would have been impossible for her to get there within the day, she set off with nothing but the clothes on her back, riding for over three hours straight with no thoughts for anything other than exchanging spent horses for fresh ones. She needed to see for herself whether it was true.

    The Hilde of the present knew, however, that none of their people would lie or make a mistake about such a report.

    That person... her teacher, her friend, her love - he was gone.

    Hilde hadn't been aware that the silence had stretched too long until Prick cleared his non-existent throat. Likewise, she didn't know why he sounded so awkward when he said: [Time for you to go.]

    It was only when she looked up and blinked that she realized she'd been crying.

    [Remember, Hilde,] Prick said before releasing her from the Cube. [Endure.]
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