The stairs are right out in the open with nothing and no one blocking the way.
Anyone who wants to could easily climb up to the second floor.
Is it really okay for them to be so readily accessible
I go up these stairs slowly, gracefully, taking them one step and a time.
And as I do, I wonder what expressions they’re all making as they see me growing steadily closer to the top.
Surprise, of course.
But I do hope a choice few of them are dismayed and discomfited by my arrival.
Finally, I reach the last step and raise my head to survey them all.
“It’s been a while, everyone,” I say cheerily in greeting, and send a broad smile beaming at them.
“Ali-chan, what happened to your eye” Curtis-Sama asks in a lighthearted tone.
He must be purposely acting as if he hasn’t noticed how charged the mood is currently.
should be safe to ignore him, right
“What business could you have here” Albert-Oniisama demands.
His expression is the exact opposite of Curtis-Sama’s amused curiosity.
There’s a deep furrow between his brows and his eyes are cold and displeased.
So this is the attitude he has when seeing his only little sister after all these years.
This is supposed to be our heartwarming reunion! Isn’t this the time when we should be running to each other with tears in our eyes so that we can share a huge, warm hug
Just what sort of existence am I in their eyes
From the less than enthusiastic reception that I’ve been receiving all day, it’s rather easy to guess.
They must see me as a ghastly villain.
I suppose I should be grateful for all the nasty rumors roaming around and spreading my bad name.
It’s great that they are helping me build my notoriety, but I have to wonder where exactly are all these rumors originating from
Everything would be perfect if the rumors were actually true, but unfortunately most of them seem to be ridiculous lies someone made up about me.
I need to hurry up and do some bad things so that all those false rumors can be replaced by my actual evil deeds.
I know these boys are capture targets from an otome game, but still.
In just two years, they’ve all become so tantalizingly good looking.
Each and every one of them are dripping in charm.
They’ve become so attractive.
They deserve to have sculptures made of them so that their beauty can go down in history too.
“Is it true that you punched Jane until she passed out” Albert-Oniisama continues scornfully when I don’t immediately reply to his first inquiry.
“How could you! Jane’s my friend!” Liz-san adds, coming in for the kill.
Her voice is filled with horror and righteous outrage.
Even in this situation, deep in my heart, I can’t help but note how clear and pleasant her voice sounds.
It’s oddly musical despite the fact that she seems quite incensed.
Though, considering I did punch her friend, I would say her response is actually warranted this time.
“So that girl was your friend” I ask mockingly.
Hm, compared to before, I get the feeling that I’ve lost the ability to sympathize with fellow human beings.
“Yes! She’s my precious friend!” Liz-san cries, her voice becoming a bit shrill in her exasperation.
“However, she isn’t my friend.”
And so What’s that supposed to mean”
“Liz-san, you and Jane-san being friends, how does that pertain to me exactly Don’t try to assume that her being your friend has any sway on my relationship with her.”
“You’ve forgotten to be polite when addressing your elders again,” Gilles quietly notes for my ears only.
…..So I really have forgotten how to be polite….
No, that’s just an excuse.
Honestly, I just don’t feel like being polite with Liz-san anymore.
And Gilles doesn’t seem too perturbed by my lack of respect for her either.
He sounds more amused by it than anything else, like he’s looking down on Liz-san.
Like she doesn’t even deserve such courtesy.
I glance over at Gilles.
He’s smiling sadistically at Liz-san and her groupies.
That grin makes him look like a little devil.
And what better partner could there be to stand beside a villainess than this devilish little demon
“But she’s still my friend! How can I just stand there and say nothing when you did that to her!”
“….If she was the one with a bone to pick with me, then I’d understand.
So, if Jane-san were to come up to me suddenly and sock me in the face, then I wouldn’t really think anything of it.
But Liz-san, if you are going to try and exact revenge for her, I won’t be nearly so understanding.”
“What are you implying”
“Don’t go sticking your nose into things that have nothing to do with you,” I say merrily, though the warning in my eyes is plain enough that even Liz-san should be able to notice.
I feel quite gratified when I see her eyes widening in response to my words.
It’s written all over her face that she can’t believe what she’s hearing.
“What a vulgar mouth,” Gayle-Sama mutters, displeased, glaring at me.
“Lunatic,” Eric-Sama spits out the word as if disgusted.
“Oh my, that’s no way to speak to a lady,” I remark flippantly.
“Like you can be considered a lady.”
“Even the likes of you treated me like one, once upon a time.
But you’ve changed quite a lot since we visited the town together all those years ago.”
“It’s your head that’s changed!”
“Hm, do you really think so” I say and tilt my head ever so slightly to the side, making sure to keep my relaxed smile firmly in place.
Oh, yes! I haven’t lost my touch just yet! How deliberately villainous! That’s plus a couple points for my evil image right there.
“Well, it’s no matter.
I have no time nor desire to mince words with you.
I came because I have some unfinished business with Duke-Sama,” I say before strutting away, heading straight up to Duke-Sama.
He’s sitting alone on a luscious couch and the closer I get, the more I can feel a tremendous pressure rolling off him.
“What do you want”
“I thought you might be off somewhere crying over your wounded pride after what I said earlier.”
At my words, Duke-Sama frowns.
“Have you ever heard the term, ‘misplaced kindness’ I never once asked you to watch over me.
That was a lovely favor you payed to me without even consulting me first,” I say while keeping my eyes locked on Duke-Sama.
Gilles, who must have thought I came here to apologize, is now staring at me in shock.
As for everyone else, they are also so surprised that they forgot to look at me with the contempt and scorn that’s typically plastered on their faces.
No one says anything either.
This must be the wonderful silence that comes after rendering a group speechless.
“However, you were merely acting out of concern for me, and I can at least appreciate that.
It makes me happy knowing that you were worried for me.
So thank you,” I quickly add before Duke-Sama can say anything.
And after saying my piece, I slowly bow my head to him.
I’ve been reflecting on the words I said to him earlier.
I shouldn’t have been so harsh to someone who only meant well.
His actions have not harmed nor hindered me in any way, so I feel ashamed for having acted so carelessly.
I can only hope that these feelings of regret will reach him, as my thoughts often seem to.
But I have yet to lift my head.
I have no idea what sort of expression he’s making, nor if he realized my true feelings.
The only thing I know is that the growing tension and surprise feels like a tangible presence hanging in the air around all of us.
I see a shadow as Duke-Sama extends his hand towards my head.
“Oh, and one more thing,” I whisper into the ground.
Before Duke-Sama can touch me, I reach forward with one of my own hands and vigorously seize him by the lapels, jerking him towards me.
I must have caught him off guard, since he doesn’t even try to resist.
Though, even if he did, I’m confident that I could have kept him under my control.
….Though, I am a bit surprised by the solid feeling under my hand.
I am confident, but a man’s body is a lot heavier and sturdier than I was expecting.
Finally, I look up into Duke-Sama’s face and see round, astounded eyes looking into mine.
It appears that he hasn’t quite comprehended what just happened to him.
“You say you’ve been watching over me If you wanted to do that, why didn’t you just tell me I hope you weren’t thinking something foolish like remaining silent and taciturn would make you seem more attractive! Because you’d be sorely mistaken! If you don’t take the time to tell me what you’re thinking, then I’ll never know… Like with this.
I had no idea that you were watching over me all this time!”
Duke-Sama doesn’t say anything, he’s just staring at me stiffly.
One corner of my mouth arches up in a smirk.
“If it were me, I wouldn’t stop at just stealthily watching over you, either.
I’d make sure to stay near to you, to protect you right at your side!”
After finally stating my point, I slowly let go of my hold on Duke-Sama’s lapels.
Despite having been released, he doesn’t move.
He doesn’t sit back.
He just gazes at me utterly dumbfounded.
Everyone else in the dining hall remains equally frozen as they all just stare at me.
To think that this many eyes would be focused on me all at once….
While feeling their gazes on me like a palpable force, I walk leisurely back across the second floor towards the stairs.
Without missing a beat, I descend them, acting as if I have no idea that I’m the center of everyone’s attention.
Once I reach the ground floor, I’m about to make my way through the still open path between the students when I hear boisterous laughter raining down from the floor above.
Like a downpour, it sounds full and free.
It’s the first time that I’ve ever heard Duke-Sama laughing so unrestrainedly.
Slowly, I glance back in his direction.
His face is filled with mirth as he looks down at me, his elbows resting casually on the railing.
And those eyes that bore straight into mine are overflowing with delight and amusement.
“I’ll make sure to start telling you more of what I’m thinking from now on,” Duke-Sama calls out, a devilish smirk on his face.
Somehow, with that expression, his eyes no longer look so lighthearted.
Rather, they are staring at me like a fearsome beast eyeing his prey.
“I’ve never seen Duke acting like this before,” Finn-Sama whispers while scrutinizing Duke-Sama’s back.
I’ve never seen him acting like this either.
“Wow~ Ali-chan’s so strong~!” Curtis-Sama says, his shoulders shaking violently as he holds back his own laughter.
There even seems to be tears glistening in his eyes.
…..It’s not that funny, is it
And I’m sure his words don’t mean much.
A lady-killer like Curtis-Sama is bound to say all sorts of petty things to any girl that walks his way.
I glare at them all sharply.
“And that strong girl said she’ll stay by my side and protect me.
It’s rather reassuring.”
“Lucky~ I want Ali-chan to protect me too~” Curtis-Sama laughs out.
“Alicia, they’re teasing you,” Gilles notes stoically, but he can’t fool my eyes.
I see that slight smile on his face.
Gilles, you’re also clearly teasing me! ….Is what I’d like to say, but I don’t.
He’d probably just laugh at me outright.
I think about sending one final glare towards the upper floor, but I stop myself from doing so.
I’m a little scared to see what Liz-san’s expression looks like right now.
Things might get out of hand if we were to lock eyes.
So I merely turn my back on them all and quickly retreat towards the door out of the dining hall.
Duke-Sama doesn’t say anything further either.
In an instant, the whole room is engulfed with excited, chattering voices, but I hardly notice them.
I’m too immersed in wondering what expression Duke-Sama might be making at the moment.
However, I refuse to look back at him under these circumstances.
I get the feeling that if I look back at him now, I’ll lose.
And I have plenty of self-constraint, so I’m not going to suffer a loss here.
At least not more of a loss than I already have….
Agh! Why did I even say that! I can’t believe I said that I’d protect him! I can’t even use magic right now! Will I be able to keep my lack of magic power a secret from Duke-Sama for a whole week after saying something so reckless
It feels like I just shot myself in the foot.
I basically aimed the gun at my own foot and willingly pulled the trigger.
I’m practically ensuring my own self-destruction with that.
For such carelessness, my villainess score is bound to plummet.
It only took me about two minutes after I had left the dining hall to realize that I had forgotten something.
…Ugh, I forgot to ask about Grandpa Will!
At the thought, I stop dead in my tracks and send a good, hard smack to the middle of my forehead before bowing my head in aggravation.
There were only two things I went there to do. Two! How could I forget something so important!
I heave a heavy sigh and shake my head.
The caring look on Duke’s face as he watched Alicia walking out of the dining hall was so sincere and captivating that it fascinated all of the nearby students, regardless of gender.
Even Gilles who had looked back and saw it by chance froze for a moment, unable to look away.
Duke, of course, had eyes only for Alicia, however she never looked back.
She was the only one in the whole dining hall who missed seeing his face so filled with tender love and affection for her.