15: A Villainess’ Exit and a Heroine’s Entry (Part Two)
Of course, I didn’t care at all, even if Julio fervently rejected and pulled him into the pillar’s shadow so that we could talk without being overheard.
His common features that seemed kind to me were a bit pale.
“Lady Philia… just how much of my life are you going to cut short?”
“At least have some backbone to maintain friendly relation with me, even if it means untimely death.”
“Think of my life at least! That person is really terrifying!”
I couldn’t understand it before, but now I know that it was Luca who Julio was afraid of.
“It’s fine. Luca probably will not do something I dislike.”
“You could do better at reassuring me, even if it were a lie.”
“I was joking. It’s really alright. I have explained to him that you are my only friend and someone really important.”
“It’s over… I’m going to disappear in the mission’s pretext.”
I nudged at Julio, whose eyes had become hollow, with the folding fan to bring him to his senses. I would keep my promise since Luca told me not to touch. Afterward, I lowered my voice, mindful of our surroundings.
“You’ve been in and out of the social scene quite a bit, haven’t you, accompanying your superiors? Do you know anything about Marika d’la Dyural?”
“The young lady of count Dyural’s house? Speaking of which, you have asked about her before too, haven’t you?
“Y-yeah. At the time, all I could hear was the same old story.”
In the past, when Marika, the heroine, became the topic of talk in high society, I tried to collect some information about her. Of course, I know everything about her if it was the same as a game, but I was unsure if it would match in this world.
On the surface, it was exactly the same as a game. She had a commoner upbringing, was cherished by her grandfather, and was about to make her social debut as the Count Dyural household’s heir.
“She seems to be quite popular, doesn’t she? That young lady. Contrary to her commoner upbringing… Oh, wait, it’s not something I as a commoner should say, but she’s educated and well-mannered to a surprising degree. Yet, with her liveliness that’s unlike that of a noble young lady, many VIPs of high society have taken a liking to her.”
“Lady Philia? Your expression seems scary.”
I know I had a villainess’ face from the beginning. I didn’t want to be told by a commoner mob. Anyway, leaving aside that, there was a disparity between the game Marika and the now Marika. The game’s heroine was a klutz with little education or manners. She was bright and earnest, made positive efforts, and was accepted by high society, who ridiculed her first and a temptress who had charmed many people. If she had been perfect from the beginning, the story would not have had enough ups and downs.
“Julio… can you investigate her without letting anyone know I requested you?”
“I don’t mind. That’s my specialty, after all.”
“Yes, as a mob, you don’t stand out.”
“Lady Philia, you have been saying this since a while ago, but what does that mean?”
I, of course, didn’t reply and brushed him off grinningly.
Philia’s beautiful face was really helpful to deceive ordinary men.
“Then please do so and be extremely careful. If you get exposed, I will kiss you in front of Luca.”
“Please don’t do that.”
Julio rejected me from the bottom of his heart. Was he scared of Luca that much?
I could see from the distance that Luca was waiting impatiently for me to return from Julio’s side. It’d been a long time since he had stared at me so eerily. I could see that he was jealous, worried, or that his eyes were stern because he was thinking about me. Still, if it were to happen in the past, I would have immediately averted my eyes and fled from here.
I could also understand why Julio escaped hurriedly once our conversation was over.
Marika stayed quietly by Luca’s side, looking at Luca and me.
“Sister, it’s different from what we agreed on. Why do you smile so cutely at him?”
“Oh… isn’t it fine? It’s only Julio.”
“I know that man is special for you… What shall I do?”
I would like you to stop muttering with an expression as though you were debating whether or not to kill him. That was why Julio was terrified of you.
Just as I was trying to figure out how to pacify Luca, I heard a rustle suddenly. Many people turned to look at the entrance, so I followed suit and was astonished.
“His highness the prince…”
I had been informed in advance of the royal family’s presence at the announcement of my engagement to Luca, which had been arranged between my father and the royal family. It was for the formality to show the royal family had also recognized the engagement between Luca and me, the number one in the crown princess candidacy.
I only expected the Queen to come; the same went for Luca. Thinking, I turn to look at Marika. I heard about the Crown Prince being heartbroken just the other day from Laurenz, but he hadn’t given up yet, and he might have come after her. The Crown Prince in the game was a pompous and arrogant character, the type to quickly make advances on the heroine, disregarding the heroine’s confusion, so it was more than possible that he was the same here.
The Crown Prince received the welcome from my father and went straight to the heroine… or rather to me.
“It’s been a while, Philia.”
I hadn’t heard him calling me by my name for a long time. He turned to look up at me while I was marveling at him.
The Crown Prince’s complexion, dressed in a dazzling evening party outfit, with the insignia attached to his chest, demonstrating royal lineage, looked pale; his cheeks were a bit shaven, maybe the traces of his bedridden condition. Still, his masculine features were elegant and had some majesty to them. He was quite dazzling, as expected of the main hero.
“Your highness, it’s an honor to have you here today.”
“Hmm… The first dance is between you and me. Give me your hand so I can dance with you.”
I thought this would be the case given the position, so I took the hand presented to me. However, I ignored the condescending attitude that was synonymous with his second face.
Luca raised his voice in irritation, but it couldn’t be helped as it was customary.
“Luca d’la Love.”
The Crown Prince’s heavy gaze pierced Luca. Luca received it and smiled lightly.
“Your Highness, I would like to thank you for coming out here for us today. I heard you have not been well, but you look in good health.”
“It was merely my pet dog that bit my hand.”
“I’m sorry to hear this. Even if it’s a domestic animal, it’s still a beast, and if you let your guard down, it can go for your throat, so please be careful.”
For some reason, Luca was being incredibly toxic. The Crown Prince averted his eyes with a face like he was clicking his tongue.
I wonder if it was just my imagination that the air had turned murderous. Both of them should have been getting along well. Luca was even supposed to have been personally called out by the Crown Prince to visit him. Did something happen?
However, no matter what Luca said, I didn’t have any choice but to dance with the crown prince since he was here. The dance would start with the one with the highest status.
The crown prince led me by the hand to the hall’s center and signaled the orchestra, to which they began to play an elegant melody unhurriedly.
In this world, the dance was mainly a waltz. I wondered if this was because the kind of dance with complicated formations and changing partners from beginning to end was inappropriate for an otome game.
The Crown Prince placed his large hand on my waist to support me, and we took our first step, exchanging our glances. It was surprisingly easy to dance. It’d been a while since I had danced in front of an audience, but since the crown prince was so skillful, I naturally entrusted myself to him.
The Crown Prince had a difficult look on his face with wrinkles between his brows ever since he made his appearance tonight. However you looked, it was not the kind of face taking pleasure in dance. I could see he seemed to be very unwilling to dance with me. After tonight, I’d be completely out of the candidacy for his fiancée. I won’t be mentioned as a potential partner, so I should forgive him for this.
We remained silent, and I kept my smile as we glid across the floor. As we neared the melody’s end, the crown prince put his face on my ear.
“There’s something I want to talk to you about once this dance is over. Tell me a place where we will not be disturbed by others.”
“In the long gallery. No one will come in the backside.”
I twisted my neck inwardly, wondering what it could be about but agreed, thinking it might be about some private message from the King or Queen. We exchanged a few words in that instance and ended our dance.
The clicking sound of footsteps echoed in the high ceiling.
We walked down a long corridor overlooked by portraits of the successive heads of the Dukes of d’la Love and their families. At the far end, we reached a vaulted room with a round domed ceiling. Halfway up the second floor, a narrow corridor and railing led up to a staircase where one could view the paintings hanging high above.
I entered the room and looked up to see a woman in a vivid blue dress. She had the same golden hair and ice blue eye like me, and even the mole’s position was the same, which gave me the impression that I was looking at my portrait.
At the top of the room, where the portraits of the successive heads of the family and a vast collection of other items were displayed, was a portrait of my late mother. I could see the depth of my father’s love for her.
As I looked up at my mother’s portrait, I heard footsteps approaching from behind me.
“I’m impressed you have come here first.”
“Pardon me, Your Highness.”
I turned around to see the Crown Prince smoothing down his slightly disheveled hair as he looked up behind me.
“Is she the previous Duchess of d’la Love?”
“Yes, she died early. It appears to be a portrait of her before marriage.”
“I see. It seem to be from when she was young… she should have looked awfully similar to you.”
I asked the Crown Prince while thinking what he was trying to do, still looking up at the portrait.
He was still an indescribably arrogant person, but he was quieter than usual. If only my death route could be erased, I would be happy if he could get together with the heroine and get rid of this terrible character trait.
“Umm, Your Excellency. What was it that you wanted to talk about?”
The Crown Prince sank in silence with a stern face and his slightly thick lips drawn together. This was his standard expression when he dealt with me.
We faced each other in the back of the deserted gallery.
“Actually, I’m planning to…”
“That’s why… well, why haven’t you already figured it out yet?”
I smiled at the Crown Prince warmly. He was being rash to me, even if I was neither his nanny nor his retainer.
“I know it’s rude to say, but I’m just an incompetent person who doesn’t understand unless you put what you want to say in words. Did you receive any word from His Excellency the King or Queen regarding the engagement announcement? If there’s any problem, I will consult with my father and deal with them immediately. If possible, I wouldn’t want to delay it any further.”
Now that even the heroine had appeared, I thought of proceeding with my engagement with Luca as soon as possible.
Although I’d decided to live in this reality, I hadn’t completely lost my fear of scenarios and game corrections. I thought I would be fine staying beside Luca, who cared about me so much, but sometimes uneasiness suddenly welled up inside me, which didn’t just calm down.
Not only that, although Luca was the most excited about this marriage, I was gradually feeling the need to reciprocate his feelings. When I said to hurry up, the Crown Prince looked back at me with wide eyes, unblinking.
“You… you are.”
The light reflected in his amber eyes made them look like gold. His eyes, which were the royal family’s symbol, were wavering like a cornered person.
“Are you… happy?”
When I tilted my head at the incomprehensible question, the Crown Prince repeated it so seriously that I wondered why.
“Are you happy? That… will you be happy if you marry Luca?”
I didn’t understand his intentions, but I knew he was asking seriously. Besides, my answer was already set in stone. I didn’t even need to think about it, so I replied instantly.
“There is no one who cares for me more than Luca. I can’t even imagine marrying anyone else besides him. I’m sure we will be happy together.”
It was my stepbrother, Luca, whose slightly forcible and seemingly excessive affection showed me my future path.
The Crown Prince’s muttering voice sounded somewhat lonely as his tension loosened slightly.
If I recall correctly, he was 21 years old, the age when they were still college students in my previous world. I was sure there must’ve been all sorts of troubling things and even insecurities inside him.
When I looked at his slightly unreliable face, I thought his usual haughty attitude seemed cute… maybe.
“It’s good then. That’s all I needed to hear from you.”
His lonely appearance from before disappeared like an afterthought, and the crown prince returned to his usual haughty attitude.
However, only this version of the Crown Prince gave me peace of mind. I couldn’t calm myself down when he became a non-snobbish person who was like a stranger to me.
Maybe because the talk was over, he quickly turned on his heels. However, he stood still suddenly.
“Be happy, Philia… that’s the message from my mother.”
The words convinced me that the question he had just asked was also from the Queen.
Looking at the Crown Prince’s departure, who didn’t stop this time, it occurred to me that maybe he didn’t shun me as much I thought he would.