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Happy reading and don’t hesitate to comment :3
In any case, the debate on Erneste supporters vs anti-Erneste was still as lively as ever. I felt slightly guilty that it caused such a debate… even I was already getting bored of this debate!
“Ernestomato isn’t worthy of Lyra. I remember him not doing anything when the three of you were disturbing Lyra!” Clavis suddenly said in one of the heated arguments. It was rarer for the debate to have Clavis in it, as we didn’t hang out together as often as I did with my same-age friends.
I ACTUALLY FORGOT ABOUT THAT!
Since it was all solved with how the trio became my friends (and so far, my followers), it completely went out of my mind already…
It seemed that Clavis remembered all about Erneste’s flaws. I was surprised to hear that he remembered something that even I, the involved party, had forgotten about.
“Who says so? He really came to us!” Briar, the one who probably wanted me to end up with the perfect school prince, said.
“Eh really?” I couldn’t help but ask when I heard that.
“Yes! Don’t you see how considerate he is to Aneki?” Briar quickly turned around to look at me with sparkling eyes, completely different than the look she gave to Clavis when they were debating earlier.
“So? What did he say and how did you respond to it?” Luca suddenly chimed in as well.
“The school prince came to us and asked us to talk in private back then,” Valerie said.
“And then, he was so gentle as to start it with, [I am grateful for your feelings and admiration to me, but…]. He even held us in high regards! Us, the ones people labelled as the trio troublemakers!” Briar said as she made this kind of ‘fangirling’ gesture—like she was about to go, ‘kya- kya-!’
“But?” Luca raised his eyebrow.
“[But can you please stop that as Lyra told me that your action disturbed her and her friends. Ah, I’m really grateful that you did this for my sake, but I will be fine, so… ]… Something like that, I believe,” Dmitria said.
“And at that time—oh, please forgive us, Aneki! We didn’t know you were such a good person! We thought that Prince Erneste was forced to do that by you… Yes, I know that’s foolish of me! Aaah, I hate the past me!” Briar said as she suddenly hit her own head.
“S-stop doing that, Briar, your head…,” I immediately grabbed her hand, stopping her from injuring herself.
“Anekiii~!” Briar suddenly grabbed my hands back in response and nuzzled my hands on her cheek happily.
…She was like what—an adorable animal?!
“…Tch, that sissy!” Luca clicked his tongue, completely not satisfied with the story.
“Not good for Lyra! My stance is still the same!” Clavis earnestly said.
“Yeah, yeah, Big Sis Lyra is mine!” Ein said while sulking.
“What is that, I wonder why I think his words are kinda… lacking?” Carbuncle said as she tilted her head, her arms were crossed in front of her chest while her left hand was supporting her tilted head.
…For some reason, I couldn’t believe how Clavis was even more vehement on this matter than Alt-nii, my own brother?
Meanwhile, Alt-nii only listened to everything without commenting. From his expression, it was as if he was observing something…?
Ah well, Alt-nii was unlike Dad who was way too protective of me, I guess.
“What?! That shows clearly how gentle he is towards the others, right?! He is definitely a good man for Aneki!” Briar insisted.
“…Now now, let’s let Lyra decide on her own, shall we? We can give our input to her, but she needs to decide herself. Whatever her decision is, we will support her. She should know what’s the best for herself,” Alt-nii clapped his hands loudly all out of a sudden, clearing the noises from the others’ bickering, before he declared.
“Uhm…,” I felt awkward as everyone’s attention was suddenly shifted to me.
“What do you feel about him, Lyra?” Alt-nii asked.
“I… Uh, I’m not sure. I don’t want to be someone who judges people based on what others say, so… Though I have some points of doubt, I want to see for myself,” I said without giving any decision here.
“There, you hear that? Alright then, let’s just eat our lunch peacefully~,” Alt-nii said as he unpacked his lunch.
It seemed like empty stomach was the best way to unite people.
Food is indeed the greatest weapon one can have.
“Ah, there you are!”
I blinked rapidly.
I couldn’t believe myself.
Here, I just arrived in front of my class along with my friends—Luca, Kiri, Iris, Carbuncle, and Ein. But what greeted us—what greeted me upon arriving at the door to my class was…
Erneste was here, along with his two sidekicks. I saw them several times, but as Erneste and I were alone whenever we met, I didn’t really know them well.
And as for my friends… I believe they were famous, but this…
I think this is the first time Erneste met my friends face-to-face…
Just like how this was the first time he came to find me in front of my classroom.
Look, the students around us were already squealing!
It was rare for Erneste to come around here, after all.
If only the trio girls were still with us, I bet this would turn on their fangirling mode!
“E… Erneste? What are you doing here?” I immediately asked.
No sooner after I said that, I felt an aura of hostility coming from behind me—let me guess! Ein, Luca, and Carbuncle?
They were quite biased towards Erneste.
Iris and Kiri’s impressions of him weren’t that great after the incident with the trio troublemakers, too, although they were more of neutral faction.
“…My, my, it looks like I’m not welcomed here, huh?” Erneste widened his eyes for a moment before he quickly smiled.
Oh, it seems that he can detect my friends’ hostility!
“Since you know that, why are you still here?” Carbuncle stepped forward and asked.
“I believe I have something I wish to talk to your friend, Lyra,” Erneste said, still with his smile.
Oh, he didn’t flinch when he met Carbuncle!
“If that’s the case, hurry and finish your business already. The lunch break is going to be over soon,” Luca said with his arms crossed.
“Yes, Your Highness, I will make it quick,” Erneste immediately replied, still with the same smile as ever.
“This is Harmonia Academy, why are you still using such formalities and status?” Ein complained.
“Ah, pardon me. It’s my habit as I need to prepare myself to join the society soon,” Erneste apologetically said.
I believe my friends were all trying to intimidate him, but Erneste could still maintain his composure and smile.
…I wasn’t sure if this was a good thing or not, as I somehow felt like this was only his front—a fake face he wore. Perhaps I had this hunch as when I was Reinst, I did the same thing. So, this felt familiar to me.
But well, being a nobility that had to fake formalities all my life as Reinst, I felt like I could sympathize with Erneste.
“Anyway, Lyra… Are you free this weekend?”
THIS IS TOTALLY BEYOND MY EXPECTATIONS!!
When Erneste said that, his two friends were jeering on him, teasing him. Erneste only smiled.
My mind drifted off…
I am indeed free. I can go anywhere I want, but…
What to do if Dad asks me about it?
I don’t want to lie to him.
But I don’t want Dad to go on his overdoting dad mode.
Erneste is also going to suffer if I were to tell this to Dad…
Moreover, will this count as a real date?
Going together around the school is different than this…
Perhaps I was being silent for quite a long time that Erneste finally said.
“…Seems like you can’t? That’s too bad… But what about eating together in a cafe or restaurant nearby our academy?” Erneste asked, and from the look of it, he seemed to know my answer already.
After becoming Intermediate Level students, we were allowed to wander around Harmonia Academy during break time. Many students would try to hang out at nearby cafes or restaurants. The academy itself never lacked any of cafes or restaurants, and there were even shops inside the academy. It was like a small city. But many students still liked going out for a change of atmosphere.
As for me and my friends, we were still trying the things inside the academy as we had more access now that we were Intermediate Level students, so we never really thought of hanging outside… yet.
“That…,” I glanced towards everyone else around me who seemed to be giving an even weirder vibe.
“Together with everyone else?” I quickly came up with an idea.
Sure enough, when I suggested that, everyone was surprised.
But my friends recovered very quickly as some of them made taunting look towards Erneste.
It felt as if they were challenging him to something.
After a while, Erneste turned to look at me and smiled.
“As much as I’d like it to be just the two of us… I guess we can do that. The more the merrier, they say?”
“Heee?!” Carbuncle’s surprised shriek could be heard.
I turned around to look at my friends’ faces and realized how they seemed to think that Erneste’s answer was totally unexpected.
Erneste didn’t give us much leeway as he quickly added, “My friends Cory and Matt will also come along, then. What about tomorrow’s lunch break?”
“Eh? Ah, sure… By the way, will it be fine for you if my friends of different grade will be coming as well? We are usually together, so…,” I added as I thought of the trio who surely would be very happy to hear this invitation.
“Sure, I hope we can all get along well,” Erneste said as he kept smiling.
After that, we said our goodbyes and…
“So… Did you guys agree with my decision?” I awkwardly asked my friends.
“No! Definitely no! I’d rather we reject him outright! He’s trying to steal you from me!” Ein said as he tried to cling to me, but I held my hand to prevent him from getting all clingy like that. Yep, I shouldn’t indulge him and let him do all he wanted just because he was younger and was like a younger brother to me!!
If he got used to be clingy to me, in the future… well, I couldn’t imagine an adult Ein getting all clingy to an adult me…
“Well, I don’t mind, it will help to understand him better,” Iris half-smiled.
“Now, a new toy I can play around with!” Carbuncle slurped.
“…Do as you wish,” Luca said.
“I don’t think it’s wrong,” Kiri also said with a slightly confused look.
“Then, I’ll tell the others later after school or tomorrow if we don’t happen to see them after school,” I nodded.
In any case, it would be great if we all could get along well.
I felt that my circle of friends was continuously expanding… I wonder if it’s really a good thing?
Sure enough, the trio girls went all “Kyaa~ Kyaa~,” when I told them about it. I could tell that they were excited and looking forward to it.
Meanwhile, unexpectedly, Alt-nii and Clavis insisted on coming together, which meant Harvey (who didn’t mind anything at all) also tagged along.
Now, let’s count.
My group of friends had… 12 people in it now including me.
Add Erneste’s small group of friends, then it would be 15 people going to a restaurant together.
It would be akin to a banquet.
Heck, it could be similar to a special class’ get-together event!!
In any case, I wonder how things would turn out especially with Ein and Clavis? They were the ones who seemed to oppose this event strongly.
When lunch break arrived, we gathered at the spot we agreed on before: in front of a famous buffet restaurant where there were various food varieties (thanks to how various chefs or brands collaborated to open the restaurant) so we could choose according to our own palate.
The restaurant was quite big and it didn’t seem too luxurious or too simple. It was so-so, but it gave off a comfortable feeling.
Apparently, Erneste had booked a small room for all of us.
Yep, 15 people is quite a lot, and an appointment is definitely a safer choice.
When we met, Erneste and his friends introduced themselves to the rest of my friends, and my friends also introduced themselves.
I thought things would go sour especially with Ein, Clavis, Carbuncle, and unexpectedly Luca who tried to taunt Erneste so suddenly. However, Erneste managed to maintain his smile and even tried to flatter everyone.
“Ah, you’re Lyra’s older brother, Altaire-san, right? You’re quite famous as the only known and alive user of [Void] magic! I’m also impressed with you and to think that I can talk directly with you like this…”
(Alt-nii seemed to be quite impressed by Erneste’s flattery…)
“You must be Clavis-san, Altaire-san’s close aide, right? A beastman of silver wolf tribe, huh? Wolves are cool, their beautiful howling is their primary communication tool, right? Can you communicate with members of your tribe with howls too?”
(Clavis seemed like he was so unfriendly towards Erneste, and his unfriendly face was the same, but he finally talked to Erneste as Erneste brought this topic up)
“Nice to meet you, Harvey-san. I heard you’re a very talented student in terms of blacksmithing. I’d like to try one of your crafted equipment one day!”
(Harvey was totally flattered he scratched his nose in embarrassment)
“Briar-san, Valerie-san, and Dmitria-san, right? I’m really glad the three of you can now become friends with Lyra and the others. …Ah? Thank you for your praises on me, too. Thank you for becoming my fans and for getting worried over me.”
(The trio girls went to their fangirling mode, with Briar and Dmitria being a bit loud and Valerie more reserved)
“You’re the famous dragon girl, Carbuncle, right? Hmm? Even if I look like this, I’m quite strong, you know? I can’t be as strong as you, a dragon, though, but sure, let’s have some sort of a game in the future. You look like an ordinary human girl when you’re like this, though, it’s amazing.”
(Carbuncle wanted to challenge him and teased him until he ‘cried like a baby’, but she felt a mixed emotion as she heard Erneste’s response, she wasn’t sure how to react for a few moments)
“Iris-san, Lyra-san’s best friend, right? It must be good to know each other since childhood.”
(Iris was being the shy girl she was)
“Ein-kun, the Loera family’s heir? That’s really amazing how you can skip classes and enroll in the same special class as Lyra. …Eh? Yes, I will never be able to accomplish such a feat like you did, but I believe there are lots of experiences I would be able to learn by not skipping any grades or enrolling in special class, and I don’t want to miss that chance out.”
(Ein couldn’t argue with Erneste’s words that he let it go… for now, maybe)
“The crown prince, Luca-sama and his aide, Kiri-san… It’s really an honor for me to be able to get acquainted like this with the two of you. …Sorry, I can’t go less formal than this. I hope we will be able to get along well.”
(Luca made a sarcastic comment that all of us should be able to tell, but I think Erneste decided to feign ignorance just because)
With that, our meal together was going quite well, although it didn’t feel as friendly as when it was just me and my friends.
…If the younger ones were to chime in as well, that’d make 18 of us and surely things would be so noisy.
It was enough noisy here with just 15 of us…
Anyhow, it seemed that things didn’t turn as bad as I imagined them to be.
How nice, how very nice if we could all just get along like this.
Though somehow, Erneste’s smile and his flattering skills reminded me of my old self, Reinst, so much…
Ah, but I wasn’t as friendly as him.
Besides, it was just my front. I think in Erneste’s case, he was genuine, so…
I feel happier to know that my doubt of him was cleared after this interaction and revelation from the trio (about how their conversation went).
I’m still not sure if I like him in that way or not, but… everything can wait and we can go slowly, right?
The merry lunch ended in no time as we were—or I was—having fun with everyone else. The best highlight of today’s lunch was how we ended up showing one another our current ID cards—as we compared who had the best photo and who had the worst photo there.
We had plenty of laugh as we never really thought of showing one another our ID cards before. Actually, my friends and I did that when we were in Basic Level and had a really good laugh. But when we got into Intermediate Level, we completely forgot to do that as our minds were more focused on other stuffs such as extracurricular and elective choices.
Erneste’s friend, Matt, was the one who suggested that as he jokingly said that the photographer must be one of Erneste’s fans for being able to capture Erneste’s photo very well but failed miserably at his.
Sure enough, Erneste’s photo in the ID card was very good. Even mine wasn’t as good as him. I wonder if it was the photographer or Erneste’s skills…?
Alt-nii’s group, my group, and Erneste’s group parted ways after the lunch and only vaguely said that we should have this kind of get-together outing again in the future.
As we were walking back, I remembered I had to extend some of the books’ rental period from the library, so I opened the small notebook where I stored my ID card in to prepare to go to the library when I noticed…
“Eh? Oh no, I think Erneste and I forgot about his student ID card that was last in my hands! I accidentally put it in my small notebook,” I said as I looked at Erneste’s ID card that was casually put between the card holder part of the book that had my ID in, and the page part of the book.
“Tch, could it be one of his ways so you can go and find him again? To make up a reason so Big Sis Lyra can go and find him?” Ein sulked.
“No way, Erneste wouldn’t bother Aneki that he likes!” Briar defended him.
“Well, but that is quite a good move if he indeed intends to have a reason to meet up quickly with Aneki again,” Valerie said.
“Did he forget? A student’s ID card is valuable and quite important, after all, it can be a trouble to casually leave them like this… What if the ID card were to slip out before Lyra even realizes it?” Iris worriedly asked, perhaps she was imagining the scenario if she were to lose her own ID card.
“You’re right, it’s just too careless to slip the ID card here. A-anyway, I should probably return it to him quick. He shouldn’t be too far away by now. You guys can go ahead, I still need to go to the library as well!” I said as I turned around to try and chase Erneste.
“Aneki, do you want us to accompany you?” Briar offered.
“Nah, I will be fine. It’s going to be quick, so there’s no need for that,” I softly rejected her good offer as I didn’t want to bother more people with my (and Erneste’s) carelessness.
I quickly went towards the direction where I last saw Erneste and his friends were headed to. When I was lost on which way I should be headed to, I asked several people on the way about it. As expected, since Erneste was quite popular, some people saw him as he passed by and told me the direction.
Thanks to the clues I managed to gather, I finally got to catch a sight of Erneste and his friends as they were walking leisurely.
After catching a sight of them, I quickly dashed forward.
I could actually call him out but I didn’t want to yell and attract others’ unnecessary attention.
But suddenly, as they took several turns that caused my confusion, I lost sight of them.
I looked at my surroundings and saw that I was in a quiet part of Intermediate Level building. This part of the place was away from the classrooms, and I believed this path would lead to the storage, small chapel, and the other rooms we didn’t normally come to.
We could actually use this path to go to the classrooms area, but it would be quite a roundabout way.
I tilted my head in confusion. Perhaps I was indeed lost.
As I turned around, I saw Erneste at the hall opposite of me (it was an open hall style where there was a small garden separating my and Erneste’s halls).
Then, I saw him and his two friends taking a turn at the nearby corner.
I hurriedly chased after him and just when I was about to take a turn as well, I wanted to call out to him, “Ernest—”
But my words fell into silent.
As I overheard something I probably shouldn’t hear.
“But if you really end up with that Lyra, then you’re quite something, Erneste,” Cory’s voice.
“Haha, yep, that would be akin to robbing the heroine from the country’s crown prince! Imagine, such a hard challenge!” Matt’s voice.
“Well, now calm down, you two. It isn’t an easy task, but I’m sure I can succeed in the end. And in the end, I will let them know how superior I am from even the crown prince,” Erneste’s voice, in a tone I never heard before.
I was very surprised to hear the content of their conversation that I ended up putting down my hand that was raised mid-air in my failed attempt to call Erneste and his friends.
“And imagine the benefits that comes with that girl. The connection I will get if I really can win her hearts. She’s surrounded by many gems, influential people,” Erneste then chuckled.
“Above all, people will definitely look at me in a different light. They will idolize me even more,” Erneste continued after chuckling.
“Haha, you are really so narcistic!”
“She is sure gullible, though?”
“Indeed, her naivety is good for me, though,” Erneste responded, “that way, I can catch her. She won’t suspect anything from me. As long as I can keep up my mask as the perfect ‘prince’. Nobody knows anyway, except for you two, right?”
“Are you going to keep this play up, Erneste?”
“Until I get enough influence and fame, I suppose.”
“As expected of Erneste! Make sure to share us some, for we have worked for your sake as well!”
The three boys laughed.
Their laughs turned even more distant until they could no longer be heard as I stood still without chasing them.
I ended up grasping Erneste’s ID card harder and soon, my hand lost its power. The card then fell to the floor.
Just like how my heart lost its positive power. Just like how my hopes fell to the darkness.
Aah, how could I forget?
People can be like this.
This is exactly what I have been taught for when I was still Reinst.
‘Listen, Reinst. Never trust others so deeply. Behind others’ kindness, there is surely something they seek. People who want to get close to you, people who flatter you… They are trying to make use of you, your position. Don’t be fooled and be taken advantage of. Don’t be on the losing edge. Become someone who can avoid being taken advantage of by people, reverse the cards and take advantages of them instead.’
Mother’s words echoed in my mind.
It was a very impactful words to me that I remembered the content more or less.
As Reinst, I lived abiding those words.
The current me was too naive, for my whole life as Lyra up until now, I was surrounded by genuine, nice people.
Finally, for the first time in my life as Lyra, I was reminded of the cruel reality.
That there are people who are willing to deceive and manipulate others’ feelings.
That there are people who don’t care about things other than influence, power, authority.
I naively thought that Erneste genuinely liked me for me.
Not because I was some duke’s daughter with connections and power.
I wanted to trust him as he seemed to be very sincere. I totally didn’t see this coming.
Was it my fault for being too trusting? Although I was trained to keep a distance between myself and the others when I was Reinst, I… I…
Aah, I was such a fool…
Though I didn’t like him romantically, but… it hurts, you know?
I guess deep in my heart, I held a little bit of hope or expectation towards his good will. And now that the expectation was betrayed, I felt… disappointed.
I felt empty again in my heart.
Erneste was already 14 years old. He was already an adult with ambition and could scheme.
Even the other children—they surely would lose their innocence slowly over the years, depending on their environment.
Not everyone is genuine.
Not everyone is kind.
The world is just like this, and it’s even more apparent in the adults’ world.
I can’t stay a child forever.
Soon, I will enter that cruel world too—I will face people who might come to me with their ulterior motives. People who are selfish and heartless.
I felt as if my bright and cheerful life so far was starting to crumble down slowly, yet surely.
I was so anxious that I felt the atmosphere around me turning heavier.
Or was it my head that turned heavier?
…I am not prepared to face this cruel reality.
How should I protect myself from getting hurt again?
With such heavy mind, I forced myself to take back Erneste’s ID card which fell down from my hand, put it in my pocket, and left the area slowly, in a totally different direction from Erneste and his friends.
…I hate feeling like this.
I have never felt like this for so long I thought I’d already forgotten what it felt like.
…I hate this, I want to run away.
I don’t want to imagine such a future where I have to feel like this from time to time…