Hate has a reason for everything: But Love is Unreasonable (MobuSeka/Hamefura)

Bear Ribs

Well-known member
Hmm, in canon I thought Marie only played about halfway through the game and made her brother do the other half for her so she could see the cutscenes. Upgrade to raise the stakes this time around?

Looks like she's still making the same mistakes and not realizing how real-life consequences work compared to set game scripts though.
Awry Affairs 2-2


Well-known member
Awry Affairs

Change a hawk to a little white dove
More than a feeling, that's the power of love
~ Huey Lewis​

Chapter 2

Hatred is the coward’s revenge for being intimidated. ~ George Bernard Shaw​

Katarina Rafa Claes was on watch for threats as she went out onto the practice field for the magic class.

Her mother, the redoubtable Duchess Claes, would probably have been delighted to think that Katarina had paid attention to her lectures and was aware of the potential for political attacks even in the relative safety of the academy. After all, her fellow students would represent at least a quarter of the kingdom’s nobility - or at the least, the family of knights associated with them - and thus everything and anything that happened here would quickly become well known - particularly in Katarina’s year which had a particularly high attendance by the upper nobility.

Fortunately for her mother’s peace of mind, there was no way for her to know that Katarina wasn’t looking for plots aimed at learning her secrets or of entrapping her in some scheme to gain benefits from association with the ducal family.

No, having been reborn into the life of the most notorious villainess in an otome game, Katarina was far more concerned with watching out for any actions by the heroine that could indicate which of the capture targets she was going after.

Frivolous? The sort of thing that would be expected to divert the attention of a pretty, well-born and well-dressed (technically, everyone was dressed the same in the school uniforms, but outside of classes, Katarina wore long,blue-trimmed white dresses that required considerable attention from her maid Anne to keep clean) girl from more important matters?

Not at all! Depending on who the heroine of the game targeted, and how well she won the affections of her chosen boy (or boys), Katarina Rafa Claes could face exile or even death. The game was terribly unforgiving towards the poor girl.

However, as the students began to demonstrate their current grasp of attack magic to the students, Katarina couldn’t see the blonde head of Olivia Campbell at all.

She wasn’t near Katarina’s fiancee, Prince Gerald Rafa Stuart. (Exile or getting cut down with the prince’s sword).

She wasn’t near Katarina’s brother, Lord Keith Rafa Claes. (Exile or getting crushed to death by Keith’s golems).

Mildly optimistic, Katarina checked to see if Olivia was anywhere near Gerald’s twin brother Alan - but this also didn’t seem to be the case. While the brunette would feel terrible for her good friend Mary Fou Hunt if Alan broke off his engagement to her, that wouldn’t actually leave Katarina dead so it could tentatively be considered a good end…? Maybe…? Poor Mary would be crushed, Katarina would have to make it up to her somehow, particularly after she’d stolen away the ‘green thumbs’ line that had caused Mary to fall so heavily in love with Alan in the first place.

“Lady Katarina!” Mary left Alan to hug her eagerly. “Are you ready for the class? Is there anything I can do to help you?”

Katarina returned the hug. Mary was so affectionate, she thought fondly. And a perfect lady, everything Katarina wasn’t when it came to being proper and ladylike. “I was just looking for Miss Campbell,” she explained.

“The scholarship student?” asked Mary. “She’s not here.”

“What?!” Was she after the last capture target, Lord Nicol Fia Ascart? The student council president, best friend of Gerald and (most importantly) the elder brother of Katarina’s other closest girl friend, Sophia.

“Quite so,” Gerald agreed, moving over smoothly. “Light magic isn’t really useful offensively so she and the other light mage in the class are excused from this class to take tutoring at the chapel.”

There was another light mage? Katarina frowned in confusion. She didn’t remember that from the game. Was there more than one heroine? Was this… oh, no was there a multiplayer mode she didn’t know anything about?

“Yes, that girl that’s making a play for multiple boys,” Mary agreed. “Shameless.”

“Speaking of shamelessness, Mary, don’t you think you’ve been hugging my fiancee long enough?” suggested Gerald.


Katarina giggled. Mary was a great friend. “I still have to take my turn,” she said, indicating the wooden targets being set up for each student in turn to try out their magic on. “Even though I’ll be the worst.”

“You’re not the worst!” protested Mary.

“And nor will your magic be the worst in this class,” Gerald reassured her.

“But I can only use my magic to create a little bump in the earth.”

“Yes, but Countess Bartford’s son can’t use magic at all,” the prince explained, indicating a dark-haired young man. “He just swore at the target, claimed he’d have hurt its feelings and gave up.”

“Doesn’t that mean that he’ll fail the class?”

The blond nodded. “To be fair, if he’d said that to me, my feelings would be hurt. Of course, he’d be on fire so…”

“What did he say?” asked Katarina curiously.

“I couldn’t possibly repeat that to a lady.”

“Lady Claes!” called the teacher.”Lord Claes!”

Katarina and her little brother Keith (younger by six months - he was adopted - and thus in the same school year) walked out with the other students in their group. Katarina was trying to remember who the Bartfords were. Her tutors had gone through every important noble household in the kingdom time and time again, but like a lot of things that didn’t matter, she’d forgotten them as soon as the class was over.

There was only so much room in her memory! She had to prioritise!

“Each in turn, hit the target with your best attack,” the teacher instructed.

The targets were made of wood - not much more than a head-sized-circle on a stick - and about twenty yards away.

The first student hit his target with a fireball, scorching it visibly. While it was more destructive than her own magic, it made Katarina feel better. Gerald would have essentially obliterated it with his flames so at least she didn’t have to worry about everyone measuring her against him. Lots of students had less magic than her fiancee.

The second of the five students lashed out with a stream of water that neatly severed the pole holding the target up. There was some applause for the girl from some of the boys in the class. She tossed her hair confidently and pretended to ignore them.

“Lady Claes,” the teacher reminded her.

Oh yes, it was her turn. Katarina focused on the pole. She couldn’t attack the target itself - it was too far above the ground. But the pole was buried in the ground… “Earth bump!”

The soil around the pole burst upwards a few inches, but burst was the word. A small spray of dirt few in all directions and after a moment the pole sagged slightly to one side, no longer fixed in the ground.

Whispers came from the crowd behind Katarina, and she thought she heard sniggering.

And then a golem the size of a knight-armour reared up behind the targets. Katarina glanced sideways and saw Keith’s face tight with focus. The golem slammed one foot down, crushing not only his target but also Katarina’s.

There was a sudden silence from behind them.

“Er… yes, very good Lord Claes. Perhaps next time try to just hit your own target.”

“I hit every target I was aiming for,” Keith told the teacher flatly.

Katarina reached over and hugged him. “That was great, Keith!”

“T-thank you,” he answered, going red in the face. Aw, was he flustered at having people watch him? Katarina would have to help him with that. She wasn’t sure how yet, but she would think of something.


The balcony seating area of the dining hall was relatively deserted and Violette had found it to be something of a refuge over the last few weeks. The weather hadn’t warmed enough to make it all that comfortable, but she was less likely to be bothered up there by girls eager to learn of new developments between herself and Chris, and to suggest paths to try to change that when there were none.

Whatever some of the girls might have thought, she wasn’t stupid enough to try some of the approaches that would be self-sabotaging. Getting rid of Marie from the academy would require her father’s assistance, which she knew better than to expect, and in all honesty… Violette couldn’t have brought herself to try. What was the little blonde doing that she hadn’t tried herself to win Chris’ affections.

It galled her that Lady Lafan was succeeding where she had failed, it galled her to the point she had barely kept some meals down. But there was no reason to believe that Chris would turn back to her if Marie was gone.

Return? Ha. She had never had him in the first place.

Hunched over in privacy at a corner table on the balcony, Violette crunched her fork through a crispy pastry and severed a corner of it. She delicately skewered the severed section and lifted it to her mouth. The sweetness of the sugared apples inside and the crunch of the delicate pastry was no particular comfort to her.

No, remove Marie and someone else would step into those shoes. She was not blind to the other girls who had tried for Chris in the past or those who were actively trying to push away Chris for their own benefit.

If she was to win him back somehow, it would have to be through some other method. And foul play would likely only cement his low opinion of her.

Violette put her fork down, dug out one of several handkerchiefs she had taken to carrying around and blew her nose, ridding her nostrils of the clogging. Wandering around with wet cheeks and a runny nose inspired contempt, not sympathy. At this rate, she thought, it would only be a matter of time before the Arclights decided to approach her father to end the arrangement between their families.

One more thing for father to blame me for, she thought bitterly. At least with Scarlet engaged to Greg Fou Seberg, this won’t cost all of our ties to the royal faction. As long as that lasts…

There was a shameful moment of satisfaction that at least her father’s precious daughter was having no happier time with her own fiance. But she quashed that down. Scarlet’s unhappiness was no cause for joy on her part. Her twin hadn’t had any hand in bringing Violette to this position, and at least one of them should have some chance at happiness.

The sound of voices below drew Violette’s attention away from her introspection and she turned her head. Sour, cruel words. She could not make them out exactly but she knew the tone. Oh yes, she knew that tone.

Pushing her chair back, Violette leant over the balcony edge and saw a small girl up against the wall of the dining hall. Five other girls surrounded her in a semi-circle, and each seemed to have quite a bit to say to their target.

From this angle, it took Violette a moment to realise that the one being cornered down below was her ‘rival’. Marie was towered over by most of her age-mates, and at least two of the girls in the pack around her were upperclassmen.

A dirty impulse suggested to Violette that she should leave well enough alone. Nothing had forced Marie to pursue Chris, or whichever of the men twisted around her fingers that these five envied her for.

Or was there? She had her own reasons for wanting Chris - or anyone, really - to care for her. Maybe Marie did have her own driving needs.

Violette set down her fork neatly on the plate and went to the iron stair set at the end of the balcony. It was intended for use as an escape from the roof in the event of a fire or anything else blocking the main steps, but it had long since been left unlocked so students could reach the balcony from outside. Security was hardly a concern within the academy.

Taking the steps two at a time, the girl descended as quickly as she could without slipping. Breathing heavily, she reached the foot of the stairs and rounded the corner to see that nothing much had changed in the scant moments since her decision to…

Well, what was she going to do now? Make five other girls stop this. How?

Well, she was a duke’s daughter for what little that meant to him. Violette took a deep breathe…

“Stop this right now!” A sharp voice cut across the scene and Violette closed her mouth reflexively, anticipating a sharp reprimand.

The other girls all looked up in surprise, joining Violette in staring at an irritated looking Chris Fou Arclight. The young swordsman stalked up to them, directing a withering glare at the bullies. Then his eye caught on Violette and his lip curled as if he was seeing something distasteful.

“It does not surprise me to see you behind all this,” he told her disdainfully and Violette flinched at words, searching for a way to explain she was not, that she had not…

But he ignored her, literally turning away to take hold of Marie’s hands. “Are you alright, Marie?” he asked, far more gently. More intimately.

“I’m… I’m always alright when you are with me,” the little blonde told him, resting her head against his chest. Chris’ arms closed protectively around his paramour’s shoulders and Violette felt a surge of despair.

“Yes.” The boy assured her. “And I will always be there for you, Marie.”

The other girls scattered suddenly, leaving Violette alone with the couple. Her feet felt numb, incapable of carrying her away.

“Go away, Ades,” Chris told her sharply. “If I catch you near Marie again, I’ll…”

“For a swordsman, your awareness is pathetic.” The sarcasm cut the threat short and Violette turned to see a somewhat familiar boy joining them from the dining hall’s main entrance. It was the boy from the rose garden, she realised. His uniform jacket hung open, revealing the shirt beneath and his hair was tousled.

“What do you want, Stuart?”

“A long list of things,” the boy said in a bored tone. “But the only one you could provide if you cared to was to pay attention to something other than your desperate need to impress Lady Lafan. I was twice as far away as you and I had no difficulty seeing Lady Ades arrive the same time you did. She’d hardly be rushing to incriminate herself, so the only reason for that is that she was trying to help Lafan.”

Chris snorted. “As if she would do such a thing.”

The Stuart brother - which twin was, he? Violette knew there were two of them, Gerald and Alan, but she was embarrassed to realise she’d never known which was the golden-haired and which had silver hair. Wait, he’d mentioned Mary and the younger twin was engaged to Mary Fou Hunt so this must be Alan Rafa Stuart who was looking at Chris as if the other boy was a moron. “There’s none so blind as those who cannot see,” he chided and then offered Violette his arm. “Permit me to escort you back inside,” he offered. “If you’re lucky, Lady Katarina won’t have spotted whatever meal you left behind when you rushed to the rescue.”

“Uh, but your fiancee…” Violette protested.

Alan made a dismissive gesture. “Unlike some people, I talk to my fiancee and Mary appreciates me treating other ladies with some courtesy, just as long as I don’t neglect her in the doing.”

Chris looked likely to make an issue of it but Marie pulled on his arm and shook her head. “Don’t, Chris,” the girl begged. “Don’t start a fight like this.”

Drawing himself up with something like dignity, the swordsman placed Marie’s hand on his arm. “Let’s return to the dorms,” he proposed. “We can arrange food from the kitchens there.”

Alan watched them go and then looked down at Violette, extending his arm in mute offer. This time she put her hand on his and he escorted her back into the hall and towards the stairs up to the balcony. “How do you put up with that?” he asked her when they were half-way up.

“With what?”

“His attitude,” the boy clarified. “And her… her clinging to him, I suppose.”

Violette smiled sadly. “I was no different from her, so how can I fault her?” she admitted. “And Chris…” Then she shook her head. “I don’t know him. I don’t think I ever did, I just deluded myself that I did.”



Having just returned to the academy grounds, Leon wasn’t expecting to be ambushed by his sister. It was getting close to curfew. “Jenna?”

“Where have you been all evening?”

“At the port.” He shook his head. “I have a ship there, you know. I do have to go across every now and then to make sure it’s in good shape.”

Luxion’s voice was indignant in his ear. “My maintenance is impeccable!”

Jenna put her hands on her hips. “I’ve been looking for you!”

“Do you want a prize?”

“I ought to give you a piece of my mind. You’re supposed to be looking out for me.”

“If I’d done a better job of that,” he told her honestly. “I’d not have been found. So what is it now?”

His sister’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “What is going on in your class?”

“There are sixty or so students in the special class, just in my year,” Leon pointed out. “Even if I knew every single thing going on with all of them, we’d be here all night.” He gestured for her to wait. “Let’s talk as we walk, I do have to be back in my dorm soon - and airing gossip out here isn’t wise.”

When she nodded reluctantly, he led the way into the boys dorms. “Sorry, Luxion,” he apologised subvocally. “I needed an excuse. It’s not like I can tell her I was using the knight armour simulator - you’re the only one with anything like that, as far as I know.”

The AI muttered something deliberately too quiet for Leon to make out, but allowed the point to stand.

Once inside Leon’s room, Jenna barely waited for the door to close before bursting out: “I mean what’s going on with the prince and his friends? Are they really all carrying on with the same girl?”

“Envious?” he asked her wryly, unbuttoning his uniform jacket.

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Jenna shook her head. “If I want multiple lovers, that’s what servants are for. Any sane woman is monogamous.”

Leon frowned. “I suppose that those two statements aren’t strictly contradictory,” he conceded. “And yes, Viscount Lafan’s youngest daughter appears to have Prince Julius and four other boys all at her beck and call.”

“Is she drugging them somehow?”

“You’re sounding just a little too eager about that idea,” he warned. “And no, not as far as I can tell.”

“Blow it out of your ear-hole, little brother. She can’t possibly expect them all to marry her, what’s her end goal?”

“I wouldn’t necessarily rule stupidity out,” Leon pointed out. “They’re all fifteen or sixteen.”

“I’m sixteen and you’re fifteen,” his sister pointed out suspiciously.

He started removing his boots. “And you’ve frequently claimed that I’m an idiot. What’s your point, Jenna?”

“I suppose she might be aiming for Field,” Jenna muttered, half to herself. “But she can’t carry on with the others if she’s marrying him - that would leave her children’s paternity in question.”

“Stu-pid-ity,” Leon repeated slowly, peeling off his socks. He sniffed at them and then regretted it, flinging them into his laundry basket. Taking a cloth he soaked in the tepid water of his washbasin and started wiping his feet off.

“You’re disgusting, little brother.” Jenna turned away.

Leon shook his head. “I can’t exactly strip off and head to the showers with you around, Jenna. Get to the point.”

“I refuse to believe that anyone could be stupid enough pick a fight with two ducal houses and a court count’s family unless they have some plan and some serious backing,” Jenna told him. She started chewing on one thumbnail. “You realise what this could mean, right?”

“It could crack the crown’s support with the Duke Redgrave’s traditionalists, two major ministers and push Ades either back out of politics or into one of the other factions?” Leon asked. “It’s crossed my mind. What worries me is that it doesn’t seem to have occurred to Prince Julius or any of his cronies. Either they’re as stupid as stumps or no one has explained the politics to them.”

His sister stared at him for a moment and then shrugged. “Alright, at least you’re not that stupid. Are you involved at all?”

“No… although it may not be avoidable if this goes on.” He finished rinsing his feet and went for a towel to start drying them off. “At the moment I think it’s contained within the academy, but presumably the news will get out once term ends and the students get home.”

Jenna nodded. “We need to make better contacts so we know how this is going to go down,” she decided. “We’re a count’s family now. We can’t expect to be ignored if it comes to a conflict. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make contacts at that level last year and joining a clique in the second year is difficult. I need you to buy me a servant.”

Leon opened his mouth to speak, considered the question with care and then went with his original reaction. “Hell no.”

“Leon, I don’t fit in without one. The other girls think we’re too poor for me to afford even an elf!”

“Even an elf?”

His sister sighed heavily. “The prices crashed on elf contract servants, you know why.”

He blinked. “That’s faster than I thought. Anyway, I wouldn’t buy you an elf even if I could. Mother would skin me and salt me - and with good reason.”

“You know what gossip’s like,” Jenna said dismissively. “I don’t think anyone knows for sure outside of certain select circles, but enough’s out that hints have been dropping thick and fast that elves are out of fashion.”

Leon pursed his lips. “You haven’t been the source of that gossip, have you?” Jenna hadn’t been there when Zola got her comeuppance, but he assumed she’d learned at some point between that being done and the instructions to keep the reasons quiet. Digging up dirt was one thing she was decent at. Not the only thing, but also far from the most reputable of skills.

Fortunately for his peace of mind, the girl seemed sincere when she shook his head. “I’d rather not incur royal displeasure, thank you very much. We’re by no means secure in our status - it wouldn’t take much to deprive mother of her new rank. It’s not as if we’ve got entrenched support with the baronets and knights of our new domain.”

“I’m glad we agree on something else.”

“A demihuman would really help me, Leon.”

“Jenna, I bought off our debts and helped dad pay for the war. Most of what I had left paid for me getting put in the special class unexpectedly - I really didn’t think I’d be out of the general class, given our upstart status,” he lied. “I’m not broke but I can’t afford to buy you a servant. Try writing to dad.”

“I did!”

Leon shook his head. “And he turned you down. Get lost, Jenna. I’m not going behind their backs just because you’re trying to keep up with your classmates in how fast you can throw money away.” He went to the door and opened it for her. “Get back to your dorm, you’ve barely time before curfew,” the young man added to cut short any further argument.


The academy’s library wasn’t one of the truly great collections of lore - the Temple and the Ministry both boasted much older and more varied libraries, while there were always whisperings about what the crown and the older dynasties had within their private archives.

With that said, the academy had copies of almost every book in general circulation from reputable scholars. The printing press made that an affordable expense, and thus the library’s shelves took up a long and narrow hall lit from either end and skylights above. The walls were lined with books, and other shelves occupied much of the ground floor, partially enclosing desks for study

The shelves on the mezzanine level held all books that students could sign out, while the lower level was usually reserved for those wishing to study books that could not be taken out. Scarlet and Leon had ventured down there, claiming one of the desks that was well-placed for access to books on magical theory.

“You disagree with this point?” Scarlet asked, tapping one page with a slender finger.

Leon checked that it was the section that he thought before answering. “I can’t test it for myself - but the arguments on the previous page seem to add up more to ‘because I can’t do this, I declare it to be impossible for anyone’. If I accept that principle, then all magic is impossible, which is clearly not the case, so…”

Scarlet nodded solemnly. “It’s one of the more basic premises in the theory though.”

“You’re not wrong, we’d -” Leon paused at a thump from further back in the shelves, then shook his head. “We’d be docked points if we argued against it without proof, but if we’re hunting extra credits then we could propose a more rigorous set of experiments to prove or disprove the theory.”

“I see.” Her brows furrowed. “To test this we would need a second mage to…” There was a second thump and Scarlet broke off. “What is that?”

The boy shrugged. “Someone being careless with books?”

“Perhaps,” she said a little tartly. “They could be more careful, this is a library after all. But I was saying, we would need one mage to cast the shield and a second to direct spells at it.”

“Strictly it wouldn’t have to be spells but that would definitely be more convenient.” Leon considered candidates. This might be a good way to introduce himself to the class’ one student who wasn’t from the nobility. He was about to say so when there was a third thump from the same direction as the last two.

The two students exchanged looks and then set down their notes to investigate.

It wasn’t a busy day in the library, most students were either in class or out enjoying the better weather. Summer was coming on and many of the trees were blooming, something that encouraged romantic gestures by hopeful young men. Leon personally thought that quite a lot of the girls would have been more interested in the boys making it rain money than showing them flowers on the trees, but he was willing to concede that he might be wrong.

Although he’d want some rigorous scientific proof before he admitted to more than the bare possibility.

Three alcoves away from them, there was another thump and this time quiet giggling, cut short by a wet sound. Scarlet blinked and gave Leon a questioning look, evidently at a loss. He pinched the brow of his nose. He didn’t know exactly what was going on, but he was beginning to suspect.

Waving Scarlet to stay back slightly, Leon reached the next bank of shelves and took pains to be quiet as he craned his head around to peek past it. Well, that wasn’t quite as bad as he’d thought it might be.

“This isn’t performing arts,” he said quietly, “It’s a library.”

Scarlet joined and blinked several times, apparently taken aback at seeing Marie Fou Lafan in the arms of Brad Fou Meadows. The two had been quite enthusiastically involved with each other, given the hickey Marie was sporting, but at least they were fully clothed.

“Wh-what business is it of yours?” the heir to Marquis Field asked, pulling his composure together. “We’re not disturbing anyone.”

“We could hear you from halfway to the stairs,” Leon corrected him.

“Well, so what? It’s not hurting anyone.” Brad snorted and flicked his head, throwing his long purple hair back over his shoulder. He still had one arm wrapped around Marie. “Unlike Greg, I’m not engaged to anyone so it’s no one else’s business if Marie and I spend time together.”

Leon frowned and glanced at Scarlet, but she seemed either unmoved by the implication - or perhaps had just missed the suggestion that Marie was just as physically involved with the silver-blonde’s fiance. “I don’t particularly care about either of your marital statuses, but this is a place for study. I’m sure there are other places for you to practise your performance… or to study reproductive biology, if that’s what you have in mind. Just do it where other students won’t be affected.”

Brad gave him a look. “Ha, what are you going to be studying anyway? You’re that cripple that can’t use magic in the first place.”

“It beats out not being able to use my brain,” Leon shot back. “But besides the many other subjects than magic, I’ll have you know that I can cast one certain spell very well.”

“Oh really?” asked Scarlet.

Leon raised his hand and formed a fist. “I can still punch someone right in the face.”

The girl brightened and she raised her own fist. “I love that spell,” she agreed happily. Unlike Leon, her hand was visibly encased in magical reinforcements. “There’s just something so… satisfying about it.”

Marie went wide-eyed and pressed herself against the shelves. “B-brad,” she said hastily. “Maybe they’re right.”

Brad held her reassuringly. “They wouldn’t dare actually start a fight here.”

Leon tilted his head slightly. “We wouldn’t?” he asked Scarlet.

She gazed happily at her fist and then looked at Brad hopefully, bouncing slightly on the balls of her feet.

“Ah… perhaps we were being a little noisier than we should have been,” he conceded. “You’re right, Marie. Let’s leave the happy couple here to their studies.”

The two edged around the alcove, staying as far from Leon and Scarlet as they could as they did so. Then, hand in hand, they trotted briskly towards the door.

Scarlet slumped slightly in disappointment.

“Never mind,” Leon told her consolingly. “If there’s one sure thing in this life, there’s always someone somewhere that’s deserving of a fist to the face.”
Awry Affairs 2-3


Well-known member
Awry Affairs

Change a hawk to a little white dove
More than a feeling, that's the power of love
~ Huey Lewis​

Chapter 3

He, who takes revenge for a small insult, will have a bigger one thrown at him. ~ Chinese Proverb​

“I hope Keith doesn’t fret too much at being left behind,” Katarina Rafa Claes told Sophia Fia Ascart as the two friends walked through the halls of one of the academy buildings intended for official functions.

As befitting a school for the nobility, the academy campus was well supplied with places suitable for everything from a tea party to a full on banquet and ball. After all, their graduates might be playing host to exactly such events in the future so it was important that they could practise the skills involved in them.

Part of this programme was the requirement that male students should host parties for their fellow students at least once per term. And since most of these parties took place on the same schedule, this left them competing for guests in the form of the female students. Katarina had been practically bombarded with invitations for parties to attend this afternoon, as the first year students hosted their first parties - far too many for her to attend, even if they’d all promised the most delicious food.

“Well, he can’t come with us,” Sophia pointed out. “He’s hosting his own party.”

Katarina nodded. “You’re right.” It had been very kind of her brother to take the time from his preparations to help her to sort out the invitations, discarding those that were unsuitable for some reason or another. “Thank you for inviting me along to this party.”

“Oh, Katarina,” the albino girl caroled. “It’s I who have to thank you for agreeing to come with me.”

“Well, I had no idea there was a party catering to those who love romance novels,” she admitted. “I wonder if I lost the invitation.”

“I think your brother might have lost it. He did seem to lose Gerald’s invitation for you,” mused her dear friend. “It’s a shame brother couldn’t come along to this one, the third years aren’t hosting today, but apparently he was told he had to go to the prince’s tea party.”

Katarina made a face as they went up the steps to the floor indicated on the invitation Sophia held. “I don’t care how great the food will be, I’d have to be on best behaviour the whole time. Keith was right that I shouldn’t go, mother would hear something about it and then I’d be in trouble.”

“Well there won’t be any drama at a nice quiet tea party like this one,” Sophia assured her. “We’ll have tea and snacks, talk about novels and maybe make some new friends.”

“You don’t deserve to attend!” someone declared ahead of them, and from around the corner Katarina heard the sound of someone falling. What was going on? She lengthened her pace, striding suddenly ahead of Sophia to reach the corner.

“But I received an invitation,” another voice protested weakly.

There was the sound of something tearing and Katarina rounded the corner to see a girl ripping up a piece of card. “It was just a courtesy, know your place, commoner.” There were two other girls with her, standing over someone else sprawled on the floor.

“What are you doing?” Katarina yelled, stomping forwards. Her good sensible boots made a big thumping sound as she did so and she just knew that her face was in the villainous expression that she hated in the mirror, but it wasn’t something that mattered to her at the moment.

The standing girls twisted to look at her and their eyes went wide.

“You, I mean you!” Katarina jabbed her finger at them like a gun! “I will - !”

“EEEK!” The leader of the trio shrieked and then all three girls were in frantic flight, stumbling in their high heels and elaborate gowns to get clear of Katarina’s wrath.

“Um,” Katarina broke off as she saw them rush out of view, one down the stairs, another opening a door apparently at random and the third actually hopping out of the window at the end of the hall. (From the disgusted shriek, she’d landed safely but that was where the gardeners heaped manure before they laid it out on the flowerbeds. Katarina knew that because she’d exchanged tips there one afternoon when she was supposed to be learning… something.).

Then she looked down and saw that the person on the floor was a familiar looking blonde girl: Olivia Campbell, the protagonist!

Oh gosh!

“Lady Katarina!” Sophia rushed up after her and had to seize Katarina’s arm to stop herself, swinging slightly before she came to a halt. “You were magnificent!”

“Er… hehehe.” The tall brunette gave her friend a nervous giggle. “I lost my head a little, but er… oh, are you alright?” She offered her hand to Olivia, helping her up. “They didn’t hurt you, did they?”

“Um.” The common-born student examined the floor. “N-no. I-I’m fine. Tha-thank you so much!” she managed to stammer out.

Sophia gave her a warm smile. “It’s okay, you’re not the first person Lady Katarina has rescued from bullies like that.” She glanced down at the floor and then picked up the torn pieces of card. “What’s this?”

“Ah… my invitation,” Olivia confessed. “It’s the only party I was invited to.” She looked at the ripped pieces. “Maybe they’re right.”

It looked a bit familiar to Katarina and she held out her hand to Sophia, who quickly handed them over. Sure enough, once she put the two halves together, Katarina saw that it was just like the invitation she’d turned down earlier. “Oh, Prince Julius’ party… it’s probably going to be all sorts of stiff and formal. There are much better parties to go to than that. You could -” She was about to suggest Keith’s party but then game memories of being battered by an earth golem sprang to mind. No, not triggering the Keith route. Nope-nope-nope! “- ah, come with us!” she finished brightly.

“Really?” asked Olivia doubtfully.

Katarina slumped. Darn this villainous face of hers. No wonder the heroine wouldn’t trust her.

“It’s a party for people who like peace and quiet, with hobbies like art and romance novels,” Sophia explained, taking out her invitation. “And it says that anyone coming can bring along more guests as long as they share those interests.”

“Are you sure it’s alright?” Olivia asked Katarina nervously.

“Yes, of course!” Katarina helped her up to her feet. “And if the host isn’t nice to you, we’ll just go somewhere else.” She frowned. “Whose party is it, Sophia?”

“Leon Fou Bartford,” the albino answered.

The duke’s daughter tried to remember who that was and failed.

“The boy who can’t do any magic.”

Katarina was sure her expression gave away that she still had no clue. “Well, I’ll remember him for this part then,” she decided. “It’s just along here, isn’t it?”

It was indeed only three doors further away, and when Katarina knocked on the door, she was surprised by the face of the boy that opened it. She had seen him, she remembered now, although she hadn’t put a name to the face until now. He wasn’t particularly tall, or particularly handsome (although she had to admit that with Gerald and Nicol around so much she might be a little spoiled). He had dark hair, just barely long enough to tie off in a ponytail, and sharp eyes.

“Welcome,” he greeted them, his voice calm and very non-threatening. “Please come in.”

Inside, the room was set up with three tables, chairs all around them. Katarina saw a table set up with snacks and sweets and pastries and… oh, there was that, and she wanted one of those… picking up a plate she started filling it, then remembered that she wasn’t alone. “Here,” she declared, offering the plate to Olivia. “Have something to eat, that makes me feel better.”

Some of the other girls looked up at her and she wondered if she was being too loud.

“Please help yourselves,” Leon told her, pulling back a chair at one of the tables, and then another for Olivia. “How do you like your tea?”

“What sort of tea do you have?” asked Sophia curiously, eyes flicking to another table where two girls were reading books.

“Four types,” the boy said with a smile. He ticked them off with his fingers. “Milk and sugar, just milk, just sugar, and none of the above.”

“Aren’t there different types of tea leaves?” asked Olivia, sounding confused.

“I’ve heard that rumour as well, but I don’t put much weight on the notion.” His eyes twinkled and then he pointed at another table where half a dozen jars held different types of tea. “Only kidding, but if someone has a passion for tea, they’ll have to talk me through how to make it.”

“I’ll have some with milk and sugar,” Katarina decided.

“An excellent choice,” Leon assured her. “And yourself, Miss Campbell? You look like you’ve had a bit of a shock, may I recommend the same as Lady Claes?”

Olivia agreed and Leon turned to Sophia, who was looking torn between sitting with Katarina and Olivia, or sitting at the table with the girls who were reading. “It’s quite alright to switch between tables, Lady Ascart, And may I say that you’re looking lovely today?”

Sophia blushed. “Y-yes, you may. Ah, I like my tea… er…”

“Black and strong like her brother,” Katarina offered helpfully as Sophia seemed to have forgotten.

“Of course, I’ll be right with you.” The boy nodded politely and went to the table with the tea on it.

“Please don’t say it like that,” Sophia whispered to Katarina and went to sit at the other table, her ears bright red.

Katarina stared after her and then looked at Olivia. “What did I say?” she asked plaintively.

The other girl was blushing, but didn’t say anything.

A few moments later, Leon returned with three cups of tea. He delivered one to Sophia, placed the other two before Katarina and Olivia, and then stepped away only to return a moment later with another plate of treats. Sitting down he pushed the plate towards them. “So how are the two of you liking your time at the academy?”

Olivia looked nervous. “I’m… Not sure I should have come. I’m barely keeping up with everyone else and…” She hunched over defensively.”

“Most of us have had a pretty thorough education before we got here,” Leon mused. “To varying degrees. I imagine that your previous schooling wasn’t at the level of having a dedicated tutor or tutors giving you direct and personalised coaching?”

The common-born girl looked surprised at the very notion.

The boy nodded kindly. “The fact that you’re keeping up despite that is actually a testament to your capability. Just sticking with the classes will likely put you ahead of most of us given some more time. I’d imagine that you’re already much better than me when it comes to magic.”

“Or me,” Katarina added encouragingly. “All I can do is make a little bump of earth.”

“Indeed. We all have our strengths and weaknesses.” Leon sat back in his chair. “Admittedly it wouldn’t hurt if you had some friends to study with, wouldn't you say so, Lady Katarina?”

Her eyes widening, Katarina sat up. “That’s it, you can come and study with me! Keith and Gerald and our other friends help me out all the time!”

“B-but you’ve already done so much for me,” Olivia protested. “And you’re a noble, so…”

Katarina shook her head. “Why would that matter?” She looked at Leon. “It doesn’t matter, right?”

“Opinions differ,” he answered, which didn’t make sense to her. Either it mattered or it didn’t? And Olivia was the protagonist, so she’d be fine unless she stumbled into some bad end… oh, and if she was studying with Katarina then she could ask the girl some clever questions and work out who she was getting close to and what routes to worry about!

It was a perfect plan!

“The other advantage to studying with others is that it’ll help you to make friends,” the boy continued after a moment. “Unfortunately there are always those who find it easier to drag others down than to better themselves, here or anywhere else. When you start rising up the class rankings - and I really do believe that you will, Miss Campbell - then some of them may misbehave. You’ll be much better off if you have some young lady of high rank in your corner.”

Katarina frowned in thought. She didn’t like the idea of Olivia being bullied again, but it had happened once already and there were lots of events in the game that worked out like that. “Yes, if there was only someone with the right status that could help you…”

Olivia looked dubious. “Why would anyone important support me? I’m just a scholarship student.”

“Really, the crown should have arranged to have someone looking out for you,” noted Leon. “Prince Julius, for example. But he’s apparently fixated on his new crush. But don’t put yourself down, Miss Campbell. We’re all quite young really. Who knows what we might all end up doing?”

“Oh!” Katarina smacked her hands together, causing several people in the room to look up nervously. “I’ve got an idea. Why not approach Lady Redgrave? She’s very important.”

“Ye-esss,” Leon agreed, an odd look on his face. “I think it’s fair to say a duke’s daughter would be important enough.”

(Sophia started giggling over on her table. She must have found a really funny book, Katarina made a mental note to ask about it later).

“You should…” Katarina stopped and picked up her teacup, sipping on the sweet milky goodness. She was sure her mother had talked about this at some point. Probably lots of points. Etiquette was really hard! And Keith wasn’t here to prompt her. But… “I know this, I’m sure I do.”

Olivia gave Leon a look and he pushed the plate of snacks over to her. “Please try one of these.”

Ah, they looked very good. “That’s it!” Both of them looked at her curiously. “You should give Lady Redgrave a present, that’s proper courtesy when asking for a favour. If you give her something nice then she has to look out for you!”

Phew, that had been a tough one. Katarina helped herself to a pair of cookies as a reward.

Olivia looked embarrassed though. “I don’t think I could afford something.”

“Oh!” Katarina knew what to do. “How about you make something for her?” She did that when she wasn’t sure what to give Keith or Anne on their birthdays. Well, except when she gave them a voucher for a back-rub or for a favour in the future, but that probably wouldn’t be a good idea here. “You could bake some sweets for her.”

The girl looked over at Leon. “Would that be alright? I don’t make food as nice as the sort of expensive sweets a duke’s daughter would like.”

“Well, you could always ask Lady Claes here to taste-test them,” suggested Leon. “And perhaps she could find some excuse to ask Lady Redgrave what sort of sweets she likes. Suggest her brother was going to invite the lady to a tea party or something.”

“What a brilliant idea!” Katarina exclaimed. She’d obviously made a mistake by not making friends with Leon sooner. He was like a puzzle-solving wonder. He’d probably get every route on an Otome game mastered on his first attempt!

“I’d be glad to make sweets for Lady Katarina and Lady Redgrave,” Olivia decided, showing proper determination as a heroine. Go for it Olivia, Katarina cheered her on. I support you! Although it would be better if you don’t take a route that has my doom flags on it!


Leon had arrived early to see what the scores were for the midterms. He didn’t think he’d be flunking out but it would be interesting to see if the extra studying had helped any.

Once the teacher had pinned them up, a scattering of students who took enough of an interest to check right away clustered around. Right up at the top, Leon saw Scarlet’s name - the more detailed breakdown showing several perfect scores as well as extra credit results. He hoped she’d be pleased.

Gerald Rafa Stuart was just below Scarlet - Leon looked around but the elder of the two twins wasn’t around yet, so he was spared a reaction. His brother Alan was though, and the boy had taken the fourth spot, right behind Olivia Campbell.

“Well done, Alan!” he heard Katarina declare loudly.

“Yeah, it’s not bad,” the silver-haired musician drawled dismissively. “How did you do?”

“Right in the middle of the class,” the pretty brunette declared proudly. “Strictly average!”

“Well done, I guess, then.”

Leon turned and saw Katarina pumping her fist triumphantly. Well, he supposed she wasn’t exactly booksmart and if she felt a middling score was good then who was he to judge her standards?

As he was watching, Scarlet arrived, slipping quietly around the enthusiastic brunette and looked up at the scores. She smiled slightly at the results.

“Congratulations,” Leon offered.

“And to you,” she told him gracefully. “Fifth place is very good given your handicap.”

“What?” Leon jerked around. “I hadn’t checked mine… well I’ll be!” She was right - there was quite a gap in the actual grade average between he and Alan, a wider gap than separated all four of the top scorers, but nonetheless, his extra credits had pulled him up well above the median.

“So you’re Scarlet Rafa Ades,” Alan greeted the girl. “I’ve spoken to your sister a few times but I don’t think we’ve crossed paths much before.”

“Oh wow.” Katarina stared at Scarlet with bright eyes - they both had a similar shade of blue eyes, Leon noted. “You even beat Gerald. That’s amazing. Do you think he’ll be upset, Alan?”

“I don’t know,” the duke’s fourth son admitted. “He said something about ‘giving someone a chance’, this time. I didn’t ask who…”

Scarlet turned, face pinched, and stalked away, fists clenching and unclenching.

“...he was talking about.” Alan finished. “Er… something I said?”

“If he’s giving someone a chance,” Katarina muttered, half to herself, “Perhaps he’s fallen in love with them. Ooh, Olivia is up there in the scores…”

“I don’t think you have to worry about Gerald falling in love with anyone else, Katarina.” Leon could tell Alan was amused that he had to say that.

“I believe that Scarlet was feeling a little competitive after she came second last time,” he explained. “Gerald was perhaps a little smug about it. And if he’s suggesting that she came first this time because he let her… well, all I can say is she’s going to be really motivated for the end of term finals.” Leon looked up at the scores. “I’m not sure how she’ll top this time though. She wasn’t perfect in everything, but even where she wasn’t, she wasn’t far off.”

Katarina looked troubled. “I wonder, maybe she’s a… a hidden heroine? No, that makes no sense. Do you know if she has a dark and tragic backstory, Leon?”

“Wouldn’t you know?” Alan asked her. “I mean, she’s your first cousin.”

“WHAAT?!” Katarina exclaimed. “Since when!? How did that happen?”

Leon scratched his head. “I’m not really up on all the relationships between the ducal families, but I’d assume that one of your parents has a sibling… That’s how first cousins usually work.”

Alan nodded. “Duchess Miranda Rafa Claes was born into the Ades household. The current duke, Scarlet and Violet’s father, is her brother.”

“Really?” Katarina turned and paced back and forth across the corridor. “But how come I’ve never met her before.”

“Well, the Ades lands are on the far side of the kingdom from your father’s lands,” the duke’s son pointed out. “And Duke Ades reportedly hates coming to the capital - don’t ask me why, I don’t know - so probably you’ve just never been in the same place as her before. She has a twin sister, I suppose you don’t know about her either?”

Katarina seized hold of Alan by the front of his uniform jacket. “Tell me everything,” she insisted.

Leon decided he was better out of this and backed away quietly. Alan shot him a betrayed look, but Leon shrugged helplessly. He was a friend of Scarlet’s but that meant that even if he had dirt on her family life it wouldn’t be right for him to tell Katarina all about her. If she wanted to learn about her cousins, surely she should approach them herself.


After extensive taste-testing with Lady Katarina - Olivia simply could not believe how sweet the other girl was - she was finally ready to approach the daughter of House Redgrave. She’d been putting it off until now, she admitted, but with the mid-term results out, her name was no longer discreetly near the bottom of the class.

With help from Katarina’s friends - and for that matter, explaining things to Katarina had been quite useful in working out how to get points across clearly - she’d finally worked out what she’d been missing in several classes and the results were evident. Unfortunately that meant that they were also evident to all the other girls in the class, and Olivia had seen several dark looks directed towards her when Katarina wasn’t looking.

Lord Bartford had been right, she realised. She would need someone else besides Katarina to extend some protection to her and Lady Redgrave was the best choice - she was engaged to the crown prince so if she said Olivia had to be left alone then no one else would quarrel over it, right?

Armed with this conviction and a basket full of ginger muffins that had been selected painstakingly to match Lady Redgrave’s preferences, Olivia set out to dare the most elite of the academy’s girl’s dorms.

Nothing could stop her as she convinced the concierge to let her enter, found the right floor and knocked on the door of Lady Redgrave’s rooms.

“What are you doing here?”

Nothing, except for the girl who’d torn up her invitation to the prince’s tea party.

“Well?” the girl insisted as Olivia stared at her. “Do you think you can just walk in here? Or did you forget how to talk.”

“Who is it?” Another girl joined her, another face that Olivia recognised. “Oh, the scholarship student. Have you gotten bold enough with you stealing a high spot in the exams that you’re not hiding behind Lady Claes?”

“I-I didn’t steal anything!”

“You think you can just jump up from the bottom of the class almost to the top and no one knows the reason?” The first girl sneered. “Everyone knows you must have done favours for the teachers, or someone that could get them to give you extra points.”

She didn’t say what the favours would have been but Olivia wasn’t unworldly enough to miss what was being employed. “I would never - !”

“What’s this?” The second girl grabbed her basket away from her. “What sort of rubbish do you think you’re bringing into Lady Redgrave’s room. This must be from some second-rate bakery… no, that’s wrong.” She picked one of the muffins out and closed her fingers around, squashing it until it fell apart into crumbs. “You couldn’t afford second-rate. Fifth-rate more like.”

Olivia drew herself up to her not particularly great height. “I did not!” she declared, trying to imitate Lady Katarina’s confidence.

“What was that?” She was jabbed in the chest by one muffin-stained finger. “Did you just speak back to me, commoner? Do you need a lesson in your place?”

Backpedalling, Olivia felt her back hit the opposite wall. She had nowhere to go. This had been a dreadful mistake!

“Check her pockets,” the first girl suggested. “Maybe she came here to steal something.”

A door opened inside the apartment. “What’s going on here?” a crisp voice demanded, and the two girls froze.

A second later, the owner of the face came into view and Olivia paled. It was the crown prince himself, Julius Rafa Holfort. He glanced at her, then at the basket and then the two girls with her. His lips twisted as if he was about to spit. Then he turned sharply and looked back into the room. “This is exactly why I don’t believe a word of your protestations of innocence, Lady Redgrave. You mouth all your claims inside of how you had nothing to do with the vandalism against Marie and her possessions, and I’m sure you never dirtied your hands with them… not when you have your loyal supporters here doing your dirty work for you.”

To complete Olivia’s humiliation, the daughter of Duke Redgrave followed the prince. “I don’t do any such thing, your highness,” she protested. “I would never sink to such behaviour.”

“And yet I walk out here and right on your doorstep you have your people bullying other students. I don’t think there’s anything more to say,” the prince declared. He strode off, shoulders tense and angry as he reached the stairs and descended, leaving silence behind him.

Angelica Rafa Redgrave was trimly built, with blonde hair caught up behind her hair in intricate tight braids. Her eyes were red and angry as she took in Olivia, the basket, the other girls…

“We’re so sorry, Lady Redgrave,” the girl with the muffin stains on her hands yelped. “We’ll get rid of this commoner immediately.”

“You - will - do - no - such - thing!” Angelica ground out, biting off each word with vigor. “Get out of my sight! Both of you!” Her voice rose sharply. “Don’t let me see you in my rooms again!”

“But Lady Angelica, we were just...”

The duke’s daughter slashed her hand downwards. “I don’t have any doubts about what you have been doing here -- which is disgusting. But what I do doubt is that I would get an honest answer if I asked what part you might have played in Lady Lafan’s recent misfortune. Either way, you have made me look like a liar in front of my fiance. What that means for your families I will leave to my father, who I assure you will be receiving a letter discussing this.”

White-faced, the other two girls fled as fast as their feet could take them. Olivia could only assume that causing this was some super-power that only Duke’s daughters possessed.

“Cordelia,” Angelica called back into the room. “Please pick up this basket and see what can be saved. And perhaps some tea for my guest and I.”

“Of course, Lady Redgrave.” A dark haired maid stepped forwards and started picking up the basket.

A hand was extended towards Olivia. “I’m terribly sorry about the horrible welcome you’ve received,” Angelica Rafa Redgrave assured her. “Please come in and let’s see what I can do to make this right.”

Olivia nervously accepted the offered hand and was led into a dining room that was so full of expensive-looking ornaments that the girl didn’t dare touch anything lest she cause more damage than she’d be able to repay in her entire life. Katarina’s rooms were hardly plain, but her visit there had left her with an entirely different impression - there was plenty of room, and the shelves and mantelpieces were only sparsely filled out, mostly by items that could invariably spark some anecdote from Katarina about how she’d come by the souvenir - be it something she’d bought on impulse, been given as a gift or simply picked up.

These rooms though, gave no such impression of an individual, only of their place in society. Crushing wealth and authority. It was… curiously, not the same feeling that Angelica gave her as the irritated noblewoman took a seat at the end of the dining table and gestured somewhat curtly for Olivia to take a seat.

“Is that… behaviour normal?” she enquired. “The way that those two treated you, I mean?”

“Not everyone is like that,” Olivia blurted.

“I see…” The other girl shook her head. “I… I apologise. They are expected to take their lead from me and I’ve apparently led them to believe that I will endorse such conduct. Rest assured that I will be taking steps to rein that in… as far as I am able.”

“T-then you’re not going to push me out of the academy?”

“What?” Angelica looked bemused at the notion. “No. Of course not. You’re sponsored here, you have as much right to be in the classes as any of us.” She tilted her head. “More than most if I judge by the grades in the recent exams. Believe me, if I were to be considering forcing people to leave, you wouldn’t even cross my mind. Not that I’m doing that at all.”

Somehow, Olivia believed that the other girl did indeed have a list of people she would be happy to get rid of.

“So what…” The braided young lady broke off as the maid entered the dining room with a tray. From this she laid out two saucers, then tea cups, then side-plates, and filled the cups with tea before depositing a ginger muffin on each side-plate. “Oh, thank you Cordelia.”

“Of course, my lady. I will clean the basket for Miss Campbell and a few more of the muffins were intact enough to eat.”

Angelica raised her fork towards her muffin and then paused. “So what was it that brought you here today, Miss Campbell? Having not really heard from you so far, I’d rather thought that you were choosing to avoid contact with most of the class. Which is… rather understandable now that I see what sort of contact you were experiencing.” She used the fork to break off part of the muffin and scooped it into her mouth.

“I… uh, Lady Katarina suggested that if I asked you…”

“Mmm, mmm.” Angelica swallowed. “Oh this is delicious. I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I must ask where you got them.”

“I… baked them?” Olivia offered nervously.

“You baked them? For me?” The duke’s daughter looked at her. “That’s a rather considerable effort. What favour could you want that you’ve gone to those lengths? Believe me, I’m very inclined to grant it.” She stuck her fork into the muffin again, cutting away a larger mouthful.

“I just wanted the other girls to leave me alone.”

“I’d love to say I could give you an absolute promise of that,” Angelica told her after washing down the mouthful of muffin with some tea. “My influence is not… quite so extensive but I’ll put the word out. And… you’re on good terms with Katarina Rafa Claes?”

Olivia nodded.

“Good. Between the two of us, most of the students will know better than to trouble you. And if one of the fools does, then let me know. Or Katarina’s friend Mary.” Angelica’s smile was warm. “And if there’s anything else I can do for you, please come and tell me. I’ll make sure that those two aren’t here and that anyone who is knows that I won’t tolerate that sort of behaviour from them.”


Well-known member
Baking your way to victory?

Wait. If food is the way to somebody's heart, is she accidently following a lesbian path?

Bear Ribs

Well-known member
Hmm, I was wondering if Leon was going to turn into the same tea fanatic he was in the OTL, given we didn't see the Tea Master who inspired him. I'm guessing now that part was just left offscreen as "Why waste words rehashing something that happened as in canon?"


Well-known member
Baking your way to victory?

Wait. If food is the way to somebody's heart, is she accidently following a lesbian path?
Well, considering Angelica's... inclinations at the LN, it wouldn't be that different from what happened in Mobuseka.
Awry Affairs 2-4


Well-known member
Awry Affairs

Change a hawk to a little white dove
More than a feeling, that's the power of love
~ Huey Lewis​

Chapter 4

When a man steals your wife, there is no better revenge than to let him keep her. ~ Sacha Guitry​

“Where are we going?” Marie Fou Lafan asked Greg Fou Seberg as the muscular count’s son led her through the academy gardens.

He grinned at her. “It’s a bit of a surprise! I want to show you the sincerity of my feelings.”

Marie gave him a smile. Maybe it was a gift? No one had given her the servant that the protagonist received in the game yet, but the boys were quick with other tokens to show their affection. She was pretty sure that the little elf boy that cosseted the heroine through the late game was a sort of status signal, since all the boys you had raised flags with would present him together - so unless she’d done so badly that only Greg was on her side, he’d not be giving her Kyle on his own.

The little blonde grinned and skipped a little to keep up with Greg. “I’ve never doubted your feelings, Greg.”

“Yeah.” He gave her a little pose, flexing one arm and then giving her a thumb’s up. “But I wanted to do something anyway. Got to think of the future, you know.”

“The future?”

He nodded quickly. “Yeah, don’t want that… eh. You’ll understand in a moment. Trust me, will you?”

Marie put her hands together and fixed her best sweet and innocent look on her face. “Yes!”

From the look on Greg's face, she’d nailed it yet again. Score one for being cute. It was a shame Marie wasn’t growing into the mature beauty she’d had in her last life, but there was at least some benefit to being tiny this time around.

The boy led Marie into one of the classroom buildings. Beneath all the fancy furnishings, it reminded Marie a lot of her old school in her last life. Those were good times, before everything went wrong. Greg led her one of the classrooms, pushing the door open confidently.

There was a rustle of conversation among the students in the room. It was between classes and little conversation groups had formed as the young nobles waited for the next teacher to arrive. Heads turned at the sight of Greg and Marie.

That’s right, she thought gleefully. Look at me and envy me. You might be all smug about being tall and curvy, but I’ve got a hunk like this and four others besides. And by the end of the game I’ll marry them all and be queen!

Then Marie saw one of the girls who hadn’t looked up and a shiver went up her spine.

Sitting by the window, two-thirds of the way towards the back of the class - the classic protagonist’s seat if this was an anime! - Scarlet Rafa Ades was gazing out of the window, clearly paying no attention to anyone around her.

The girl scared the pants off Marie. She was cray-cray, the way that she’d threatened Marie and Brad in the library - her and that nameless

Mob! The boy who wouldn’t have a face either in the game. Marie had looked into Scarlet but no one seemed to know much about her. She’d topped the mid-term exams, but she was also a bit of an air-head as far as Marie could tell. She wasn’t the pushover that her twin sister was, Violette seemed to be on the brink of tears more often than not and she’d been driven off from Chris with ease.

Scarlet though… Marie tightened her grip on Greg unconsciously.

“Hey, Scarlet!” Greg boomed imperiously.

The silver-blonde girl blinked, then looked over in their direction. “Ah.” She rose from her seat and dipped her head in polite acknowledgement. “Lord Seberg, Lady Lafan.”

“Cut that formal crap out,” the boy at Marie’s side demanded. “This is one of the things I’m fed up with.”

That only got them a quizzical look.

Greg snorted. “Yeah yeah, drop the whole ice maiden act.” He raked one hand through his red hair. “I’m fed up with you being like this. Pretending you’re some perfect lady, lording your grades over every one. No one likes you, Scarlet.”

The other girl gave Greg a puzzled look. “Are you sure you’re speaking to the correct girl?”

“Oh put a sock in it.” He stabbed one finger towards Scarlet. “I’m sick of it so I’m dumping you. We’re not engaged any more.”

Scarlet’s blue eyes blinked once. Twice. “Pardon?” she asked, evidently not believing what she was hearing.

Marie’s heart raced. Was this a denunciation scene? Like this, out of nowhere? She wasn’t ready for this! What was her script, damn the game for not giving her enough detail about how Greg broke up with his fiancee.

The other students all began whispering, and Marie heard remarks of ‘I never liked her anyway’ and ‘someone finally said it’. Like sheep forming up around the new leader. But it showed that the tide had turned in Marie’s favour, so she was glad of it - even if the idiots would be trying to get rid of her now.

Greg turned to Marie. “You see, Marie. Now I’m free of her, now we can be together. And when the time comes, when we’re finished here at the academy, then we can be married. There’s no one holding me back now.”

So passionate, so predictable. Hahaha. Marie bit back the laugh and murmured a demure “Oh Greg,” taking his hand and pressing it against her chest. If she only had a bit more to work with there!

“Ah,” Scarlet said, cutting into the moment. “So… we’re not engaged any more?”

“What, weren’t you even paying attention?” Greg snapped.

“I see,” the girl acknowledged pensively. She lifted her skirt slightly and curtseyed to the two of them.

Aha, yes. Grovel to me, Marie thought happily. Go away gracefully so I don’t have to worry about you again. Run back to your family’s lands in the country and hide your shame!

“May I ask for one final thing from you?” Scarlet requested politely. She pulled something out of a pocket in her jacket… gloves? They looked like something a biker would wear… fingerless leather, secured by a strap at the wrist. Marie winced at the rivets across the knuckles. Was Scarlet secretly part of some band of wild biker-girls and going to ride off into the sunset on an airbike?

“Yeah, what do you want?” Greg waved one hand dismissively at his former fiancee. “Don’t expect me to kiss you.”

“I would like a young man, about six feet tall and two hundred pounds, to act as my punchbag,” Scarlet requested. “With red hair and a lot of muscles to soak up the punishment.”


Marie had just had time to connect the dots - Greg was redheaded, six feet tall and weighed in at two hundred pounds - before the boy was smashed out of her grasp, sent crashing into the door behind him by one punch from Scarlet. The silver-blonde tsked. “I’m out of practice,” she declared and then slammed another punch into the boy, still partially embedded in the door.

With a crash the door was torn from its hinges, flung with Greg across the corridor outside. It crashed down on top of the boy, who showed no sign of getting up.

Marie screamed.

Scarlet turned towards the rest of the room, a happy smile on her face. “Oh dear, he didn’t last long. Is there anyone else? Someone who never liked me anyway.” Her smile grew wider. “You don’t need to form a queue.”

She was between everyone else and the door, Marie realised.

“G-get her out of the way,” one of the girls demanded of her servant. “We should… we should get Lord Seberg to the nurse’s office!”

The demi-human obediently headed for the doorway - he was a towering muscle-man, even taller than Greg.

One moment he was trying to brush Scarlet aside, the next the duke’s daughter had a hold of him by the ankle and was standing in the middle of the room spinning him casually around. When she let go, the hapless demihuman went flying - smashing through the glass window and out into the gardens.

“Well, who’s next?” Scarlet giggled euphorically.

“She’s gone crazy!” a girl whispered in horror.

Another turned to the boys in the room. “Make yourselves useful! Restrain her!”

“Are you nuts?”

“If you’re not good for at least this much, no girl in the school will ever look at you!” the girl threatened them.

The boys looked at each other nervously. Stupid simps, Marie sneered. They were doomed either way - either blamed for not stopping Scarlet or for standing up to a girl. At least this world had its sensibilities straight, with women at the top and men crawling for their approval.

The sound of knuckles against the doorframe broke the stand-off.

That dumb mob who hung around with Scarlet was standing in the doorway. Marie hoped she punched him next. It might be enough of a distraction for her to climb out the broken window. She was pretty sure she wasn’t the only one contemplating that, but if there was a rush, Marie might get trampled.

“Yo, Scarlet…” The dark-haired boy looked around the room. “Having fun?”

Marie hated him. Pretending to be cool and in control. How dare he be like that when her knees were knocking together with terror.

“I have a punching bag!” Scarlet declared happily. Then her face fell. “It didn’t last long though.”

“Oh really?” He shook his head sadly. “Well, do you want to cancel the studying today?”

“No, it’s fine, Leon.” Scarlet glanced around and her eyes fell on Marie. “I’ve just one more thing to clean up here.”


Marie tried to hide behind the other girls but the treacherous witches formed ranks and wouldn’t let her get past. Rather you than us, their stares told her.

Leon sighed. “Scarlet, don’t waste your time on her.”

Greg’s former fiancee looked back at him, as if she was doing no more than packing up her school supplies. “Why wouldn’t I?”

“Well, you know how she’s got Greg courting her. And Brad.. and their other friends too.”

“I have noticed that.”

“Well, sure, that’s a crime… but isn’t it also a punishment?”

Scarlet stood there in thought. “But I really really want to punch her,” she said childishly.

Leon looked at her patiently. “Oh alright. But just once, to get it out of your system. You have Gerald Rafa Stuart to trash in the final exams, after all.”

“Oh yes.”

And then the insane - murderous - violent - villainess was lunging across the room towards her!

Marie cringed and closed her eyes. She couldn’t believe it! All this work and she’d hit a bad end! It wasn’t fair! This wasn’t like this in the game!

Nothing happened.

After a moment, she opened her eyes and flinched back from the sight of the gloved fist barely an inch from her nose.

Scarlet gave her a disappointed look and then turned back to Leon. “You’ve taken all the fun out of this,” she complained.

“You can kick Greg a bit on the way out,” the boy suggested.

Marie fainted away in relief. She wasn’t going to die!


Entering the dining hall, Leon was surprised to see Scarlet was sitting next to her sister at one of the tables. He’d barely ever seen the twins together so far in the term and Scarlet had never seemed inclined to discuss why.

He collected a meal from the serving area and headed for their table. “Would I be interrupting if I sat here, ladies?”

Scarlet looked up and was about to nod, but she stopped and looked over at Violette.

“No, not at all,” the elder of the two twins assured him. She gestured towards one of the seats across for the two. “You’re Scarlet’s study partner, aren’t you? Leon Fou Bartford?”

“That’s me.” He put his tray on the table before sitting. “And you’re Violette? I was meaning to ask, is everyone in your family named for colours?”

“Father liked the idea.” Scarlet toyed with her food. “Our little brother is named Vermilion.”

Could have been worse, Leon thought. “I suppose having a theme ties the family together a little.”

Violette looked away and Scarlet’s face turned contemplatively. “Not really,” his study partner concluded after what appeared to be serious thought.

“Do you always eat that heartily?” The other twin indicated Leon’s plate, transparently changing the subject.

“I worked up an appetite flying down to my ship and back,” he told her. “It was in fine shape of course, it’s in good hands,” he added before Luxion got huffy again. “But as the owner it would be irresponsible for me not to go to the port every now and then. The crew might feel unappreciated.”

“I can see how neglecting them might lead to that,” Violette said with a little edge in her voice. Then she gave herself a little shake. “My apologies, Lord Bartford. I shouldn’t take my temper out on you.”

“I’m sorry if I touched on a sore spot.” He looked at the letter on the table between the two girls’s trays. “I hope you’re not dealing with bad news.”

The twins exchanged looks that he couldn’t quite interpret; only for the doors to the dining hall to open, admitting a small crowd - six or seven students. Conversations around the room stalled as eyes flicked to Julius Rafa Holfort and his clique, then took a new and more excited fervour.

As was now normal, the five boys were all clustered around Marie, doting upon her. The new addition was the servant trailing behind the girl - a demihuman boy who was almost as diminutive and pretty as his mistress.

Leon arched his back and looked at the boy for a moment. That’s unexpected, he mused to himself. No Kyle, of course, but it didn’t stop them from giving Marie a servant - it’s just someone else. “My sisters will be pestering me to buy them a servant again,” he sighed, to cover for his attention turning to the group.

“Do you have a large family,” asked Violette curiously as Scarlet watched Marie and her group detour around the far side of the dining hall to reach the serving tables - and then take a table on the far side of the room as well.

“My parents have five children,” he told her, skipping past the issue of Zola and her children. “I’m third - Jenna’s a year ahead of us, Finley and Colin are younger. Nicks graduated last year.”

“Nicks…” Violette seemed thoughtful. “Oh, he’s engaged to Deirdre Fou Roseblade’s elder sister, isn’t he?”

“That’s him.” Leon grinned. “He complains a lot in his letters, but they haven’t broken it off so I think it’s going well - just taking some adjustments as they get to know each other.”

Scarlet nodded. “Perhaps if I had made some adjustments, I would still be engaged to Greg.”

“Maybe,” he agreed. “On the other hand, if you compromised and he didn’t, would you be happy with him?”

The girl glanced at her sister and then quiet satisfaction crossed her face. “Probably not.”

“Most relationships seem to take effort from both parts,” he said sagely, “Not that I’m an expert.”

Violette reached out and picked up the letter from the table. “Perhaps you’re right about that,” she said thoughtfully, reading - or probably re-reading - it.

“I get the impression I’m treading on a painful subject here,” Leon admitted. “Is this a subject you’d rather I drop?”

“Father wrote to Violette about Greg ending the engagement,” Scarlet explained with an irritated expression on his face.

The duke wrote to Violette about Scarlet’s fiance breaking the arrangement off? “Is he… too angry to write to you directly?”

Violette dropped the letter and took a deep breath. “My… our father is…” She broke off and looked at Scarlet. “I hardly know where to start. I think I would like to tell someone though.”

“Our mother died almost a year ago,” Scarlet said bluntly. “I don’t remember her - father and I hadn’t been near her since I was a baby.”

Leon winced. He could imagine Zola and Barcus having been on terms that distant, if she’d not felt the need to keep trying to squeeze more money out of the barony for her lifestyle. But a duke would have more leverage against his wife… and be able to support her in essentially any conceivable level of luxury without noticing it.

Violette nodded. “When they parted company, I was left with mother - here in the capital. Scarlet was taken to Ades and grew up with father and his… paramour.”

She looked sideways at her sister. “I have nothing against the woman that father now expects me to treat as my mother, except that I don’t know her or what he means like that. She is nothing like my actual mother.”

“She’s the only mother I ever knew,” Scarlet added. “I was… seven, maybe eight, before anyone told me she wasn’t my birth mother.” She paused and then added. “Or that I had a twin sister.”

Leon blinked. “I’m sorry, are we in a romance novel here?” Another romance novel, perhaps? Besides the ones I’m already juggling.

Violette looked more pained than amused. “If so, then I hope there is a happy ending out there for at least one of us. Although usually, in those I have read, one sister becomes the villain to the other’s hero.”

Scarlet frowned. “Let’s not do that. It sounds messy and uncomfortable.”

“That,” Violette half-laughed and half-sobbed. “Is my life in a nutshell.”

Leon glanced around and saw that most of the attention in the room was on the prince’s table or on the table occupied by Katarina Fou Claes’ clique. He picked up his dessert, an apple pie, and quickly divided it in two before pushing it across the table towards the twins. “If you can share this, surely you can share some happiness as well.”

“I don’t think that this works like -” Violette’s words were cut off as Scarlet stuffed a spoonful of the pie between her sister’s lips. “Mmmf.” She chewed and swallowed, “Scarlet…”

“Aaaaah…” Scarlet told her seriously, holding her mouth open.

“What are you doing?” Violette hissed.

Leon tried not to laugh. “I think she wants you to feed her.”

Violette gave him a disbelieving look.

“She fed you.”

The girl looked back at her twin, who still had her mouth open. “Alright,” she sighed and spooned up some of her portion, extending it towards Scarlet. The younger twin leant forwards and closed her lips around the pie, drawing back and leaving the spoon licked clean. A blissful look spread across her face.

“It’s not that delicious,” Violette protested as Scarlet beamed happily at her, even pressing a hand to her cheek in delight.

“Ah, but it is seasoned by your sisterly love,” Leon said sagely. “Look, here comes the airbike.”

“What?” Violette looked back away from him and saw Scarlet had another spoon of pie held up. “Please stop this, I can feed myself.”

“But I want to look after you,” her sister insisted. “Say aah.”

“According to father, I should be looking after you.”

“Then you can feed her when it’s your turn.” Leon felt a sharp pain under the table as someone - from the angle, Violette - kicked him in the shin. “Ouch.” He didn’t stop grinning.

“This isn’t funny!” Violette moved her head back from the spoon that Scarlet was moving slowly towards her.

“It’s heartwarming! My sisters don’t feed me pie,” he pointed out, and indicated his study partner. “And could you disappoint that face?”

Apparently big pleading eyes were still fully effective and Violette relented, opening her mouth and accepting the mouthful of apple pie.

“May I?” Leon asked, indicating the letter as the two girls continued to exchange spoonfuls of pie. Scarlet pushed it over to him, which he took as permission.

There wasn’t all that much pie when divided between a pair of teenage girls, but even so Leon had managed to read the letter by the time their plates were clean and he handed it back to Violette. “If you don’t mind me asking, when did you learn about Scarlet, Violette?”

She lowered her eyes. “Lord Arclight informed me when our mother fell ill.” She paused in calculation, looking much like her twin when she was thinking deeply. “I wasn’t quite thirteen. That was when I found out I was engaged to his son.”

Scarlet reached over and patted her sister sympathetically. “I could punch him for you?”

“Do you mean Chris, my father or his father?”


“Scarlet, that would be wrong!”

Violette’s twin shrugged, apparently alright with that. “Would it make you happier?”

From the look in the girl’s eyes, it might, but the elder sister said: “Please don’t.”

Scarlet looked regretful.

“You can’t deal with everything by punching people in the face, Scarlet.”

Leon took a deep breath. “Well, in my professional opinion as an expert in being an irritant, your father’s complaining that you aren’t being a good sister is both incorrect and hypocritical. Frankly, I can understand Scarlet’s urge to punch him.”

Scarlet beamed and looked to Violette for permission.

The older of the two buried her face in her hands, but they could both tell she was smiling. “Please don’t. Well, maybe Chris - but only if he tries anything like what Greg did to you.”


The dungeon beneath the academy had been explored by generations of students, but for reasons that scholars still disagreed with, it continued to spawn monsters and rewards of precious metals. Katarina had decided not to worry about it, and write it off as ‘game-logic’ but this apparently wouldn’t be satisfactory for her homework so she’d finally memorised an explanation Keith had given her so she could copy it out.

She’d got a passing grade for it and now felt safe to forget all about it.

On a practical level though, it meant that she was now seeing it for herself. The students had been taken through the first level by teachers and then divided into groups of five to reach the end of the second level on their own.

“Watch out for traps,” Gerald advised, immolating a giant ant as several of the monsters swarmed towards the five of them.

Katarina raised her own sword defensively, but Keith gestured sharply and a golem formed itself out of the wall and walked out to block the ants, crushing two more of them beneath its feet.

A moment later, Sophia and Mary added their own magical attacks to Gerald’s and blasted the remaining ants away in a storm of fire, water and wind.

“Well done!” Katarina congratulated them.

She went to the wall and pried loose a nugget of metal, dropping it into the bag she was carrying. The metal resisted a bit, but she didn’t need to use the pick that she’d strapped to her kit in expectation. She had taken it out and had it ready though! It felt almost like a hoe, much more natural in her hand than the sword that she’d sheathed.

“And you, Katarina.” Gerald gave her a warm and approving smile, stepping closer to her.

“Don’t disrupt our formation,” Keith scolded him. “We’re going through a narrow portion next, according to the map.”

“Yes, so you should take the lead with your golem,” the prince counseled. Katarina had been a bit confused that Gerald wasn’t actually the king’s son, but apparently his mother had been a princess. It might be that it was just something she’d got wrong from the game. Although if there was a crown prince, plus Gerald and his three brothers, why were he and Alan referred to as the third and fourth princes in the promotional material? Perhaps his brother Jeffrey didn’t count now that he was a duke? “I’ll take care of the middle with Katarina, so I can support you or help Mary and Sophia if something threatens the rearguard.”

“No, no,” Keith disagreed. “You should take the lead so that your flames illuminate everything in front of us, otherwise something might hide in the shadow cast by my golem. I’ll walk next to my sister.”

The two boys stared at each other in a battle of wills, before turning to Katarina. “Your brother is quite the worrywart,” Gerald told her. “Please tell him that he and his golem should take the lead as the most powerful magic user amongst us.”

Keith shook his head. “As your brother, I should stand with you Katarina.”

“Oh honestly,” Mary snapped. “Aren’t you both being childish? Prince Gerald, you and Sophia take the rear so you can combine your magic for maximum effect supporting us from the rear ranks. Keith can take the lead with his golem to soak up any monster attacks, while I walk with Lady Katarina.”

“Ah, no that doesn’t make sense,” Gerald disagreed.

Sophia winked at Katarina and gestured to the passageway ahead of them. She grinned back and the two girls snuck ahead while their friends bickered.

“Don’t let’s get too far ahead,” Sophia warned in a whisper.

Katarina nodded. “We’ll just peek into the next chamber.”

They exchanged nods and slipped into the shadowy passage, Katarina clutching her pick defensively. If anything sprang at her, she’d raise an earth bump beneath it’s feet and then smack it before it could get back up. Just like training!

“We’re almost there,” Sophia warned, indicating the tunnel opening up ahead.

Katarina nodded. “It’s just like the dungeons beneath Castle Black, don’t you think?”

The albino girl considered that and then shook her head. “No, I think it’s more like in the Tales of the Heron Crown where the heroines had to escape from the Dread Pirates.”

“Ohh, that’s a good one.” Something glittered ahead and Katarina stopped, “Wait, there’s some metal here in the wall. Let’s just get that and wait for the others to catch up.”

“Okay, I’ll keep watch.” Sophia scanned their surroundings diligently.

Taking her pick in hand, the taller girl stepped up to the wall and raised her trusty pick. The nugget of metal looked like it was deeply buried, so she braced her feet and swung the pick down with heavy force against the rock around it.

There was a clunk as the nugget of metal sunk down an inch or so.

“What w-aaaaaaaaah!” Katarina exclaimed as the ground swung out from under her. She dropped downwards into the space opened up beneath her.

Above her the brief and rather dim light of the passageway vanished, and the sound of Sophia calling “Lady Katarina!” was similarly cut out.

Katarina clutched her pick against her so it didn’t rattle around and stab into her as she slid down a chute. It reminded her of a waterslide from back in her last life, except for being steeper and the fact she was wearing leather armour rather than a swimsuit.

The chute leveled a little before it opened up and dropped Katarina onto a stony floor, reminding her why the armour was a good idea. But she didn’t land on the pick, so there was that.

“Oh shoot,” she grumbled, digging through her pockets for a torch. Nothing came to hand, but as her eyes adjusted she saw that there was enough luminescent moss down here that it wasn’t entirely dark down here. “Shoot, chute. Gerald should have said to look out for chutes, not traps.”

Dusting herself off, she looked around. This didn’t look like any part of the dungeon she’d seen before - although it was hard to be sure since one rocky passage looked very much like another.

“Right,” the fifteen year old declared to herself. “Time to take stock. I’m in the dungeon. I’m alone, with just what I have on me…” She patted her bag, then checked the gear strapped to her. Most of it was there, but the sword belt had snapped so she was missing that and her sword. “Well bother.”

Oh well, she had her pick and - checking her pockets - she still had snakey. Katarina would have rather had her sword as well, but if she had to lose one then the sword was likely the one she could do best without.

“Okay, I have my supplies… but I don’t know how to get out and all I have is my rations to eat.” She patted that pocket. Then patted again as it seemed very flat. “Oh right, I ate those.”

That seemed like a problem. Maybe there was something in the dungeon to eat? Nothing stood out, and what would grow down here in the dark? The ground was rock, not soil and… mushrooms, maybe? It was worth a try. Still, there weren’t any here.

Katarina looked up, but the exit from the chute wasn’t visible so it had probably closed. That left her two options - go left or right along this tunnel. Which was best?

There had been advice for if you were lost, hadn’t there…? Perhaps she should have listened more during the preparation, but Olivia was in the room at the same time as Keith and Gerald, so she’d had to watch out for signs that one or both of them might be failing for the heroine. After racking her brain, she remembered something her father had told her - not her father-father, the other-father from her past life.

“If you’re lost in the wilderness,” she recited to herself, “Go downhill to find water, then follow the water downstream to find people!”

Well, that seemed simple enough, and a dungeon was basically wilderness - right?

Pulling a nugget of metal from her bag, she checked which way it rolled on the floor. Rightwards. Okey-dokey, she’s going right. This wasn’t so hard.

Katarina put the nugget away again and marched off to the right, studying the floor for any sign of mushrooms.

This was a shame, because there was enough light that if she’d been looking at eye level, she would have spotted the signs declaring that the tunnel was off limits and that no one was to go down it.


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This is slowly demonstrating the pure folly of Self Inserts.

While they're busy thinking it's a game/book/manga, the new world they're in has details.

Details that end up with them in strange pits. That might eat them alive.

Honestly, this is fun!

Bear Ribs

Well-known member
This is slowly demonstrating the pure folly of Self Inserts.

While they're busy thinking it's a game/book/manga, the new world they're in has details.

Details that end up with them in strange pits. That might eat them alive.

Honestly, this is fun!
Mobuseka in a nutshell. In the OTL it basically goes like this:

Marie: *Remembering lines that worked in the game* "I don't care about your titles or wealth, Prince, only your love."
Prince: "Good news, I gave up my titles and wealth so we can be together."
Prince's Four Buddies: "Us too!"
Marie: *Smiles while screaming internally.*

Katarina basically has the same problem of believing that because the body she's inhabiting was killed or exiled in every ending in the game, she's going to wind up that way unless she prevents every canon pairing rather than just... being a little nicer. It doesn't help that she's not exactly the brightest of biscuits so her stomach has to take over a lot of the thinking process for her overtaxed brain.

Are Scarlet and Violette original characters? I can't recall them from either setting though it could just be my memory.


Well-known member
Are Scarlet and Violette original characters? I can't recall them from either setting though it could just be my memory.
They are from other novels of the villainess genre; Scarlet is from 'May I ask one final thing of you?', while I forgot the title of the novel Violette is the main character of.


Well-known member
They are from other novels of the villainess genre; Scarlet is from 'May I ask one final thing of you?', while I forgot the title of the novel Violette is the main character of.
Violette is from I Swear I Won't Bother You Again, which is from the 'mulligan' sub-genre of villainess fics (i.e. she's mysteriously had the clock rewound and was on her second run), although here she has no such 'advantage'.

Scarlet's story is technically an isekai story, but she's not the person who got isekaied, that would be the 'heroine', who was expressly sent to this world to kill Scarlet by a jealous god (of Scarlet being blessed by another god)
Awry Affairs 2-5


Well-known member
Awry Affairs

Change a hawk to a little white dove
More than a feeling, that's the power of love
~ Huey Lewis​

Chapter 5

If you want to take revenge on a man, send him a really beautiful woman. ~ Arabian Proverb​

Luxion’s drone followed Leon as he climbed down a steep pit, a rope connecting the young man’s belt to the hovering machine. Luxion swore that the anti-gravity engines could bear Leon’s weight, but he preferred to be cautious - even if it could, he was less certain of his ability to cling to the drone as it descended.

“This would be much faster if you took my advice, Master.”

“And it’s considerably safer this way,” he panted. “If we get attacked, and there are monsters that can climb up the sides of this pit, I’d rather have options - it’d be hard to defend myself if I need both hands to cling to you.”

Finally, his questing feet found a flat surface beneath him and the boy looked around, seeing that he had reached the bottom. He exhaled in relief. It wasn’t like flying in a knight armour or on an airbike - neither of which would fit down here - there was nothing between him and falling except his skill, some luck and Luxion’s loyalty.

Leon wished he could rely more on the latter. He didn’t think Luxion had ever betrayed the Leon in the books, but he also had very strong opinions of his own. I shouldn’t assume that I can take the books as a guide either, he reminded himself. This isn’t a game, but it isn’t just a story either. Thinking like that is a trap. “I imagine someone’s noticed I’m missing by now,” he said out loud. “Can you provide some light, Luxion?”

“Of course.”

Leon waited a minute and then sighed. “Light us up, please. And well played.”

“Thank you, master.” The AI sounded rather pleased with himself even as spotlights from the drone began to light up the dungeon. This part of the sprawling underground caves was off-limits to students - too dangerous, according to the staff. Rumours had it that the chamber that would have to be conquered to ‘complete’ the dungeon was down here. Since that would prevent the dungeon from spawning valuables and monsters, the academy would rather no one did that. It was worth more in its current condition and most lords who controlled a dungeon felt the same way.

Leon had never been here, but he suspected that if the final chamber was actually hidden by the staff they would have thought of a way to hide it that wouldn’t draw reckless teenagers raised on tales of great adventurers like moths to a flame.

The game had covered it though - dungeoning had been one of the major combat scenarios that players had to defeat in order to level both the heroine and whatever admirers formed her party up so that they could deal with the actual plot of the game. Working from memories more than a decade old, Leon picked his turns carefully, walking deeper and deeper.

Three monsters crossed his path and each proved insufficiently protected against a shotgun blast. Technology really did make life easier, as well as having an AI watching your back for ambush predators.

“Alright,” he said at last, reaching a familiar looking crack in one wall. “I think this is it. The bracelet should be stuck at the back of this.”

“Assuming your memories are correct, master.”

“Yes, assuming.” Leon gestured towards it. “Light up the inside, would you? There could be something lurking.”

He squinted into the crevice as Luxion obediently directed a spotlight down it. Nothing seemed to be moving, but no metal was reflecting the light either. Perhaps the bracelet was just too scuffed and dirty. Assured that he wasn’t likely to be bitten by anything, Leon reached in, tracing either side and then the back of the crack.

Reaching as high as he could, then crouching low, his fingers found nothing. Pulling his arm out, he stripped off his gauntlet and tried again - hoping he’d just failed due to having his hand covered and missing the goal of this excursion.

“Dammit,” the boy gasped at last, pulling his arm out. “I don’t think it’s here. Maybe I’ve taken a wrong turn.”

Luxion bobbled in the air. “Human error is always a possibility, master.”


“However, I have another theory.” The drone directed its spotlight down at the ground, highlighting footprints on the dirt floor. Some of them were clearly Leon’s, but others went onwards, deeper into the dungeon.

“This early?” Leon muttered. “That’s weird.” He planted one boot next to one of the foot prints and then stepped back and compared the two. “It’s pretty fresh… and someone with smaller feet than me. Maybe it’s Olivia… or it could be Marie.”

“Neither would be good for your plans, master.”

“On balance, I’d prefer the gremlin,” Leon muttered. “Olivia’s nice, but she’d likely not be able to deal with this yet. Not according to what the side stories described. Marie’s a problem, but she’d have a better idea what she had and be more resistant.”

Luxion traced the footprints with his searchlight. “Will you follow them?”

“Yeah.” Leon reloaded his shotgun. “If nothing else, whoever it is, they're headed away from the way out.”

“Your chivalrous streak will get you into trouble one day.”

“It’s a good job that it’s so small and underdeveloped then,” Leon told the AI and set out following the trail.

The footprints only went two more more junctions before they merged with another trail, one that had at least two over-laid sets of footprints.

“This is ridiculous,” Leon muttered, dropping to one knee beside the trail. “How many people are down here?”

“I count three,” the AI declared.

The boy shook his head, more in disbelief than disagreement. “You’re sure?”

“Myself, my master and someone walking in circles.”

Leon blinked. “Really?”

“The boot prints are all from the same boots.” The AI played the light across them. “All are the same length, all have the same weight distribution.”

“Okay… I’ll take your word for that.” He shook his head. “So rather than following whoever this is, let’s backtrack and see if that finds them faster.”

“Your problem solving skills amaze me,” the AI concluded, already drifting in that direction.

“I could wait here,” Leon admitted, “But they might have stopped or diverted so this seems to make more sense. You’d better turn out the lights though.”

Luxion snapped them off immediately and Leon stumbled as he was suddenly stuck in near total darkness without having time for his eyes to adjust. Muttering irritably, he pulled out a lantern and lit it. It meant having one hand occupied, but the footprints weren’t all that visible without some kind of artificial light to work with.

One turn later, there was an outcry from ahead of him. “Yay, the light at the end of the tunnel!”

“Oh no,” Leon muttered to himself.

Luxion sounded way too smug in his ear as he corrected: “Oh yes.”

“Oh, it’s not a way out,” Katarina Rafa Claes said in disappointment as she came into full view. She didn’t seem particularly worried about her predicament and her bag was bulging. “Hello!”

“Lady Claes,” Leon greeted her. “I wasn’t expecting anyone else down here.”

“I fell down a chute,” she admitted cheerfully. “It’s not so bad though. There’s plenty of mushrooms down here and as long as I stick with the left hand wall I should find myself out of this maze sooner or later.”

He shook his head in disbelief. “Mushrooms?”

“Yes.” The girl reached into her bag and produced a sizable purple mushroom. “Would you like one?”

“I’m fairly sure that that’s poisonous,” Leon told her. “Have you eaten any?”

“Well, no. I was looking for some water first.”

“That’s probably for the best.” He extended the lantern and pointed at the footprints. “I think you’ve been going in a circle, this passage loops back on itself.”

“Oh bother.” Katarina upended her bag on the floor and started picking metal nuggets out of the heap of mushrooms that resulted. “I tried going downwards to find water but that didn’t work, and then I tried staying left. How else do we get out of here?”

Leon took a deep breath. “Well, I see you have a pick. Between us, maybe we can get up the pit I fell down.”

“Great! You’re really good at this dungeoning,” she told him. “But you need proper equipment. A sword just isn’t as useful as a pick or a hoe.” Then she plucked a familiar looking bracelet out of the pile of her finds.

“Where did you find that?” Leon asked resignedly. Of course she’d found it, that was the only logical deduction. And how was he going to get it off her before she wound up possessed?

Katarina gestured behind her - the exact opposite direction from the crack, but he supposed that she had been walking in circles. “I found it jammed into a wall back there. Isn’t it pretty? Maybe someone dropped it.”

“I can’t think how else it got down here,” he admitted. “It’s not like the usual finds of metal. You should get it cleaned up and keep it as a souvenir.”

Dropping it back into her bag, the brunette nodded. “Anne will know something suitable for polishing metal and then I can give it a good scrubbing!” She flexed her arm to demonstrate the vigor she presumably would put to the task.

Leon paused. “Jewelry can be a bit delicate, Lady Claes. You might want to have an expert work on it. I know someone who works on that. Let’s get out of here and I’ll see if I can set you up to get it restored to good condition.”

“Oh, that would be great.” And then she just pulled the bracelet out of the bag and tossed it to him.

That was easier than I expected. “Okay, I came this way, so if we backtrack,” he observed, “We should reach the pit quite easily.”

“Are you sure these mushrooms are poisonous?” Katarina asked, looking at the little pile mournfully.


“How could you lose Katarina?” Alan asked his brother angrily. He’d been the only one in their little group to be left behind - unless you counted Miss Campbell, who would be coming down into the dungeon with a different class tomorrow. But he’d at least thought that they could keep her safe!

“There was some sort of trap!” Gerald snapped, his face worried. “We need to find her as quickly as possible!”

Sophia had used her wind magic to contact the other groups, as well as the teachers. Regrouping at the end of the second level, they were reorganising into search parties.

“Did you try going into the trap as well?” suggested Alan.

Sophia shook her head, face pale. “We tried that, but it didn’t open. I think it was one of those one-use traps - the sort that doesn’t reset for days.”

“Lady Claes isn’t the only one missing,” one of Alan’s team mates reported. Daniel Fou Durland was heir to a minor barony out on the northern frontier. Alan didn’t know him well, but he seemed to have his head on straight. “Bartford’s missing as well.”

“Oh no,” Sophia groaned.

“You know him?” asked Mary, curiously.

“He hosted that tea party we went to with Olivia,” the albino explained. “He’s really nice but he doesn’t have magic.”

Alan snapped his fingers. “Right, Scarlet Rafa Ades’ friend. I know him.”

Daniel nodded. “That’s him. He was with Raymond’s group but they got separated somehow. It shouldn’t be that bad, we’re only on the second level, but it’s got the teachers worried.”

The teacher whistled sharply for attention. “Ladies and gentlemen, as you’ve all completed one of the routes through the second level, we can be sure that the missing students are further down. Fortunately, all the traps and pitfalls mapped out on this level only go down to the third or fourth level.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad,” Alan muttered.

His fiancee jabbed him with an elbow. “There are plenty of monsters down there, Alan! And Lady Katarina will be on her own!”

“We’re re-organizing into seven groups of four students each,” the teacher continued. “Each group will be assigned a different section of the third level to search for the lost students. Meanwhile, we teachers will go down to the fourth level to search there. I must stress that you are all to take care not to get separated in the third level and none of you are to risk entering the fourth level. The monsters and obstacles down there are significantly more dangerous, and you’re not prepared for them.”

“Should we stick together?” Gerald asked Keith and the two girls.

“No,” Alan disagreed. “You should split up, that way most of the search parties have one of us with them. We all know Katarina so we’re more likely to recognise if she left any marks or signs of her passage.”

Mary nodded in agreement. “Alan’s right. If anyone will notice a sign that Lady Katarina has been in our search area, it’s us.”

Alan turned to Daniel and his other team-mates from the second level. “Do you want to grab your friend Raymond and work with me? That leaves the rest of you to work with my fiancee.”

He didn’t like leaning on his rank, but there were times when it was useful to be the King’s youngest nephew. None of the group argued with that and he left Mary with her new team while he and Daniel picked up a fourth member. Jake Fou Podebrat was irritating as hell, in Alan’s view, but he also had a good eye and he was the best shot in their class. The viscount’s heir was sulking on the edge of the class rather than finding a new team - unsurprisingly, his previous team had ditched him immediately - so he didn’t argue with Alan when he was told that he was going with them.

The teachers only stayed with them as far as despatching them through one of the third level entrances before they departed for their own search. Alan waved Podebrat forward. “You take point,” he ordered. “Look for footprints or for anyone climbing - Katarina’s like a monkey, she might be trying to get back up to the second level by going vertically.”

Podebrat nodded, shouldering his rifle and moving forwards.

“You guys know Bartford well?” Alan asked. “What should we look for from him?”

The two exchanged looks. “Not that well,” Raymond admitted, adjusting his glasses. “He doesn’t hang out much with the other baron’s heirs.”

“He’s alright when he does.” Daniel seemed wary of sounding like he was discounting Bartford. “He’s just busy all the time - studying with Lady Ades or going down to the port. He’s got good tips for how to meet girls that aren’t going to ask for the earth.”

“Great,” Alan conjured a whip of water and lashed out at a snake-like creature that had crawled out of a hole Podebrat had gone past. He had to sever it into four different pieces before it stopped moving. “But that’s not all that useful for finding him. He’s not good at magic, so what does he fall back on?”

“He was carrying a shotgun and a sword - more of a machete,” Raymond reported. “And he had a length of rope.”

“That’s a start. Did you hear that, Podebrat?”

The rifleman paused at a turn, looked back just enough that his nod was visible, and then resumed checking their path.

“Okay then, cover the side passages and check them in pairs,” Alan directed. “I’ll cover you from back here and watch the rear.”

The two baronial heirs hastened to obey him and the little squad moved systematically along the marked route through their sector of the level. Technically the marked routes had cross connections, but the guideline was clear: check those connections back to your main route then backtrack and resume checking yours. It was a little redundant, but it was thorough and that was the goal.

None of the footprints Podebrat found were fresh enough though. No one had been down these passages in several days, not before them.

“Dammit.” Alan muttered as they approached the far end. “I hope someone else has had more luck.” He didn’t want to contemplate going back without Katarina, and presumably Bartford had a family as well that would miss him.

“Maybe they’re on the floor below,” Daniel suggested. “Or if there’s a trap here that leads further down.”

Alan wheeled to shut the boy up, but he saw Podebrat raise his hand suddenly for silence. They all halted in place, watching their surroundings.

“I heard a shotgun fire,” the pale sniper advised after a moment. He pointed down the last cross-connection. “Down that way.”

Gritting his teeth, Alan regretted deciding he’d be best as the hub of this team. “Check it out, all three of you,” he ordered. “I’ll cover the main corridor so we don’t miss anyone else using it.”

Watching the others scurry down the corridor to investigate, he called up water again and slashed vindictively at the side of the wall. He was on the third letter before he realised he was carving Katarina’s name into the rocks, like some love-sick idiot. Lowering his hands, he let the water fall away. What was taking them so long!?

“Stuart!” someone shouted from the corridor.

Dammit. He turned on his heel and ran down after his squad, long coat and scarf flapping behind him. He expected monsters, but what he found was the three of them in a defensive stance around a doorway.

Before he could demand answers, Podebrat pointed inside. “This route is prohibited for student access, but the gun’s down that way. Three shots so far - I think he’s reloading.”

Alan nodded. “And Bartford had a shotgun.”

Raymond nodded in confirmation.

“Right. Daniel, you and Raymond go back to our corridor and make for the end, let the others know as soon as they reach the end of the level. Tell them Jake and I are checking this out.”

“I think this leads to the pit,” Daniel pointed out. “It’s an open fissure that goes down several levels. If Leon’s there, then he could be well below you.”

“Then at least we’ll know. Move!” He snapped.

The two ran off and he looked at Jake. “Are you good to go?”

The brooding boy worked the action of his rifle and nodded.

“Okay, you have point again and I’ll back you up. And Jake? Don’t put a shot into my brother’s fiancee or the other idiot who managed to get lost. If we have any accidents, I’ll throw you down the damned pit. Are we clear?”

Podebrat met his eyes… and then gulped nervously. “Y-yes.”

The passageway they followed reached more or less what Alan had expected from Daniel’s earlier description and briefings in class. The pit had dozens of openings in view, leading into levels above and below them. There was a modest ledge at the end of this passage, but other entrances seemed to just drop off and some ledges had no exit.

The bottom of the pit was low enough to be out of sight in the available light, but it was far easier to see two figures clinging to a ledge about fifty feet below and on the other side of the shaft.

“Heave-ho!” Katarina shouted as she brought her pick down in a blow that cracked the skull of the monster clambering upwards towards her. It tumbled away, buying the girl a reprieve,while behind her the somewhat familiar figure of Leon finished reloading his shotgun.

“Go!” Alan heard the boy cry out and Katarina turned her back on the next monster climbing, starting to scale the cliff above her. He couldn’t hear her speaking, but he’d seen her do it before and knew she was channeling her limited earth magic to create handholds. There was a roar as Leon fired the shotgun down twice, picking off one monster after another.

Podebrat dropped to one knee. “I can pick off the nearest monsters to them.”

Alan frowned and then shook his head. “Pick off the ones that might sweep others down as they fall - we need to thin their numbers.” Then he raised his hand, conjuring up water from the air and forcing it to chill itself. Honestly, he’d never focused much on using his magic for long range attacks, focusing more on using it for self defense. Still, this was one of the standard spells for a water mage.

Three arrows of ice slashed across the pit from his ledge, skewering monsters closer to Leon. A moment later Jake fired his first shot, aiming deliberately and then pausing to reload before he fired again.

Leon looked up to trace the source of the friendly spells and threw a jaunty salute up at them. Letting his shotgun hang from its shoulder strap, he removed two grenades from his bag and pulled the pins. The boy dropped them to either side of the ledge and was already scrambling after Katarina before the explosions below marked the grenades detonating.


He looked up and saw Katarina waving at him. She’d reached another ledge, this one with an exit.

“Over here!” she called, as if he couldn’t see her.

He waved back. “I don’t see a way around! Do you know where that passage leads?”

Katarina shrugged.

“Great,” he muttered. So close and yet he couldn’t get to Katarina. Throwing two more arrows of ice, he pinned a pair of monsters to the wall. Why were so many of them after the two students?

A moment later Leon reached the same ledge as Katarina. He turned and fired his shotgun down at the monsters climbing up. Between their combined efforts, none of them were close enough to be an immediate threat, but more were climbing. Katarina even picked up a rock the size of her head and dropped it down. It seemed to hit something.

“I’m open to suggestions,” Alan hissed to Podebrat.

The boy shrugged. “I have thirty more rounds. After that…”

Alan was hoping for something a little more constructive but then he heard noises behind him. Looking back, he was pleased to see familiar faces. “Gerald, Keith!”

“Where’s my sister?!” the Claes heir demanded, a hair ahead of Gerald’s own query.

“Look over there,” the musician answered. “Gerald, we’re going to need firepower to deter those monsters. And Keith, can you form a ledge around the pit so the two of them can get over here?” It was amazing how much easier this was with the right tools.

“Consider it done,” Gerald declared with his usual confidence - usually irritating but right now it was reassuringly. A torrent of flames streamed down from Alan’s twin, blazing easily across the pit and sending the monsters scrambling away - those that didn’t topple burning back into the depths of the dungeon, ablaze with furious flames.

Keith stood next to Alan and the wall of the pit began to flow. “It’s tricky without destabilizing the sides,” he admitted. “This probably won’t last more than a few minutes.”

Even so, Alan could see a ledge beginning to form, a few inches wide at first but then pushing out further until it was more than a foot across. Sweat was pouring off Keith’s brow - partly in effort and perhaps partly due to the heat from Gerald’s flames.

Fortunately, no one needed to give the two stranded students a hint. Leon gestured for Katarina to go first and reloaded his shotgun with just three rounds - he must be out, Alan realised. Closing the breach, the boy began edging along their escape route, back to the wall whereas Katarina was facing it so that she could use her hands to steady herself. Alan had to admire the dark haired boy’s cool as he barely looked at where he was going, shotgun ready in case anything got past him.

As soon as Katarina was close enough, Alan reached out with tendrils of water and dragged her over onto the ledge and then back into the safety of the passage. Just to be fair, he did the same to Leon, who finally lost his cool and almost dropped his shotgun at the first contact.

“Right,” Gerald declared once Leon was with them. “Keith, do you think you can close this passage behind us?”

“That should be easier,” Katarina’s brother agreed, looking the girl over frantically for signs of harm. “Katarina, are you alright.”

“It’s been quite an adventure!” she declared proudly.

“We can talk about it later,” Alan suggested. “Let’s get out of the dungeon first.”

“Right,” his brother agreed and hustled them along, Podebrate loping along in the lead with his precious rifle, Keith bringing up the rear. There was a crash of falling stone and a wave of dusty air followed them as the earth mage took the simplest route to blocking pursuit and collapsed at least a ton of stone into the passageway behind them.

Coughing on the dust, all six of them reached the main passage and Alan was amused to see that Gerald and Keith each grabbed hold of one of Katarina’s arms, perhaps to see that she didn’t get lost a second time.

“Well, we made it,” she said brightly. “I feel like a real adventurer now.”

Leon rubbed his brow. “Unfortunately, there’s one last trial we must pass before we’ve really completed this adventure,” he warned.

Alan blinked. “What’s that?”

Katarina’s impromptu companion pointed ahead and Alan saw the senior-most of the teachers overseeing the class standing at the junction. “And what,” the man demanded, “Were all of you doing in a passageway that is clearly marked as prohibited for all access?”


Leon found Katarina wearing a heavy apron and merrily scrubbing pots in the school’s large kitchens. He was wearing a similar apron, having just finished his own time peeling vegetables. While the school didn’t lean towards corporal punishment, they did have ways to handle disobedient students and straying while in the dungeons was one of the zero tolerance issues.

“Hi Leon!” she called, seeing him enter.

“Are you still working?” he asked. “I thought we were in for the same amount of time.”

Katarina glanced up at the clock. “Oh yes. Well, I may as well finish all of these.” She indicated the handful of pans still waiting to be washed. “I don’t want to leave this half-done.”

“Fair enough.” Leon glanced at the doorway and saw two heads of hair just barely ducking back before he could make out their faces. “I have that souvenir for you, once you’re done.”

“Oooh, thank you!” the girl exclaimed brightly.

Leon looked at the busy kitchen. “I’ll wait outside, no use getting in the way.”

He’d just exited and hung up the borrowed apron when Keith Rafa Claes confronted him. “What are you doing with my sister?”

“Other than punishment duties in the kitchen?”

“I heard him say something about a souvenir.”

Leon glanced back and saw Mary Fou Hunt giving him an unimpressed look. Honestly, that was more intimidating than Keith. The other boy was slightly built and while he was a powerful mage, he was also understandably wary about using it without care. Mary had a nasty streak though, and despite sharing a class with no less than four girls from ducal backgrounds, Leon suspected that she was the one with the closest hand around the social affairs of the class. It was fortunate that she was constrained by not wanting to upset Katarina.

“Yes, that’s right. Something she picked up in the dungeon. I offered to have it cleaned up for her.”

Keith tried to look down his nose at Leon, a doomed effort since they were about the same height. “Well, I’ll pass it to her when she’s done.”

“You know, there’s a fine line between being a protective brother and being a possessive creep, right?” Leon asked.

“What-what are you talking about?” Keith reddened - more with embarrassment than anger. “I just don’t want anyone getting my sister into trouble.”

“Then rest assured that I have no intentions of doing so.” Leon bowed slightly. “I’m merely here to return Lady Katarina’s property, into her own hands. It’s not as if I’m exchanging gifts or engaging in some form of courtship. That would be grossly inappropriate when the lady is engaged.”

“Of course it would,” Mary agreed quickly. “What is that she found? There’s no harm in showing us.”

Leon eyed her and then nodded. “Indeed not.” Reaching into his pocket he pulled out a flat jewelry case and snapped it open, revealing the glittering silver bracelet with its intricate carvings. Luxion had made a point of polishing it up once the spectre of the Saint had been removed, claiming that he was being professional about living up to expectations.

Leon wasn’t going to call the AI tsundere - except in the privacy of his own head.

The spectre had merged with the other one, which was a little unexpected. However, the main point was that the bracelet was no longer at risk of letting the wearer be possessed by the consciousness of the ancient saint.

Leon wasn’t sure if the risk was all that great for Katarina - she certainly wasn’t short of willpower, but on the other hand her focus could sometimes do with work. On the whole, he suspected she’d simply brush aside any darker impulses the saint tried to impose on her but it wasn’t a risk worth taking.

“Oh that’s nice,” Mary said in admiration. “If it had some sapphires on it, it would be perfect for Lady Katarina.”

Leon shrugged. “I can’t help you there. I just had it cleaned and polished.”

“And this was just lying around the dungeon?” Keith sounded suspicious.

“Apparently. From where she said she found it, it was well into the prohibited area, so whoever lost it either won’t admit to it or it was so long ago that the academy wasn’t in control of the dungeon at the time.” Leon shrugged. “She found it before we met up so I couldn’t tell you much more, why not ask her?”

“Mary! Keith!” Katarina emerged from the kitchen, still wearing her apron and gave them both effusive hugs, ignoring the fact that her apron was still soaked in soapy water. Fortunately the two were wearing their school uniforms, which were up to absorbing the moisture - Leon suspected that it would have done a number on one of Mary’s gowns if the girl was wearing one - she was impressively built for her relative youth and her neckline was probably struggling to contain her at times. “I didn’t know you were friends with Leon!”

“Well we are in the same class,” Leon offered. “It’d be strange if we didn’t know each other at all.”

“You say that,” the tall brunette said, “But I didn’t know half the girls at your tea party until we met there.”

“Something I’m sure you’ve rectified,” he told her smoothly. “And here’s your bracelet. All cleaned up as promised.” He extended the box but Katarina simply plucked the bracelet out of it.

“Thank you,” she exclaimed, slipping it onto her wrist. “Look, Keith. I found this on my very first dungeon adventure! Isn’t it pretty?”

“It is,” he agreed, “but you do need to be careful Katarina. If Leon hadn’t explained it, this would look as if you were accepting a gift from a strange boy.”

Katarina blinked at him. “But Leon’s not strange! He went dungeoning with me, and before that he threw a lovely tea party - I had so much fun and I made friends.”

“I think what he means is that it looks bad for you to seem to be getting expensive gifts from a boy you’re not engaged to,” Mary expanded for her friend. “A lot of boys court their wives at the academy, you know.”

“Yes, I keep wondering if Gerald will find someone that he likes,” Katarina agreed, missing Mary’s point completely.

Leon smiled thinly at Keith and Mary’s faces. Neither of them wanted Gerald to actually marry Katarina - for their disparate reasons. But nor did they want someone else to sweep in and win her affections.

“Besides, he’s courting Scarlet,” the brunette added absently. “So Leon wouldn’t be courting me.”

Wait what? Leon stalled out at that suggestion.

“Are you?” Mary asked him, curiously. “I mean, her engagement was cancelled recently…”

“We were studying together before that happened,” Leon said slowly. “I confess I hadn’t considered that it might appear otherwise…”

“Don’t go breaking my cousin’s heart,” demanded Katarina fiercely.

He nodded slowly, heart rate slowing back towards something normal. “I think I’d need to know where her heart lies, but thank you for making me aware that things appear that way. Clearly I should discuss this with her.”

“What will you do if she is interested in you, master?” asked Luxion quietly through the ear bud.

Leon considered that question. He didn’t dislike Scarlet, but nor had he really considered her in that light either. “Procrastinate,” he subvocalized after a moment’s thought.

“You are the worst,” concluded the AI.


Well-known member
Leon considered that question. He didn’t dislike Scarlet, but nor had he really considered her in that light either. “Procrastinate,” he subvocalized after a moment’s thought.

“You are the worst,” concluded the AI.


My own teen dating, all over again.


That didn't work quite as well as I might like......
Calculated Chivalry 3-1


Well-known member
Calculated Chivalry

They say that all in love is fair
Yeah, but you don't care
~ Huey Lewis​

Chapter 1

When violence hurries on too fast, and caution does not keep pace with revenge, people generally do themselves more harm than the enemy. ~ Wellins Calcot​

Music was playing in the academy ballroom as the first year students celebrated the completion of their first term and the exams. Their seniors had a day or two of exams to go, delaying their own end of term parties, but more than a hundred students plus the servants of many of the girls still didn’t leave the ballroom underpopulated.

The main floor wasn’t all that occupied after the first dance of the night where couples who were already engaged had taken the floor in what amounted to showing off that they were off the market. There were some people who just liked to dance though, and some couples were putting on a show.

“Thank you for this dance, Leon.” Scarlet Rafa Ades kept her voice low as they waltzed.

“You’re welcome,” he told the silver-blonde as they twirled, bringing another couple into view. None of the prince’s clique had taken the floor for the first dance. Jilk Fia Marmoria had the excuse that his fiancee was a year older and thus not attending, while two others were now without fiancees. But Prince Julius Rafa Holfort’s decision not even to arrive until after the dance was done was a public slap across the face of Lady Angelica Rafa Redgrave, and Chris Fia Arclight had followed this example.

But Scarlet’s twin sister was dancing now, whatever her fiance thought. Julius’ cousin Alan had dutifully danced with his own fiancee first, but now he was on the floor again with Violette - while the twins’ cousin Katarina was dancing with her adopted brother.

“It’s actually a pleasure,” Leon conceded, honestly. Dancing wasn’t something he usually went out of his way for, but it was a mandatory class for all students and there was a satisfaction to putting them into practice. Scarlet was actually a lot of fun to dance with - she was as good at this as she was with most things, not to mention very pretty. And there was the added amusement of watching some count and viscounts’ sons grind their teeth over seeing an unattached duke’s daughter dancing with a mere second son.

“I am uncomfortable with courting,” she’d admitted a few weeks ago, when he raised Katarina’s point about how their interactions appeared. “The punching bag may have expected something from me that I am unready for.”

“Part of the problem with being expected to marry by twenty is that we wind up looking for partners when we might not be ready for that,” Leon had agreed. “At least you know your own feelings on the matter - who knows what either of us will want in a year or two?”

And then she had given him a smile which he hoped she didn’t realise was so heart-stopping and asked if they were still friends. Because apparently the romance novels she’d been reading suggested that boys didn’t take well to being told that they weren’t beloved by the romantic leads.

The music ended and the couples on the floor came to a halt. Leon dropped a kiss on the back of Scarlet’s hand, in proper courtly fashion. They left the dance floor, accompanying most of the other dancers - although Alan seized the opportunity to ask Katarina for a dance, leading her laughing back out while the prince’s twin brother mock-glowered at being preempted from claiming a second dance.

“Prince Gerald,” Leon greeted him.

“Lord Bartford,” the tall blonde man responded. “I haven’t yet thanked you for saving my beloved fiancee in the dungeon.” For the occasion, Gerald Rafa Stuart had traded his school uniform for a white suit with a long red cape. Leon had a similar cape on but he wore it over his school uniform, albeit he’d accessorised with white gloves and a cravat that set off the gold-trimmed dark grey nicely.

“To be fair, I believe we saved each other in the lower levels. I’m just glad it worked out. It was her brother, you and Alan that then saved us both in the pit.”

Gerald nodded in acknowledgement of the point. “And of course, this is my dearest rival and her sister.” He took Violette’s hand and kissed it, then greeted Scarlet the same way. “I hope that you brought your best to the examinations this time, Lady Ades?”

“Did you bring yours?” she asked him a little bluntly.

“Oh, quite.” He gave her an amused smile. “If it’s to be best of three then of course I made every effort.” Then he glanced across towards the entrance. “...and it seems my cousin fails to do so. Couldn’t he have at least have offered to buy the girl a dress?”

They turned their heads to look and Leon saw that Prince Julius had arrived at last, along with his usual companion. The five boys were all dressed in tuxedos, each sporting a cumberbund in their trademark colour, but Marie Fou Lafan was unique among the girls present by attending wearing the school uniform. Even Olivia Campbell wore a gown, since Katarina had insisted on lending her one for the occasion.

“Your highness!” The prince’s arrival had drawn someone else’s attention - actually, he’d probably drawn everyone’s, but it was his fiancee who made a scene about.

“What is she thinking?” Gerald muttered. “He’s been an ass, but making a scene now won’t help her position.”

“I suspect that a red haze has descended.” Leon had been expecting this. “You may not have encountered this, Prince Gerald, but hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

The music cut short as even the musicians were unable to bring themselves to continue as Angelica brought the matter of Marie Fou Lafan out into the open. “Don’t you know that this girl is carrying on with each and every one of you?”

“Of course we know,” Julius declared. “Why would I be surprised that my closest friends recognise Marie for the treasure that she is?”

Whispers from around the room suggested to Leon that many of the girls present envied Marie for that statement - although at least Violette and Scarlet didn’t seem to be among them. “Has he lost his mind?” the elder Ades twin asked - it was an open question if she meant the crown prince or her own fiance, as Chris fia Arclight took the lead in claiming devotion to the little girl.

Gerald’s face didn’t visibly tighten. “I thought my cousin was taking more after his father’s infidelities, however bizarre it would be to share a mistress with the rest of his clique. But this is…”

“Jilk,” Prince Julius declared, cutting down his foster-brother’s claim to love Marie the most. Jilk Fia Marmoria had been raised at the palace, a lifelong companion for the prince. “I think you’re wrong for once - because I am the one Marie loves the most.”

Angelica’s expression had only grown darker as praise was heaped upon her rival. Now she looked down, as if unwilling to even keep the group in her eyes any longer. “Do I understand correctly that your highness is engaged in more than flirtation with this woman?”

Prince Julius raised his chin proudly. “Marie is an irreplaceable woman in my heart. I didn’t dislike you before we came to the academy, Angelica, but the way that you have treated her is unforgivable.”

Exclamations filled the air as the students grasped that the prince’s words were tantamount to his declaring that Angelica’s engagement was - at best - in name only. And that loss of royal favour upended the entire class.

Gerald’s jaw slackened for a moment. “I believe you are correct, Lady Ades.” His tone was sharp, as close to shocked as Leon had heard him in their admittedly short acquaintance. “My cousin is insane!”

In the murmuring, something flew across the room and struck Marie upon the chest. Angelica looked at her with fiery eyes. “Pick it up, you vile seductress,” she snapped as her glove fell off the smaller blonde and to the floor.

Violette Rafa Ades shocked Leon - and by the looks of it, both Scarlet and Gerald as well - with a low obscenity. “Your cousin will champion her, won’t he?” She didn’t mean Angelica.

“I’m disappointed in you,” the prince said to his fiancee - no, his former fiancee. Not even the form of the engagement could survive this. Then he turned to the girl at his side, and Julius’ face grew tender. “Pick it up, Marie. I will be your champion.”

“I can’t let your highness be the only one looking good,” Jilk added. “The academy rules don’t limit a lady to just one champion. I will also stand for you.”

The rules did indeed allow that. It would be considered shameful for a boy to have someone else fight for her, but ladies could have as many champions as they wanted. The only restriction while they were all students is that they should not bring in outsiders to the academy.

And as all five of Marie’s admirers pledged themselves, Angelica Rafa Redgrave looked around her for support - and realised just how much she had trapped herself. Not even her own supporters would willingly cross the next king - and even if they did, these were five of the most promising students in their various combat specialties.

Marie wiped at her face, clearing it of tears. “All of you…” she whispered, though with all ears eager, her words carried across the room. “I’m scared, but I feel safe with all of you with me. I accept your challenge, Angelica. We’ll fight with everything we have.”

And still, no one spoke up for Angelica.

Greg - Scarlet’s former fiancee - typically for him, decided to rub it in. “Hey, is there no brave fellow to stand up for Angelica? I might even feel sorry for her if no one does.”

And then he had a face full of snake.

It was a moment of panicked yelping and swatting it before he realised that it was merely a toy.

“Don’t worry, Angelica, I’m with you!” a proud voice declared and now there was a second girl facing Marie and her lovers. Tall and proud in white and blue, Katarina Claes stood beside the girl that everyone had thought would be the next queen.

Leon stepped quietly in alongside her. “I wouldn’t want Seberg to hurt himself attempting sympathy, he’s so unaccustomed to it,” he added quietly. He really should have known that Katarina would up-end the event “I’ll stand for Lady Redgrave.”

Julius blinked in disbelief at the pair of them. “Lady Claes?” he asked. “And who even are you?” he added, looking at Leon.

“He’s that twit kissing up to Scarlet,” Greg snapped. “Get out of here, you hick.”

“Or what?” Leon asked the red head coolly. “Will you have your family pressure mine over a quarrel inside of the academy?”

The muscular boy flinched at the jab, but before he could respond further, more people had joined them.

“Sis, what are you thinking?!” Keith exclaimed, taking Katarina by the hand.

Julius looked at his cousins, who were flanking those facing him. “I’ll let you talk sense into your fiancee, Gerald.”

“I think Katarina has more sense in this matter than you do,” the blond retorted. “If she wishes to stand by Angelica then she has my support.”

“And mine!” Alan snapped, although he was glaring more at Chris than the crown prince. “So both ladies have five champions, right Keith.”

Katarina’s brother stared at her for a moment, seeing the stubborn look in her eyes. “Lady Angelica, do you accept us as your champions?”

“I… yes, Lord Claes.”

The speculation around the room redoubled. Well if I wanted to minimise my exposure, this’ll do it, Leon thought to himself. I’m barely a footnote now that the prince is going to be duelling his own cousins!


Nicol Fia Ascart seemed understandably frustrated by the sudden development. Alan Rafa Stuart wondered as he watched their old friend standing behind the head table within the Student Council Chambers, if the older boy was more angry at the political crisis that had dropped into his lap or that he wasn’t among those standing by Katarina? It was hard to tell.

Flanking Nicol, two other members of the student council had been rousted out of their evening activities to help him handle this matter. Deirdre Fou Roseblade was eyeing Leon Fou Bartford in an unladylike fashion, while the redheaded Sirius Fou Dieke seemed bemused by the entire affair. As the senior unengaged members of the council, they were also the least likely to have close allies on either side of the conflict.

“I have no authority to prevent you from duelling,” the student council president admitted as the two groups stared at each other, separated by the width of the meeting room table. “However, I gather no terms have been agreed upon. What are you asking for, Lady Redgrave?”

The girl had been subdued since they had been invited here, perhaps beginning to see how much of a scandal this would be. But she was still determined and now she declared: “If we win, I want Marie and Julius to break off all contact.”

Nicol nodded. “Saving that which will be unavoidable while you share a school, that is feasible.” He looked at the other group. “Lady Lafan, your own terms?”

“I just want people to stop using their rank to trample over others,” the girl announced.

There was an amused silence, then Leon Fou Bartford snorted. “An admirable sentiment, but would you like the moon on the stick as well?”

“What’s so outrageous about that?” Julius asked sharply. “Marie’s been bullied viciously on that woman’s say so.”

“I had no part in that,” Angelica shot back.

Gerald, for a wonder, played peacemaker. “Lady Redgrave can hardly constrain every other student in the school from using their family’s rank like a weapon - any more than Lady Lafan restrained Lord Seberg from trying to push Lord Bartford into withdrawing.”

The burly boy’s face went almost as crimson as his hair. Well, peacemaker was always a relative term when it came to Gerald.

“And if Lady Redgrave had wanted you out of the Academy,” Alan’s brother continued, “It would have been laughably easy to arrange for her to arrange for a family allied with the Redgraves to approach your father, Lady Lafan. Given his… expensive habits, I believe he would have been easily persuaded to marry you off immediately.”

Several faces went white.

“You wouldn’t dare!” Jilk exclaimed out loud.

Leon leant on the back of one of the chairs. “Do keep up, if any of us had sunk that low then Lady Lafan would be gone. She isn’t, so we didn’t.”

“I-I want your promise not to do anything like that then!” Marie exclaimed, clutching at the nearest hand - that of her contract servant.

“Also reasonable,” Nicol agreed in his usual dispassionate tone. “Do you each agree to the other’s terms?”

Both the girls nodded.

“Very good.” He shook his head slightly, “And now we come to the nature of the duel - duels, rather. I will hardly approve any form of melee between all of you at once.”

Yeah, that would get wild, Alan admitted. “Individual duels then? Best of five?”

“In knight armours,” Julius proposed. “The arena will be free after the last day of exams, and there’s a day spare between then and the end of term ceremonies.”

Nicol nodded. “The time would work out. However… Lord Bartford, I believe you have a problem with -”

The dark-haired boy shook his head. “No, I have an armour that accounts for that little issue. School knight-armours can’t be modified the same way, but if we’re using our own machines then I have time to bring one from my skyship.”

“The school certainly isn’t providing it’s own knight-armours for use in a private duel.” Nicol then turned his gaze to another member of their team. “Lady Katarina, can you use a knight-armour at all?”

“I’ve used Keith’s before, and - as I’m nihonese - piloting one is in my blood!” she declared.

“Ni-what-ese?” Alan asked, seeing everyone else looked equally baffled.

“Er, it doesn’t matter,” she brushed it off. “But I don’t have an armour of my own.”

“I…” Nicol paused and very nearly frowned. “Cannot show partiality by loaning you my own.”

Katarina looked at Angelica, who flushed, “My family has spares but none will be in the capital.” And they’d require her father’s approval too.

“There’s a second on my ship.”

Alan turned to Leon in surprise. The other boy was a count’s younger son, heir to a barony through some complexity of the family’s titles as he understood it. But he had two knight-armours at his own use?

“I believe we can at least indemnify you for any damage it takes while loaned to Katarina,” offered Keith hesitantly.

Alan leaned over to the Claes’ adopted son, “Hey, can Katarina really pilot one?”

“Yes,” he replied in a somewhat equivocal tone. “And it’s safer than fighting without them.”

“Fair point.”

Gerald nodded. “So we have time, stakes and the method of combat. Will you pick the match-ups, Nicol?”

“I object.” Julius put one hand on the table. “The other matters have been mutually agreed between us, but Lord Ascart is one of your closest friends, Gerald. There’s too much scope for him to weight the match-ups to favour you.”

Alan glanced at the head table and saw Nicol unruffled. “As Lady Roseblade’s sister is engaged to Lord Bartford’s brother, would you accept Lord Dieke as an impartial arbiter of that matter, your highness?” the older boy suggested.

The crown prince hesitated but then nodded. “Yes, I would accept that.”

The auburn-haired second year looked startled but he rose to his feet. “I accept this responsibility. One moment, please.” He went to a side cabinet and returned with a page of paper that he tore into several sections, annotating each with an ink pattern. Crumpling the papers until their markings were invisible, he scrambled them in his hand. “Duels will be in the order that I draw them, if that’s alright?”

Gerald and Julius, each taking the lead of their side, both nodded.

“That being the case,” Sirius unfolded two pieces of paper. “The first duel will be Lord Field against Lord Claes.”

The two magical powerhouses against each other, Alan thought. Probably as fair as it gets.

Dieke opened another piece of paper. “Prince Alan, you’ll be against…” He examined the next draw. “Ah, no, that’s your brother. Sorry,” the boy apologised. “I should probably have kept them separate.”

Alan looked across at the other team. Something about Arclight made him want to give the swordsman a thrashing - although in that field probably only Gerald was a match for the son of the famous Sword Saint.

“Lord Seberg, it is you that will be Prince Alan’s opponent.”

“Shame I won’t get to show Bartford a what for,” the redhead grumbled, apparently as disappointed as Alan.

“Perhaps Katarina and Leon should fight last, since if one side has three victories they wouldn’t need to participate,” suggested Gerald. “They do have the least magic.”

Jilk shook his head. “Just draw them randomly,” he insisted.

Dieke had sorted the remaining papers into two sets of three and shook each in his hand before making his next selections. “Lord Arclight will face Lady Claes in the third match.”

Alan grimaced. It was probably the best of the three options, but still. On the other hand, what was it that his instructor had once said about the best swordsman in the world worrying more about facing a novice than the second-best, since the novice might do something unexpected.

“Lord Marmoria will then face Lord Bartford in the penultimate match,” Dieke continued. “And if the matter has not been decided by then, the last match would therefore be Prince Julius against Prince Gerald.”

Politically, it’d be best to settle this before that happens, Alan thought. But given the way Julius has been behaving, if it comes to that then I hope Gerald can knock some sense into his head.

Nothing else seemed to have worked.


Leon landed his spare knight-armour in the arena behind House Stuart’s mansion. The ducal house had a large estate outside of the capital’s boundaries and Gerald had arranged for them to meet there the morning after the party.

Two other knight-armours were already standing in the arena, and they raised their weapons as he landed the armour. “You know, you did invite me,” Leon called, cracking the cockpit open.

Both of the knight-armours stood down and a moment later, the twins opened their own cockpits.

“My apologies, Lord Bartford.” Gerald was matter of fact about the matter. “But you must admit, it would be an excellent way for an enemy to get an armed knight inside out defenses.”

Leon considered that and then decided the blond was right - he did have to admit to the validity of the tactic. “Fair enough.” He dismounted, climbing down to the ground. “I trust that this meets your expectations.”

“It’s a bit bulkier than I was expecting,” noted Alan. His own armour was black, contrasting the white of his brother’s. “Is it an older model?”

“No one I consulted could pinpoint the original manufacture.” Which was literally true, since no one but he and the AIs knew that Luxion had built both knight-armours for him. “And some of that bulk is reinforced protection around the cockpit - which is probably a good thing.”

Both brothers nodded in agreement.

“Speaking of the knight who’ll be piloting this, have our other two partners arrived?” Leon enquired, looking around.

“Yes, they came over with Keith’s knight-armour earlier.” Gerald explained. “She’s getting kitted out now in the hangar.”

As if on queue, there was a high pitched: “Lady Katarina!” from the indicated direction, and then the sound of someone falling over.

Leon exchanged looks with the two Stuarts and then all three of them ran over to investigate.

“Oh gosh, Mary! Are you alright!” they heard, before opening the door and entering.

The first person Leon saw was a maid with a resigned expression on her face. Then he looked down and saw Katarina crouched over a fallen Mary Fou Hunt. The Marquis’ daughter’s eyes were closed and a trail of blood was leaking from her nose.

There was a strangled noise from beside him and he turned to see both princes were red-faced.

Frowning, Leon turned back and finally registered that Katarina was wearing a pilot’s suit for a knight-armour. In keeping with the otome genre, the suits had been designed to show off the physiques of the young men wearing them. Katarina Rafa Claes was not a young man, but she was a very attractive young woman and the tight-fitting suit was highlighting several of her physical qualities that were usually hidden by the skirts of her school uniform or gowns.

Grabbing one twin with each hand, Leon dragged them both back through the door. “I think that this is definitely a job for Katarina’s maid,” he told them.

“Y-yes,” Alan managed.

“Katarina is going to be wearing that in front of all the academy,” Gerald muttered, half to himself. “We have to do something.”

“What’s going on!?” Keith Claes exclaimed, rushing into the antechamber. “Is Katarina alright?”

“Your sister’s fine,” Leon assured him. “Although…” He looked at the young man, who was wearing a suit and frock-coat, presumably not having changed into his own piloting suit yet. “Gentlemen, may I suggest that we adopt a team jacket policy.”

“What?” the flaxen-haired boy asked, bemused.

“Your sister,” Gerald told him flatly. “In a pilot’s suit. In front of the entire academy.”

Colour drained from Keith’s face. “Mother will kill her.”

“I’m thinking we use your coat as a model for something that renders the matter less scandalous,” Leon suggested. “And if we’re all wearing them, there’s no need to explain why we want her to cover up.”

“Excellent thinking,” the elder of the twins agreed. “I’ll speak to our staff immediately.”

Keith shrugged off his coat and offered it to Gerald. “But if Katarina’s fine, who screamed?”

“My fiancee was apparently shocked,” Alan told him. “Mary’s quite a proper girl.”

Leon gave Alan a sideways look and decided not to enlighten him as to why Mary found the idea of Katarina wearing something skintight to be overstimulating. “Anyway, since it will take a little while for even Gerald to arrange jackets, please restrain yourselves on seeing her. Unless you want to have a very interesting conversation with her.”

“Just keep your own eyes in your head,” Keith said in an accusing manner.

Leon gave him a dour look. “It’s not going to be an issue once she’s in the knight-armour. Why don’t we move along to that, since we only have two days for your sister to practise?”

“Sorry to keep you!” Katarina declared, marching out of the changing room. “Mary must have come down with something and -”

“Mrgh,” Keith mumbled, eyes wide. Even with a warning, he apparently wasn’t ready to see his sister like this.

Fortunately, Alan gave the boy a swift elbowing. “I’d better check on Mary,” he declared. “Leon, you and Keith get Katarina set up in the knight-armour and I’ll be back as soon as I can so we can begin practising.”

“Right!” Katarina agreed, then peered at her brother. “Keith, are you alright? Your face is all red - please don’t be coming down with whatever Mary’s caught!” She reached up and pressed her hand against his forehead, moving well inside the embarrassed boy’s personal space.

With herculean effort, Leon kept his gaze from lowering below her face. “He’s just worried for Mary,” he said smoothly. “But Alan will take care of that. Please follow me and I’ll show you the knight-armour I’ve brought.”

Katarina was suitably impressed by the sight of the giant robot. “How great!” she proclaimed. “It looks powerful!”

“My armour is also powerful,” Keith mumbled.

“Of course it is. We’ll be great together, Keith!”

“Do you remember how to… ah, evidently you do.” Leon watched Katarina climbing up to the cockpit until Keith elbowed him sharply. “What?”

“That’s my sister,” the earth mage hissed angrily.


“Stop leering at her…”

“What are you talking about?” Katarina called down from the hatch, which was only just above their heads.

Leon sighed. “Keith’s just going to go get his own knight-armour,” he advised. “Get sat down in there and I’ll come up and make sure you’re strapped in right - given how much you can get thrown around during a fight, it’s very important to get that right.”

“Okay!” Katarina turned around and started climbing backwards into the cockpit, bending forwards as she did so.

Leon blinked and then looked away from her and over at Keith. “I really should have thought of the team jackets idea earlier,” he admitted.

“Just… don’t try anything,” the boy hissed, under his breath.

“Between you and Scarlet, I’m fairly sure I don’t dare.”

To Leon’s surprise, Katarina actually did know how to strap herself in properly. The safety requirements for piloting a knight-armour were apparently one of the subjects that she had not blotted out of her memory as soon as she’d passed a test on it. She could even walk it around with a fair bit of expertise. Either she was a natural, or Keith had been understating how much she’d borrowed his Knight-armour over the years.

It was when it came to fighting that the problems emerged.

“Yiiiiii!” Leon yelped, running in a direction that he didn’t think the sword was falling in, after Katarina had accidentally flung her weapon skywards.

Gerald, now in his own knight-armour, rushed forward and secured the weapon before it fell to the ground. “That’s not quite how it’s done, Katarina,” he advised.

“Oops,” she said rather sheepishly.

“Master,” Luxion observed as Leon picked himself up and looked for any dignity he might have dropped in his abject flight.

“She hasn’t broken the armour, has she?” he asked.

“No, master. However, someone has broken the lock on your dorm room.”

“Oh for crying out loud.” He rubbed his face in frustration. “I remember this from the books, it’s why I don’t have any valuables there, but how petty can they be? Who’s doing it?”

“I’ve identified the servants of fourteen girls in the special class, with representatives from all three years.”

Leon paused. “Just servants?”

“You were expecting something else?” asked the AI. “They are vandalising the room now.”

“In the book, it was baronial heirs that got bullied into it - the girls wouldn’t lower their pet lovers to manual labour like this. Or at least, they wanted a bit more deniability.” He rubbed his chin. “It’s still annoying. I have to sleep in that room.”

“It will need careful cleaning then.”

“Bartford!” called Gerald. “Are you alright?”

Leon looked up and saw that all four knight-armours had halted. “Er, yes - I’m fine. Just thinking about my own training.”

Gerald slotted the sword back into the weapon case of the borrowed Knight-armour. “Why do you have farm tools in this?”

“We had a lot of the fighting men of the barony take time away from their farms to fight the Olfreys,” Leon replied. “After that we had all hands on deck to get the fields ready for sowing - knight-armours can handle a lot of heavy labour.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before,” Mary called from the stands. She insisted that she was fully recovered from her fainting moment, but Katarina’s maid was still watching her tentatively.

“My father’s barony has only been cultivated for a few generations,” Leon explained, making way up to join her - out of the path of any other flying weapons. At least he hoped so. “We’re still clearing new ground for farming - I’m guessing that that’s not really the case on your father’s lands.”

“Not really,” she admitted.

Leon looked at her, considered the vandalism of his rooms and decided to reverse one of his earlier decisions about how to handle the duels. As long as he didn’t take it too far, it shouldn’t be too troubling and with more than a dozen students picking a fight with him, it would be almost rude not to retaliate. “Lady Hunt, might you have any idea about who will be taking bets on our duels?”
Calculated Chivalry 3-2


Well-known member
Calculated Chivalry

They say that all in love is fair
Yeah, but you don't care
~ Huey Lewis​

Chapter 2

Revenge converts a little right into a great wrong. ~ German Proverb​

As Leon had expected, Mary Fou Hunt had no difficulty telling where he could find the student’s gambling syndicate. Just as there was a formal power structure among the students, in the form of the student council, there was also an unofficial organisation passed down from one class to the next, of students who handled the wants and desires of students that weren’t filled by the academy itself. They catered to - and presumably included - students from both the special class and the general class.

“There’s nothing illegal about them running gambling,” Mary advised, “but don’t ask about anything they might do which would be against the academy’s rules. Bringing in official attention might get them into some trouble, but you’d be making a lot of trouble for yourself with their families and those of any other student that owes them favours.”

“No one likes a snitch,” he said to confirm his understanding. “I’m just going to lay some bets, Lady Hunt. I’m not interested in stirring up trouble.”

“Just call me Mary,” she insisted. “After all, you’re courting Lady Katarina’s cousin so I’m sure we’ll be good friends going forwards.”

Leon hid a smile at how Mary was trying to push him towards Scarlet - and by extension, away from closer ties with Katarina. It wasn’t as if she didn’t have reason to suspect that anyone entering her friend’s social circle would find themselves smitten by the blue-eyed girl, but Leon didn’t think he was really at risk of that.

Katarina was a nice girl and obviously considered him a friend, but she was a little too sweet. He would want a bit more spice to a girl he started a relationship with. The fact he’d probably incur Gerald’s undying enmity was another factor, if a lesser one.

“Here we are,” Mary informed him, gesturing to a function room with a short line waiting outside.

Given the relatively low number of students, the fact that betting was backing up a queue said a lot about how many people were laying money on the results.

“I guess a lot of people are hoping to make some money for the summer holidays before the term ends,” Leon noted as they took their places at the end of the queue.

“Is that your goal?” she asked him.

He shook his head. “I’m not usually fond of gambling, but this is a matter of skill not luck. And I strongly suspect that the people who vandalised my room will have laid money against me. Confronting them would be unwise, but raising the stakes here…”

“It’s all very well if you win,” Mary noted. “But it’s possible that you won’t even be participating if the three duels before yours decide the matter.”

“I’m sure that that’s covered under the terms of the betting,” Leon told her.

One of the boys ahead of them turned back and Leon recognised Raymond Fou Arkin, one of the boys he’d snuck away from during the dungeoning expedition some weeks ago. “Leon, what are you doing here?” he asked.

“Probably more or less the same that you are,” Leon answered. “Although I don’t know who you’re betting on, so some details may differ.”

There was a little whispering in the queue from those who had apparently not recognised Leon.

“It’s not as if anyone would accept my betting against myself,” he added.

Raymond hesitated and then nodded. “I suppose not. You were asking what happens if one or both of the last two duels doesn’t happen? If that happens, all bets on those duels are void and money wagered will be returned less a small transaction fee.”

Mary smiled sharply. “So the bookies make some money off the duels even if they don’t happen. How nice for them.”

“They’re running a business at the end of the day.” Leon had expected something of this general nature. “They’re not taking sides, they’re operating as a business.”

The line shrank ahead of them quickly. Most people seemed to have a good idea what they were going to wager before they went in. Also, by allowing only one gambler in at a time, the bookies were keeping who was betting which way private - something that probably let them set the odds at a level to manage their risks.

“One at a time,” one of the third years at a desk inside warned as Mary tried to enter with Leon. She huffed and stepped back as the door closed.

Leon checked the board that had been set out, showing the odds on each of the ten combatants. Three of the matches were more or less even in their expectation, but the odds definitely didn’t favor him or Katarina. It made sense, neither of them had been seen using a knight-armour at the academy before now.

“We can’t let you bet against yourself,” the older student informed him, “But the rest are open. We won’t tell anyone if you bet against your team-mates.”

“That’s appreciated, but unnecessary.” Leon pulled out his wallet and removed five platinum coins from it. “I’m betting one of these on myself, one on Prince Alan, Prince Gerald, Lady Claes and Lord Claes.”

“That’s… just about within our reach,” the boy said after a moment’s thought. “We prefer not to take bets quite that large, but given the amounts wagered so far are quite high we can manage that.” He took out a fresh sheet of red paper and started noting down details. After finishing, he tore it into five sections along pre-scored lines. “Hold onto these, because if you lose them then we won’t recognise any claim for payout.”

Leon tucked them away. “Thank you.”

“I’d wish you good luck,” the upperclassman told him. “But honestly, if you win all of these, we’re going to be paying out quite a bit.”

“I’m sure you’ll make it back from the opposition,” Leon noted and left the room.

“Leon!” his sister Jenna snapped, having apparently arrived while he was inside.

“...is something the matter?” he asked as Mary stepped past him into the room and closed the door behind him.

His sister put her hands on her hips. “You told me you couldn’t afford to pay for me to have a contract servant, but here you are betting money.”

“What’s your point?”

“You lied to me!” Jenna fumed. “How can you hide money from your lovely and loving sister?”

“It’s easier when I haven’t seen her in the better part of ten years,” Leon told her. “You replaced her somehow, probably because of Zola's bad influence.”

“You’re a horrible brother!” She grabbed his sleeve. “You hide money and now you’re getting involved in the mess with the prince. Do you ignore everything I tell you?”

Leon let her drag him along, but not out of sight of the doorway, digging in his heels once they weren’t blocking anyone. “Honestly, Jenna, you’re not doing yourself any favours. The reason I don’t fund your bad habits is the same reason that you haven’t had a suitor yet - you’re acting like Zola. It’s not likely to end well, look how she ended up.”

Jenna let go of him. “You don’t understand anything, Leon. You can’t go against society. If I tried, I really would be left marrying some leftover and you’ll be doing well to marry at all.”

“Yes, well society sucks so I aim to misbehave,” Leon shot back. “You may be a count’s eldest daughter now, but you’re not going to have a chance to marry at that level because every count’s son has the chance at marrying someone who doesn’t act like a backstabbing social climber but actually looks like they might be a help to them in the rest of their life.”

“And what will you do, little brother, if you don’t have any marriage available by the time you’re twenty? Father’s barony isn’t near enough to the county for he and Nicks to support you, so you’ll be standing alone and all the neighbours can turn on you with impunity. What will you do then?”

Leon considered that question for a moment. “Kill anyone who attacks me, add their lands to mine and dare anyone to do anything about it.”

“Wh-what?” Jenna asked, incredulous.

“Either someone will kill me, or I’ll run out of idiot neighbours.” Leon smiled thinly. “The only question is how large my domain is by the time that we reach one of those points.”

“My, that’s an ambitious agenda,” Mary murmured, having presumably finished laying her bets. “If it does come to that, you might fight the royal army being deployed though.”

“If Julius is in charge by then, I think Holfort will have larger problems,” Leon told her.

“...a fair point,” she conceded. Mary then turned her eyes on Jenna. “Leon’s own plans aside, you may wish to consider his assessment of your own path. While the crown does support the idea of noble wives living well in the capital, that doesn’t mean that they’re happy with some of the more exploitative practices that have grown up around that. I would suggest that you distance yourself from them - most of the upper nobility have little patience with contract servants and the like.”

“But the prince bought a servant for Lady Lafan,” Jenna pointed out.

Mary nodded. “That marks him as an aberration, Lady Bartford. His engagement contract with Lady Redgrave prohibited her from having such servants - as does mine, and every other arrangement I know of that involves the households of dukes, marquises… even the more reputable counts’ families. Your parents not allowing you one is far wiser than you seem to realise.”

Jenna was left with her mouth gaping at that rebuttal.

Turning to Leon, Mary curtseyed. “If you’ll allow me to excuse myself, Lord Bartford. I must meet Prince Gerald regarding certain preparations.”

“Of course.” He bowed solemnly in return. “I hope that everything goes well for you.”

“And with you.”

Leon looked at his still flummoxed sister. “Do close your mouth, Jenna,” he advised her and made an escape before she decided to give him another piece of her mind.

“Do you have any idea what Mary is up to?” he asked Luxion under his breath as he left the building. He wasn’t aware of anything that she’d been asked to do - and so far as he was aware, Gerald should still be working with his brother and Keith to bring Katarina up to the highest possible level of readiness for the duels. For the prince to leave his fiancee alone was markedly out of character.

“Curiously, none of your new human companions have confided in me, master.”

“Not quite what I asked.” Leon paused and considered his options. “Follow her and let me know please. This mess was probably unavoidable but I’ve no idea how far it’ll spin out of control now. Anything behind the scenes that I’m not aware of could backfire nastily.”

“Understood.” The AI’s voice was dry. “Operation Stalker is now underway.”

Leon grinned at the sass and headed back towards his room. Cleaning the walls to remove the insults wasn’t all that vital but he wanted to make sure all the broken glass and other garbage was out before he got his bed sorted out again. Honestly, if he couldn’t have Luxion stand guard, he wouldn’t feel safe sleeping in that room right now. It was very tempting to ask the Stuarts to let him use a spare room, but students were rarely allowed to spend the night away from their dorms and the staff would be staying well away from any permissions that might suggest they were taking sides against the future prince.

“Lord Arclight,” he heard Mary say, the words relayed to him through the earbud he was wearing. “A moment of your time.”

“Given your friendship with Lady Claes, I think it best we don’t speak.”

“I really must insist.” The young lady’s voice was steely. “This won’t take long.”

Arclight took an audible breath. “I am quite sure -”

“That you can spare a moment for the lady.” Gerald Rafa Stuart’s voice was silky and menacing.

Nothing was said for a few moments, Leon sweeping his ruined bedding into a bag. It might be salvageable as rags, but he was tempted to just put it out for burning.

A door closed and then Chris asked: “What do you want?” in a strained voice.

“Nothing but a quiet talk,” Mary told him in a voice that sounded courteous. More or less.

Gerald was a little more urbane. “Lord Arclight, in a little under forty-eight hours you’ll be facing my dear fiancee in a duel. Not combat, a duel. And I love Katarina very very much… but let’s be honest. She is not a knight.”

“You, on the other hand, are one of the rising stars of the kingdom. Son of the greatest swordsman to serve the Holforts, perhaps even able to one day surpass him.” Mary’s voice was sweet. “So Katarina poses no threat to you at all.”

“You can’t possibly think I’m going to throw the match,” the boy exclaimed. “Have you no shame?”

There was a pause and then Mary told him: “You are in no place to talk of shame, Lord Arclight.”

“It would be difficult for anyone to expect you to lose your duel,” Gerald advised smoothly. “My concern is merely that the duel ends with Katarina completely unharmed. In that regard, I am pleased that you will be the one to face her. Out of the five of you, I think you are the least likely to do anything reckless.”

“Striking at the cockpit, for example. Or attempting a coup de grace.” Mary listed the examples. “Harming one strand of Lady Katarina’s precious hair.”

“By all means, win the fight. Champion your precious Lady Lafan.” Gerald’s voice was colder than it should be for any fire mage. “But should my beloved come to even the slightest injury… Well, I don’t quite know what I will do. But I’m quite sure my family history will provide many many ideas for how to punish carelessness on your part. So let’s not find out. What do you say?”

Chris’ voice was shaky. “Do you think you can just drag me aside and threaten me?”

“Oh dear me, Lord Arclight.” And then Mary’s voice drained of the slightest warmth. “We have dragged you aside, we are threatening you… and there is nothing that you, your family or any of your idiot friends can do about it.”

There was the sound of a door opening.

“I’m so glad that we’ve had this chat,” Gerald said in a conversational tone.

“Huh.” Leon shook his head, concluding that everything interesting had been said. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Do you think anyone heard that, Luxion?”

“Besides the three present, yourself and my recording, master?”

“Yeah… hold onto that recording.” The boy looked at his room and sighed. “Probably it’ll never be needed. But damn, I don’t want those two coming after me. Better to have something in reserve… just in case.”

“It occurs to me, master, that should Katarina Rafa Claes come to harm in your knight armour, there might also be consequences for you. It seems likely her family would see you as having enabled her.”

“You’re such a cheery fellow, Luxion.”

“One tries,” the AI responded matter-of-factly.


Even the previous rapprochement and additional ginger muffins hadn’t quite brought Olivia to the point that she’d feel safe treating Angelica as a friend. The simple fact was that as a duke’s daughter, the other girl was almost as highly placed as it was possible for a woman to be in Holfort - and marrying Prince Julius would have removed ‘almost’ from that description. As the daughter of a yeoman farmer, Olivia Campbell wasn’t quite at the exact opposite end of the social spectrum - but the gulf in their power was such that she might as well have been.

(Lady Katarina was a friend, of course, largely because Katarina Rafa Claes radiated friendship like an irresistible force, essentially overriding all social conventions. Olivia could no more have not treated her as a friend than she could have kicked a small puppy if it looked at her with big pleading eyes. Only the most callous monster imaginable could have refused to be Katarina’s friend… and even then, few people would have put money on the monster.)

Today Angelica sat almost entirely alone despite the crowds of students filling the stadium seating. Even families with a long and close relationship with the Redgrave household were hesitant to support her when she had not only fallen out with the crown prince but was to all practical purposes confronting him directly.

If the duke had been the one to do that, perhaps it would have been different. Although, that would have been open rebellion and civil war, so most likely one side or the other would have backed down rather than risk that. Holfort was, after all, surrounded by neighbouring realms that would be delighted to add the kingdom’s sprawling territory to their own, particularly if it could be seized in convenient bite-sized chunks.

However, Angelica wasn’t the duke or even the heir. And her power, based on associations that were now shaky at best, had therefore deserted her.

She actually looked surprised when Olivia approached her seat and asked if it would be alright to sit next to her.

“You can if you want,” the duke’s daughter told her. “But it might not be the best of ideas. Whatever happens today, I’m going to be in disgrace and anyone near me might be dragged down as well.”

Olivia elected to sit down anyway. “If you’re in disgrace, and Lady Katarina is in disgrace, then I’ll be in good company,” she said stoutly.

More company than that, she discovered a few moments later as three other ladies hurried to take seats with them. Mary Fou Hunt was someone that Olivia had met already - a marquis’ daughter (though not a marchioness, she insisted) almost seeming like a normal girl when around Katarina. Introductions ensued with the two silver-blonde women accompanying her and Olivia’s head swam as the twin daughters of yet another duke sat down next to her. Surely one of them would realise she was just a commoner and send her away?

They did not, in fact, send her away.

Nor, a few moments later, did the pair who arrived just before the duels were scheduled to begin. Olivia blushed as the president of the student council looked at her. Lady Violette actually almost swooned and only remained seated upright when her sister and Olivia caught her by her arms.

“Julius already as much as said he doesn’t believe brother is impartial,” Sophia Fia Ascart declared brightly. “So we might as well sit with people we like.”

“I’m glad to be in that select company,” Angelica answered, sounding just as overwhelmed as Olivia felt.

Fortunately, that was when the trumpets sounded and everyone turned their attention to the arena below them - Lord Nicol Fia Ascart considerately sitting down behind them where his unfairly beautiful face wouldn’t be a distraction.

In an attempt to streamline the event, the referee had all ten of the duellists come out and give their oaths for proper conduct at once. They did so dismounted, which gave everyone a good view of the prince and his companions in skin-tight piloting suits. The five facing them wore matching white coats trimmed in appropriate colours - although the distinct hair colours made it easy enough to identify everyone down there.

“Was it really worth making coats just for one event?” Angelica mused. “I should at least have asked Lord Bartford to withdraw - I can’t reward him in any way, and he’s far more vulnerable to retaliation than the Claes or the Stuarts.”

“Perhaps we should all get coats like that to show our solidarity,” suggested Sophia. “Wouldn’t that be a good idea, Mary, dressing like Lady Katarina?”

Mary averted her eyes. “They are rather more… proper than just wearing pilot suits.”

Her opinion seemed to be a minority one. In fact, some of the voices carrying from elsewhere in the stands seemed rather disappointed that Keith Rafa Claes in particular was wearing a coat. Katarina’s brother wasn’t currently engaged, which made him a subject of great interest within the student body.

Nonetheless, the young man didn’t remove his coat until he was inside his knight-armour and facing Brad fou Field across the arena, while the other duellists had withdrawn to watch. Both of the mages had marked their knight armours in their preferred shades of purple, and they were of similar models - lithe and agile in comparison to older designs. Brad’s sported a more prominent head-unit and carried four lances on its back, making them easy enough to distinguish.

“Who do you think will win?” asked Sophia, sounding nervous.

No one said anything for a moment and then Angelica sighed. “I’ve never seen them face off before, I’ve no idea.”

“They’re both very gifted,” Nicol said noncommittally.

The duel began and Olivia saw the arena floor ripple, a pair of golems forming to flank Keith’s knight armour. The three figures advanced upon the now out-numbered Brad, but he counterattacked immediately, three spears rising from his backpack and flying through the air to strike at each adversary.

For a moment the battle seemed stalled but then the fourth spear took off directly upwards.

Nicol tsked quietly. “He missed it.”

“Brad?” asked Angelica, gripping the rail in front of her with both hands.


A moment later, the spear plunged down again, striking at Keith from behind. As the earth mage maintained his slow progress towards Brad, he was a predictable target and the lance ripped into one shoulder, crippling one arm of the knight-armour.

Distracted, Keith relaxed his control over the golems to try to address the damage to his knight-armour but that left them vulnerable and within moments, all four spears were assaulting the already damaged knight-armour.

Keith fought defensively, raising another golem to protect his damaged side, but four distinct attacks were more than he could cope with and Brad slashed at the back of the knight-armour’s legs, forcing it to kneel to him.

At that point the referee intervened and the first victory was declared, for one of Lady Lafan’s champions. Brad proudly marched the full perimeter of the arena, waving and accepting accolades, before Keith was able to have his damaged knight-armour carried from the field.

Olivia patted Angelica reassuringly. “It’ll be alright.”

“I’m just glad he hasn’t been hurt for my sake,” the other girl said fatalistically.

Once Brad’s grandstanding was over and Keith had departed, the second duel began. This time the two knight-armours were clearly distinct, Alan’s being black and clearly much newer than the red knight-armour being used by Greg Fou Seberg.

“Is it alright if I cheer for your fiance?” Scarlet Rafa Ades asked Mary solemnly.

The buxom girl shrugged (making Olivia feel just a little envious). “Why wouldn’t it be?”

“I can never tell.”

Then the two knight-armours closed in on each other and everyone was on the edge of their seats. No magic was visible between the two, but sparks flew as Alan’s sword clashed against Greg’s spear.

It was a mobile fight that slashed back and forth across the arena. Olivia felt almost dizzy trying to keep track, as the two young men twisted and turned through the air, striking at each other with abandon.

“He has…” Then Nicol sat back. “I thought Alan had him.”

Olivia couldn’t say what exchange had prompted the comment. “Is he losing?”

“No, just a missed opportunity.”

There was a sudden screech of metal against metal and the plate of armour protecting the shoulder of Greg’s knight armour sheared away, hacked off by Alan’s sword. For a moment Olivia wondered if that would decide the matter, but both continued.

“What happened?” asked Mary.

It was Angelica who answered: “Prince Alan missed - he was aiming for a disabling hit but he couldn’t quite reach far enough. I’m guessing…” She hesitated. “I don’t suppose he’s faced someone with a spear before?”

“He has,” Nicol disagreed. “But perhaps not often enough to be fully adjusted to how it changes matters of reach.”

“But he still damaged Greg’s armour,” Mary offered hopefully.

“Hit him harder, please!” Scarlet called in encouragement to the black-painted knight-armour.

Four more exchanges took place before more armour was destroyed, but this time it was the right knee of Alan’s armour that suffered the hit, and it was quickly evident that the damage was more than superficial. With his mobility impaired, Alan limped on for another few minutes but eventually Greg managed to sweep the good leg out from under the black knight-armour with the butt of his spear, leaving Alan helpless on his back with the spear point aimed for the ‘throat’ - more or less where his own head was.

“Oh no!” Sophia wailed.

Greg dismounted once the match was called in his favour, helping the referee to open the cockpit hatch once it was clear that it had jammed and Alan was unable to get out without assistance. There was no victory lap this time, the winner giving the loser a hearty slap to the upper arm and words that appeared rather congratulatory.

“Humph,” Scarlet pouted as Alan walked out of the arena, head low. His armour was carried off after him.

Violette looked at her sister and shook her head, then reached past Olivia to reassure Mary: “I’m sure Alan is alright.”

Mary nodded absently, “Alan’s just fine… this is the match that worries me.”

Out on the arena, the next duel was being announced.


Chris Fia Arclight’s knight-armor was trimmed with an aqua-blue that almost matched his hair, and it towered over Katarina Rafa Claes as she walked out, straight-backed, into the arena.

Keith being defeated had worried her, and now Alan had been defeated as well. If she lost now, then it was all over.

I can’t lose, she told herself. I’m a villainess - and the villainess only loses to the heroine. And Lord Arclight is no heroine! Of course, he was fighting on behalf of Lady Lafan - who was acting a lot as if she was a heroine… but that didn’t count, right?

Although… by that logic, Angelica might be the villainess. Did that mean that Katarina was now one of the villainess’ henchwomen? It was like there was an entire different story playing out in parallel to the one that Katarina had been expecting?

“Lady Claes?” the referee asked. “Did you forget your Knight-Armour? Or…” He looked hopeful. “Are you here to concede?”

What? Katarina realised she’d gotten lost in her own internal dialogue. “No!” she called quickly. “I have my knight-armour.”

Reaching into her coat, she pulled out the pen-shaped device that Leon had given her and twisted it until it clicked. Then Katarina pushed the top down. “Big Stein! I choose you!”

“What are you doing?” asked Chris.

Katarina shook her head. “I’m summoning my giant robot.” Didn’t he know anything?

There were shouts from the stand, but she stood proud and tall. It didn’t matter what anyone said, because today she was going to pilot a giant robot. That was what was important!

A moment later there was a whistling noise and people began to look up. A shadow fell across Katarina and then, with a roar of thrusters that sent her long brown hair flapping around in its high ponytail, her knight-armour landed behind her.

(Leon was the one who named it Stein. Katarina liked it! He said it meant stone, which suited her because she was an earth-mage and stone was a sort of really dense earth. And if it had some more red and gold and if she squinted a bit, it would look almost like a Gundam!)

The landing had kicked up a cloud of dust, and Katarina climbed up the knight-armour quickly, scrambling into the cockpit. She went through the strapping-in process diligently, because proper preparation prevents pathetically poor performance! All the P-words marked her securing another strap, and she chanted the reminder to herself.

Alright! She was ready! Pulling out the Big Stein’s sword, she adopted a defensive stance. Right, just as if it was Gerald and she’d lost snakey! She would parry, parry, parry and then run away!

However, Chris didn’t cooperate with her plan - he had his sword out but he didn’t attack. Not even when the referee was out of the way. Well, obviously he should have waited for that. But still…

“Lady Claes,” the boy declared after a moment. “It would be inappropriate for a swordsman like myself to take advantage of your inexperience. I suggest that we fight to three touches.”

What did that mean? Katarina let go of her controls and rubbed her forehead. There was dust on her hand, she’d gotten pretty dusty when the Stein landed. Anne would probably insist she take a bath right away once this was over. Oh, she should answer Chris. “What do you mean?”

Back behind Chris she could see Lord Marmoria and Prince Julius arguing about something. Then Jilk called out: “Just beat her already, Chris! Get it over with!”

Well he wasn’t being very nice. Then again, he’d have to fight Leon next if Katarina won. Maybe he didn’t want to?

Chris gestured with his knight-armour’s suit. “Every time we touch the other’s armour with our weapon, it’s a point - even if it’s just a tap. The first one to three points wins… although obviously, if someone can’t continue, that also decides the duel.” The head of his knight-armour turned towards the stands briefly - aw, he was looking at his fiancee! Maybe he did still care for Violette! “That way no one gets hurt.”

No one getting hurt sounded great to Katarina. That was one less bad end to worry about. She cleared her throat, coughed a little on the dust and then declared: “I agree!”

Three times? She could parry three times! Although… touching his knight-armour might be difficult. Katarina had practised parrying mostly. It wasn’t as if she wanted to beat Gerald with a sword once he fell in love with Olivia, just to stay alive long enough to run away.

Wait, that was only if Gerald fell in love - not when. Olivia didn’t seem to be on that route yet. She still might choose someone else!

Chris lunged with his sword and Katarina brought hers up on reflex, moving just barely enough to bat it aside.

He pulled back and then tried again. Katarina blocked a second time.

Then he made to cut at her knight-armour’s head and when she raised her sword, he suddenly switched targets. Katarina tried to skip back but she stumbled a bit and her knight-armour shook a little as Chris tapped its thigh with his sword.

“That’s one!” he called.

Did that mean it was her turn?

Katarina hit the thrusters and blasted towards him, swinging her sword ferociously. “Here I come!” she shouted!

The aqua-trimmed armour jetted backwards, staying ahead of her - and then he swept to one side and knocked her sword off to one side before tapping the arm with his blade. Katarina’s sword went flying from the Bit Stein’s hand.

“Two,” Chris announced as Katarina wheeled around. He flew back and away. “I’ll let you recover your sword, Lady Claes.”

There was clapping from the audience and Katarina smiled. “That’s very kind of you,” she told him, opening her weapon case. “But I have other weapons!” She yanked out the first thing that came to hand and flourished.

The clapping petered out and then the students watching began laughing.

“...are you mocking me?” demanded Chris.

Katarina gripped the hoe in the Big Stein’s hand. “No.”

She had to hit him three times. The sword wasn’t working, she should try something different. Wasn’t that common sense?

The boy sighed heavily. “Go and pick up your sword, Lady Claes.” His knight armour reached up to its face with his free hand, as if he was adjusting his glasses.

“Why do you want me to do that so much?” Katarina wondered out loud. “You’re not going to hit me in the back are you?” He didn’t seem to be the sort of person to do that.

“Of course not!”

“Then what is it?”

Chris hesitated. “Please do not try to fight me with a farm tool. This is a duel. Treat it seriously.”

Hey! Was he insulting Big Stein’s hoe? Katarina glared at him, even though she knew that the boy couldn’t see her face.

You looked after your hoe and your hoe looked after you!

“I’m going to fight you just like this!” she shouted up at him. “And you’ll be sorry for what you just said!”

“You’re making a joke out of this!”

She fired her thrusters, flying up to face him, raising the hoe high above Stein’s head. Katarina hadn’t really flown a knight-armour before Leon lent her the Stein, so she was a bit wobbly. Apparently having the ground further away from you didn’t make you less likely to fall over. Strange.

Chris sighed. “Alright then. Please don’t blame me for this.” He drew back his sword and paused. It was just like a samurai duel! Katarina could almost see the sakura blossoms falling between them!

A flare of fire from behind Chris marked the start of his charge.

Katarina waited, steadying herself as she hovered in the air.

The sword swung around, aiming for one of her upraised arms.

“Heave-HO!” Katarina shouted and swung the hoe down with all her might!

There was a crash as Chris flung up his sword to try to parry her, but the force of the hoe could not be denied! Katarina was an expert at hoeing! She drove it down determinedly and it forced the much lighter weapon downwards

With a second crash, the point of the hoe struck Chris’ knight armour right on the top of the head.

Pivoting on the impact, the Big Stein flipped up and over. Katarina flailed wildly as she tried to stay in the air and avoid dropping her hoe. Meanwhile, Chris’ knight-armour dropped down and fell to the floor of the arena.

Finally, Katarina was stable and she hadn’t lost her hoe. She took a deep breath and looked down.

Chris’ knight-armour was prone on the ground.

Slowly, she descended and landed next to it. “Lord Arclight? Are you okay? I think that that was my first point?”

There was no reply.

“Lord Arclight? Chris?”

The referee ran over and climbed up to check the boy’s cockpit. After a moment he scrambled down. “Uh… victory to Katarina Rafa Claes, by knock-out.”

Katarina blinked. I won? I won! Yay!
Calculated Chivalry 3-3


Well-known member
Calculated Chivalry

They say that all in love is fair
Yeah, but you don't care
~ Huey Lewis​

Chapter 3

To be angry is to revenge the faults of others on ourselves. ~ Alexander Pope​

Three matches back to back was long enough, so the referee had ordered an intermission. Honestly, Leon didn’t think that most people had expected that there would be a fourth or fifth duel. Particularly since Katarina had been two points down before she knocked out Chris.

The boy wasn’t badly hurt, the impact to his knight-armour had driven the remains of the head down low enough that he’d smacked his own head on it when he crashed. Head injuries could be a problem but in this case he just had a minor concussion. Marie had rushed out and used her light magic to treat it, so he’d be alright after a couple of days rest.

Leon wasn’t planning on being as dramatic as Katarina was - to be honest, giving her a signal device so that Luxion could fly the Stein to her location was mostly a joke. Mostly. It would also let Luxion spy on Katarina if Leon ‘forgot’ to take the device back. However, he’d brought his own knight-armour in and was currently camped out watching it.

He remembered that in the books, Jilk had persuaded Jenna to let him in so he could sabotage the book-Leon’s knight-armour. Of course, in that story Leon had just beaten Brad, Greg and Chris in succession. He’d looked like a serious threat.

In this case, that wasn’t really the case.

And yet, here Jilk came. The green-haired boy at least wasn’t sneaking in.

“Does he have a bomb?” Leon asked Luxion quietly.

“I detect no explosive materials,” the drone informed him.

Well unless he has a conspirator, that means this is going differently. “Is there something you want?” he called to the other boy. “We’re going to duel in a few minutes.”

Jilk crossed his arms. “Yes, that’s what I’m here to discuss.”

“Cold?” Leon asked. “In general, I mean - I’m not accusing you of having cold feet. This coat really makes it much more comfortable than walking around in just a pilot suit.”

The other boy looked at him scornfully. “This is a warrior’s garb, Bartford.”

“...the sad thing is that I think you’re serious.” I mean, seriously. It was transparently obvious that the pilot suits were intended for fan service. They had no real protective value, they were just there to show off the physique of the wearer.

Jilk brushed his hair back over his shoulders. “I will be honest, I did not think after Greg and Brad’s victories that I would be facing you. But as Lady Claes has surprised everyone…”

“Do you want a gold star for pointing out the obvious?”

“Listen, Bartford. I want our match to be the final one.”

Leon stretched lazily from where he was sitting. “I didn’t think that you were likely to throw the fight.”

“Don’t be so dense!” Jilk slammed his hand against one of the pillars supporting the high ceiling. “I’m talking about you taking a dive.”

...interesting. He’s trying to bargain? “Why in the world should I do that?”

“Your family are upstarts. My father had much to say about you. Ousting the Olfreys has won you far more prestige than I think your father ever expected and it’ll be the work of generations for you to consolidate your household’s position. It’s admirable that you’ve risen so far,” Jilk admitted in what was probably intended as a conciliatory tone. “But there are those who resent it. You need allies and you’re in a position to earn that.”

Leon nodded. “We also need to appear as reliable to the allies we make. For me to let down Lady Redgrave after speaking up for her… it wouldn’t look good.”

“There’s no need to be blatant - I’m sure you’re smart enough to put on a show.”

They stared at each other, Leon sure that the other boy was judging his measure.

Deducing - correctly - that his target was unconvinced, Jilk continued: “The flipside of your need for allies is that you cannot afford to make more enemies. Particularly at court. It would be easy to persuade the king that his decision to grant the Olfrey lands and title to your mother was an error, especially now that you’re joining a faction opposed to the crown prince. If you continue upon this path, my family can easily ruin yours - we’ve been at the heart of Holfort since it was founded, while you and yours are from the fringes.”

Leon took a deep breath, fighting down anger at the threat. “Why are you so eager to see me lose? I understand that Julius and Gerald fighting would be politically damaging, but this seems personal for you. Is it that which concerns you… or are you eager to be the one who wins the deciding duel rather than seeing the prince win the laurels if he can?”

Jilk’s chin twitched slightly at the last words. “What does it matter to you?”

“Let’s say that it’s a measure of how far I can trust you.”

“I am eager only to spare my prince the personal and political risk of duelling against his cousin.” They both knew that the green-haired boy was lying. “How eager are you to endanger your family, just for the sake of a woman that you barely know? You must realise that she cannot mobilise the Redgraves to protect you, she’ll be doing well to avoid her own punishment for these duels.”

“Win or lose?”

The other boy nodded. “Win or lose, she’s lost her bid to be queen. If you focus only on what happens here in the academy then you’ll miss the wider picture.”

“How admirable,” Leon conceded. “And you do make a good point.”

“Then we have an agreement?”

Leon rose to his feet. “You’re willing to go this far for Julius, even though losing the duels wouldn’t cost you a thing since it only means that he’s honorbound to break it off with Lady Lafan and none of the rest of you are affected. Such devotion to him is praiseworthy.”

Jilk stared at him in surprise, as if he’d not considered that. “Yes,” he said slowly. “I am Julius’ left hand. I always have been.”

A troubled expression upon his face, the other boy departed and Leon looked up at where Luxion’s drone body was hiding in the rafters. “Did you get all that recorded?”

“Yes, master. Do you intend to take his bargain?”

The dark-haired boy smiled slowly. “He’s right about one thing: focusing on just the academy can mean losing sight of the bigger picture.”


Marie exhaled, the use of her light magic was draining despite all her practice. “That’s everything I can do. I think Chris will be alright once he wakes up.”

“Don’t try to alter that,” the school physician instructed. “Even with light magic, it’s best to let his head have some time to settle before he wakes up.”

“But he will be alright?” asked Julius anxiously.

The man shrugged. “Most likely. He’s young and healthy. Head injuries can be tricky, but his chances would be good without light magic. With that, he’s as assured of recovery as we could possibly hope for.”

Greg folded his arms. “Well you’re just a font of support for him.”

“No one forced him to go out and fight a live duel,” the physician told them disapprovingly. “Frankly I don’t think any of the ten of you should be out there. You’re still children.”

“What the hell!” the hot-headed boy started to explode, but Marie took his arm.

“Greg, we don’t want to wake Chris,” she warned. “Let’s go back. Jilk’s duel is next.”

The redhead grumpily backed off and followed the others out of the room. “Where is Jilk, anyway?” he asked when the door closed. The green-haired boy was the only one of Marie’s five captures who hadn’t been in Chris’ recovery room.

“He said he had some preparations to make,” Julius explained. “It’s still possible for us to lose overall, and he doesn’t want to end up making the same mistakes as Chris.”

Brad nodded. “Yeah, who would have thought Lady Claes would be the dark horse of their line-up?”

Marie nodded. What in the world was Katarina Rafa Claes even doing in the duels? Wasn’t Angelica Rafa Redgrave supposed to be completely unable to find anyone in the school to fight for her? In the game she’d wound up having to bring in a ringer from outside the academy, disgracing herself - and also losing the duel anyway. Unsurprisingly since her champion had been up against five near end-game capture-targets…


Oh no…

Marie had used every trick she had from the game to win over the five boys. To make sure that the game protagonist wouldn’t have a chance, she’d set up and exploited scenarios from all through the three years of the game’s timeline. She’d pushed through and brought the relationships to the point in one term that should have taken seven, meaning that this duel was taking place two years early. The five boys hadn’t levelled up anything like as much as they would have by the duels in the game.

That meant that the boys also had two years less experience. And that could be why Angelica has support. Something must have happened over the next two years that would have made her current champions unavailable. Perhaps they’d died…

No that was too horrible a thought to contemplate, at least when it came to three of them.

Perhap Bartford had died, he wasn’t a pretty boy. And maybe Claes had been drummed out of the academy somehow. It was hard to imagine that someone with her villainous features would have been able to hold onto her harem. Most likely Lady Hunt would have run off with her to a private island, leaving Julius’ two cousins desolate and uninterested in Redgrave’s appeal for aid.

After all, they had only got involved because Claes had involved herself.

“Don’t worry, Marie.” Julius put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “Everything will be alright.”

Ah, she shouldn’t assume she could always hide her feelings from them. After all, the point of having seduced them was having their attention. “I want to believe that, but now Chris is hurt and…” a few crocodile tears “and it’s all my fault.”

“No,” the crown prince assured her. “It’s not your fault. It was Lady Claes who hurt him, and she would never have done it if Angelica hadn’t put her up to it!”

Marie felt a corner of her mind wonder if Angelica Rafa Redgrave was as smitten by Katarina Rafa Claes as the rest of the brunette’s bisexual harem was. Probably not, otherwise she wouldn’t be fighting Marie over Prince Julius.

Why couldn’t Mary Fou Hunt have not kidnapped Claes already? They could have their sapphic pleasures off where they didn’t bother anyone, and at worst Marie would only have to worry about Bartford.

At least that mob wouldn’t be half as much bother. Five to one odds would take care of him easily. Wouldn’t it?

Marie leant on Julius. “Please be careful.”

“I may not have to fight at all. Jilk is very good and Bartford can’t even use a normal knight-armour. Given he has to modify one, he’s probably going to have an uphill struggle.”

That was true, Marie thought. And Chris had been holding back. Understandable that he wouldn’t want to hit a girl - even if Claes was more of a monkey! Jilk would almost certainly win, and if he didn’t… Well, she didn’t know how high-spec Gerald Rafa Stuart was. It would be better, much better, if Jilk won. Anything else would be a gamble, and Marie hated gambling.


For the fourth time today, a pair of knight-armours faced each other on the arena floor. No one seemed bored with it yet. In fact, there was a new energy in the stands - Katarina’s victory meant that this looked like less of a one-sided clash.

Was it possible that Redgrave’s champions might actually triumph?

Probably not. But… probably was not definitely. No one had expected Katarina Rafa Claes to emerge triumphant against the finest swordsman of their generation. But she had - and given the odds that had been given against that, a handful of people were suddenly extremely happy they’d laid out a little money on a long-shot.

Leon’s knight-armour loomed over Jilk’s. Just sufficiently taller and bulkier to be intimidating. Red and black making it look villainous compared to the green of its adversary.

“Are you ready?” the prince’s foster-brother called out.

Unshipping a rifle, Leon raised the weapon in salutation to his opponent, and then bowed to the stands where Angelica was seated among her few supporters.

“You may begin!” the referee called.

Leon took to the sky immediately, firing rapidly towards Jilk. The other boy broke into an evasive maneuver, using his shield to block shots that came close. “Did you get everything in place?” Leon murmured to Luxion.

“Of course, master.”

“Right.” He saw Jilk raise his own rifle. “Wait until he’s done shooting, then we can start this.”

Unlike Leon’s, the other boy’s rifle was tube-fed, not drawing off a box magazine. The shots were slower and Leon was easily able to dodge them, even as he stowed his rifle and retrieved the knight-armour’s axe. As tempting as it was, he hadn’t loaded a shovel. Katarina’s use of a hoe had exhausted the humour of that concept.

“Hit it,” Leon ordered as Jilk dropped his rifle and came to meet Leon with his sword drawn.

The two knight-armours clashed in mid-air. “Listen, Bartford. I want our match to be the final one.”

Jilk’s voice came from his knight-armour, loud enough to be audible from the stands. But inside his cockpit, the devices Luxion had planted to repeat the words should muffle it to the point that the other boy would have no idea.

The crowd cheering, the sound of the earlier gunfire. It was plausible that the two boys would have trouble hearing right now. Not enough that they wouldn’t normally be able to hear, but enough that people might believe the two of them were speaking louder than intended. It was only natural to raise one’s voice to match that of others, which could easily lead to being louder than you realised.

“I didn’t think that you were likely to throw the fight.”

Leon ignored his own recorded voice and lashed out with his axe, sparks flying from the edge of Jilk’s shield as he blocked with it.

The swordsman lashed out again at him and Leon side-stepped.

“Don’t be so dense! I’m talking about you taking a dive.”

Leon shook his head as he grabbed hold of Jilk’s extended arm, heaving him off balance and sending the other knight-armour sprawling.

“Why in the world should I do that?”

Deliberately, Leon allowed the other boy to stand - letting it appear that he was holding back to hear Jilk out.

Slamming down a smoke bomb, Jilk disappeared from view. Leon moved his knight-armour back, replacing his axe with the rifle and swapping out the spent magazine with a fresh one.

“Your family are upstarts. My father had much to say about you. Ousting the Olfreys has won you far more prestige than I think your father ever expected and it’ll be the work of generations for you to consolidate your household’s position. It’s admirable that you’ve risen so far. But there are those who resent it. You need allies and you’re in a position to earn that.”

Jilk’s knight-armour roared out of the smoke, huddled behind his shield as he closed in on Leon - who darted aside, trying to swing around far enough to get a clear shot past the shield.

“We also need to appear as reliable to the allies we make. For me to let down Lady Redgrave after speaking up for her… it wouldn’t look good.”

His opponent was doing a good job of not giving Leon a clear shot, but he was probably unaware that the crowd had fallen silent - almost everyone was craning forwards to listen to what was being said. Out of the corner of his eye, Leon could see Julius red-faced with rage.

“There’s no need to be blatant - I’m sure you’re smart enough to put on a show.”

Leon fired one shot as Jilk got close enough to take out his sword, then wound up blocking the next sword stroke with the rifle butt. The weapon went spinning away. “If I had no honour!” Leon shouted, taking advantage of the break in Jilk’s recorded words. He snatched out his axe again, slapping one of his knight-armour’s hands against the flat of the sword to keep it from striking his armour before he was armed again.

“The flipside of your need for allies is that you cannot afford to make more enemies. Particularly at court. It would be easy to persuade the king that his decision to grant the Olfrey lands and title to your mother was an error, especially now that you’re joining a faction opposed to the crown prince. If you continue upon this path, my family can easily ruin yours - we’ve been at the heart of Holfort since it was founded while you and yours are from the fringes.”

“Cut it,” Leon ordered Luxion in a whisper.

Jilk, still oblivious, lunged again with his sword but Leon caught it on the shaft of his axe, then snagged the blade in the slot between the axe’s shaft and the blade. He twisted sharply and the sword was torn from Jilk’s grasp.

Before his opponent could respond, Leon pushed in and got the elbow of the arm holding his axe in behind the other boy’s shield. One twist and then the arm holding the shield was a wreck.

“Marmoria, you raise one hand towards my family and I’ll be back in the capital with this suit and my skyship and all my allies - and you and your family will have nowhere to hide. Because if I have nothing to lose, then what does it cost me to tear every last one of you apart?”

Jilk froze, perhaps because of Leon’s threats or perhaps he was realising that the sound level in his cockpit had changed suddenly. Or hearing the crowd jeering at him.

Leon backhanded the head right off the knight armour and then swept into a kick that hurled it higher into the sky. He chased it through it’s arc upwards hacking with his axe. By the time Jilk’s knight armour hit the ground again not one of the four limbs was operational.


“Will Leon’s family be in danger now?” Olivia asked nervously as Jilk was carried away from the arena. Leon’s crimson and black knight-armour watched his opponent be carried away, then turned on his heel and stalked out of the other exit. It was obvious the boy was still furious.

Angelica shook her head. “No, after making such threats in public, they wouldn’t dare.”

“She’s right,” Mary assured Olivia. “In fact, if anything bad happens to the Bartfords now, Viscount Marmoria will have no choice but to give them his full support or people would suspect he was behind it. I can’t believe Jilk would be so stupid as to threaten Leon in public like that.”

Olivia relaxed slightly. “This means that there’s one more match?”

“Yes.” Angelica took a deep breath. “I appreciate Gerald being willing to stand up for me, but…”

“They’re cousins - would they really hurt each other?”

“I don’t know.” The braided girl shook her head again. “I don’t know,” she repeated. “I hope neither of them is hurt. Gerald’s my champion, I want him to win… but Julius…”

Angelica hunched over and Olivia impulsively put her arm around her, comfortingly. “It’ll be alright,” she promised.

“Why did I do this?” the girl next to her moaned. “Why did he…? How can I face my father or the queen now? They’ll be so angry with me!”

Nicol cleared his throat. “I think I would rather be in your shoes than Julius’ once they learn of this.”

“Shush, they’re about to begin,” Sophia warned them.

Down below, the two cousins each drew swords and started to probe each other’s defences. Neither seemed eager to escalate the situation. The one to make the first mistake would likely lose, so being overly aggressive could cost either of them the match.

“I’m truly surprised that you’d take Angelica’s side over mine,” Julius noted, voice barely audible from the stands. “I always thought that the Stuarts would stand by me.”

Gerald parried the prince’s thrust. “And I’m surprised you’d be so petty as to have your lackeys tear up Bartford’s room. I would say that we’re both disappointed in each other.”

The crown prince switched his approach to a series of high attacks. “I never ordered anyone to do that.”

He was forced to break off as the white knight-armour started to wheel, forcing Julius to guard his more vulnerable left side. “You condemned Redgrave for attacks on Lafan she never condoned, it’s only just that you should take the blame for actions done in your name.”

The words must have stung. “That woman, what lies has she told you?”

Gerald laughed lightly. Mockingly. “Unlike you, cousin, I actually investigated the matters. It was hardly difficult to find out that those attacking your paramour were most disappointed that their attempt to curry favour with Lady Redgrave aroused only her contempt.”

Parrying a succession of cuts, Julius managed to weave in a riposte that turned the flow of the fight back in his favour. He pushed Gerald back. “Marie is no mere paramour, Gerald. Though it should not surprise me that you don’t recognise love when you see it. After all, who ever loved you?”

His rejoinder was an abrupt stop-thrust that scored the plating across the chest of the crown prince’s knight-armour, at the cost of a similarly incidental scrape to the shoulder of Gerald’s. “You’re wrong, Julius. I do recognise love - and I also recognise when love is unrequited. At least my fiancee cares for me, in her own way. Lady Redgrave doesn’t even have that comfort.”

Olivia felt Angelica begin to shake in her arms, tears flowing down her face.

“That woman never loved me, she just wanted to be queen!” Julius shouted. His sword strokes grew more forceful, pushing Gerald back.

The elder cousin (by a scant few months) parried methodically, giving ground to absorb the fury. “She loved the man she was told that you were - and if you’d had the courage to show her the truth, she might have come to love the man you want to be.” And then Gerald’s sword twisted, a parry turning into a disarming move that sent Julius’ sword flying. “But you never dared to trust her, cousin.”

Julius said nothing and the crowd quietened. Olivia could hear Angelica trying to stifle her sobs, feeling her shake.

Gerald raised his sword, aiming it at the throat of the opposing knight-armour. After a moment to make his point, he raised the sword in salute. “Pick up your sword, cousin. I’m no Jilk, I won’t stab a man in the back.”

Julius backed up his knight-armour and crouched to lift the sword once more. The referee, who had been walking out to decide the match, elected to withdraw again. If the two princes didn’t consider the matter settled then who was a mere teacher to say otherwise.

“I never asked to be the crown prince.”

Gerald grunted and then replied: “None of us asked to be born as we are, Julius. I could list quite a number of complaints about my circumstances. Most people could about their own - if only because they weren’t born into the wealth and privilege that we were.”

“Oh of course. You, the perfect prince, have so much to complain about. No one’s forcing you to carry this kingdom!”

“At least you grew up with a mother.”

It took a moment for Olivia to understand those flat, angry words. She knew little of the interlinking relationships of the noble houses, but even she had heard of Princess Ygraine - the king’s sister, who had wed Duke Uther Rafa Stuart and died young after giving him four sons.

Julius held his sword ready but didn’t resume the duel. “I wasn’t going to bring her up.”

“Fortunate for you.” Gerald began to circle Julius, his sword up. “Your suffering is not unique or special, cousin. But I’d have a damn sight more pity for you if you showed a shred of concern for anyone else.”

“I don’t want your pity!” Julius lunged and the duel was on again, swords clashing ferociously and the two apparently too engrossed in their swordplay to hurl further epithets against each other as they took to the air, taking full advantage of their knight-armour’s ability to fly.

“Why didn’t he just take the win?!” Sophia exclaimed.

“That’s never been enough for Gerald,” her brother muttered from behind Olivia.

There was a cracking sound and the white knight-armour dropped to the ground. One arm hung limp and from the way it settled to the ground, Olivia suspected that it would not be flying again without serious repairs.

Julius’ flew above Gerald. “Anything else to preach to me about, cousin?”

The fallen knight-armour adopted a jaunty stance. “When I mentioned unrequited love, I also meant your feelings for Lafan.”

The crown prince descended with an enraged howl, crashing against the duke’s brother. The two knight armours slid backwards and then tumbled together until they smashed into the wall right beneath Olivia and the others. A cloud of dust shrouded the pair from view.

Angelica pulled free of Olivia and leant over the rail, trying to see what was going on below. The referee started running across the arena towards the crash site.

Finally, the dust began to settle and Olivia saw that the white knight-armour was knelt, pinning the prince’s to the ground. Both cockpits were open and Gerald Rafa Stuart stood upon the thigh armour of his fallen foe, holding his cousin up.

Julius, sporting a black eye, spat something inaudible up at his cousin. A gobbet of blood flecked Gerald’s white piloting suit.

With a disdainful look, the blond released his grip and the crown prince of Holfort was dropped sprawling on the sand, his chest heaving but not even trying to rise. The victor of the duel turned around and looked upwards at Lady Angelica.

“On behalf of your champions, my lady.” He covered his heart with one hand. “I give you victory.”

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