As it turns out, the kingdom that the story takes place in, at least in the anime, is named the Kingdom of Sorcier (that's what I get for starting with the manga, I suppose). However, I feel like the name I chose is more unique, so as long as no one decides to press me on it, I'll be sticking with the United Territories of Fortuna Romantica. Another mistake I made last chapter was depicting Katarina and Geord as having been associated with each other for a while before Katarina hit her head; I started the story pretty much as soon as I finished the manga, so in my haste, I forgot that that was supposed to be their first meeting. It's wrong, but at the same time, it feels negligible, so I'll probably leave it as is. That's all of it, I think, now back to the show.
The first thing she needed to do was find a knife. She didn't need anything too fancy, just something that could break through flesh without too much effort. The second thing she needed to do was figure out the best place to stab Maria. The back or the chest was a little overdone for her liking, so she might try and go through the head; the eyes were the window to the soul, and they would also serve as the window to the brain. The third thing she needed to do was ready the sob story she would give everyone when Maria's lifeless corpse was discovered. It needed to be good, but not so good that it would invoke a sense of doubt in onlookers. "This poor girl has been stabbed fifteen times in the face! Oh, what a ghastly fate to befall someone no older than myself! What a ghastly fate, indeed!" Something like that could work. Now it was all coming together.
"Miss Katarina, would you care to let me in on whatever it is you're finding funny?" Anne's questioning of Katarina made her realize that she forgot to keep her laughter in her head.
"Oh, it's nothing, Anne, nothing at all," Katarina said.
"Are you positive? Because I believe you only ever laugh like that when it's at someone else's expense, yet we're the only two people on this carriage."
"I can laugh at more things, you know."
"I have yet to see that."
Sending your sorry butt to the stockades would probably give me a laugh, but I don't think you want me to test that, Katarina thought.
The two of them were currently on their way to the village where Maria Campbell lived. Katarina's parents, who couldn't come along due to prior obligations, thought that it was simply a week-long vacation for her to decompress after her tragic scarring, but in reality, it was to give her ample time to kill Maria and completely erase any and all possibility of her being unjustly betrayed by her peers. At first, she thought that a week was too much time for something as simple as murdering a child, but considering the fact that only a truly conniving snake would be capable of turning the world against her, it was better to have more time to work with. She still hoped that she could kill Maria as soon as possible if only so she could spend the rest of the week at a nice spa.
"And here we are at last," Katarina said as the carriage came to a halt. "Anne, lay down a handkerchief for me. There's some dirt outside that I don't wish to step in."
"You mean to tell me that there's dirt in a dirt road? How surprising," Anne said. Her annoying tongue aside, she still wisely complied. She would have preferred Anne picking a spot that wasn't so close to a puddle, but it still allowed for Katarina to avoid having her shoes sullied by the filth of a village she would happily watch burn down.
"This is such a quaint little place, don't you think?" Katarina asked as the carriage driver rode away from the village.
"It is rather nice. And so far away from the city. Which of your friends told you about this place, again?"
"Never mind that." Katarina didn't appreciate the face Anne gave her. "Now remember Anne, for the next week, we're pretending to be part of the commonfolk in order to maximize my relaxation; I can't be expected to unwind if I have to deal with the masses constantly swooning over me and my brilliance."
"Because you'd definitely hate that." The woman would definitely have her turn, one day.
"All I want to do is focus on calming myself down and moving past my tragic head wound, and I can't do that if I have to deal with people constantly pestering me about life outside of this one-horse—this quaint little picture of country life."
"Of course! That's why I'm allowing you to dress out of uniform and why I forced myself to step out of the house in only my sixth most flattering ensemble. We need to act completely removed from our normal selves and blend in with the crowd. Nothing that happens this week will work the way it should if we draw attention to ourselves, so for the next week, as much as it might pain me, we are mere nobodies!"
As soon as Katarina finished her declaration, an old man walked by with a horse that stepped in the puddle and splashed her shoes with dirty water.
It put a damper on things, but at the same time, it ignited many others.
"Oh, I'm so sorry, little girl, I didn't see that puddle there. I got a towel in my bag, let me clean that up for you," the old man said.
"Lick it," Katarina said.
"I told you to lick it clean, you pathetic old codger! Get down on your knees and clean this the only way it deserves to be cleaned by someone like you!"
"W-What? You can't expect me to do that, kid. Hell, there's probably so little dirt that it'll just fall off when you walk around." Katarina responded to that very appropriately by kicking him in the shin, causing him to start hopping around on his good leg.
"You filthy, filthy filth of a man! You dare try to instruct me on how to act?! I am Katarina Claes, heiress to the illustrious Claes family and future Duchess of the United Territories of Fortuna Romantica! There is more worth in my entire pinky finger than there is in your entire family line, so do what I say and lap up this filth like the dog you are!"
Katarina felt great about herself. She had been fuming for days about the visions that appeared in her head, and putting a commoner in his place went a long way towards making her feel better about it all. Unfortunately, the act resulted in her drawing a crowd of people that undoubtedly heard the reveal of her identity, a crowd of people that were already making noise about her and spreading it around like the plague.
"Fuck," was all Katarina could say about that. For once, Anne's eye roll was completely justified.
"We were only here for one minute and thirty-seven seconds before you exposed yourself to the masses. Once we return home, I'll be able to collect a hefty sum from the house betting pool."
"Good for you, Anne, good for you," Katarina said. It wasn't, though, because what wasn't good for Katarina wasn't good for anyone. What especially wasn't good for Katarina, and therefore wasn't good for anyone, was her losing the angle of anonymity and having the entirety of the backwater village keeping their eyes on her and whispering about. The nerve of that old man to refuse to lick her shoes clean; he definitely found his way onto her list, that was for sure.
"Should we try to go somewhere else? I know you said that staying out of sight was important to you—"
"But not as important to being in this specific village that I have just heard an incredible amount of incredibly good things about!"
"Right. Which of your friends was that supposed to be again?"
"Not important. What is important is that we're adapting to the circumstances at hand and staying here, and that's final!"
"Whatever you say, Miss." That was right. It was, indeed, whatever she said; that was the way it was supposed to be, for that was what made the most sense. "Now I believe the inn your parents have us staying in should be—"
"We can go there later, Anne," Katarina interjected.
"Wouldn't it be better to stay inside until things calm down?"
"There'll be time for that, but for now, I'm feeling rather peckish, and I'm in the mood for some baked goods." Anne stared at Katarina for a second before shrugging her shoulders and asking someone for directions to the bakery.
All of this, of course, was according to plan. Katarina knew from her visions that Maria liked to bake sweets for people in a foolish attempt at brainwashing them into loving her—though it probably wasn't that foolish, considering that it seemed to work. Regardless, if she liked baking, then there was a chance that she would show up at the local bakery, and if that were so, she could trick her into going into a remote area away from prying eyes that would allow Katarina to snuff the light out of her. The odds of running into her right there and then were rather slim, but she'd keep at it until she got it done, no matter how long it took.
With that in mind, Katarina felt a mixture of pleasure and disgust when she saw the girl, a small basket in her hands, three seconds after she and Anne entered the bakery, although she did get some satisfaction out of the wretched girl ducking behind a woman at the mere sight of her.
"Oh my, you must be that noble girl everyone is talking about. Lady Katarina Claes, correct?" the woman asked.
"Yes. A pleasure to meet you, madam," Katarina said. "You know my name, might you do me the pleasure of giving me yours?"
"My name is Lucy Campbell, and this shy girl behind me is my daughter, Maria."
"Really? With how young you look, I would have pegged her for your sister," Anne said. "I'm Anne, by the way."
"A pleasure to meet you, and then some." Lucy let out a little laugh coupled with a small smile. Katarina felt that that was enough out of her, so she moved to try and introduce herself to Maria, only for the girl to retreat further behind Lucy.
"Hey, no need to be afraid. I won't bite." Biting would be an inefficient way to murder her, after all. She kept that part to herself, and what was left in was enough for the girl to step forward and bow at her.
This girl really grows up to become a thieving harlot? I'd be doubting myself if it wasn't for the familiarity of that face. That wretched, detestable face, Katarina thought.
"U-Um, is there something on my face, Lady Claes?" Maria asked.
"N-No!" Katarina didn't know how long she was staring at Maria's face, but she promptly put a stop to it. "I was simply caught up in the excitement of finally meeting someone my own age in this village. As such, you shall entertain for the afternoon."
"Are you saying you want to play with my daughter?" Lucy asked.
"But of course! I imagine your daughter feels honored by the opportunity, yes?"
"There you have it." Maria wasn't given a chance to properly respond. "We're good then, yes?"
"Well, I suppose it would be good for Maria to play with someone her own age. She hasn't been able to do that in a while," Lucy said. Other patrons in the bakery started whispering about something, but Katarina was paying it no mind.
"Great! Maria and I will be on our way, and to ensure that no one will bother us, I'll just take us to wherever is the most remote and hard to find area."
"That seems like it would be more trouble than it's worth," Anne said.
Just like a certain maid, no doubt, Katarina thought.
"It would be easier if we went to their house, yes? There should be plenty of space for you and Maria to play, and it would allow Lucy and I to get to know each other better. If that's all right with her, of course."
"Yes, of course! Lady Claes, is that okay with you?" Lucy asked. The answer should have been a hard refusal, but Katarina remembered something from her visions of the future. In the visions where Maria seduces either Geord or Keith, during the summer holiday, they make their way to Maria's home to spend time with her, her future self knowing this because she would secretly stalk them to make sure that there wasn't—in the case of Geord—any cuckolding taking place or—in the case of Keith—that the family name wasn't being tarnished. Unfortunately, that was the case, with each vision depicting a different pair engaging in such heinous acts like cooking, farming, and hand-holding. Truly disgusting.
The main way it all related to the current conversation was that Maria and her mother lived on the outskirts of the village well away from everyone, meaning that it was still possible for Maria to be killed without worrying about someone catching her in the act.
As such, Katarina agreed to go to Maria's house, already marking it as Maria's grave.
The trek to Maria's house wasn't a long one, but between Maria's lack of conversation and Anne and Lucy talking without end, it definitely felt like a long one to Katarina. At the very least, it gave her more time to plan out how she would do the deed, though she only managed to work out a few plans by the time they arrived at the dingy little shack Maria and her mother apparently called home.
"My, what a lovely home you have," Anne said.
"I was just thinking the same thing," Katarina said.
"Maria, you and Lady Claes play nice while Anne and I go have some tea, okay?" Lucy asked.
"O-Okay," Maria said. As Anne and Lucy made for the house, Katarina once again allowed herself to enjoy how meek Maria was, even compared to her future self. Growing up in poverty was clearly going to do a lot to help make her the kind of scandalous woman who would use her feminine wiles to charm everyone around her, even if they already belonged to someone. In a way, Katarina was doing her a favor by killing her now.
"Well, now that the adults have gone off to do, well, whatever it is they're doing, what should we do?" Katarina asked.
"You're asking me?"
"But of course! You are my gracious host, after all!" Maria fidgeted at the sound of that.
After all, if you're the one to suggest that we do something, it becomes all the more believable that I had nothing to do with your death, Katarina thought. "Maria's the one who wanted to go back into town, it's not my fault she was run over by a horse!" "Maria's the one who wanted to pick flowers, it's not my fault she accidentally ate a poisonous mushroom!" "Maria's the one who wanted to climb trees like a savage monkey, it's not my fault she fell out of the tree and landed head first on a giant rock that most certainly wasn't moved there several minutes prior!" Yes, it's all coming together. Enjoy your last moments on this planet, you home-wrecking, life-ruining piece of trash!
"Lady Claes, why are you laughing?" Maria's questioning of Katarina made her realize that she forgot to keep her laughter in her head.
"Forgot it. Let's just play." It would be the last time Maria ever played in this life.
"Um, before that, could you, um—"
"Come on, spit it out already." Maria pushed the basket she had been holding in front of Katarina.
"Please try one of these cookies!" Maria removed the covering to reveal the basket to be filled with an assortment of oddly-shaped cookies.
"What is this? Some random stuff from the bakery?"
"N-No! I made these myself, actually." That explained why they were so ugly. "I've been practicing with my mom for a while, and we were actually at the bakery to get the baker's opinion before you and Miss Anne arrived. I know they're probably not very good, but could you please try one and tell me what you think?"
I'd rather drink piss than swallow your garbage, Katarina thought. Then again, in the future, I always destroy your baked goods before anyone has a chance to eat them, so I've never had a chance to taste how truly disgusting they have to be. You're going to die in a matter of minutes, so there probably isn't much harm in indulging you in your little fantasy of actually finding meaning in your pathetic life.
"I would be honored to try one." Katarina pulled out the least hideous cookie she could find and popped it into her mouth. With any luck, it would be a quick eat, and if she was really lucky, she'd be able to vomit on her.
Well, the texture actually isn't that bad, despite the ugly shape. It's—It's actually pleasant to the touch? What is this? How is the amount of butteriness so precise? And there's peanut butter and chocolate chips, too. But not so much that it's distracting. No, if anything, it just adds to the overall mouthfeel of the cookie, and—and it's good! It's a good mouthfeel! Oh my God, it's an incredible mouthfeel!
All at once, it felt as if the universe was expanding at an exponential, existential rate, and it all centered from what was going on inside of Katarina's mouth.
"This is the most amazing thing I've ever eaten," Katarina said.
"It is! I've never eaten anything with such exquisite mouthfeel before! You've done something truly wonderful here!"
"Really? Thank you!" Katarina kept eating more and more of Maria's cookies, the glazed feeling washing over her acting as a perfect complement to the dazzled look on Maria's face; Katarina didn't know why she was looking so happy, but she was too busy to think about it.
"It's empty. It's empty!" Katarina threw the empty basket to the ground and started shaking Maria by her shoulders. "Make me more! Please, please, please, please make me more!"
Maria did end up making her more, and Katarina ended up enjoying every one of them.
It was nighttime by the time Katarina and Anne left Maria and Lucy's home and made their way to their inn, and both of them were in a state of euphoric bliss. Katarina had no idea what had happened to make Anne so happy, but she knew the source of her own bliss all too well: having the opportunity to eat the most delicious sweets in her life.
"I'm telling you, Anne, they were even better than Joana's. That's how good they were," Katarina said as Anne tucked her into bed.
"That's quite impressive if it's true," Anne said.
"I never lie, so of course it is. God, the mouthfeel. I can't get over the mouthfeel!"
"I'll have to try some with Lucy when we go back tomorrow."
"I can't wait." Katarina's speech slurred a little and Anne left for her own room across the hall.
This was such a good day, Katarina thought as her eyes began to close. Sure, that peasant made me walk around with dirt on my shoes for several minutes, but the cookies. The cookies! Never before had I ever tasted anything so delicious; this will stick with me for the rest of my life! God, I must have spent the whole day eating them, and even with that, I still found the time to kill Maria. I am so productive.
Katarina's eyes flew open as she realized the inconsistency in her train of thought.
"Fuck," was all Katarina could say about that.