Chapter 1: Bad End
"What kind of flowers do you like, Catarina-sama?"
"My feet hurt. I can't keep walking on my own."
"That was my younger brother, Alan."
"Oh! But he doesn't look the slightest bit like you!"
"Please, wait! Geordo-sama!"
As the handsome prince walked straight ahead without waiting for me, I lost my footing and the world seemed to slow down. It was like I was falling through thick honey, and before I knew what was happening, images of a life I never lived flashed through my mind, of a seventeen-year-old Japanese otaku girl playing a game with a scarily familiar setting. That was supposed to be the start of my eight-year long journey to avoid my doom flags as the villainess of the otome game Fortune Lover, Catarina Claes.
It has been that long since then, huh… My life has changed so much since then. I had expected to get exiled or killed, but I wasn't. Some might consider this friendship ending as a bad end since the heroine Maria Campbell didn't end up with any of the four conquerable characters. We were all friends now, all of us even along with the other love rivals, Sophia Ascart and Mary Hunt, as well as the secret route character Sirius Dieke. Or should I say, Raphael Walt. Now, the game was over. The script has finished. This was supposed to be the end of Fortune Lover.
From now on, everything would be new to me. There were no more doom flags nor good and bad endings. I had spent half my life preparing for this, and now it was all over. It was a new beginning.
As the dark fog swirled around me and my friends, I could hear their cries for help.
"Catarina-sama, where are you?"
"Nee-san, don't move!"
"Catarina, don't go anywhere!"
"Catarina, stay where you are!"
"Catarina-sama, don't leave me!"
My friends… they're all calling out for me… I thought as the world turned black.
"Come forth, Earth bump!"
As a bump in the ground rose up to fill the little gap on the cracked stone ground, I grinned. Stooping down to get a closer look, I could see that it was at least two millimeters taller than the last one. It was an amazing feeling, that was for sure. I was getting better and better everyday! After all, I have to get all strong for Magic Academy starting tomorrow! Someday, I would definitely get as good as Keith! He did practice magic with me every afternoon with Geordo and Alan. It was always so much fun with the four of us growing up.
Come to think of it… where was everyone?
It was the first day of school so we should all be settling into our dorms. I did send Anne ahead earlier to bring my bags to my room while I looked around. I could see the main school building over there, so the dorms should be somewhere behind it? I wondered just how I was going to get to the dorms in time before anyone goes to patrolling the school grounds. After all, it was already nighttime! I spent too much time exploring the school! It was dark, and I couldn't see very far. I hoped I could go back quickly so no one would worry.
Seeing a tall tree nearby, a brilliant idea struck me. I should just climb it to find the dorms! Other than farming, I had always climbed trees as a way to communicate with nature to strengthen my earth magic. It came as easily as second nature to me. I climbed up quickly and from the highest branch, I could see all the way to the top of the main building. Ah, I wasn't high enough. I couldn't see anything past it. I shrugged to myself. Oh well! I guessed sleeping in a tree was also communing with the earth!
"Is there someone up there?" came a monotonous voice from down below. Before I had a chance to say anything, a beam of light shone up at me, nearly blinding me. I nearly lost my grip and fell, but quickly climbed down.
It was so dark that I couldn't see much of the person's face even with the light from the torch he held in his hand. Dark hair and dark eyes… Eh? Didn't he look exactly like how I would imagine the Devilish Count from one of my favourite series to look like? I smiled as I brushed myself off. "Ah, sorry. I was just climbing the tree to check where the dorms are. I'm kinda lost."
I thought that maybe he might give me directions, but instead he just nodded, and using the flashlight to light the way, he gestured with a small tilt of his head to follow him. "Thank you very much! I'm Catarina Claes, first year. You are?"
He didn't say anything for a long while. It was a really long awkward silence. Could it be that he was bad at making conversation? But I did ask him a question… Well, I couldn't give up on making my first new friend at school! If I just kept talking, maybe he would open up to me once I talk about something he liked.
"So, I'm very excited to start school here, though I'm not very good at studying. Do you have any favourite subjects?"
"Haha, me neither. I haven't really checked my modules. I'd bet my friends have, though. Prince Geordo and Alan Stuart, the third and fourth princes of Sourcier, and my brother, Keith Claes. Have you met them?"
"I guess not. They did head straight for their dorms to rest up after all. Oh, what magic do you have? I have earth magic. Watch this!" I readied my stance and channeled my magic from deep within me. I directed it to a patch of dirt peeking through the sidewalk in front of him. "Come forth, Earth bump!"
He didn't react. Ah, he must not be able to see it in the dark, especially since it was so small. This is why I must learn to make it bigger! I hurried in front of him to point it out, but the moment I blinked, I lost sight of it in the dark. Haha, it really was impossible to –
It was at that moment that I tripped on a small bump on the ground. Ah, I found it! I thought as I was about to fall onto the sidewalk.
With lightning fast reflexes, the Devilish Count stopped my fall, catching me around my waist. I was shocked. He was so fast. He moved like the wind! And for the second time, I heard his voice as he spoke. "Are you alright?" I grinned and said my thanks, saying that I was okey-dokey. He released me and I continued along the way beside him this time. For some reason, I felt something was off. It took me a while to realise that he was limping a bit.
I stopped and turned to face him. "Hey, Devilish Count, are you injured? Was it when you helped me just now?"
Remaining expressionless, he shook his head no. I pouted. He was totally lying! Well, it looked like I had to take matters into my own hands! Without letting him deny my help this time, I bent down and picked him up on my back. He made a sound of surprise. Woah, he could do that too! With both my arms supporting his legs, he kept one arm around my neck and the other leading our way with the flashlight. When he spoke again, it was so soft I almost missed it. "Thank you, Catarina."
I felt really happy when I heard that. I laughed. "It's fine! You did help me earlier—"
"My favourite subject."
Oh. I smiled to myself. I see. Well, the Devilish Count did seem like he would be someone who liked history. This one of course, not the one in the books.
"Sorry, I haven't. I look forward to meeting your friends."
I nodded. "Oh, definitely! I can introduce them to you tomorrow after the Headmaster and Student Council President's speeches! I'm sure we can all become good friends!"
I felt him nod ever so lightly. "Wind magic."
"Woah!" I exclaimed, hiking him up a little higher on my back. "That's cool! I don't know anyone else who uses wind magic!"
I felt him shift his weight uncomfortably, trying to take the pressure off my arms. I shook my head. "Ah, don't worry! I used to carry Keith on my back all the time growing up! I farm too! My arms are actually super strong!"
He stopped talking, but I could feel him relaxing into my hold for the first time. Following the direction in which his flashlight pointed, I walked with the Devilish Count on my back as I talked about everything I felt like saying. I told him about my vegetable farm, my favourite romance novel series, and how I had been practicing my earth magic for years with my friends. Throughout all that, he said nothing. Even so, I was glad that he was listening. I followed him and was surprised to find myself at the lobby of the females' dorms building.
"Eh, aren't we going to the infirmary or something to get you fixed up?" I asked in confusion as he got off my back. He shook his head as he tested his weight on his right foot. He hesitated for only a second before he waved a little and headed off. I guessed he would be alright then. I waved at his departing back and turned.
I stopped, and turned. I didn't realise he was still here. He was facing the courtyard, but his head was turned to look at me. "My name is Nicol Ascart."
I was shocked for a moment. But then I gave him a bright grin. "Thanks for everything today and see you tomorrow, Nicol-sama!"
I skipped merrily to my room from there. I wasn't that stupid to forget where my room was after Anne reminded me so many times. I was so happy to have made my first friend on the first day of school. When I burst into my room, happy to get a good night's sleep, I was surprised to see that it wasn't empty. There with Anne were Geordo, Alan and Keith. The moment I entered the room, the tense silence was broken.
Alan was the first to rush to me. He gripped my shoulders and started shouting at me. "Idiot! Where have you been?!"
I held up my hands to calm him down. "I was just a bit lost—"
Keith came over and gave me that look of scary protectiveness he always gave me whenever I did something dangerous. "Do you have any idea how long we spent looking for you?"
Geordo then interrupted by giving Keith that strange equally scary smile that they always exchanged. "Now, Keith, she's my fiancé so you can leave the worrying to me." And as if on cue, Keith shook his head and mirrored his expression. "Now, you do remember she's my sister, and she's not fit to me a prince's consort."
I smiled. They're really such great friends!
Anne stood by the side, silently waiting for the boys to be done.
It was at that moment that Geordo seemed to remember something and he took my hands, drawing my attention to me. His dark turquoise eyes held mine and I knew he had something important to say to me. I smiled expectantly as a draft from the open French doors leading to the balcony entered, lifting his blonde fringe from his face. For the first time, I realised just how much we'd both grown up from the time when I fell and injured myself as a child. I was so lucky to remain friends with someone as special as him.
"Why don't you come to my room after the presentations tomorrow? I have some unusual sweets."
He truly knew me so well. Just the thought of what unusual sweets he would bring me this time was making me drool! Ah, but that's right! I couldn't do that tomorrow… But I really wanted to try the sweets too. Gah...! Oh! I know!
"Okay, let's all go! I have someone I want you all to meet." I grinned. "The Devilish Count who helped me today!"
Geordo raised his brow while his twin crossed his arms. Keith's face seemed to darken. Haha, they must all be so excited that they couldn't even express themselves properly.
After deciding on a time to meet tomorrow, the boys left. Anne remained for a moment to ask if I was really alright. After reassuring her that I was, she left too. I soaked in the bathtub for a long time, replaying the events of today. It was such a good day. Even though I got lost, I still improved on my magic a little and made a new friend. And I have something to look forward to tomorrow other than the first day of school! I wondered if Nicol was a senpai here. He didn't look like a first year, that was for sure. Well, whoever he was, we would all get to become good friends tomorrow!
I changed into my eggplant pajamas. Just as I was about to take my favourite romance novel off the shelf to read before bedtime, there came a meek knock at my door. My first thought was that it could be Anne, but she wouldn't knock since she had the spare key. It couldn't be the boys either since passage between the boys' and girls' dorms after midnight was prohibited. And Nicol definitely didn't know which room I was in. I wondered who it could possibly be, since it was so late already. I supposed I wouldn't mind if a Student Council member came to hold me responsible for Nicol-sama's injury.
When I opened the door, I was surprised to see who it was. She was a very cute girl, with short blonde hair and pink flowers in her hair, her clear blue eyes cast downwards in shyness. Her hands were clasped together and when she spoke, her voice sounded so soft and kind. "Hello… I'm Maria Campbell and I live down the hall… I saw a few boys coming in and out of your room earlier looking very troubled… Is everything okay?"
A few boys coming in and out of my room looking very troubled… Hm? Oh, it must be Geordo, Alan and Keith when they were searching for me. Keith did say they looked very hard for me. I smiled and put a hand on her shoulder. "Don't worry, it's been resolved. Thanks for worrying about me! I'm Catarina Claes. Nice to meet you, Campbell-san! You're the light magic user everyone is talking about, right? I think it's very cool."
She finally looked up and met my eyes. And when she smiled, she truly looked very cute. "Thank you, Catarina-sama. You can call me Maria. I'll bring you some homemade sweets tomorrow. I hope we can be friends."
I nodded. It was then that I got the best idea ever. I took her hands in mine and told it to her. "I'm having a gathering with my friends tomorrow after the speech! It would be great if you came! We would love to share your sweets and make friends with you! That is, if you'll have us!"
Maria nodded, the kind smile not leaving her face. "Thank you, Catarina-sama!"
I waved as she headed off down the hall back to her room. I cheered as I closed the door and flopped onto my bed. I made another new friend! And Maria is so cute and nice! I kicked against my bed as I buried my face into my pillow. I was so excited for tomorrow. I could hardly wait! Tomorrow was going to be the best day of my life!
Eh… why wasn't anyone saying anything? We were all in Geordo's room, his unusual sweets displayed on the table in the middle, yet no one touched them. I helped myself. More for me then. I picked up the peculiarly flavoured macarons and popped them into my mouth. The room was silent. Everyone was smiling, except Nicol-sama who had the same monotonous expression on his face, yet no one said anything. Maria tried to make conversation as I ate. As I bit into an éclair, she talked to Keith.
"You returned my handkerchief to me this morning. Thank you."
Keith smiled and nodded briefly. "No problem."
It was once again silent.
"You're the prince who showed me to my dorm yesterday, right?"
Geordo smiled and bowed slightly. "I am. It was my pleasure."
I swallowed the éclair and decided to speak instead. It was my idea, and I would definitely be the one to bring everyone together! "Thanks for the sweets! Next time I'll bring some vegetables from my farm to make a salad bar!"
Like always, Alan burst out laughing while Geordo laughed quietly to himself. Maria smiled pleasantly. "I'd love to try it next time, Catarina-sama." Nicol remained stone faced.
Before I could say anything more though, Maria got something out, a packet of cookies in various shapes. Woah, these must be the homemade sweets she was talking about yesterday. She was amazing! These truly looked great! I couldn't wait to taste them, but then I remembered that I said that she should bring them to share with everyone. I was a little disappointed that I wouldn't get to have them all to myself, but it made me really happy to see all my friends together sharing sweets. I thanked her and set it down on the table.
Everyone reached out to get one, but Maria stopped Nicol-sama as he happened to reach for the one shaped like a heart. Her cheeks were pink as she picked it up and turned to me. "Sorry, but I only made one of these for Catarina-sama." Eh? Geordo and Alan's faces were a total picture of disbelief. I laughed. That was right, how could Maria forget to make enough heart cookies for everyone? But her forgetfulness only made her that much cuter! I was sure everyone would forgive her for that.
"Wait up, Nee-san." Keith suddenly said. "You've already had a lot of sweets today."
I pouted then grinned. "Just one last one." My brother relented.
I turned back to Maria who held the cookie to my mouth. "Say 'Ahh…', Catarina-sama." I laughed, then closed my eyes and did what she said. "Ahh…" For some reason as I ate the cookie whole from her fingers, I could sense a lot of iciness coming from where my childhood friends were sitting. The cookie was delicious, a perfect blend of sweet and savoury. I wanted more! It truly was unlike anything I had ever eaten before. "Delicious!"
I reached out for another, but Keith placed a hand on my shoulder. "We wouldn't want you having a stomachache again, Nee-san." I guessed not… I put my hand down and watched the rest of the cookies get devoured by my friends as Maria excused herself to go to the shared bathroom down the hall, not wanting to trouble Geordo. It was then that I remembered something, and turned to Nicol who sat across from me.
"I wanted to ask before, but are you a second year, Nicol-sama?"
He looked up from his cookie, met my eyes, and nodded. Ah, got it. Strangely, even though he was definitely the silent type that didn't hold conversations, he still talked to me yesterday. I was really happy as Geordo, Keith and Alan started asking him if he was in the Student Council (which he was), and what the experience was nice (interesting and enriching, he said, and that the president is very nice). I got the really weird feeling that this wasn't the first time we'd all chatted like this together, and that even though this was already a lot of fun, the group wasn't complete. It felt like some people were still missing.
I realised that Maria wasn't back yet. I got up, turning everyone's attention to me. "I'll go check on Maria, she's been gone for very long and I'm worried." Alan offered to go with me, and I agreed. If she wasn't feeling well, it would be good if someone could stay by her side while I ran to get help.
We didn't run, but we didn't stroll either. Alan crossed his arms and spoke suddenly. "Stop making that ugly face, Catarina. Worrying isn't going to do anything, and I'm sure she's fine."
I nodded, and smiled at him. "Thanks for worrying about me too. I really—"
A loud growl came from my stomach and a sharp pain shot through me. Ah, I must have eaten too many sweets again. I gave him an apologetic grin and he rolled his eyes, waving me away with a shooing motion. I ran in the direction of the bathrooms. At least I would be able to find Maria there. But the washing area was empty. I couldn't wait anymore, and ran straight into the toilet. Just as I closed the door, I heard the sound of footsteps coming into the washing area. I was about to take care of business when I heard a familiar voice.
"Done, I got rid of the evidence."
I tensed and pressed my ear against the door. I widened my eyes. Even though her now sneering tone was so different from her usual kind one, there was no mistaking who it was.
"The stupid girl actually went 'Ahh…' when I gave her the cookie. I'd bet she wouldn't even realise that it was poisoned."
There was a shrill laugh from another girl. "What an idiot. You'd have her dead before she even realises. Then her brother and fiancé will be right there for your choosing when that happens."
A third voice. "Perfect plan, Maria-chan."
The sharp pain finally overwhelmed me, and I dropped to my knees. The voices outside became silent. They knew I was here. I could hear them approaching the door. The world was turning black around me. The world was spinning. I couldn't even think. I could hear her voice just outside the door, and I felt like my heart was being ripped apart. My new friend…
Images of a live I never lived flashed across my mind. A baby girl being born, a family I didn't recognise and a place I hadn't been. What's happening? Who are these people? A little girl climbing a big tree. This view looks familiar. A dog chasing after that same girl. Ah, I can't stand dogs. For some reason, they used to bark at me every morning. Wait, why do I know that? A girl sitting alone in a dark room in front of a bright screen. Where am I? Is this a closet? Or perhaps a doghouse? No… I know what this is. It's… my room! Fortune Lover, New Game, Load, Special. And this is… this seems to be the villainess… Me?!