Chapter 4: The Promised Good End
When I awoke again, I saw the faces of everyone around me. Geordo, Nicol, Keith and Alan. Maria was nowhere to be found. When I was conscious, I saw the visible relief on all of their faces. I could feel that my left hand was being held, and when I turned to see who it was, he only grabbed my hand in both of his, bringing it up to his lips as he planted a gentle kiss. What startled me the most was the sparkling diamond ring on my fourth finger. I stared at it for a moment, shocked as Geordo gave me a knowing smile.
"You said after we get back," he said, smirking, "so this is just in advance, Catarina."
I smiled and nodded. After all, I remembered everything now. I had the same visions of my previous life after a fall when I was eight, which was when Geordo and I first got engaged. Since then, I had been doing my best to avoid all my doom flags, making friends with everyone and making new memories. They had all stuck with me throughout my first year of magic academy, and I'd passed my judgement event and the second years' graduation well. The friendship ending… it was true. That dream which seemed so sweet and out of reach… I'd done it. That happy life was waiting for me.
Everyone's faces darkened immediately. It was Keith who spoke first. "She's in the unused storehouse with the person behind all this. Maria-san wasn't lying. She really found her." Even though he was speaking with very positive words, I could hear the bitterness in his voice.
I sat up. "I need to see her. Both of them. We can go back together. There's so much waiting for us."
"Oi, Catarina." Alan said. "She pushed you down the stairs, and tried to kill you. She even confessed to poisoning you. You still want to see her?"
I nodded. I met his sea green eyes head on. "I have to see them. You're not confident of it now, but I can tell you this; many things have changed from the game in our world. It's not the bad world we're expecting. We're all still friends, so even if we forget everything that happens here, nothing will change."
I turned when I heard Geordo's voice, as he tightened his grip on my hand. I saw the worry in his eyes at the possibility of forgetting everything that happened here. Using both my hands, I held his too, mirroring his own actions. "Don't worry. No matter what happens, I will definitely give you your answer."
I released his hands and pushed myself off the bed. On the way out, I bumped into Nicol. He gave me the same Devilish Count smile that was so genuine and sincere that I smiled back immediately. In a quiet voice only I could hear, he only said one thing: "Congrats, Catarina."
"Thanks, Nicol-sama. For everything."
I raced out the door and down the stairs. Bursting outside, I could see that it was the middle of the night. I couldn't tell how late it was, but if it was after midnight, I just had to make sure that I avoided the teachers on patrol. My heart was pounding out of my chest as I sprinted across the school grounds. I was panting but I knew what was waiting for me now. I knew hard I had worked for the end of my doom flags, and to have lifelong friends and a new beginning. I also had to save Maria. These were all things only I could do.
I only stopped when I rammed into someone. "Woah, Catarina. What are you doing out here? Nicol told me—"
I put my hands on my knees, catching my breath. "Sorry, President." I felt my eyes welling up with tears.
"Eh? Catarina?" The student council president with bright red hair and gray eyes said as he put his hands on my arms to steady me. "It's alright. You didn't run into me that hard."
I shook my head, started to cry. His life might be different here, and he didn't have dark magic. But when I went back, I would be sending him back to the life of having a tragic past of losing his mother and having dark magic. I would be hurting my dear friend went I went back. "I'm so sorry, President!" I sobbed as I threw my arms around his neck. He was startled but I didn't care. "I'm so sorry. Please forgive me…"
I could tell he didn't understand what I was saying at all, but he still relaxed against my embrace and brought his arms around me. "It'll be alright, Catarina. I promise you. Whatever happens, I'll always forgive you and help you. Don't worry, I'm here."
I let go of him, and with a parting smile, I continued through the woods towards the unused storehouse. Inside, I saw that there was the same ornate shelf by the wall. Going by my memories, I knew that there was a hidden room behind it. In the true world, that was where President, who had been consumed by dark magic, had kept Maria. And seeing the dust tracks on the ground, I could tell that this was definitely the place where my friends had put Maria and the culprit.
I took a deep breath. I was about to meet the person who had changed all our lives. Using all of my might, I pushed it aside to reveal a familiar set of hidden stone stairs. I followed it down, and there they were. Maria was sitting in the corner on the floor, arms wrapped around her knees looking only very irritated. Well, that would probably be because she got locked up in there by the others. But the other person in there was someone I never would have expected.
I opened her mouth to say her name in shock, and realised that I didn't know it.
It was the girl from that night, the one burning midnight oil at the dorm lounge.
"Claes-sama, how are you enjoying your new life?"
Her smile was calm and her voice was steady. She was looking at me like there was nothing wrong. So… this poor girl who pushed herself too hard, was actually the one who had rewritten the world? It became very difficult to breath and I couldn't get my thoughts in order at all. "Wh-why…?"
She gave me a gentle smile as she started explaining. "Oh, don't worry so much. I'm only doing it because I've always hated Maria-chan, getting everyone's attention just because she was a commoner with light magic and she was pretty. Ridiculous right?" She laughed lightly. "Imagine how happy I was when you dropped your notebook on Fortune Lover. There was finally a way to doom her for good. I just needed to use… my light magic to channel President Dieke's dark magic to make this possible."
I dropped my notebook… She… had light magic…? So that was why… Everything suddenly made sense to me. Her envy of Maria, why she did this… All of it came together. But…
I clasped my hands together in front of my chest like a prayer. "Please turn the world back," I pleaded with her, "No matter how you feel, no one deserves to be doomed like this. I of all people should know that. Maria can't help that she has light magic."
Maria cut in then. For once, her voice sounded truly kind and genuine, like how the real heroine Maria Campbell might have been. "That's right. Even if it wasn't me, I don't believe anybody deserves to be doomed like this! As much as I hate her for her connection with the people I desire for myself, I couldn't condemn someone to a fate like that."
I widened my eyes, surprised. "Maria…"
She looked at me and rolled her eyes irritably. "Don't expect me to say it again."
I smiled. Haha, I actually saw that coming.
I turned back to face the girl. I walked towards her, and she backed away. I wasn't letting her get away. Before I could bring us all back, I had to save this girl from herself. "Of course I don't know what kind of life you've had. I can't change anything you've been through, but I can stay by your side. Just like they all did for me, I can stay by your side, hear you out when you're sad or hurt, and not leave you until you're feeling better. I promise."
As I spoke, I could see the expression on her face changing. I wasn't saying those things just because I wanted her to change everything and let us go. I meant what I said. I wanted to help her too, when we all went back to the real world.
"I have people I care about too, and I know we can all be happy in the real world where all of us are friends! So please… I want you to be a part of it too." I met her eyes, begging her. I didn't know how to ask her to help other than to be perfectly honest.
She looked away for a moment, pursing her lips and frowning to herself. For a moment, I was so scared that she was going to say no and trap us all here. But then, she sighed and turned to me again. Her eyes were slightly teary. "Even if I wanted to help you, I don't have dark magic to reverse it anymore, and President Sirius doesn't have any dark magic in this world either. I can't help you, I'm sorry."
I dropped to my knees. No… There was no one here with the dark magic used to bring us all here. We were really… trapped. That couldn't be… I had promised everyone we could everyone that we would all be going home, and we would all be happy there again. I couldn't just… I was still the heroine here, so how could I possibly let everyone down?
"Don't be stupid, both of you. If dark magic got us here, the only way out of here is light magic, isn't it?"
Huh? I looked up as the girl turned to Maria who spoke out of the blue.
She looked at our clueless faces and rolled her eyes. She explained her plan to the both of us, and I was so grateful to have her here. Even if she was the villainess here, she would always come through as a dear friend, a true heroine. She explained how the dark magic must have been very powerful to be able to damage the world this much, and the light magic between them wouldn't be enough. She needed what she called, magic conduits; magic users of any element for them to channel more energy into light magic to bring the real world back. I widened my eyes. I hadn't known it was possible. The other girl seemed to understand.
Maria then pushed herself to her feet and turned to the girl. "Stay here and make the necessary preparations. We'll get the people we need."
She then gestured with a tilt of her head for me to follow her out to get our friends. As I was about to follow after her, the girl beckoned me over. I told Maria to go ahead and wait for me outside. What she confided in me broke my heart, yet I knew I had to do something to help.
As Maria and I finally left the storehouse, I remembered something. Our group was never complete here. They were missing. How could I have forgotten such important people? "You get the others. Tell them 'Catarina says the friendship ending is waiting', they'll come. I've got others to find."
She turned back to me and wrinkled her nose. "Huh? What others?"
I shook my head and smiled. "Don't worry about that. Just get them to the storehouse and wait for me. I'll be back in a while. Thank you so much for doing this."
Maria sneered at me. "Don't thank me. I just want my happy ending." Without another word, she dashed off towards the dorms building where my friends were still in my room. I ran towards the courtyard.
Even if they didn't know it yet, they were waiting for me.
The four of us were now sprinting through the woods towards the storehouse.
I'd found President not far from the tree that I'd climbed on the first day of school, and from there, he made a public announcement in the student council room even though it was after midnight and it was breaking the rules, calling for Sophia Ascart and Mary Hunt to assemble in front of the dorms building. I was praying so hard that they would be there.
And, to my surprise, they were, even though their faces were clouded with confusion. Upon seeing us though, they seemed to brighten up instantly as they headed towards me rather excitedly. There, I tried my best to explain everything about Fortune Lover to them, and how everything in the world we knew now was rewritten. Even to my close friends, this had seemed like a far stretched story, yet somehow, the three of the believed me wholeheartedly the moment I concluded it.
"It's just like a story. I would be glad to help out however I can, Catarina-sama."
"Me too!" Mary exclaimed as she grabbed onto my arm. "I'd do anything to right this world if it means you'll be happy, Catarina-sama."
President nodded with a smile. "Likewise, Catarina."
I faced him. I had to tell him. I had to give him a choice. I didn't want him to help me if he wasn't going to be happy with his decision to return to his tragic life. I didn't want him to hurt because of my selfish wish. I took my arm back from Mary then and led President a distance away from the girls. There, I explained everything about how he was really Raphael Walt, the boy who had lived under the identity of Sirius Dieke after his mother was killed as a sacrifice for dark magic by nobles in an attempt to save the real Sirius Dieke. As he listened, he nodded but didn't interrupt. I didn't know what he was thinking.
When I was finished, he nodded once more. He spoke with such understanding and thoughtfulness that I thought I was about to cry. "I cannot change my past, that is for sure. I'd made mistakes, but you saved me, Catarina. It was all thanks to you that I got my salvation. You've given me a second chance, and I want to take it to learn from my mistakes. I'll support you in whatever way I can."
I truly wanted to cry and give him a hug for his courage, but there was no time. So now, the four of us had finally arrived at the storehouse. We all headed into to the room where there was now chalk drawings and symbols all over the ground, and where the rest of my friends were.
As they all came to give me hugs and express their relief that I was safe, all I could think about was what the girl has said to me.
"The truth is, everything rewritten in this world will always be clouded with dark magic. Even when you go back, the experiences you take back with you will always contain dark magic."
I frowned. "And what does that matter?"
She looked at me gravelly. "Just like it did for Sirius Dieke of Fortune Lover, even without a vengeful spirit there to manipulate your feelings, there will always remain a darkness in each of us, festering until it takes over us."
I widened my eyes in fear. What happened to President… would happen to all of us…?
As though reading my thoughts, she shook her head. "No, there is a way to stop that. There exists light in each of us. Not light magic, but a light in its purest form. We can use that light to destroy the darkness that remains."
I tilted my head, not understanding. "Does that mean you will have to take away our memories of this world?"
She shook her head again. "No, I just need…"
When the person I was about to hurt brought his arms around me in an embrace, I cried. I was sobbing loudly as I hugged him tighter to me, gripping the fabric of his clothes tightly in my fists. I couldn't tell him, or it would absolutely shatter his heart. Instead, I remained silent as he stroked my hair and reassured me that he trusted me, and that everything would be alright. I wanted to tell him I was so sorry. I was sorry for everything. I only cried into the nook of his shoulder and hoped that when we returned home, he would understand and forgive me.
When I finally let him go, it was time. Maria explained how now that there were three light magic users including President, the ritual would be safer and there would be a lower chance of a misfire. I couldn't take in anything. We all stood in a circle, our hands linked. I could feel the warmth of his hand in mine on my left, and the tight grip of Maria's in my other. I closed my eyes as I felt the ritual starting.
When I opened my eyes, I found myself in my own room in the dorms, lying on the bed. I looked around. I couldn't tell if the world was right again. Eh… wait a minute… I brought my hands to my eyes. I was… crying…? Why…?
There was a knock at my door. "Come in." When I spoke, my throat was so dry. How long had I been unconscious? When the door opened, I saw that everyone was there. I smiled and invited them all in.
Maria was the first to speak. She got down to her knees and she was almost crying as she spoke. "I'm so sorry for everything, Catarina-sama. I didn't mean to be like that towards you, and I—"
I grinned and patted her on her head. "Ah, it's okay. You weren't yourself. There is nothing to forgive, Maria."
She smiled and nodded, grateful and happy for the first time in a really long while. "Yes, I'll bring you some real sweets tomorrow."
Sweets! How long had it been since I had eaten true sweets made by Maria that weren't poisoned? I nodded gratefully.
"Nee-san, are you felling okay?" Keith asked me next. "You were out for a whole week since we all came back—"
"Catarina-sama!" Mary jumped on top of me, wrapping her arms around me. "I'm so sorry I wasn't much help this time! Please forgive me…!"
I laughed and patted her on the back. "Mary, don't worry. You were plenty of help too! Thank you!" I turned to my brother, who was standing by the side. "You too, Keith. Thanks for always worrying about me."
"Catarina-sama," Sophia came over and handed me a book with oustretched arms. "I've written down everything that had happened from everyone's recounts into a book. Please read it!"
Woah, Sophia actually wrote a book? I took it. "Thank you, Sophia! I'll be sure to read it and treasure it."
"You're finally back, idiot." Alan said with a small smile. "Not that I was that worried. You told me not to, right?"
Ah, I did. In the other word, I told him not to worry as it did nothing, and the best thing he could do was to smile when things were okay. I was glad I told that to him. He looked better with a smile. I nodded and smiled back.
I turned to Nicol expectantly. There was a smile on his face. "Glad you're back, Catarina."
After everyone finished with their greetings and left, only Geordo remained. For some reason, I wanted to hug him and apologise for something important. Somehow, I felt like I had forgotten something very important. He looked heartbroken even though he still smiled. He took my hand and asked me a very simple question, "You… you don't remember our promise… do you, Catarina?"
Promise…? When I tried to remember, all there was in my mind was a blank. I shook my head. Was this promise… why I was crying…?
He looked down but didn't let go of my hand. "Erika-san, the girl behind all this… she said that…"
"No," she said as she shook her head. "I just need one. One memory with the greatest light."
I still didn't understand.
"One memory of your greatest love."
I… I couldn't remember. It was gone. No… Erika-chan! Please, I want it back! Please, take anything else. I didn't care. She could take all the rest of my memories, just… Please let me have this one to treasure for the rest of my life… I was willing to go back to being a true villainess if it meant being able to keep this one promise with Geordo, I thought as I saw his anguished face, usually so princely and calm, now scrunched up in pain. It was only then that I felt a stirring in my chest.
She took my memory, but there was still one thing she left behind for me.
She left me the way I felt.
Using both hands, I took his and met his ocean blue eyes with a smile. "I don't remember what happened, or what promise we made. But, Geordo-sama, I feel that at that moment, I really wanted to say 'Yes!' to you! And I still do now."
Geordo gritted his teeth and the tears came sliding down his cheeks. For the first time in his life, he sobbed loudly and didn't hold back. The tears I had been holding back spilled over too. Even then, I was smiling. I let go of his hands, and held his chin to look up at me. I smiled warmly, using my other hand to wipe tears away from his face. As long as I held on to this feeling, we'll be alright.
"Catarina." He sniffed, and took my hands once more as he smiled through his pain and tears. "Let's get married."
I smiled back and gave him my answer.