「Oh, Lady Filmina?」
Lunamerie tilts her head to the side, as if saying, ‘that’s unexpected’. Her strawberry blonde hair slips off her shoulder at that gesture. I stood up, even as I was captivated by that hair, so fine that even though I didn’t touch it myself, I could tell how soft it was. Since I’ve been caught, it’s unacceptable to just sit and watch when the other person is the noble daughter of the Valentine family, although she’s younger than me. Lifting up the hem of my dress from left and right with both my hands, I bow.
「How do you do, Lady Luna. It’s been a while since we last met.」
「Haha, nice to see you. Are you here to meet Sir Agedilus again too?」
「……Yes, I just had a small errand.」
I can’t possibly be foolishly honest and say 「I’ve been coming here every day lately」 so I vaguely smile, lying. The man’s sunrise-colored eyes look at me as if he wants to say something, but I ignore that and smile. I don’t know what Lunamerie thought of that, but she deepens her lovely smile even more, opening her light-pink lips.
「If so, then would you have tea with us too? It would make me so happy to hear your stories about Sir Agedilus.」
「Lady Lunamerie, that’s—」
「I can’t listen to what you’re saying if you won’t call me Luna.」
「……Lady Luna. There’s nothing interesting in my past. It’s not even worth hearing about.」
「Oh, that’s for me to decide, not for you. Hey, Lady Filmina. You agree, don’t you?」
I can’t help but be speechless. Lunamerie blinks her sparkling eyes, asking me that. I can’t feel any bad intentions in her words, just genuine interest and curiosity – and then, envy towards me for knowing about his past. It’s only natural for a maiden in love to want to know about her beloved’s past stories. Especially if it’s a man like this one, who almost never talks about his past usually.
Usually, I wouldn’t hesitate to cooperate with a maiden that’s determined trying to woo the one she likes, also I wouldn’t be discouraged from his unfriendly behavior. But that scenario doesn’t apply to this man.
I can feel my heart getting noisy just by watching the two of them stand and talk like this. My heart was supposed to have calmed down, but now waves of discord wash over it. Waves bigger than the last time I met Lunamerie.
For some reason, the sight of them in my nightmare, standing together intimately, overlaps this scene in front of me. I feel the impulse to close my eyes, but I somehow manage to bear that.
No, this isn’t that dream. This is unmistakably reality. Yes, it’s reality – that’s why the sight in front of me weighs so heavy on me.
My breath is slightly taken away by that man’s voice. By the time I realized it, he and Lunamerie, and then Widnichol, were all looking straight at me. Ah, not good. It seems I zoned out again. Lunamerie’s gaze as she waits for my answer hurts.
‘Well now, what should I say?’ As I think that, a troubled smile probably comes on my face. Just like before, those sunrise-colored eyes look at me, saying more eloquently than words could, 「Don’t say unnecessary things.」
——Yeah, yeah, I know.
Even if the other person is the daughter of a great aristocrat family, my most important priority has been obvious from the start.
「Lady Luna, please forgive me. I can’t tell you about his stories when he himself doesn’t want that.」
I know that his childhood stories are full of the dark past he wants to erase. Even I don’t know about all of it. But if this man 「doesn’t want to talk about it」 then there’s no reason for me to say no to that.
Perhaps my answer was unexpected, since Lunamerie widens her deep purple eyes. There probably aren’t many people that deny her what she wants like this, considering her parentage or her looks. ‘This may have been rude,’ I secretly get flustered internally. Indifferent to me, Lunamerie purses her lips once, and then opens her mouth again.
「Is that so. ……I understand. If that’s what you say, then I’ll just have to get Sir Agedilus to tell me by myself!」
That’s a brave declaration. I can’t help but feel like applauding her. 「Please prepare yourself!」 Lunamerie pushed the basket in her hand towards him. In response to that, he takes it on instinct, but furrows his brows at an angle that Lunamerie can’t notice. Widnichol looks back and forth from the man and Lunamerie, trembling with fear, 「Uwaah……」
The man looks down into the basket pushed at him, an indescribable expression on his face. Watching that, the girl smiles in satisfaction. That man with otherworldly androgynous beauty, and that girl with lovely features like a doll. Just like in the dream, it really is picture-perfect. ‘They’re a good match,’ it quite naturally seems like that. It really does.
Somehow, I horribly feel like I can’t stay here any longer. I want to cast my eyes downwards. But I feel like if I do that, I’ll really have accepted the two of them standing together, so I just can’t.
To try and calm down, I open my mouth to say I’ll leave and make some tea. But right as I do, Lunamerie raises her voice. I blink my eyes in surprise; she turns those big eyes towards me with a very lovely smile on her face.
「So you call Sir Agedilusm ‘Sir Edi’!」
「That’s so lovely, I’m certainly going to call him that too! That’s alright, isn’t it?」
Entwining her fingers of both hands in front of her chest, Lunamerie looks up at him. Even though I’m only watching from beside, those upturned eyes are extremely adorable.
What is he going to say? What is he going to say to a girl much, much more lovely than me inside and out, who’s not afraid of him even though he’s a ‘black-hair’? What if he says 「I don’t mind」? What if he says that? Just thinking about it makes me cold to my core, as if my entire body is freezing.
By the time I realize it, my hands are tight fists. It takes me a while to notice the pain of my fingernails sticking into the palms of my hands. I finally loosen them. Then I stick onto my face the smile mask I inherited from my father.
「——Edi, I’m going to take my leave now.」
「Lady Filmina? What about having tea……」
「I’m very sorry, Lady Luna. Please, let’s look forward to that next time.」
I bow, pulling at the hem of my dress, stepping up to Widnichol who has already changed his atmosphere, behind Lunamerie. As he shakes with surprise, I take the opportunity of him stiffening to grab the heavy book he’s holding.
「Sir Widnichol, do you mean to return this to the library?」
「T-that’s right, but…….」
「Well then, I’ll go in your place.」
「Please don’t worry about it. The library’s on the way back.」
As I smile at the flustered boy, a gaze pierces my back. I turn to look over my shoulder to see the man watching me, the ends of his eyebrows lifted up.
「Edi, you have to be properly hospitable to Lady Luna.」
Before he can say anything more to me, I look forward again and begin walking. I know I’m behaving foolishly. If I think just a little, I know how dangerous it is for me with my current situation to be away from that man, alone. But even so, I can’t stay there any longer. It felt like I was being shown the same exact scene I see in my dreams, and the boundaries between whether I was sleeping or awake got blurred.
That man’s voice calls out to me, although it didn’t call out the last time I met Lunamerie. But there’s no way I can respond to that, and I can’t stop my feet either.
‘It’s like I’m running away,’ even I myself think that. ‘Well, technically, I’ve already ran away.’ Thinking that, as if I’m looking at it from an outsider’s perspective, I hold the bulky book in my arms properly, leave the man’s laboratory, and quickly leave the Black Lotus Court.
Then, leaving the Black Lotus Court, I reach the library after walking through the corridors for a while, finishing off the procedure. Perhaps it’s because they’re prohibited books, and it’s past the due date, I was harshly asked, 「How do you have this book when you’re not a wizard?」 but I showed them the bracelet I always have on me, that I received from that man, and managed to avoid further problems. Perhaps I should finally ask that man just what this bracelet is.
Then, I’m about to go back to the mansion that is my home just like that, but——for some reason, my feet head back towards the Black Lotus Court again.
It’s nothing more than my wishful thinking that Lunamerie must be leaving soon now. But even so, I can’t help but wish for that. Walking not along the correct path, but along the path-less path in the courtyard, what comes to my mind is the sight of that man and Lunamerie standing together.
That trivial ‘request’ that sweet voice said, that she wanted him to let her call him 『Edi』 too. Even though it’s him, can he really say no that easily to it? My briskly advancing footsteps, along with my sinking thoughts getting darker, slowly grow slower, before finally suddenly stopping. My feet feel heavy, and I can’t go any further.
The thought of returning to that man’s laboratory in the Black Lotus Court and seeing him standing with Lunamerie again scares me. But it’s also true that I want to see that man and feel relieved. It’s rather selfish and arbitrary, if I do say so myself.
I realize after so long just how special the name 『Edi』 is to me. That one irreplaceable name, more important than anything else. ‘Edi.’ I now realize that since he allowed me to call him that, I unknowingly developed a superiority complex. I’m embarrassed at myself for it.
I murmur that in a half-sigh, forcibly moving my feet that really aren’t even trying to move forward. Even though he’d stopped me, I’d ended up leaving without listening to him; it feels embarrassing to return home just like this. But on the other hand, I can’t go back to the laboratory where Lunamerie might be. Or, rather, I don’t want to.
In the end, I choose the path that goes to the arbor. This place holds a fond memory for me in the past as well. I step firmly over the green lawn, slipping through the gaps between the garden trees all put in order, finally reaching the arbor in the courtyard placed near the Black Lotus Court.
A pleasant wind blows by. I close my eyes instinctively. ‘What’ll happen if I fall asleep here?’ Thoughts like that cross my mind, no laughing matter. There’s no one here to wake me up either – if I fall asleep here, this time I really might not wake up again.
The nightmare that torments me every night is always the same. In the midst of that muddy darkness, people beloved to me run away from me. Even that man turns his back on me, running away. The sight of that strawberry-blonde hair standing beside him steals from me the willpower to chase that man. As I give up even reaching my hand out, in that moment my feet plunge down, as if turning into a thick liquid. Unable to resist, I sink into the swamp of the crying voice. Then again, when I reach the bottom, I find 『her』. Sitting all alone, sobbing by herself.
I murmur that to myself with my eyes closed. Why is it 『her』? 『She』 isn’t here anymore. Is 『she』 really 『her』 in the first place? I don’t understand. I don’t understand a single thing.
I can hear the crying voice again. The more I hear it the louder it gets, and I don’t know what to do anymore. Drowsiness creeps in towards me. It crawls up from my feet, trying to take away my consciousness to the darkness. I can’t. I can’t fall asleep. That man will be angry at me again.
‘Filmina.’ It’s then that I feel like I’m being called by that man.
My inevitably heavy eyelids finally lift up. Why is it that my chest feels hot? Not metaphorically 「hot」, but really 「hot」 in a physical sense.
I pull out the ‘talisman’ from my neckline, in the purple bag that the man had given to me; I had hung it from my neck, hiding it under my dress. I untie the thread, putting the clearly hot insides in the palm of my hand. That dark red regular octahedron, the demon’s core, has silver threads entwined countless times over it – the princess’s hair. For some reason, it’s emitting a faint light. I raise it up to the sky, staring at it fixedly as it has a definite heat to it, radiating light.
My body reflexively trembles at the voice that calls out to me without warning. At the same time, I grasp the talisman I’d been holding up to the sky, hiding it. I raise my body straight from the back of the bench I’d been leaning on, looking at the direction from where the voice had come. The person I expect stands there. There’s no one other than him that calls me Suzette.