His gaze seethed with life. As much as I wanted to kill him, it was clear he wanted to kill me as well.
Breaking the standoff, the Prince turned away and spoke, “Talking to you seems as pointless as anything. I’m going back.”
He began walking away into the forest, but stopped and pointed a finger at me, his eyes blazing with an unquenchable fire.
“Don’t ever utter such nonsense again. If you do, whatever it takes, I’ll do it. Even if it means using the position of the Second Prince to kill you. Do you want to meet your father early?”
“You, Your Highness, shouldn’t go anywhere and talk ill of me. I will be the one to kill you first, even before you meet your parents.”
He came closer again, as if he was about to grab me by the collar, his hand twitching as if he would strike me. He even took a step forward. I didn’t flinch and clenched my fists.
But that was all. Claude Valentin took a step back and stared at me with reddened eyes.
Only the sounds of branches brushing against his body, rustling leaves, and snapping twigs underfoot filled the air.
Valentin’s eyes were on me the entire time, until his gaze was finally obscured by a thick tree trunk, and the sound of breaking branches faded away.
I let out a long sigh. My strength seemed to drain away from my entire body. I slumped to the ground right where I stood.
The sun had already risen high in the sky.
When I returned to the dormitory, it was already past curfew.
“Open the door.”
“E-Estelle? I never saw you leave before. How…”
“Forget about that. Just open the door. Quickly.”
The guards looked confused and suspicious as they scrutinized me.
“Are all of Valentina’s staff so slow and dim-witted, or is it just the ones I’ve met?”
I deliberately shot a contemptuous look at them before walking inside.
The door opened after Frau Heiden had clung to me, but they all wore displeased expressions and didn’t want to bother me any longer. I entered the room, and it was cold inside. The fireplace had long gone out, and a chilly wind swept in through the open window.
I sighed and pulled the curtains shut. I also reignited the fireplace. It would take some time for the room to warm. I lay down on the overly spacious bed.
I had used all the blankets to tie the rope, so I just lay there, staring at the fire.
Flames had the power to steal one’s gaze. If I watched it quietly, my inner turmoil and distractions became the firewood and were consumed.
[Did you call me?]
With a whoosh, Undine leaped into existence from thin air. She looked around the room with curious eyes.
Soon, she scattered droplets of water and went on an adventure of her own.
[Kalia! There’s w-w-water here! Water!]
Entering the bathroom, she fiddled with various things and, upon discovering warm water, she called me, excited.
Her joyous singing filled the air as she played with the water.
A small smile escaped my lips.
The events of the early morning weren’t just a dream; they felt real now that Undine was with me.
I tossed and turned while staring at the ceiling. At least, there was one happy presence in this room.
* * *
“Look over there, it’s the daughter of the monster.”
“I heard she caused a commotion in the dorms just yesterday.”
“They say Frau Heiden’s face turned pale. She must have cursed at her. Oh, poor Frau Heiden.”
“Being so cheeky as to suddenly show her face here after chasing her relatives away.”
I turned my head toward the source of the noise.
“Eek! The demon is looking at us! She’s going to curse us!”
“Run for your lives!”
A group of students scattered, giggling, as they rushed out of the cafeteria.
Watching them leave, I returned my attention to the plate in front of me.
I resumed cutting. In the hall where the quarrel had taken place, only the sound of my knife slicing through food could be heard.
Someone muttered in a tired voice, “She’s cursed us.”
I stabbed a piece of meat with my fork and placed it in my mouth without much thought.
After the commotion of the previous night, I had managed to get some rest only after the sun had risen. Ironically, my first thought upon waking up was, “I’m hungry.”
I’ve never particularly enjoyed eating, but I couldn’t afford to skip meals.
So, it was closer to noon than morning when I leisurely made my way to the dining hall to have a meal. Sitting beside me, Moore kept chattering, but I was lost in my own thoughts.
No matter how exquisite the ingredients were, communal meals had a unique atmosphere to them. Even with the finest ingredients, academy food had its own charm.
In my past life, I had almost lived entirely off academy food. During vacations when I couldn’t have proper meals at home, I’d pretend to be nonchalant, rush to the dining hall before anyone else, and hurriedly fill my hungry stomach.
Even though I hadn’t taken more than a few bites, my fork moved more slowly.
After tidying, I stood up, and those who had been watching me with curiosity quickly averted their gazes.
As I walked toward the exit after returning my utensils, the door swung open just before I reached for the handle.
“Ah, after you, my lady…”
The one who opened the door was a man. The first thing that caught my eye was his well-built chest. He seemed to realize my presence belatedly and gave a courteous laugh, making way.
However, his next words remained unsaid.
I raised my head in confusion and immediately understood why.
A puzzled look crossed his face, and I quickly realized why when I looked up.
I bit my lip.
The man had opened the door with an amiable smile, but as soon as he saw me, his expression changed to one of disbelief.
Claude Valentine, with his annoyingly chewing expression, gripped the door handle, staring down at me.
“Of all times…”
I muttered under my breath.
No matter how ignored I was, I couldn’t possibly engage in a confrontation with the prince in the middle of the academy.
His lips moved as if to greet me, and he said, “Lady Estelle.”
I hesitated for a moment but then decided to greet him.
“Your Highness Prince Valentine.”
He seemed to be thinking along the same lines, reluctantly giving a polite nod while still looking puzzled.
He pulled the door he was holding further open and stepped aside.
“Please, go ahead.”
“Thank you for your consideration.”
I nodded and hurriedly left through the door.
“Is your hand okay? Seems like you’re having trouble holding things. Must have been a tiring night,” I remarked, a touch sarcastic.
It was juvenile.
I had been on edge the entire time, but at least it was over.
The prince shot me an irritated look but didn’t engage further. He walked past me and entered the building wordlessly.
I watched him for a moment, then let go of the door and walked away.
I didn’t care about such a cowardly person.
I quickened my pace to get to the professor’s office where individual timetables were being adjusted. This week was technically before the start of the new term, a time for students to modify their preferred course schedules. The real classes would begin next week.
I had been summoned to the office to oversee the second-year students as part of my responsibilities.
When I knocked, a cold voice invited me in.
The well-maintained door opened smoothly, making no creaking sounds.
Wearing round glasses, the professor was seated behind the desk, examining documents.
“Estelle, I’ve reviewed your timetable. Everything looks fine except for Elemental Studies.”
Without bothering with formalities, he began discussing my schedule, his eyes fixed solely on the timetables.
“Theology, Literature, Fine Arts, History… they’re all fine. But regarding Elemental Studies…”
He shifted his gaze to me for the first time as he mentioned Elemental Studies. His eyes, hidden behind wrinkled eyelids and glasses, were a fresh shade of blue.
“Elemental magic is a complex discipline. Usually, families provide early education on the subject. However…”
He cleared his throat uncomfortably, pausing for a moment before continuing.
“Those who weren’t able to receive such education or develop an interest in Elemental Studies later on can take introductory courses in Elemental Magic during their first year. These courses cover the basics of Elemental magic, including the history of Elementals, their classification, and theories of Elemental summoning.”
The professor muttered to himself and marked an ‘X’ on my timetable with his pen, jotting something down quickly.
“Estelle, since you haven’t taken the introductory course, you should start with it instead of the second-year class. I’ll adjust your schedule…”
“You don’t need to do that.”
I spoke up for the first time since entering the room. The professor stopped his busy fingers and fixed his gaze on me.
“What do you mean, you don’t need to do that?”
“I mean exactly what I said. I don’t need to take the introductory course.”
The professor raised his glasses in surprise.
“Estelle, you might be mistaken. Elemental magic is a very complex and challenging field. Many who have devoted years to elemental studies still fail to summon Elementals successfully.”
He sighed, as if he were tired of arguing with students and dealing with amateurs.
He adjusted his glasses and continued, “Don’t be stubborn…”
A faint smile formed on my lips, and the professor’s eyes widened as he noticed it. I tightened my lips and stated the name I needed.
With a sudden release of energy from my body, a sparkling stream of water appeared in the air, and the form of a water spirit, Undine, materialized.
“Did you call me, Contract Holder?”
“Professor… a…a spirit…!”
With a thud, the overwhelmed professor fell backward, losing his balance as he tried to stand. However, he didn’t seem to feel any pain, and his expression was one of shock as he stared at Undine.
“How did you… I mean, a spirit! This is an intermediate water spirit! How is this possible?”
I rose from my chair and approached the desk. My shadow fell over the struggling professor.
When I lifted one arm, Undine instinctively coiled her tail around my wrist. Her presence felt refreshing against my skin.
“What do you think now? Do you understand what I meant by ‘I don’t need it anymore’?”