“Bleny, was that your name?”
“Pardon? Yes, it is.”
Aila spoke with a somber expression. She put down the comb and picked up a ribbon to adorn my hair.
“The third daughter.”
“Yes. I have an older sister and a brother.”
“Then you must have heard about me from your sister.”
Aila had regained some energy from talking about her siblings and pursed her lips like a puppy just fed honey and looked at me.
Only now could she fulfill her role as a proper maid. She clearly wasn’t a child who fit the role of a maid in any way.
Aila fiddled with the ribbon in her hand and said,
“I’m sorry. I was just… I was curious about the Academy and wanted to go… I blurted it out without thinking. Please forgive me, Miss.”
Laughter erupted immediately.
“No need to worry. It’s only a double-edged sword hanging over our heads.”
“What do you mean?”
Aila asked, her eyes widening.
“You… you said you were fifteen?”
Although she was older than me, it seemed that she had not been taught by her family.
It was easy to guess why from her honest and unchildish appearance.
She must have been the beloved youngest daughter.
From the Bleny couple she had never seen before to the older sister and brother she spoke of with an affectionate voice, I could imagine Aila being embraced and cherished by them with all their hearts.
An evil thought suddenly appeared.
“Do you want to know what it means?”
I deliberately tilted my head to the side. My throat stretched, revealing a thin and fragile neck.
Running my finger between the exposed throat and collarbone, I spoke.
“As you know, all nobles of the empire must send their eldest child to the academy in the capital. They must complete the entire curriculum from the age of thirteen until they come of age at nineteen.”
“I know, Miss.”
“Then why is there a need for attendance at the Academy? Can’t they just be taught at home, like the other children who aren’t the eldest?”
“That… well, isn’t it for making connections? It’s limited to interacting with neighboring territories. Especially for the eldest, who will lead the family in the future, it will be helpful even when they grow up.”
Aila thought deeply and spoke.
“Building connections, I see. But not all nobles in the empire need to cultivate connections, right? Those who have little ambition in central politics and do not seek prominence can simply manage their own territories well. It seems unnecessary to waste a thousand gold registration fee every year.”
The average annual income of a Marquis, the largest class of hereditary nobles, is about 1,500 gold. With taxes to pay and territories to manage, tuition at the Valentina Academy would be a significant burden for most nobles.
Yet, there was still a reason to send them to the academy.
I twisted around to face Aila.
She seemed to feel a vague uneasiness and looked at me with a tense posture, clutching the ribbon tightly.
“All new students at the Academy take a special ‘oath’ on the day of the entrance ceremony. It is a magical oath organized by the House of Valentina.”
I lowered my voice as if I was acting in a play and lengthened my words.
Aila swallowed nervously and unconsciously leaned toward me.
“The student who takes this oath must return to the Academy every September and March… If they don’t…”
I tilted my head to the side, cutting off my words. The silent shape of my mouth moved exaggeratedly.
“In that moment, their neck bursts.”
Before I could finish, Aila let out a scream. She took a step back, tears in her eyes.
Chuckling, I added,
“It’s nothing to envy. It’s just a blade hanging over our heads, forcing the heirs of the proud Rassideans to obey the orders of the Emperor. If you have money to waste on nonsense, you might as well earn more and use it to supplement your child’s education.”
Aila, still sobbing, fled the room.
Bang! The door, which she couldn’t close in time, hit the wall and stopped awkwardly.
After laughing for a while, I stood and picked up the ribbon Aila had dropped.
It matched the color of my eyes, and I tied it to the back of my head and looked at myself in the mirror.
A faint pain echoed in the area where I had taken the oath on the day of the initiation ceremony.
There seemed to be a faint magical mark drawn in a circular shape along my neck.
Tracing it with my finger, I remembered my time at the Academy, which was now a distant past.
〚Listen to our story, Khalia.〛
〚Come this way, come this way.〛
〚Call my name….〛”
When I returned to the academy this time, I would once again come face to face with “them.”
My eyelids trembled with anxiety. I pressed them with my fingers.
This time I would not run away.
Whether it was to face the real ghost, to confirm that I had inherited my father’s cursed fate, or to escape from it all and become the true me.
I vowed to accept everything without avoiding anything.
After that day, Aila didn’t initiate personal conversations with me.
Whenever she saw me, her face would turn pale and her lips would tighten as if to prevent any words from escaping, and she would concentrate only on her tasks.
When she finished her work, she would ask, “Is there anything else you need?” And if I said no, she would immediately say goodbye and leave.
As my personal maid, she only accompanied me forcibly when she had to help with errands during my classes.
There was no discomfort.
The lessons with the teachers of etiquette invited by the Duke, as well as the lessons with the teachers of investigation, humanities, classical literature, art, and literature at the academy, passed without any special incidents.
Most of the teachers were filled with resentment at having to teach “Count Estelle’s Daughter” and either growled at me or reluctantly threw knowledge at me.
In the midst of it all, there was only one person who would give me a normal lesson.
“Yes, Miss Khalia. Ever since Lord Lunik sealed the magic potion in the magic vessel, our continent has been at peace.”
Adrian, who taught Theology, smiled at me, obviously pleased with my diligent examination.
I never expected that he, who possessed the highest divine power and reputation among the young priests of the Empire, would become my personal tutor.
This was another aspect that confirmed the Duke’s influence.
Thinking of myself as someone who had been abandoned by the gods because of my regression, and who had never received favorable treatment from the clergy even in my past life, I was cautious with him at first.
If he spoke unnecessarily or made fun of me, I wouldn’t just sit there, even though he was called the treasure of the temple.
“You have done well. I’m very happy to see your progress day by day as a teacher.”
But Adrian was not like that.
He didn’t mention anything about my notorious reputation in Abina. He always explained things in a gentle voice, praising even the smallest details, and somehow, before I knew it, I felt like an ordinary student in his presence.
“Occasionally, there are people who are afraid that the potion will be released and resurrect them, but rest assured. No one has ever found even one of the three magical containers.”
With platinum hair that melted into gold and glassy blue eyes, he concluded with a voice full of confidence.
“It seems the time is up. I should leave.”
“Take care, Father. I’ll see you the next day.”
“Unfortunately, I can’t.”
As I raised my head in confusion, something heavy touched my forehead.
It was Priest Adrian’s hand.
He, or rather no one, had never touched me like that before, so I was surprised and stiffened.
Ignoring my confused state, he gently patted my head with his characteristic bright smile.
“Due to some circumstances, someone else will be teaching you starting next week.”
“…… I see.”
Without realizing it, I must have bitten my lip. Adrian chuckled and added, “Don’t be too disappointed. Who knows, with Lord Lunik’s blessing, we may meet again in the near future?”
He smiled to the end and waved as he left.
Back in my room, I tore open the mail that had come for me.
It was from Valentina Academy, about two weeks before the opening and matriculation ceremony.
It contained an application form for dormitory assignment and a letter instructing me to write down the subjects I wanted for my schedule.
After reviewing the dormitory application, I hesitated for a moment and then added “Theology” at the very end of the desired subjects section.
Originally, I had no intention of taking it.
I had despaired of the gods who had abandoned me after my regression. I had already given up all expectations.
After paying a precious price with my life, I realized how futile it had been to study theology for seven years in my past life and to do regular volunteer work in the temple.
Yet, for some reason, I had a reason to make another futile attempt…
If there is at least one more priest like Adrian at the academy…
Even though I knew it was a foolish act, my hands didn’t stop folding the paper and inserting it into the envelope.
I called a servant and had him deliver it to the Academy.
When they see the list, there’ll be a big commotion.
I smiled as I imagined the faces of those who would be astonished and disgusted.
I couldn’t sleep that night because of the anticipation.
The days went by and everything was normal until the beginning of the semester, or so I wished… but that was not the case.
Aila, who had been avoiding me, suddenly shouted from a distance.
As I walked through the garden, I wiped at the cold water running down my face with one hand.
“Are you all right?”
It was Redmoore.