Aila quickly lifted her gaze from the top where the water dripped as she wiped her face, hair, and clothes with a handkerchief.
Instead of running away like a coward, Redmoore poked his head through the open window.
When our eyes met, he smirked and, in a childish manner, used his thumb and forefinger to pull down one eyelid and stuck out his red tongue before retreating inside.
I was more irritated by his provocation than the actual baptism itself.
“It’s fine. Just go away.”
I avoided Aila’s outstretched hand, which held a damp handkerchief that was already soaked, as she tried to wipe at me again.
Aila hesitated before speaking.
“I know it may seem intrusive, but I don’t think we should let this go any further. Young Master has done this more than once. We should inform Duke or Lord Obert and make him stop.”
“It’s just childish play. There’s no need to worry.”
“Sometimes, Miss, you speak as if you were an adult. Isn’t Young Master older than you?”
She asked with an expression of incomprehension.
“Of course. I would have been an adult in a day.”
I swallowed those words and clenched my fists.
“It doesn’t matter. Instead, prepare some clothes for me to change into.”
“…If you don’t mind, I can do it.”
As I waved my hand and tried to step inside while confidently carrying the clothing, I heard an undeniable voice from behind.
Aila stood still, as if she had made a determined decision, holding a wet handkerchief in one hand.
“I said it’s enough. Why can’t you understand?”
“Last time, he even threw a stone at me! It’s obvious that it’s getting worse, so why should we just watch?”
“That’s exactly it. Just stay still and be thankful.”
“Why should I bother to understand you?!”
I grew impatient with the prolonged argument.
Whether it was Duke Desmiere or Lord Obert, I didn’t want them to think I couldn’t handle a young boy like him.
I would rather choose death than speak to them again, truly.
Above all, the threats he made seemed like child’s play to me, who had lived with the Baron for seven years.
It was such a trivial matter, so why was she clinging to it like this…!
“…You’re always standing up to me like this!”
Whether I scolded her or frightened her like before, intending to intimidate her, an unexpected retort reached my ears.
Aila, slightly tense but not backing down, calmly spoke.
“From watching you all this time… I’ve noticed… Sometimes, you intentionally act rough, like when you scared me before. It seems like you’re deliberately trying to be harsh. You keep your guard up, as if preventing anyone from approaching you, and you’re constantly on alert in all directions.”
She asked with a truly curious expression, unable to understand.
“Why are you like this? Just be kind to others and accept their kindness.”
Why are you like this?
I… I was speechless, stupidly opening my mouth, standing there dazed, just watching her.
“Of course, I haven’t watched you for a long time, and I, too… embarrassingly… was afraid of you at first.”
She started speaking with some tension but soon relaxed.
“I’m sorry. That’s why I avoided you. But the you after that wasn’t the person I had imagined! Most teachers ignored you and tried to harass you, but you didn’t complain and quietly listened to their lessons. Even when Young Master harassed you, you didn’t seek revenge, you just let it go…”
“I don’t think you’re a terrible person like the rumors say. Moreover…”
As I became more agitated and approached her, she called out to me.
She looked at me with a slight sense of confusion and a faint glimmer of expectation. She muttered softly.
“Before you truly kill me, please… shut up…”
If only words could become a dagger.
At this moment, I desperately wished for that.
I wished for each word to pierce her heart. Or for the words she uttered to crawl into my cursed mouth and forcibly seal my throat and nostrils. If that were possible, I would even offer up my own heart.
She was surprised, about to say something more, but as soon as she saw my face, she turned pale with dread.
Tears welled up in her lovely brown eyes. The teardrops, sparkling, formed a small stream and flowed down her white cheeks.
“Aila, what I said… I…”
She hesitated, stammered, and then held out her hand pleadingly. She took a step back.
“I don’t have to be a personal maid anymore.”
“I’ll inform Lord Obert, so you can go back to your original duties.”
“But that’s not it. Just listen to me once, please. I didn’t mean it in a strange way…”
“Miss Blainey. This is a decision for your sake.”
With that announcement, I turned slowly, leaving Aila frozen in place, and entered the back door, opening my way through the path and returning to the mansion.
“Please take care and have a safe journey, Young Master, Miss.”
It was the morning of the day we were heading to the Academy.
After a brief farewell last night, the Duke had once again left the mansion empty due to his busy schedule.
Despite solemnly declaring that he would watch over me, he often left me to my own devices.
Perhaps he was receiving reports from behind the scenes, but either way, it was a comfortable arrangement for me.
Lord Obert bowed to me and Lord Redmoore as we set off. After that, the servants of the Duke’s household lined up and greeted us.
After exchanging glances with Lord Redmoore, we each boarded separate carriages that were waiting in front of us.
As I looked out through the window, I saw Aila eagerly gazing in our direction among the maids.
“Please relieve Aila of her duties as my personal maid. I won’t need a maid from now on.”
When I went to see Lord Obert on the day of the incident and made the request, he listened quietly and asked only once.
“Are you truly okay with this?”
I nodded my head, and without further inquiry, the matter was quickly resolved.
After all, I was the one who would wake up alone, prepare my clothes and belongings, and take care of my daily life. It didn’t matter to me.
So there was no need for a maid or anyone like that in the future. I could handle everything on my own.
Inside the carriage, there was only a small handbag containing my personal belongings, keeping my effects minimal.
The necessary luggage had already been sent to the dormitory via carriage a few days earlier. It should be neatly arranged in the newly assigned room.
On the way to Valentina Academy, just like me, carriages with the crests of each noble family were abundant.
The sky had an ominously blue tint. Finally, the majestic arched gate of Valentina Academy came into view.
As the front wheels entered the academy grounds, a burning sensation surged through the back of my neck where the oath was inscribed, causing me brief discomfort.
“Valentina Academy welcomes you.”
The illusionary message written with magic appeared in front of me, tauntingly shimmered for a moment, then disappeared.
The Valentin Royal Family had a way of holding the lives of every noble in their grasp, a method deeply ingrained into the very marrow of those involved every time a new semester began.
I disembarked and made my way to the grand hall where the entrance ceremony was taking place.
As I entered the hall, I heard murmurs of recognition among the students who knew me. Soon, the sound swelled like a wave as more people joined in.
With each step inward, people in my path automatically moved aside, creating a path for me.
Although it was something I had experienced every year before, the murmurs were more intense than I remembered. The reason was simple.
In the line formed by each grade, many people were surrounding the red-haired girl in the fourth-year line, casting their gazes in my direction.
Our eyes met at the center.
I had heard that the Baron had found a small townhouse in the capital and was currently staying there after losing his residence overnight.
Some of the former servants from the Viscount’s household had been reassigned there, but Ashley’s name was not among them.
With a sly smile, I flicked my finger in greeting to her.
There were more protests from the surrounding area. But Helena, covering her face with a fan, glared at me for a moment before turning away.
I took my place in the second-year line. The scrutinizing gazes from those around me, as if I were a circus clown, awakened a familiar sensation.
My whole body tingled with a strange mix of excitement and discomfort, from the top of my head to the tips of my toes.
Ever since passing through the archway of the academy, from the moment the back of my neck started to burn, this sensation had gradually intensified.
“Dear students and new entrants, welcome to Valentina Academy…”
The aged headmaster began his speech as he stood on the podium. Enhanced with magic, the voice resonated throughout the assembly hall.
At that moment, madness suddenly surged within me.
Reason abandoned me, and a wicked impulse seized me.
Redmoore’s provocation, the confrontation with Aila, the anger at having willingly chosen to step into this prison once again, the contempt and mockery from the students surrounding Helena that surged about me.
All of these accumulated feelings erupted at the opening ceremony, heralding the beginning of a long and arduous six-year journey.
I wanted to spit, to curse at everyone gathered here, to do something, anything!
The Madness quickly took control of my body.