“Classes are truly important, so please prioritize planning around Lady Hannelore’s classes,” Solange had said to me. I had sent a letter of invitation to Hannelore once Brunhilde had my schedule in order, but she had responded that she was unable to attend on the first suggested date, since it overlapped with her sociology lessons. Another date was soon chosen, however, and now the bookworm tea party was charging full steam ahead.
“We will need to send an invitation to Professor Solange as well,” Brunhilde noted, so I speedily wrote the letter and then half-skipped to the library.
Woohoo! A tea party with Professor Solange and Lady Hannelore!
The bookworm tea party was being held in the library’s office, and I could already feel my excitement steadily rising. I needed to be careful to not get too emotional.
“Milady. Book time?”
“Oh. Rozemyne really is here.”
That last voice was Hildebrand, who was with Schwartz and Weiss when I entered the library. He had come to see them time and time again over the past few days—apparently he would stroke them until he was satisfied and then be on his way. Even the shumils had noted that he was exceedingly bored. He was borrowing study guides for first-years but had apparently said that there were few books he could read in general. It was simply too sad that he wanted to read but had so few options, so I had sent a letter to Ehrenfest asking whether I could lend him the children’s books I had made.
“Good day, Prince Hildebrand.”
I performed the customary greetings before heading over to where Solange was. She had said with a chuckle that her job was a lot more stressful now that she was hosting royalty each and every day—although she had gotten a bit more used to it, since she knew that he was only visiting for Schwartz and Weiss.
“Professor Solange, we have settled on a date for the tea party,” I said, presenting the letter of invitation.
Solange accepted it with a joyful smile. “Oh my... How exciting. Hm... Four days from now, I see.” She rarely seemed to venture outside the library, and since she socialized with the other professors less during the winter, when the students were around, she had said that she really enjoyed our tea party last year. I would be putting enthusiasm into these preparations myself.
As we smiled at each other, a young voice interjected. “There’s a tea party four days from now?” Hildebrand asked. It seemed that he had wandered over with Schwartz and Weiss. “Should I refrain from visiting the library, then?”
Schwartz and Weiss would be doing work in the reading room like always, so I assumed there was no issue with Hildebrand coming to see them, but apparently it was socially unacceptable to have a relaxing tea party in the office while there was royalty attending.
Maybe I should ask him to stay back here? I wondered, turning to Solange for her to give the final answer. She rested a hand on her cheek and looked down at me.
“Lady Rozemyne, what would you say about inviting Prince Hildebrand to our tea party? He has been registered as an assistant mana supplier, and we will need to tell that to Lady Hannelore.”
Oh. Huh. I was under the impression that we were having an all-girls tea party, but if we consider it a Library Committee gathering instead, we’ll definitely want the prince there too.
Hannelore would presumably find the situation easier to handle if we gave her an advance warning that Hildebrand was attending the tea party and then mentioned that he had joined the committee on the day of, rather than having her find out at the very last minute that she was going to be in the presence of royalty.
As I nodded to myself, Hildebrand looked between Solange and me, his bright purple eyes brimming with hope. I returned a smile, internally thankful that I hadn’t just told him to go away before consulting Solange.
“Prince Hildebrand, I wish to send you a letter of invitation as well,” I said. “I am aware this is quite an abrupt request; I hope it will not disturb you.”
“Not at all,” the prince replied. “In fact, I would love one. There are not too many places I can go.” He was positively beaming at the thought, but what about his retainers? I glanced over to see that they all wore plastered-on smiles, and one gestured with his eyes to Brunhilde.
“I would like to hear the details from one of your attendants, Lady Rozemyne.”
“Brunhilde. If you will.”
Despite being tense with anxiety, Brunhilde put on a calm smile and headed over to the prince’s retainer. I felt a little bad for her, having to suddenly work with Sovereign retainers of royalty, but there was no time for pity. I turned my attention back to Hildebrand.
“I can’t wait,” he said. “Almost all of the tea parties I’ve attended have just been my mother and me.”
Hildebrand had only recently been baptized and was still rather new to socializing. Aside from a number of tea parties with his mother’s family, he had pretty much no experience whatsoever. Hopefully our gathering would help him to stave off the boredom.
“Will you be reading again today, Lady Rozemyne?” the prince asked. “I will stay with Weiss, so you may go to the second floor without fear.”
In other words, it was reading time. Hildebrand was a good boy who knew just how passionate I was about books—it was for this reason that he would always suggest I go and read after only a short discussion. I thanked him and then went up to the second floor, as I was now so used to doing.
Light of all different colors painted my hands, pulling me from my book and informing me that the bell would soon ring. It was time to leave for lunch, so I asked Philine to return my book for me and then started toward the exit. Hildebrand was already nowhere to be seen, meaning the library was quiet and devoid of other students.
I said my farewells to Schwartz and Weiss, and the bell chimed just as I stepped outside the library. My destination now was the central building, but as I made my way there, I saw a familiar face walking briskly in my direction. It was Raimund, Hirschur’s—and now also Ferdinand’s—disciple.
“Lady Rozemyne,” he said upon noticing me, putting on a truly happy smile. He sought my permission to continue and then openly began to express his thanks. “Lord Hartmut told me it was you who asked Lord Ferdinand to take me under his wing. It’s thanks to you that he accepted me as an apprentice disciple.”
Such was the made-up cover story we were using so that I could more easily serve as a go-between for Ferdinand and Raimund. I had been chosen because it was more believable for me to have made the suggestion than Wilfried or Charlotte, who had never even met Raimund.
“After I answer my list of questions from Lord Ferdinand, he’ll give me new research problems to work on. And when I’m done, he’ll grade my results,” Raimund said, sounding quite genuinely pleased as he showed me the problems he had received and said that he would be spending all afternoon locked away in Hirschur’s lab. He wore a dazzling smile that made it clear he was pouring his all into something he loved.
“Raimund, when you finish the problems, please do contact me through Professor Hirschur,” I said. “I am going to be sending them to Lord Ferdinand for you.”
“Right! I want to get them done as soon as possible. I have the answers to his first batch of questions here. Please do send them right away.” Raimund eagerly held out some documents and gave them to Hartmut; it seemed that someone had given him plant paper to use.
“Consider it done. Now, if you’ll excuse me...”
I continued on my way to the central building. Behind me, I could hear the patter of excited footsteps as Raimund ran to the scholar building.
As soon as we were back in the dormitory, Hartmut began reading the answers he had received from Raimund. He let me see the paper as well, and on it was a list of questions about Ahrensbach styled entirely like a geography test; Raimund had essentially finished his real exams and then accepted this additional one in his free time. I could easily imagine him running around, desperately collecting information to answer these questions and get his next research problems.
“I have much to learn from this situation...” Hartmut muttered. “Bewitching a valuable informant with just enough bait, then exploiting the mindset of a student desperate to pass exams by providing them with an exam-like list of questions. I have never seen such rational and coldly efficient intelligence gathering before.” He was stunned at how swiftly information on Ahrensbach’s internals had fallen into our hands.
“We will be hunting feybeasts today,” Roderick announced that Earthday after breakfast. He was going to be heading out with some apprentice knights, mainly those belonging to the former Veronica faction. It seemed that Hartmut was hurrying him on, saying that if giving me his name was truly his intention, he would need to act soon. The other children felt similarly, wanting to gather the feystones just in case, even though they hadn’t yet settled on what they would be doing.
“Be careful, Roderick,” I said. “Do not forget that you are just a scholar.”
“Of course, Lady Rozemyne.”
After seeing Roderick and the others off, my retainers gathered in a private room to formulate our response to Ehrenfest. Yesterday, we had reported my inviting Hildebrand to a tea party, and we had received in turn a flurry of questions along the lines of, “Why?” and, “How?” I could already tell that our morning was going to be expended entirely on writing our answers, much like when Hildebrand had joined the Library Committee.
“But this time, it was Professor Solange who suggested that we have him join us, so we were surely right to send the invitation. It would have been more rude of us not to, right?” I asked Brunhilde, seeing as she had been there. I was so poor at socializing that I needed to get a second opinion on even my most basic reactions.
She gave an uncomfortable expression and said, “It would have been better for us if you had taken a step back after agreeing with Professor Solange’s assessment, rather than addressing the prince then and there. In the future, even during urgent situations, please leave any invitations to your attendants, rather than taking matters into your own hands.”
“Understood. I shall do that next time.”
Brunhilde’s answer was made even stronger by the fact that one of the prince’s retainers had indeed called her over to handle the necessary arrangements for the tea party then and there. It was the retainers who suffered when thrown into situations like that, and when advising me on what to do instead, their language had shifted from a lighter, “You may wish to do X at times,” to a far more exhausted, “In these cases, please just do X.”
“The tea party itself will not be an issue though, right?” I asked. “We had experience attending a tea party with royalty last year, with Prince Anastasius.”
“We have received an invitation before, but this is our first time doing the inviting ourselves, milady. We are now the Tenth, but this is entirely different,” Rihyarda said. It seemed that Ehrenfest inviting royalty to any tea party was more or less unthinkable.
“We can’t take it back, can we?” I asked.
“Of course not.”
“That said, Prince Hildebrand was clearly seeking an invitation then and there, so regardless of how you handled it, I believe the end result would have been the same,” Brunhilde said, adding in a mutter that the prince’s retainer had been very apologetic. Driven by our inexperience, Hildebrand and I had brought suffering to our attendants by acting without the proper groundwork. It was unfortunate, to say the least.
Hartmut and Philine were summarizing our conversation to send to Ehrenfest, and while the scholars were writing our response, my attendants and I settled the details of the tea party. It was then that Cornelius, who had been standing guard outside the door, rushed in. “Lady Rozemyne, Roderick has returned with wounds!” he exclaimed.
I stood up abruptly and went straight to the common room. There, I found Charlotte and the others surrounding Roderick, who was covered in cuts and bruises.
“Roderick, I heard that you were injured,” I said.
“A strong feybeast appeared while we hunted,” he explained. It seemed that he had avoided the attack but ended up slamming into an apprentice knight in the process. “They sent me back so I could call for reinforcements.”
I turned to Cornelius just as Wilfried and his guard knights entered the room, fully armed. “Don’t worry,” Wilfried said. “We’ll handle this.”
“Wilfried...” Apparently, he had gone off to get ready as soon as Roderick returned. I saw apprentice archknights and some of Charlotte’s apprentice guard knights among his group.
“The archducal guard knights who know your method and were trained by Lord Bonifatius are the strongest ones here,” Wilfried explained. He had also been growing his mana, and he had had a lot of mana for a member of the archducal family to begin with. Since he was a boy, he was required to participate in training with the apprentice knights, so he had decided to lead the reinforcements. “You and Charlotte should guard the dorm. Your guard knights can protect Charlotte. And now, we have to go.”
“Be safe, dear brother...” Charlotte said, her indigo eyes wavering as she saw everyone off. I saw them off as well and then turned to Roderick. His wounds looked painful, so I immediately took out my schtappe.
“May Heilschmerz’s healing be granted to Roderick,” I said, causing a green light to envelop him and recover his wounds. He widened his eyes a little and then looked down at his limbs; it must have been his first time being healed. “You should drink a rejuvenation potion, both for your mana and stamina.”
My words must have reminded Roderick that rejuvenation potions existed at all, as he hurriedly plucked a bottle from among those lining his belt and chugged its contents. He then sighed and said, “I thank you, Lady Rozemyne. The pain has faded.”
“What in the world happened...?” I asked. “Do tell which feybeast appeared.”
Roderick nodded and said they had come across a massive black doglike feybeast. “It was taller than an adult, even when running on all four legs,” he said. “And when it moved, the area around it morphed. I saw trees wilt and rot away, turning black right before us. It had many eyes as well—large red ones where a normal dog’s eyes would be and several tiny black ones on its forehead, which changed colors when it was attacked.”
“Is that not a ternisbefallen?!” Leonore cried in a sharp voice, her indigo eyes widening. Among my guard knights, she was the quietest and most scholarlike of them all; it was rare for her to shout in such a panic.
“What’s a ternisbefallen?” Cornelius asked, frowning in confusion. “Is it serious...?”
Leonore nodded repeatedly, her expression as hard as stone. “It’s a feybeast that grows with mana,” she said. “They’re similar to our local trombes, and I’ve read they live in the south of Yurgenschmidt. If we attack it carelessly, it’ll only grow stronger!”
Everyone present gasped at this revelation; attempting to kill the ternisbefallen ran the risk of making it larger instead. I recalled the trombe that had used my mana to grow at an astounding rate and felt a shiver run down my spine. I rubbed my arms to comfort myself.
“But surely they would notice that their attacks are strengthening it. Plus, weapons with a Darkness blessing can hurt them, so Ehrenfest apprentice knights should be fine, right?” I asked, remembering the knights at the trombe extermination hunt.
Cornelius and Leonore turned to look at me. “Where are those weapons with the Darkness blessing?!” Cornelius exclaimed. “We must get them and follow Lord Wilfried at once!”
“What do you mean, where?” I asked. “You simply say the prayer to give your schtappe-turned-weapon the blessing. Wait. Neither of you know about this?!”
I could feel the blood draining from my face. I had assumed that the Darkness blessing was common knowledge, but Cornelius, Leonore, Judithe, and everyone else shook their heads collectively. The apprentice knights who went off to battle were in far too much danger. They would launch supportive attacks in an attempt to repel the beast, entirely unaware that they were only feeding its strength.
“M-My apologies, Lady Rozemyne. This is all because I wanted a feystone...” Roderick said, forcing the words from his throat. I gritted my teeth. He was holding back frustrated tears, convinced that his desire to give me his name had caused this, but he hadn’t done anything wrong.
“I shall go,” I declared.
The moment I stood up, there came a clamor of voices.
“It’s too dangerous, Lady Rozemyne! You must leave this to the apprentice knights!” Roderick exclaimed. But no matter the danger, I couldn’t entrust this situation to apprentice guard knights who didn’t even know the God of Darkness’s prayer.
“I am the High Bishop,” I said. “Everyone is going to be in danger unless I teach them the prayer to obtain this blessing. Attendants, contact the professors. I leave the dormitory to you, Charlotte!”
I turned on a dime, pumped mana into my enhancement tools, and started running straight for the dormitory’s rear exit.
“Lady Rozemyne, please allow me to join you,” Hartmut said as he power walked next to me. “I have trained alongside the apprentice knights so that I may protect you as well. Perhaps I may be able to buy some time while those already in battle say the prayer.”
I looked up at him, and he gave me a reassuring nod. Philine, who was similarly running beside me, began to say the same, but I shot her down before she could even finish her sentence.
“You are staying here, Philine. You do not have much mana, so even if you can say the prayer, you will not be of much help.”
Cornelius spoke next, with a highly troubled expression. “Please just teach us the prayer and stay in the dorm as well, Lady Rozemyne.”
“The prayer is not short enough to be memorized so easily, and we do not have enough time for me to teach everyone. If you continue to complain, I will order you to stay here too!”
“But that would defeat the purpose of us going!”
“Then be quiet and hurry.” I glanced over at the apprentice knights who were power walking alongside me. “Can everyone produce their highbeasts while maintaining their schtappes?”
“Then do so and form your weapons.”
After seeing everyone take out their schtappes and morph them into weapons, I similarly turned my schtappe into a weapon—opting for a water gun—and then ordered them to repeat a prayer after me.
“O mighty and supreme God of Darkness, who rules the endless skies; O mighty Father who created the world and all things. Please hear my prayer and lend your divine strength; bless my weapon with the power to steal mana from the evil, all the mana which is yours by right; grant me your divine protection to purge the unnatural fey...”
We arrived at the back door, and Roderick, who had come with Philine, began pulling it open. I eyed that while continuing the prayer, and once outside, I used my free hand to touch my feystone and bring out my highbeast. Everyone else did the same and jumped on their own highbeasts.
“Grant ephemeral peace to the beings of the land.”
As I finished my prayer, our weapons flashed for a moment and were then engulfed in clouds of darkness. I climbed into my highbeast and turned around. There was Philine looking on with worry and Roderick biting into his lip, trying to keep the tears from streaming down his face.
“Roderick! Get in!” I shouted. “I would not want you to lose your feystone after all this has happened. I have resolved to accept your name!”
He was slow to answer, so Philine grabbed his hand and pulled him into my Pandabus. She forced him to sit down and then smiled. “Lady Rozemyne will never lose now that she has the Darkness blessing. Did you not say that you will obtain the feystone and serve by her side? Go and get your feystone, Roderick.”
I silently applauded Philine’s expert work at getting Roderick inside; now we could leave as soon as she got out. I turned away to get my seat belt on, and while I was distracted, I heard Roderick speak in an uneasy, pleading voice.
“Um, Roderick...” Philine replied. “If you do not let go, I cannot get out.”
I glanced in the rearview mirror to see that Roderick was still gripping Philine’s hand. She looked between him, the one keeping her in place, and me, the one who had ordered her to stay behind. It seemed that Roderick would feel more comfortable with company, and there was no harm in Philine riding with us.
“Philine,” I said, “could you show Roderick how to put on his seat belt?”
“Hm? May I come as well, then?” Philine asked, widening her eyes. I responded with a brisk nod; I didn’t want Roderick sitting alone in the back, worried. It was better that there be someone with him.
“Roderick is not yet formally my retainer. You are not a knight, Philine, but you must keep an eye on him. Do not allow him to leave my highbeast, no matter what.”
“Understood,” Philine replied. I could see in the rearview mirror that she was wearing a pleased smile as I started pouring mana into the steering wheel. This was going to be some dangerous one-handed driving, since I had a water gun in my other hand.
“E-Erm, Lady Rozemyne. I...”
“We’re off, Roderick!”
I interrupted Roderick, who was probably about to insist on getting out, and then took to the sky to catch up with Cornelius.