Drawing in a shaking breath, I stated, “Miss Mireia, I’m terribly cold, and I must return to that awful bath before I get even sicker. Please tell either His Highness or my attendants that the guards are not giving my maid and I any help with my unhealthy condition. Also, they are not feeding us. We have not eaten since yesterday.”
“What…?” She immediately looked over her shoulder at the head guard, who was apathetically reading over some random sheet of paper. Not the exam sheet. That was still in the basket.
I nodded when she returned her eyes to me. “They don’t seem to have passed any word for us either, so if you would do that for me, I and my ducal house would be quite grateful. If he still cares about me, then my fiancé should also be grateful.”
“If he still cares?” she asked. “Does he care about you or not?”
“It’s not that simple,” I answered, shaking my head. “Everything is out of order. If this were really one of those stories, then first I would get engaged, probably against Rod’s will, then you would meet him, then I would become jealous and abuse you, then you two would become a romantic couple, and finally he would throw me in prison while you two live happily ever after. Right?”
She nodded. My lips curled into a bitter smile. “My fiancé has been quite enthusiastic about being engaged to me, and when he visited me yesterday, he clearly still cared about me, but I was already in prison and I’ve never had any inclination to abuse you. Everything is happening in the wrong order. So I can’t say if or when he will throw me away and go to you, which is the proper end to these stories.”
Mireia nodded again. “I was thinking the same thing. It’s all scrambled up.”
“Do you recognized the story?” I asked. “I don’t. I just recognize all the clichés.”
I only read novels about transmigrating into them, so of course I don’t.
But she pursed her lips and shook her head. “I don’t. It’s just that everything look so standard. My childhood in this world is just like a tragic heroine backstory, and all these game-like events started happening, but I don’t know the story, and I can’t tell what’s going to happen next.”
I thought it over. We had no further information to give each other. Except…
Should I tell her the part about Fate magic? Being from another world, she might be able to believe it.
I wasn’t sure what good it would do, so I kept it to myself for now.
“At least, please have someone bring my maid something to eat,” I requested. “Genette is not even accused of any crime. She’s in here with me voluntarily.”
Mireia’s eyes lit, and she dug into the lunch basket hanging from her arm to extract a paper-wrapped sandwich. “I can give you this…”
She held it out, but the head guard saw, and called out, “Bring that over here. I’ll keep it until the supervisor says she can have it.”
Her eyes grew a little again. The corner of my mouth curled once more. “Miss Mireia, the way they’ve been acting all day, they’ll probably eat it themselves. I wouldn’t leave it with them, if I were you.”
She shook her head, her brows drawn up in a tight bunch, then went over to leave the sandwich at their desk anyway. Then she turned to me and curtseyed again.
“I shall speak to the student council for you, My Lady. And to your attendants.”
# # #
They didn’t eat Mireia’s sandwich, as it turned out.
They threw it into the trash.
She hadn’t been gone a half-hour when I saw the head guard just nonchalantly pick her sandwich up and toss it. It was a little astonishing how unconsciously he did it. Almost as if he wasn’t aware of what he was doing.
I was sitting on my rump in my tub of water, shivering, in order to continue soaking in as much mana as the small amount of contact would allow. Genette was taking a badly-needed break. She couldn’t just keep ladling water over me all day. I needed to get whatever I could, though, so I was doing it myself. I would soon be suffering worse than just skin problems. It was my entire body that was made partly of manifested mana, not just the surface, and the shortage had begun effecting me inside.
Originally, Genette had wanted me to sit with my back toward the outside and the guards, because she was concerned of the possibility of me losing my grip on my dress, but now she had me facing them. It seems they were leering too much at my bare back, despite the spreading psoriasis.
Fire and Water are opposite polarities. Aether is neutral, but Light opposes Darkness, Earth opposes Wind and Fire opposes Water. I couldn’t circulate Fire mana to warm myself without losing my Water mana faster as a result. So, I was circulating Light instead. But Light doesn’t warm the body as effectively as Fire. I was still shivering.
As long as I didn’t emit any mana, the countermeasures wouldn’t go off. I already knew I could do it because Melione was still doing her repetitive healing to regenerate Arken’s leg and Ceria was still helping out in Allia’s shop.They were causing mana to circulate frequently.
The situation was starting to give me paranoid thoughts. I had begun to wonder about Rod, and Amelia, too. The effect of the ‘Fate magic’ really had been quite dramatic, the way it twisted things at such unbelievable speed. It was almost as if I had tripped into an alternate version of this reality. The previous day at this time, I was still chatting in the royal lounge, so it wasn’t like I hadn’t seen them in ages, but I expected at least one of them to show up during lunch. Were they missing because this strange magic began affecting them too?
Was it affecting Mother and Uncle Owen, as well?
For the last several weeks, Tiana’s way of thinking had governed almost everything I did. It had become my way of thinking. But Tiana would loyally and obediently accept whatever the two masters of her world decided. What if they came to believe she was guilty and decided she should stay in a cell like this permanently?
That would be a death sentence. Unless it included a usable bath, a prison cell with anti-magic countermeasures would be as good as an execution chamber. I had never realized up until now what a serious vulnerability my nonhuman constitution posed.
As a result, my mostly dormant Robert side, that only emerged to notice girls now, began to reawaken because of this. If I was abandoned like in the stories, he would probably finally convince me to rebel against noble duty.
It isn’t your duty to die for people who abandon you, Tiana, he was insisting.
They haven’t abandoned me! Tiana was raging in response.
I still clung to that belief in the end, but doubts were gnawing at me. The effect of this magic so far had been awfully dramatic. And the fact that none of my three ‘siblings’ had visited me today didn’t help.
Genette had tried to beg some more hot water from the guards when they made tea for their lunch but this time she was ignored. Since our drinking water pitcher had also not been refilled, the only water left in the cell was my bath water. My dress had been soaking in it all day, and it was hardly potable anymore. But would we be forced to drink it anyway?
Such were the thoughts running around my mind when more visitors appeared, a couple hours after Mireia left. I hoped that it would be one of my foster siblings. But I was hungry enough to be relieved to see my maids entering, along with Mireia and Cord.
“Young Mistress! Why are you in such a state?” Esrene exclaimed, rushing to the cell as Mireia went to talk to the guards.
“Hey!” called the guard. Cord, to his credit, instantly spun to face them with a hand on the hilt of his sword. It wasn’t threatening, per se, but it was a silent suggestion to the guards they should proceed less rudely. A house knight is not a royal knight, but he serves nobility, and one has to be willing to take on the house he represents in order to oppose him. Perhaps facing one in reality made them wonder whether their superiors would back them up. Rather than interfere with my maids, the guards dealt with Mireia.
“It’s my naiad blood,” I replied to Esrene as Ferna joined her. She was carrying a large basket. “This is the best they’ll allow me, and it isn’t working well.”
It was written fairly plainly on the faces of my attendants that they had not yet fully grasped how critical my frequent baths were. Of course, they had only been told the other day when they started serving me. But Genette confirmed my story with a grave nod.
Mireia extracted a sheet of paper from her writing case and showed it to the guard. “I’m here to deliver this order from the student commander. You are to allow the delivery of food items by Pendor House directly to Lady Tiana and her maid without delay or interference, and arrange baths in accordance with her maid Genette’s specific directions.”
Mireia had gone all the way to the First Prince? I wondered how she had escalated it that quickly.
“Leave the food here and we’ll give it to her once we verify this,” he answered, looking over the paper.
She frowned, then turned to call to me. “Were you able to enjoy the sandwich I left earlier, My Lady?”
“Nope,” I answered. “They threw it in the trash.”
“Stop lying!” the head guard yelled. “It’s right…”
He stopped as he looked at its former position and saw it missing. Mireia walked around the desk and looked down, then stooped down and extracted the sandwich. She looked up from it to him with a cold stare.
To my amazement, his head whipped around and he barked at me, “You! How did you do that?!”
“How could I do it?” I retorted, my voice rising to a high pitch. “I’m locked up over here! Besides, I saw you throw it in there yourself!”
He seriously had not known what he was doing. That Fate magic was really something else.