A young lady was dozing off in the morning sunlight, questioning her existence, alone. Her appearance was much like a typical fairy-tale witch, wearing a dress with a robe over it. With a pile of books surrounding her, no one will question her love of reading.
A simple notebook sat in the palm of the young lady’s hand, containing a list of new books to read. Its owner's name was written on its cover with a clean, confident line that said, “Alina.”
“... I must have dozed off.”
This year had been so kind for Alina. She didn't have to think about anything other than books anymore. As she got older, three things happened. Memories were the first things to go, and she can’t remember the other two.
She didn't know what was going on, and she had no idea who or what she has become other than a shut-in obsessed with books. But one thing never changed.
Alina was not normal. She belonged to a specialised class of individuals seeking forbidden knowledge—a mage. With or without her magic, Alina will always be a mage as long as her lust for learning remained.
She woke up earlier today and noticed her connection to the mortal world was as strong as ever. Great. She had no intention of returning to the void, at least until she finished devouring every book inside the Imperial Library.
The Imperial Library was a nexus of information. It contained a thousand years’ worth of knowledge known to humanity, being the most prominent academic and research centre in Heartland. Access was restricted; only those given authorisation by the Royal Family may enter.
“Good morning. My name is Deo. I oversee this library, Miss...”
“Just calls me Alina. I don’t do well with formalities.”
“The new Court Mage? I’ve heard so much about you. Keep up the good work.”
The circumstances leading Alina to become appointed as the Court Mage wasn’t complicated. The Empress will recover from her illness with or without Alina’s help. Everyone was just overreacting.
The Emperor was already suspicious of the last Court Mage. It was only a matter of time until she got arrested for draining the Empress’ spirit energy. Or for trying to expose the Emperor’s secrets. Whichever came first.
Villains, lovers, or heroes. Everyone has secrets. Even someone likes Alina. Just because she can’t think of it, doesn’t mean it didn’t exist.
Alina never visited the Imperial Capital of Heartland before. But when she did, she was offered the safest job in the empire. Talk about luck.
The Allfather must be compensating her for her awful past. The past she could hardly reminisce. Knowledge was power. Everything else was just noise. The splitting headache that would follow was not worth the trouble.
A wise doctor once said to stop doing something if it caused pain. Alina hadn’t found a reason to stop believing in that doctor who believed in her. Doctors are awesome. They decide who lived and died—a power once reserved for gods.
“Be certain to return the books you took from the library.”
Alina nodded. The dark-haired librarian seemed to take that as a sign to continue whatever he was doing in the shadows.
People are weird. Alina doesn’t like people when they weren’t easy to read like an open book.
A mage can tame lightning, cure plagues, and change the course of rivers. But their understanding of human nature was as limited as anyone who wasn’t a psychopath.
That was what a person who studied human behaviours were called, right? Alina should have checked her encyclopaedia more often.
“I’m glad you’re here, Alina. I was searching for you everywhere. I have a question only you can answer.”
Alina had sensed the intruder’s arrival before he announced his presence. But it was already too late. There was nowhere to hide. Alina didn’t usually care about her appearance. Unlike other women, she wasn’t concerned about her weight. This time, however...
She wished she was slimmer, so she could slip through the space between bookcases and remained there until the intruder went away.
That strategy would have worked wonders against another intruder. They would lose interest and leave. This one was different. This intruder was already used to people giving him what he wanted. He won’t leave until he was satisfied.
“What could I do for you, Your Highness?”
The intruder was none other than Prince Raimond. The Crown Prince’s identical twin, who was born a few seconds after his elder brother.
Prince Raimond was a young man with a well-defined feature. He had a sharp jaw and prominent cheekbones fitting for royalty. His hair was not too long, not too short. Not too straight nor too curly, but what made it so distinct is that they were snow-white in colour.
White hairs were the mark of nobility. Alina has the same hair colour by coincidence. It made people mistake her for a noble more than often. If women are born to be a queen, noblewomen are born to be a goddess; making people treat her with an excessive amount of respect.
“No more of that “Your Highness” nonsense. Everyone is equal. Call me Rai.”
A slow smile worked its way across the Prince’s face and into his brilliant blue eyes.
He continued to stare at Alina, waiting for a response. There was nothing improper about the Prince’s gaze. The expression on his face betrayed nothing. However, Alina knew better.
The Prince must be trying to sweet-talk her into romantically liking him. Again. Prince Raimond has a reputation for being amorous and a fondness for flirting with any attractive well-endowed woman he saw until he met Alina.
It was love at first sight. From that moment onwards, he stopped making an advance on anyone who wasn’t Alina.
“You said you had a question for me? Ask away.”
Alina has a bad feeling about this. She almost regretted responding, but the Prince won’t leave her alone otherwise. The Court Mage will try to pretend to be unconscious next time.
There was always next time.
“The Palace ran out of those sweet things made by bees. What was it called again?”
The Prince’s smile broadened. Then all was silent. Alina didn’t say anything. Her mind was too busy trying to process what had happened. The Prince has tricked her into calling him “honey.”
Alina’s expression remained unchanged, much to the Prince’s disappointment. A term of endearment spoken without emotion is meaningless. Alina didn't need emotions. It clouded the mind, turning people irrational. She discarded it a long time ago.
“Someday, I will make you feel emotions again. When that day comes, will you agree to become my wife?”