Preventing the Prince from bothering her was a waste of time. Concluded Alina. He visited her every day, reduced to wooing her with honeyed words: nothing but bait to hook the fish. Alina could not understand how anyone could fell for something like that.
Her efforts at keeping him away from her backfired. Every attempt she made were met with failure. Resistance was futile, especially when it only made him more interested in her. Love was scary. It made impossible things possible.
It was not like she is playing hard to get or anything. She might not understand love, but she read enough romance novels to know its symptom. People afflicted by love were known to do stupid things to be noticed by the recipient of their love, attracting their attention by inconveniencing them.
“Alina, help me! I’m dying!”
That was what Prince Raimond said as he barged into Alina’s room when she was in the middle of reading another romance novel. Alina spared a glance towards him, finding nothing unusual about his appearance. Could he be suffering from a curse?
“Are you okay? Hang in there. Where does it hurt?”
“My heart hurts! I’m dying to meet you!”
If Alina could still feel emotion, she would have felt something by now. It was called annoyance. Her headaches were worsening. She should find a way to solve this situation before it could give birth to more problems.
What if Prince Raimond remained single for the rest of his life just because he refused to marry someone else? Wait, that was not Alina’s problem. Her problem was the part where the Prince keeps pestering her with inane questions that made her unable to focus on reading. Or anything.
“I need more knowledge… I need more power.”
Was there anything stronger than love? The books told her it was the strongest emotion known to humankind, in direct opposition to hate. They were two sides of the same coin. In a sense that they made people unable to stop thinking of someone.
Alina doesn’t want the Prince to hate her. The result would be no different than when he loved her. But in reverse. Maybe she should consider making him cower in her presence. Fear was a strong motivator to make something happen. Or stop happening. However, fear could only do so much.
The Imperial Library's Restricted Sections was a perfect place to search for more possible answers to Alina’s dilemma. It was where uncensored books were kept in a triplicate amount. Because, why not? Love was a disease blighting the mind. Every disease has a cure. Prince Raimond won’t become a functioning member of high society if he can't stop thinking about Alina.
“Would you like a cup of coffee?”
A voice from the shadows stopped Alina in her tracks. It belonged to Lyudmila, the Restricted Sections’ librarian. A pale-skinned brunette with lime-green eyes who moved with the grace of a feline.
“Thanks, Mila. You’re a lifesaver.”
Alina wouldn’t be able to continue her quest for power if drinks weren’t allowed inside the Imperial Library. Her body was composed of at least 60% water. Merely losing 2% of it could cause her brain to lose alertness. She can't think clearly without it.
“Don't mention it.”
Lyudmila disappeared into the shadows as if swallowed by the darkness itself. Alina could recall Deo doing the same, must be a librarian thing. It was a mystery how the library’s management acquires its staff. Some mysteries were never meant to be solved.
“Here’s your order. It’s on the house. Careful, it’s hot,” the librarian then appeared before Alina with a steaming cup of coffee in her hand. Alina took it, ignoring its temperature.
Lyudmila watched in morbid curiosity as Alina’s lips touched the scalding liquid, expecting her to flinch. But nothing happened. She finished the coffee in one gulp. The heat didn’t bother her any slightest.
“Do you have some issues, Alina? You can talk to me if you have something on your mind. Maybe I could help.”
“I have to find a cure for Prince Raimond’s sickness.”
“He looks fine to me. What is this sickness you speak of?”
“It’s called love. How can it be cured?”
The librarian covered her mouth with her hands in... was it in surprise, pain, or shock? Alina could tell it was one of the above, but she wasn’t sure which one it was. That was why she was studying psychology.
“Cured? Perhaps it’s you who need a cure,” she sounded as if she was holding back a laugh. Alina didn't know what’s so funny about the situation.
“It’s keeping him from doing his princely duties.”
“Is that so? That’s normal. He would do everything in his power to avoid responsibility.”
Apparently, being born after his elder brother was the best thing that happened to Prince Raimond. Second only to meeting Alina. It made him free to do whatever he wished as long as it’s beyond reasons, without being burdened with tutors constantly drilling his head on how to rule an empire.
“I used to work as his governess. His Highness never finished his homework, so I stopped giving him any. Don’t worry. He is smarter than he looks. It’s just an act. He did it in purpose to make people underestimate him.”
“Wait, everything is just an act?”
“Always has been.”
Alina didn't care about what other people thought of her and did nothing about it. The Prince, on the other hand, cared about it enough to fake his incompetence. Being underestimated meant less expectation and more freedom.
She wished the Prince could drop the act whenever he is interacting with her. It made his presence more bearable. Assuming the act hadn’t turned him into an idiot for real. What a pity.
“On the scale of one to ten, how sure are you about that?”
“Eleven. I got bored, so I followed him around.”
To think that Prince Raimond had been fooling her all this time. Alina felt insulted. She always loathed liars—those who deluded themselves into thinking that the truth was inconsequential. Every mage served one master—the truth.
The now-empty cup started to crack. It shattered into small pieces that were beginning to float into the airs. Held together by a flash of light until it reassembled itself, forming its previous shape.
“Enough. You should rest. The exhaustion is getting to you.”
“You’re right. I’m sorry for the cup. It was an accident.”
“I’m always right.”
Prince Raimond got a lot of things to explain in their next meeting. Why couldn’t he be honest toward the woman he claimed to love? He must be mistaking physical attraction for love. Lovers were supposed to trust each other with their secrets.