I was smitten. When I arrived I had no expectations. I thought the fiancee chosen for me would be some generic, boring Noble girl who'd have no interesting qualities at all. Even though I knew whose daughter she was I still didn't think she's be all that great. In fact I thought she's be as haughty and selfish as all the others I'd ran into up to now.
Not only that, there was another more pressing reason why I didn't want to see her and was greatly worried after hearing about this engagement. A giant reason that scared me witless
But as soon as those doors opened all those prejudices and worries went away.
Large blue eyes that glittered with gem-like brilliance and a face that was as small and delicate as a porcelain doll...
What an adorable girl! There was no way this angel could anything like those other girls!
It was love at first sight, and with, bias.
"Prince Alexander, welcome."
The first person I noticed was obviously the master of the house, Marquis Claybrook.
He was a man of considerable height and presence, standing tall and proud like an iron pillar. His face was no longer young but neither was it old.
I studied him curiously.
So this is the man my father held in such high regard. I had to say, I understood why.
Taking up his own father's position at 19 and winning back a large swath of land from the Gaul Kindom's invading forces in just two years, killing several enemy commanders in the process. Winning countless victories through sheer military might one after another...
Mounting an exploratory expidition into the Dry Lands at 24, creating good relations between our Kingdom and the powerful gold-skinned Aeil warriors who made that gods-forsaken place their home.
Expanding our Kingdom's borders to the sea and later plundering a water dragon's hoard merely half a year later, destroying a fleet of wanted pirates in one fell swoop which in turn landed us an island fortress now used as a trading hub by dozens of nations.
Not only that but being the one behind the the Four-Way Alliance and quietly retiring before the age of 30.
The man was a legend!
And as the person who alone controlled two-sixths of our kingdom's armed forces he was deserving of respect even if he wasn't so renowned.
I felt small in front of such a figure. Even my own father lacked this man's kind of bearing, as if he was looking down at you from above.
The words he spoke just now were even and precise. A low, smooth timbre resonating with power.
I struggled to control myself. This man was my idol!
I smiled humbly. "Thank you for having me, Lord Claybrook. I know my plans for arrival came so unexpectedly, I'm sorry if I inconvenienced you."
I did my best to keep my own voice as calm as he had. As a Prince it was only right that I maintain a elegant and courteous disposition under any circumstance.
That disposition was thoroughy hammered into my very bones since childhood.
The Marquis' next words destroyed that lifetime of training almost immediately.
"Not at all. You being so eager to meet this daughter of mine is a good sign, I expect equally good things to come of it. In fact you've arrived at a perfect time, my son almost missed the chance to meet you."
My face paled.
Son? That....that could only mean....
Oh my gods, that monster was here?!?!
The Marquis waved someone over.
" I don't believe you two have ever met."
For good reason!
Unfortunately it was only now that I noticed he was here. The Marquis had been standing directly in front of him as he walked to greet me and most of my attention was focused on Lady Dahlia so I didn't even glance at the other people in the room.
But if I knew that guy'd be here I never would've come! He was the reason I hated this engagement before coming here! The reason I suffered hair loss in the short time I'd known!
The boy who came looked a year or two older than me. He had the same lustrous, chocolately hair as his mother but unlike the rest of his family his eyes were amethysts rather than sapphires.
The Purple-eyed Devil...
I was always a bit taller than most boys my age and I knew he couldn't have been more than two years older than me at the most. Despite this he was still nearly a head and a half higher and as he walked towards me I couldn't help want to take a step back.
If his father was my idol, then he was my nightmare.
The stories I'd heard of him were enough to make me faint!
The times he ventured out and mingled with the other Noble children he either left a good impression or a lasting bad one. Often the latter.
I knew why too: He sowed chaos everywhere he went.
He was the boy who beat up the young master of the Wilkens family just because the boy had bumped into him and made him drop his strawberry on the floor!
He was the boy who set fire to a wine bottle and threw it at a pack of wild wolves who were disturbing his picnic time, then captured their leader and beat it into submission! It became his pet!
He was the boy who sent a spiked club to Baron Connally's castle during winter and told him he'd never sit right again if he didn't recieve the man's prize pony he took a liking to some time back!
Not to mention what he did during the tri-annual tournament three months ago, making all of his opponents lick his feet and dance like monkeys when he won, not even letting them forfeit the match! Many of them were veteran fighters or children of status, when did they ever face such a disgrace?!
That wasn't even the worst of it! I remember being told that one time some servant had mistaken him as a beggar during a banquet because his clothes had become all burnt and raggedy--a story for another time--and grabbed him by the collar to drag him out. This angered the boy so greatly he took his pet wolf, pulled off the servant's pants and threatened to have the wolf XOXO him to death! The servant was left quite traumatized.
This boy had been the subject of so many terrifying stories, why would I want to meet a guy like him? And because of his father no one said anything about his insane actions! In fact it was all kept quiet, the incidents spoken of only in hushed whispers.
It's even said that he likes to send a group of bandits out to harrass people whenever the whim takes him. In fact many say his group of rogues have already swallowed up a large portion of immagrants from the surrounding nations and have swelled up to a staggering number.
They've supposedly created their own city at the edge of the kingdom! Or so it's said. And they all worship Damien with cult-like enthusiasm, offering up virgins and other precious gifts to their Vile Lord!
He was a demon, a real demon!
This boy not only held the enmity of nearly a quarter of all the Noble Young Masters in the kingdom, many have also long since joined the "Day's Ruin Alliance." A club formed with nothing in mind but to bring him to his knees. It was an association that met little but defeat since it's founding. One I was too scared to join even when the offer arrived.
I specifically came at this time because I knew he'd be on his way towards Lord Kane's territory by now, why was he still here?!
But I still kept my composure.
I forced myself to calm down even as he walked towards me. The thump of boots on hard floors rang throughout the room, slow and eerie.
No, stay back!
I felt like crying.
"Prince Alexander, a pleasure to meet you." The older boy's refreshing face came into close view. His expressionless face was terrifying! His eyes, however, were smiling.
It was the smile of a monster eyeing it's prey!
His entire body exuded a dark aura of sadism and death!
I couldn't move. Otherwise I would have long since ran away.
"The same, I feel exactly the same way, Lord Damien! It's an honor to meet your Venerable Self!" My voice broke and I stiffened up like a piece of wood. I was even more respectful than I had been with his father.
As the son of a Marquis who guarded our land's borders, who knew what his childhood was like?
He'd probably learned to hold a sword the very day he learned to walk. W-What if he asked me to a duel because I answered too slow, or too casually?
I was only 12! I still wanted to live! I had so much left to do! Great Young Master, please spare my poor little life!
I almost felt compelled to beg him for my right to continue living. But he'd taken Lady Dahlia along with him, so I held my ground and tried to look as friendly as I possibly could.
Lady Dahlia, I barely know you, and you barely know me...but at least let me show you that your future man is no coward. Um, given our engagement you'll stop him from killing me...right?
Damien made a small bow. "Your enthusiasm is unneeded, my Prince. Speaking so formally is tiring, do be at easy. I won't bite." He chuckled light-heartedly but I knew it for the act it was. If I didn't speak at least that respectfully I might have become a target for whatever torture this sick bastard thought up!
"It's an honor to meet you, Prince." Was all he finished with.
A cold shiver ran down my back. I was full of both fear and relief.
The latter didn't last long. I saw his eyes move to Charlotte's pretty, heart-like face.
No. It couldn't be...
Was he aiming for her? I'd heard he was very welcoming toward women, especially pretty young wives. A tried and true playboy who messed with girls' hearts as if they were toys.
The young Lady Corianna from the Alcott family, for instance, was completely ruined by him! She was so lovesick that she'd refused to eat anything for three days! Or so I hear.
And there was also that fiery Lady Yesmina, a child of a large merchant family from the Dry Lands who had once attended a party young master Damien was taken to by his father. It's said she sent him love letters every other week! Or so I hear.
A very young and prodigious ladykiller.
Of course these were just stories I'd heard and couldn't verify myself. I could only pray that he was not as rumours stated, and that Lottie hadn't caught his eye.
Don't be fooled, Lottie! He has a pretty face but an evil heart!
You mustn't fall for any of his tricks!
"And an extra pleasant surprise to meet you, Princess. I wasn't aware that you'd be joining us." Without any warning, and to everyone's apparent astonishment judging from his parents' faces, the boy's arm moved forward and brought Lottie's hand to his lips for a kiss.
Upon being on the recieving end of such an attack Charlotte's eyes instantly went wide. But I wasn't sure of her thoughts about the matter. I just raised a brow, knowing that usually no one dared even approach her let alone do as he did.
But this was the infamous Black Day we were talking about so maybe it shouldn't be so surprising.
And she said nothing about it either, so there wasn't a need to grow upset. Rather, the boy's courage was admirable.
But this one action confirmed everything for me. He was a damn playboy alright! Ah, Lottie, don't do it! Let not his words confuse you!
"Lord Damien..." She to say, her voice even, no one except me knowing that it held a hint of shyness.
The youth's smile(?) grew wry. "Please, call me Day. After all we'll be family, best get used to it now. That said, allow me to rectify my previous greeting: It's a pleasure to hold your company today... sister-in-law."
S-S-Sister-in-law? You bastard, do you have to be so underhanded in your seductions? Using such a method to become closer, how sly! She's not your in-law yet!
For a moment I thought I saw a faint pink rising in her cheeks but I couldn't be certain. Lottie, why? Are looks that important to you? Can't you feel the bandit-like presence he gives out?
It was then that Lady Dahlia spoke for the first time.
"It's alright, Princess. Day doesn't mean anything by it, he just has a few bad habits. He isn't interested in children, you know? Big bro only likes matured women, see? This big bro is no lolicon." Her voice was soft as bird's feather.
A few? A FEW?!
Lady Dahlia, you're too pure. Naive. Your brother is called a walking disaster, understand?
Her words sounded weird?....First off, why did is seem like she was just repeating something she'd heard before? And what's a lolicon?
But that aside, your ignorance is cute too.
This thought crumbled in the next moment.
"Don't misunderstand." The little girl continued. "You aren't special to him. I'm sorry if you hoped otherwise but he really is just an airhead who doesn't understand or care about a girl's delicate heart and only thinks about mature women like Mother or Miss Rosemary. Simply put, he's spoiled goods." Suddenly the girl seemed to become much bolder, no longer hiding behind her brother's back. " I implore you to not get any strange ideas, otherwise you'll just be disappointed. At least wait a few years to see how you develop before even thinking about any schemes, okay? Oh, and don't take the sister-in-law thing to heart either. I've no interest in being family with you. Thanks." She smiled with pure, angelic innocence. Then whispered to a girl that'd came alongside next to her. "How was that? Did I do well, Vee?"
Just then someone had came up and rapped her on the head.
"Dahlia, dear, that's enough. You're being rude to our guests."
It was the mother, Muriel Claybrook.
I nearly stopped breathing. Ah, I'd heard she was beautiful but seeing her here in person was a bit overwhelming.
Her long, silky hair fell in smooth waves down her back and her soft blue eyes threatened to drown you in their depths.
I was always curious about this woman.
She'd just shown up with the Marquis one day and claimed to be his wife. That time she was already pregnant with Damien and the situation caused an uproar. An unknown person suddenly marrying into a powerful and old family like the Claybrooks?
The Marquis had been questioned and heavily criticised but he never gave up anything about her identity.
The only conclusion people could draw was that she was a strong witch, and that was based off of how well the Claybrook Estate had flourished since her arrival.
The family had many properties and owned many lands but its ancestral home, this Estate, had always been less than desirable. None were able to turn the dry land into anything useable or scenic. Until a few years ago it was little but a few patches of green and dead trees. Even a lot of the streams dried up.
But that changed when Lady Muriel came. She had somehow brought life and vitality to a place that previously had too little of either to spare.
Emerald green grass popped up, flowers bloomed almost year-round. The trees became tall and mighty. Crystal clear waters sprang up from the earth to create springs of every shape and form. The animals of surrounding areas naturally flocked to the land as new homes were created.
It became a lush paradise filled with every kind of beauty. Even many medicinal herbs could now be found within these once sparse lands, another reason why it was now highly valued.
This, too, caused a huge commotion as Nobles and Kings alike rushed to entice this mysterious young woman to their own lands in hopes of receiving the same blessings. And not a few suitors wishing to steal away the rare beauty had also made their way, offering cool smiles and subtle invitations.
None of them succeeded. She never once admitted to being the cause of this monumental change and had also never lost her calm no matter what methods were used to tempt her.
But it was strange, looking at her now was a bit of a disappointment. Despite her great beauty I found nothing out of the ordinary.
I was quite sensitive to mana, I could feel the flow of it all around me at any given time. It's minute fluctuations.
Yet her? She was no different from any regular commoner. The waves of mana passed her by without care.
It was the first I've seen of this but I took it to mean she was truly the epitome of averageness, for even those entirely inept at mana manipulation would have some sort of faint ability to warp the streams of energy around their bodies just due to their own mana remaining uncontrolled.
Lady Muriel, on the other hand, did not. Could she be one of those with rare consitutions my father had once mentioned?
Perhaps she is truly devoid of mana, or maybe she manipulates the space between mana to create new waves within the sea of energy flowing around us.
Such things were not unheard of. The first was evidence of a time when man had been incapable of infusing mana within their bodies. The latter was a primal form of mana manipulation more akin to how the other races might use it.
But no. Rather it seemed more like the mana flow was avoiding her on purpose? Strange, quite strange.
Whatever the case, it was weird. I even felt discomfort in her presence now that I was aware of her.
As I was lost in my own thoughts, Damien spoke once more.
"Please excuse my sister, Alex." He turned back to me. I held back a frown. By talking to me so casually he must be trying to establish a sense of familiarity between us.
What was he playing at?
First he encourages Lottie to call him by a nickname, subtly starting to break any distance and formality between them, now he does the same with me by saying my name as only those who were close friends or family would.
I was impressed. Not many had that sort of understanding of people, to know how to begin establishing a rapport on the first meeting.
It was utterly horrifying. I in no way wanted to be closer to this guy.
"She's not quite used to handling new people." New people, not strangers. He was mindful of his words, I'll give him that.
I saw his eyes flicker towards Charlotte for just an instant. "You as well, I hope you take no offense at her words. She may seem foul-mouthed and temperamental but she's really a good girl and I hope we can all be friends."
He was too good.
Then, without even turning his face to talk to them directly, he said, "Father, mother, I know you must be eager to welcome our guests but the trip from the Capital has to have tired them out. We should allow them some rest instead of troubling them with empty pleasantries."
The both of them had odd looks on their faces, like they were eyeing some strange creature. What on earth happened to their son, their eyes were asking.
The Marquis' wife, who lacked much presence up to now, nodded. Her smile was radiant and enchanting, it was easy to see where Lady Dahlia got her beauty from.
"As the eldest I trust you to take good care of them, son. Go ahead and have some fun."
Was it just me or was there a strange twinkle in her eye as she said that?
The Marquis agreed as well. " I've things to take care of so I couldn't stay long in any case. Adults also shouldn't meddle in the affairs of children." Is that what you said when your son was terrorizing all those poor boys? I know you're a hero, but please, keep your son on a tighter leash!
"Show them to the parlor for some refreshments."
Before I could say anything else Damien had already started ushering us.
I noticed how he positioned his sister to my side before she knew it, and how he took a place by Lottie's own side as he did so, gently nudging the small of her back forward in the direction he desired at the same time. The two girls were placed in the middle, with us to either side of them.
As for the other little girl, the green-haired one, she followed closely behind us.
I felt myself a bit in awe of how he took control of the party so easily.
Not only this, but he also explained the various artwork and their history while we walked, spinning tales of epic romances turned to tragedy or spoke of the comedic inspirational origin of some piece or another.
Just like that he completely dominated the flow of the conversation and kept the atmosphere light. He engaged us, made us laugh or smile and didn't allow us as guests to feel left out. I was looking at Lady Dahlia most of the time though..
To think such a pretty girl existed in this world, wasn't this simply the gods showing blatant favoritism?
Damien didn't seem to mind my quietness. It was only when he caught me glancing at Lady Dahlia that he truly gave me any attention.
He spoke into the green-haired girl's ear and with a strained expression she led Dolly and Lottie further ahead, leaving the three boys behind.
My pulse quickened to a mile a minute. Someone help me!
"My sister's cute, eh?" Damien began.
I missed a step and nearly fell.
"W-What?" I stammered. Damn, my image as a proud prince was coming to ruin!
Damien's smiling, mask-like face was brought closer as he pulled pulled me under his shoulder. For anyone else looking it would appear like two good friends walking together.
"I said she's cute, isn't she?"
"Uh, er, yes, Lady Dahlia is very--"
"Yup, she's just the cutest, is she not? You lucky dog, you struck gold...isn't that right?"
I wasn't sure what was going on.
"Hey bro, you'll take care of that sister of mine, won't you?"
"Um, I don't..."
He kept ahold of that chilling smile
"Of course you will, what am I saying. And obviously you wouldn't ever cheat on her with that slutty blonde haired bitch. No, no, you wouldn't do that. Because you know the price of cheating, don't you?"
I felt my back sweat.
"C-Cheat...?! O-Of course not! Uh, but what blonde haired girl are you--?"
"Good, good!" He patted my back heartily. "Cause if you ever did I'll snap it off, you know?" A laugh.
I waited for him to have the decency to at least say, "Just kidding~" even if he wasn't. But it never came.
As we walked a pair of empty eyes looked out the windows to see a bright, multi-colored paradise. The sun was so beautiful and the flowers so vibrant.
Outside I saw that a butterfly had just become caught in the web of a spider. It struggled helplessly.
Ah, I thought.
I know your pain.