The Imperial Palace, Emperatos.
Charlotte sat on a sofa in the Emperor’s office, dressed in court robes.
And opposite of Charlotte sat Bertus, who was also dressed in such a robe.
The two of them were waiting for the Emperor, so it was just the two of them in that spacious office at the moment.
They hadn’t gathered there because something big had happened. The Emperor would just call them to come to that place periodically. His purpose was to hear from his children how they were doing in Temple. Acting like any other parent, he was just checking on if his children were doing well.
Of course, the only little difference was that if those children weren’t under strict orders directly from the Emperor, one of them would have surely ended up dying or completely destroyed.
There was no conversation between them, as they weren’t exactly on good terms. If they made eye contact, only unpleasant things would leave their mouths.
However, there was one topic that wouldn’t cause any more hate between them.
“Reinhardt plans on setting up stores in every mana train station?”
To be precise, that topic was Reinhardt.
Bertus liked Reinhardt, even though he had a really dirty temper, as he still was someone who’d do whatever he had to do, and he’d actually showed quite a good performance during the group mission, and although he didn’t seem to have much ambition, he properly displayed his greed when he had to, that was why he liked him. In fact, Bertus actually helped him out and overlooked various things.
A good example would be that he overlooked that he’d got close to Charlotte de Gardias, who was in Class B and his direct competitor, as someone from Class A. Bertus actually didn’t say anything to Reinhardt about that matter.
In fact, both of them had tried hard to find Reinhardt in their own ways when he had disappeared.
Anyway, Reinhardt was a common point both Charlotte and Bertus shared.
Bertus had something to suggest to the Emperor that day, so he tried to shut up Charlotte before she could ruin it, telling her that it was Reinhardt who planned all that, not him.
The content of that suggestion was to set up shops in all the numerous mana train stations throughout the capital. The current train stations only contained facilities to carry out their function as stations, meaning boarding and departure points and ticket booths.
The history of mana trains wasn’t that long yet that people had thought about how they could use the empty space.
However, then Reinhardt came along, saying that he wanted to utilize it.
“To be precise, Reinhardt only made the suggestion, the actual owners would be the Rotary Gang.”
“Why are you helping him with that?”
Bertus grinned at Charlotte’s question about why he was helping Reinhardt.
“We’re going to share the profit. 90/10.”
“90%? You’re a bastard, you know?”
Charlotte was so sure that Bertus was such a bastard that she just casually believed him to do something like that.
Of course, he was a bastard—from Charlotte de Gardias’ standpoint, that is. Bertus slightly opened his mouth in disbelief.
“…Sister, I know you hate me quite a lot, but don’t that’s a bit much? How could I take 90%?”
“… Really? Isn’t that quite unexpected?”
“I know that I’m someone who lacks faith and trust, but I still have my business ethics.”
“Oh my, I’m surprised that you know that much, and even more surprised that you didn’t fix that part of you even though you know.”
“My dear sister, you aren’t much different from me, so why are you like this?”
It seemed that sparks were flying between them, as they were staring at each other.
“Anyway, this isn’t my business venture, it was Reinhardt’s proposal, so if it doesn’t pass through, it’ll be Reinhardt, not me, who will suffer, so I want you to give me a break and not uselessly cause problems.”
“Well, fine. It’s none of my business, but I didn’t know that you cared so much for Reinhardt.”
At Charlotte’s slightly sarcastic smile, Bertus took a sip from his tea, signaling that it was nothing big.
“My sister’s precious person is also precious to me, after all.”
These words seemed meaningless, but actually contained countless messages, some couldn’t even be recognized.
The precious person of one’s enemy was also precious to oneself.
The first and last precious in that phrase held two completely different meanings.
However, Charlotte’s expression was calm, even after hearing those words. Not even a single emotion could be read from Charlotte’s perfect poker face.
“So you think so as well?”
At Charlotte’s words declaring that she was just like him, Bertus smiled.
“What? So we value him only as each other’s precious person?”
“So what? What about it?”
Neither of them revealed how and why they were helping and caring for Reinhardt.
The only thing that remained was the result.
Reinhardt was basically stuck between Charlotte and Bertus. That might be favorable for him for the moment, but it wouldn’t be like that forever.
In a version of the world’s most dangerous tightrope walk, Reinhardt had to continuously look out for his own life
With that, the talk about Reinhardt came to an end. Once again, silence spread between Charlotte and Bertus for a long stretch of time. Those two didn’t talk with each other that much to begin with, and even if they did, they only had some veiled, pointed comments towards each other.
Charlotte was the first to break their long silence.
Her expression was obviously quite grim, and it was clear that she was about to force herself to say something she actually didn’t want to talk about.
“It greatly irks me that you are the only one I can ask about this, so let me ask you a question.”
“…If this is about the ongoing mining rights issue, I don’t have anything to say to you. You didn’t actually think I would answer if my competitor asked me about those things, right?”
That was all Charlotte could possibly ask him, so Bertus shot her down, as he had no intentions of telling her anything. Charlotte clicked her tongue and folded her arms to Bertus’s act of cutting her off like that.
“It’s not about that.”
“If it’s about the issue with the Merchants Guild, I keep telling you that they have nothing to do with me. Of course, if Reinhardt gets those business rights, I think I might get involved a bit, technically, it would be Reinhardt…”
“I’m pretty enough, right?”
At Charlotte’s unexpected, completely uncharacteristic question, Bertus’s thoughts froze for a moment.
Did I hear wrong? I heard wrong, right?
Bertus had clearly heard her question, but he came to the conclusion that he must have heard wrong because Charlotte couldn’t have asked something like that. There was no reason for her to ask him something like that.
Charlotte frowned as she looked at Bertus, who didn’t answer her even though he clearly heard what she’d asked.
“…Why are you silent? You should answer when people ask you something.”
“…Huh? What did you say again?”
Bertus eventually decided to confirm once again what her question was.
Charlotte sighed with her arms still crossed, seeming annoyed that she had to say such things herself.
“What I mean is, am I not attractive enough?”
“…Wh-what? Wh-what’s wrong with you all of a sudden?”
When he confirmed that he hadn’t misheard, Bertus turned ghostly pale.
What’s with her?
What is she trying to do this time?
Bertus was gripped by a serious type of fear he had never felt before in his life. His head was about to burst because of the unpredictable context and purpose Charlotte’s question held.
Bertus was actually terrified because Charlotte had suddenly made such an unpredictable move. Charlotte just frowned at Bertus’s sudden hesitant behavior.
“Are your ears clogged? Just tell me straight, I’m pretty enough, right?”
“Why… Just why would you ask me something like that?”
Bertus couldn’t figure out why his half-sister and competitor who he was fighting against was asking him if he thought that she was pretty or not.
“You’re the only one I can ask, okay? The maids, like parrots, would only spout rhetoric like, “You’re as radiant as the sun like always.” My people aren’t any different. As far as I know, you are the only person who would give me an honest answer to this question. It’s fine if you criticize me or mix in some malicious comments, so just say something.”
Charlotte obviously lived among people who, when asked for their opinion on something like that, would only give answers they thought she wanted to hear, regardless of the truth.
That was why she got the idea that she would be able to get a proper answer if she asked someone who hated her.
Bertus didn’t really know what that was about, but he could tell that Charlotte didn’t have some other kind of purpose by asking that question.
“Hmm… Sister. You’re attractive enough.”
“Well, I guess I was rig—”
“Among fish, that is.”
Bertus grinned with his arms folded.
“Sister, didn’t you know that your mug resembles a fish’s more than a human’s?”
Of course, that was just a malicious comment, but Bertus actually saw Charlotte’s face distort as she smiled bitterly.
“Mug? Did you just say mug?”
“It’ll be fine, sister. I’m sure there’s a good mate for you among the fish. Looking carefully, I do think your face looks pretty good in that case.”
“Are you done talking? Do you want me to kill you now?”
The more hateful the words coming out of Charlotte’s mouth were, the bigger Bertus’s grin grew.
“Hey, I answered your question honestly. That’s what I think, so what did I do wrong? Oh, and if you pull that face, your mug looks more like a deep sea fish than just a normal fish, you know?”
“Alright. Shut up. It’s my fault for asking you.”
Charlotte turned her eyes towards the window as if trying to distract herself.
Seeing Charlotte’s angry expression, Bertus grinned widely.
Of course, he wondered why his half-sister had suddenly asked him if she was attractive or not, but Bertus couldn’t figure out the reason.
* * *
Translator – KonnoAren
Proofreader – ilafy
* * *
Charlotte had returned from the Imperial Palace. The day before, she’d asked Bertus a rather worthless question, and it was obvious that no matter what she asked that guy, she would only receive malicious answers, but she still felt bad hearing them.
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It was such an unexpected insult that she felt like her face was about to explode.
It was rather hard to look at oneself objectively, but Charlotte really thought that she was definitely attractive. She even believed that it was a pretty modest assessment as well. She wasn’t like her maids who habitually called her things like the shining goddess of beauty.
She could tell just by looking at herself. Just a single glance in a mirror was enough to see that she was so lovely and beautiful that it was shocking.
I’m pretty enough, right?
I don’t know if my looks are the best there are, but I’m still sure that I look pretty good.
It was enough for her to have some faint, modest confidence in her looks.
And yet, Reinhardt, that guy, had jumped up, displeased at the prospects of marrying her?
She just thought of him as a good guy who helped her out quite a bit, but that scratched her pride quite a bit.
What was there to complain about, marrying someone like me who has money, power, ability, and beauty? Did he think that there was someone on this continent that had any better prospects than me?
Charlotte gradually started to get self-conscious about the fact there actually was someone out there who had better prospects and abilities than herself.
Who might that be?
I have never thought about it, but is there actually someone out there that is far beyond me?
Those things were not something she should worry about too much just because of some guy she didn’t even like in that way, but she couldn’t help but feel bad.
Charlotte believed that she was charming, no doubt, but for the first time in her life, she was contemplating her own existence.
That wasn’t all…
The Rotary Gang’s new project…
Mana trains were one of the most important technologies that were almost equivalent to warp gates inside the Imperial Captial. She agreed that setting up stores in the stations was a pretty good idea.
However, that wasn’t the problem.
Why did he ask Bertus and not me? I’m also the daughter of the Emperor, so he could have asked me to get his permission as well.
It wasn’t something only Bertus was capable of.
While they didn’t see each other every day and didn’t always get along that well, she still thought that their relationship was close enough that they could share secrets they wouldn’t be able with anyone else with each other.
However, he’d still consulted Bertus instead of herself for something as important as that.
Did Bertus seem more reliable and capable than her?
Obviously, Reinhardt did declare that he would stick to both her and Bertus, acting like a double agent, which Charlotte thought was ridiculous.
So he worked hard to look good to both Bertus and herself.
Bertus was in the same class, so he could talk to him easier and ask for favors like that—she understood that.
She understood it…
But she still got mad.
Why did he tell Bertus and not me?
Does he actually hate me?
When her thoughts reached that point, Charlotte stopped in her steps.
Charlotte couldn’t help but stand there in a daze as she was about to enter the Royal Class’ Dormitory.
Reinhardt might actually hate me.
She’d forced Reinhardt to accompany her in her search for that boy when she found out that he knew things that he shouldn’t have.
Reinhardt didn’t cooperate with her out of his own will, but he just obeyed her when she asked him to cooperate.
He only reluctantly worked for her because the lives of the Rotary Gang’s members were at stake to begin with.
He only acted because he had no other choice but to do her bidding, and in reality, he might have been reluctant to do those things. He might fear that if his secret got leaked or discovered he might disappear without anyone knowing.
No one would actually want to get to know something like that.
In the end, her own circumstances were just that, her own circumstances.
That was the first time Charlotte realized…
She had always only used Reinhardt. She’d never wondered how he felt about things or what his thoughts were and how much she was actually pressuring him.
She really felt grateful and thankful for his help, even though the tasks she made him do were always accompanied by such danger.
However, that was it.
Reinhardt sympathized with my situation, my plight, and my sorrow; that was why he was helping me. That was what I had always thought..
However, Reinhardt was actually reluctant to cooperate, crushed by the weight of her authority. He wasn’t actually worried about her at all. He might have only begrudgingly dealt with her as well.
She was so selfish.
Reinhardt might actually be more comfortable with Bertus than her.
—Because Bertus wouldn’t ask Reinhardt to do anything dangerous like her.
That was what Charlotte realized, leading to her standing there in a daze for quite a long time.
* * *
Charlotte headed to Class A’s dormitory without even knowing what she should tell Reinhardt. She felt like she had to apologize. But how? She had no idea what she should say.
I’m sorry for making you feel pressured.
I’m sorry for taking it for granted that you would take such risks.
You don’t have to do something like bring me letters anymore.
But how would she get in touch with the kid then?
Charlotte couldn’t even ask her own people to do those things. Those guys couldn’t even find any clues to the whereabouts of the boy while she’d immediately found a lead when she was investigating with Reinhardt.
Only Reinhardt knew that truth because she wanted as few people as possible to know about it.
However, Dyrus and her own people had already changed their perception of the boy.
They had judged that he might be the only lead to solve her condition, so they had stopped the search.
If she wanted Reinhardt to stop doing dangerous things, she would have to stop sending letters through him.
However, then the only link she had with the boy would be lost. She would forever be cut off from the feelings that got conveyed to her through the letters.
Only by continuing to use Reinhardt for her own selfish reasons could the link with the boy be kept alive. He had to continue to expose himself to all that pressure and danger.
I’m grateful to Reinhardt, but I don’t think it would be fair to him to make him keep doing this just for my gratitude.
What… What should I do?
This is something I really don’t want to lose.
However at that rate, she would have to keep sacrificing someone else’s safety for herself. She might even continue to sacrifice those who treated her with goodwill that actually came out of hostility, until one day they might truly get sacrificed.
Charlotte continued to head to Class A’s dormitory still not knowing what she should say.
The voice that had become more than familiar to her by then, was ringing in the hallway. She knew who it was, even though she couldn’t actually see his face.
-No seriously, hey. You idiot! Why should I do that?
-We’ve already decided! Hmpf! And even if you call me an idiot, I won’t feel mad at all? You know why? Because you’re even more pissed off, you know?
-I am not the president?! I’M NOT! No! I won’t! I won’t do it!
-…Ah, so this is how it feels, huh? I-I might get why you always tease me. What’s it called again? Tra, tra-something? Trading blows? I heard that’s what it’s called. Right, Mr. President? I’ll be in your care going forward.
-Aaaaaah! I’m really not doing it! Please, spare me!
-How could I, a mere member, make such a decision, Mr. President?
-I told you already that I won’t be the president!
What is this?
When Charlotte heard Reinhardt fighting with someone, she wondered whether her worries were rather stupid.
Was I mistaken…?
Was he not burdened by any of that?
He seems to be living a happy everyday life in Temple, feeling no pressure, nor tension, nor fear about anything, right?
-I beg you! Please! Anything but that. Hm? Give me something else to do. It’s a pain! You get it? A pain in the ass! I’m also busy, you know?!
-You said you’ll be in charge of the chores, so aren’t you supposed to do all the chores, including being the president? You promised, didn’t you?
-That’s not what I promised!
Charlotte somehow lost all her strength, letting her shoulders sink, trudging back to Class B’s dormitory.
However, Charlotte’s heavy heart didn’t grow lighter so quickly.
I’ve put this off for much too long.
It’s time that I make a decision on these things I had held back for such a long time.
I think I really need to organize my thoughts now.
That was what Charlotte thought.