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“You can speak casually. You didn’t speak like that in the past.”
Did it never occur to him that I might have been too young at the time to remember anything? I scratched my head and replied.
“I don’t remember.”
“I guess you really forgot everything.”
I felt an extremely tiny bit of pity for him, maybe as much as an ant’s tear. Theo had a point when he said that I might get hurt from my own wayward sense of compassion.
There were a lot of things about Stan that I didn’t like, but he had been pitifully and one-sidedly in love with me since we were young children. The way he expressed that love was just a bit twisted.
From his point of view, the object of his unchanging and unrequited love had suddenly become close to his political rival and half-brother, Alex, out of the blue.
Stan glared at me reproachfully, a myriad of emotions all jumbled up on his face. I’m sorry that I can’t accept your feelings, but I have my own circumstances too.
“So what did you want to talk about?”
“Why did you decide to enter the Imperial Palace?”
“It wasn’t because you wanted to become the Crown Princess, was it?”
I felt like I had been struck on the head. I guess it could look that way to other people.
The reasoning being something like… The ducal princess of Valentine, aiming for the position of future imperial princess, sold her sister to take a seat by the side of the Crown Prince.
It was a plot worthy of an extraordinary villainess. Since even Stan, who viewed me favorably, thought that way, it was highly likely that the other people on the Imperial Princess’ side did as well.
“I guess it depends on how you look at it.”
Rather than deliberately cutting his assumption down, I left my answer open to interpretation. Whether it was true or not, if I fed them some enticing bait, their side would end up pulling their hair out in frustration while trying to investigate what I was up to.
Why don’t you try cursing at me for being a villain? With the most malicious expression that I could make plastered on my face, I took a step closer to Stan.
“Think whatever you want. Isn’t it better to make use of the things at one’s disposal anyway?”
“How could that…?!”
It was hard to tell if I really looked as malicious as I could. I added some force to my glare, smiling wickedly. Stan’s face blanched.
“Isaac. We’re done talking.”
If that’s how you see me, then I have no choice but to treat you this way. No sooner I had spoken than Stan’s men, whom Isaac had called for already, came in and helped him up.
“Change the bedding.”
“Yes, Young Master.”
Meryl and some other maids replaced the sheets where Stan had been sitting. I ducked into Isaac’s arms with a look of fear on my face.
“Did something bad happen?”
“I was just a little scared.”
After I laid it on thick, Isaac ground his teeth while looking at Stan. This is punishment for recklessly saying whatever you want about me.
Now that I think about it, maybe it’s fitting to call me a villain. Whether he was internally cursing at me or not, Stan left without a word as I deliberately glared at him in order to intimidate him.
This really could turn into a hobby. If I got the chance to tease him again, I’d get in a proper blow.
After all, Princess Lotte’s faction and I were already such enemies that we couldn’t bear to live under the same sky. I decided to make preparations in advance so that I could trample on them no matter what they did.
* * *
“Did anything interesting happen while I was away?”
As my mom, who had returned belatedly, listened to stories of the past few days, she couldn’t help feeling a bit of regret.
“Theo returned holding Ciel in his arms and even though the Crown Prince was next to him, Theo seemed more like a prince.”
Sticking those two together paid off. This was the first time that Clara had praised Theo so much.
This seemed like a good sign. I squinted blearily at Clara and poked her in the ribs.
“Sister, jeeze. I’m sorry, but I think His Highness Alex is way cooler than Theo.”
Clara blushed shyly at my chiding. That’s right. Love grows little by little like that. As I excitedly egged her on, Clara, who hadn’t noticed anything, asked Mom about the funeral.
“Did anything happen when you went to the capital?”
“What could happen? Obviously nothing much.”
As the second son of the former marquis, the new marquis had previously had no connection to the title of marquis. Consequently, his wife, who had become the wife of a marquis overnight, expressed how completely overwhelmed she was throughout the funeral.
Her reaction was normal. My mom was the weird one for receiving a proposal of marriage from Duke Valentine without even blinking.
“So, let’s continue the conversation from before. What else happened?”
Maybe the funeral in the capital hadn’t been very interesting. Mom interrogated us about what happened while she was away.
A few days after the incident with the magic beasts, Alex grabbed Stan, whose leg had just barely healed up, and politely bade farewell to Theo.
“I’m truly sorry that Stan interrupted your holiday, Young Duke.”
“We are the ones who should sincerely apologize for offering you such a humble reception.”
They were both good at saying things that they didn’t mean. Well in any case, Stan’s attempt to get in our way failed yet again.
Stan was caught by Alex and dragged back to the capital without saying a word, perhaps due to an overwhelming sense of fear.
Dad showed up while I was listening intently to the conversation between Mom and Clara.
“I heard that you used some tremendous magic while your dad was away, my little princess?”
My dad, who had traveled a long way back, expressed an unexpected interest in the ‘regional heavy rain warning’ magic that I had used.
“Instead of attacking the magic beasts, I used magic that caused a deluge of rain.”
It isn’t pleasant to see blood. I just hadn’t wanted my dreams to turn violent.
“Our little Ciel is so kind. You’re truly commendable, just as my daughter should be.”
Unlike Theo, Dad praised me as he stroked my hair. I was extremely thankful for my dad, who was willing to just let it pass when I didn’t tell him every single little detail.
“Father, I want to take lessons from you too. I took some from Theo, but he just did weird things and I really thought I was going to die!”
Louis, who hadn’t played an active role in any of the events because he fainted, burst out angrily as soon as he saw Dad.
“You didn’t like the special training?”
“This isn’t fair. Everyone only likes Ciel.”
Even though Louis and I really weren’t treated that differently, his lower lip was jutting out sulkily, so Dad took his hand.
“Louis. I love you, my little Louis.”
“Y-you’re lying. You only like Ciel, right?”
“Of course not. If you really want some lessons, then it can’t be helped.”
A moment of silence for the troublemaker who stepped onto the express train to Hell with his own two feet.
Dad flew over Lake Nescal with me and Louis in his arms.
“Look at that!”
The water level of the lake had been halved. Fish were conspicuously visible beneath the clear water.
“Even with magic, it’s impossible to create something from nothing. All power requires a price.”
I had wondered where all of the water that my magic used had come from. I hadn’t known this would happen because of the pouring rain. Dad left the two of us floating in the air and gently waved a finger.
“The lake is filling back up with water!”
I didn’t really understand the principles behind it, but the lake filled up again as if the water, which had turned into rain and flowed away, had returned.
“Remember this flow well. If you reach this stage, then you might become an even more splendid mage than I am.
No way. I couldn’t comprehend anything. My dad, who could easily draw out this virtually miraculous scene, truly deserved the title of the strongest archmage on the continent.
Still, since my amazing Dad was the one saying it, maybe I could be a bit hopeful about my future? His compliment made me feel proud of myself.
“Yeah. When I grow up, I’ll be a splendid mage like Dad.”
“That’s very commendable.”
“Father! Don’t just pay attention to Ciel and teach me something too!”
Louis, who lacked sense, was unaware that he was digging his own grave as he prodded our father.
“Well then… Ciel, would you like to go back first?”
“Yes, Dad. Louis, stay strong.”
He came here to die of his own volition, so I should pray for his soul. Unaware of the tragedy that was about to befall him, Louis gave me a push on the back and told me to go back quickly with a smug look on his face.
After some practice, I flew into the sky with ease and returned to the mansion.
“Ciel. Welcome back.”
Isaac looked extremely cheerful. Maybe it was because Stan, who was like a thorn in his side, had disappeared.
“My dear daughter, how was your magic lesson? Did you study hard?”
“Mom. I missed you!”
Relieved to have one less worry, I sat down next to my mom and looked over to see what they were doing. Isaac was teaching Clara some self-defense techniques as per our earlier plan.
“Let’s say a pervert approaches you from behind like this…”
“I know. Strike his arms back like this and then stomp down hard on his foot, right?
“That’s right. A little harder. You have to stomp as hard as you can.
With neither blood nor tears, Isaac’s teaching style was excellent.  I observed Clara’s practice session while munching on a sandwich that Meryl had brought me.
I wonder how much time has passed…
“What the heck is this?!”
Off in the distance I could see Louis’ body soaring high in the sky just as I had a few days ago.
He really should have listened while Theo was teaching him kindly. Father’s spartan lessons were completely devoid of mercy.
“Louis is an idiot. After all, he’s not even entering the palace, so there’s no need to rush.”
I was going to enter the palace right after we returned to the capital, so I needed to take one-on-one lessons from Dad now. Why was he going out of his way to suffer before he had to?
Louis’ screams resounded through the forest.
As expected, our little troublemaker Louis was an idiot who only knew one thing and didn’t know two. 
- ‘Without blood or tears’ refers to someone being merciless or heartless.
- An expression meaning you only focus on one aspect of something and miss the entirety of the situation. (In other words, Louis was only concerned about not getting the lessons that Ciel was getting and completely missed the fact that the lessons themselves were hellish.)