My last year at the academy was surprisingly uneventful. While immersing myself in my own research, I exchanged information with seniors and professors in the research building. At the academy, I also took liberal arts.
I never saw Caroline.
My personal bodyguard, Mike, would always escort me. There were times when he took a detour, which I suspected was to avoid Caroline.
…I’m sorry for all the troubles!
Most likely, all of Rufus’ subordinates—including Mike—were astonished at me. After all, I couldn’t even handle a single female student.
Well, it can’t be helped, since it’s the truth…
During the summer vacation, I stayed with Rufus in the Stan territory once again. For the first time, I found a fossil of an animal, which appeared to be a shark’s tooth, and jumped in joy.
Since it was my first fossil, I’d like to keep it with me forever, but if I were to sell it, it’d surely fetch a high price.
For now, it’ll be my secret.
On the 10th day of my stay, I was summoned to Rufus’ room.
“Pia, you may sit down. Come over here, Mike.”
As I sat next to Rufus on the three-seater sofa, Mike carefully put something on the table, before uncovering it.
It was a trap made of wire mesh for small animals usually set up in the forest. Within the trap, several small rooms could be seen, each containing a white mouse.
“Pia, are you squeamish?”
“No, I’m fine, but…”
Where is he going with this?
Or, could they be Rufus’ pets?
“That’s great. I haven’t told you before, but Ms. Caroline contacted me before the holidays. It was kind of annoying. It was our first meeting, yet she wouldn’t stop acting overly familiar with me. Even though Pia still speaks formally to me…”
Oh, no, he has met Caroline…
Apparently, I’d have to say goodbye to my shark tooth, soon.
My fists clenched tightly as I tried to contain the surging anxiety. However, when I sneaked a glance towards Rufus, I noticed that his face was twitching.
…He seems truly annoyed by it.
Rufus was the kind of person who believed that there was courtesy even in an intimate relationship. Considering his cautious nature, it’d take him several years to open up to someone. As for why he acted familiar around me, it was probably because I was both his fiancée and childhood friend.
I honestly believed that it wouldn’t be the case for Caroline, but I was mistaken.
“—Then, after I had patiently listened to her, she said something along the line of, ‘Oh, right, doesn’t Rufus have a fiancée? Who is she? How strange, no one seems to know of her identity. Then, she probably is an unsociable person. How unbefitting! Want me to do something about it?’ Which was quite alarming, since I never mentioned anything about Pia. It’s as if she was targeting you. The bizarreness of the situation made Pia’s inexplicable prophecy even more credible. I’m glad I prohibited my surroundings from talking about Pia unless they’d informed me in advance.”
…Did Caroline also get reincarnated?
Since neither my face nor my name appeared in the game, Caroline must’ve had a difficult time figuring out who the villainous fiancée of Rufus was.
“Want to know my answer? I straight up told her, ‘Since I’m a narrow minded man, I want to monopolize my fiancée. As such, I’ll refrain from telling you.’ To which she responded with, ‘How weird, is the [Route] getting buggy?’ That disturbing line alone made me understand why Pia is creeped out by her.”
Even so, Rufus, is that gag order truly necessary?
Moreover, to Rufus, Caroline had already classified as a hazardous material… Well, that’d explain her bafflement.
“Afterwards, she told me, ‘You’ve been helping the sick Chancellor with his work, haven’t you? I really respect you for that!’”
…Someone had to give me credit for not screaming right then and then.
Soon after we enrolled in the academy, the chancellor—in other words, Rufus’ father—did fall ill for an unknown reason. Since then, Rufus had taken on the role of provisional Chancellor. Certainly, he had been filling his father’s shoes—
—However, that fact alone was top, national, secret.
After all, if the rumors of the ailing chancellor were to spread, there’d be those who’ll take advantage of the situation and create a domestic power struggle. Even my parents, a count family, wasn’t informed. The reason I knew was because I would sometimes help the marquess take care of Rufus’ father.
“How on earth—”
“—Fufufu, I bet you were about to ask how the information got leaked. I’m currently investigating that. Then, she expressed her sympathy, ‘To be entrusted with the kingdom as a chancellor, it must be difficult…’ However, when I asked her, ‘Tell me, what’s difficult about being a chancellor?’ Her only reply was, ‘Well, it has to be.’”
Rufus also disliked ‘know-it-alls.’ At the very least, she should’ve responded humbly and said, ‘I don’t know, I’m sorry!’ That way, Rufus would kindly teach her from scratch…
…Caroline is blowing one landmine after another that if she truly intends to win Rufus, she has to be worried.
“In the end, she told me, ‘Anyway, I hope that this will lessen your fatigue.’ And gave me this.”
Upon being handed a cute paper bag by Rufus, I nervously looked inside.
Rufus sat down next to me, took the paper bag, and laid it on the plate in front of him. I recognized them as the die-cut, plain cookies I had seen in my previous life. They had various shapes—heart, star, moon…
“…Is it delicious, at the very least?”
“Idiot! Did you forget how many times you repeated that the cookies are a key factor!?”
Uh, did my 10-years-old go too far? Rufus seems very upset…
“Besides, it’s only common sense not to eat something you received from a random stranger. Hey, Pia, you definitely shouldn’t eat it, either! Especially when you’re aware of my father’s predicament. In his case, I suspected it to be poison.”
Was the otome game this dark back then? Did the marquis truly get poisoned?
“Thus, I decided to experiment with these rats.”
Hence, these rats! I see, they’re test subjects…
“How wonderful of you, Lord Rufus! You attempted to find the scientific explanation behind the coercive power of otome games!”
“‘Oto’—what? What are you talking about?”
“—Tell me the result! Please tell me the result immediately!”
Rufus pointed to the mouses.
“From left to right, a mouse that only ate one cookie, then one who’s given a cookie every five days, one every two days, two days in a row with a single day gap. As for the one on the far right, it was given cookies every day.”
As they went to the right, the mice visibly became more restless. The mouse on the far right was even circling around in its own cage, while occasionally bumping into the fence.
Rufus slipped a cookie through the fence on the farthest right.
The mouse hissed instantly. After baring its claws and fangs, the mouse lunged for the cookie, before scarfing it down.
“…Is it addictive?”
“Looks like it. The mouse becomes so desperate for it, to the point it becomes violent.”
—Then, it’s like a drug.
“What do the experts say?”
“For the time being, I showed it to my doctor. At this point, the number of people I can show it to is limited. Probably, the more one consumes it, the worse the hallucinogenic symptoms become.”
“I see, the victim will begin to hallucinate…”
“Indeed, and they’ll unconsciously admire the person who gives them the delicious cookies.”
Rufus had a point. To an addict, the person who provided them with the substance must’ve looked like an angel. It wouldn’t be strange if they decided to obey that person.
“However, no existing poisons or drugs were detected.”
“In other words, the only evidence is the results of this experiment.”
Ooh, what a wonderful otome game—!
Apparently, all it took for an inexplicable concoction to be incorporated was the heroine.
…But mice and humans are different.
“Did anyone else eat the cookies?”
“His Highness the Crown Prince and several others have received them. Since the cookies will pass the poison test without any problem, I’m sure they’ll eventually eat them. Besides, the cookies are about the size of a mouse. …For the time being, after reporting the verification result to my father, I submitted it to the king under the name of the chancellor.”
“Is that so…”
With bloodshot eyes, the rat wolfed down the cookies. I was truly grateful that Rufus didn’t consume such a dreadful thing—I truly did, but…
“What’s wrong, Pia?”
I looked straight into Rufus’ eyes.
“…Lord Rufus, I have a request. It might sound unreasonable, but…”
“It’s alright, tell me?”
“I want you to create an alibi for Lady Amelia and all the other fiancées…”
“I see, it’s so that the fiancées of the men who’re infatuated with Ms. Caroline won’t be treated unfairly. Understandable. Let’s take steps to make sure that not only aren’t they alone, but also that they’re well-informed.”
“Thank you, Lord Rufus.”
Even if it was by no means a permanent solution, I still lowered my head in relief. As long as it was Rufus, I could rely on him.
“Then, I’d like you to reward me.”
Rufus showed a villainous smirk, to which I responded immediately.
“Of course! As long as it’s within my capability!”
However, in the next moment, Rufus drew closer to my ear and whispered—
“—I want your most precious thing.”
My… most important thing?
I tearfully held out the shark tooth fossil to Rufus.
“…Well, this is quite unexpected. More like, this isn’t what I—never mind… Without a shred of a doubt, this is Pia’s most precious belonging. Although, once we get married, it’ll eventually fall into my hands. I guess this will have to suffice.”
Huh? He doesn’t seem very happy… But it’s my most important treasure…
“No, nothing. Thank you, Pia. How kind of you.”
“…I’m, nowhere near kind. In Caroline’s actions, I’m sure that the ladies are grieving miserably. On the other hand, I got off easily…”
I bit my lower lip to the point that it bled.
“…Pia, you didn’t. For the past seven years, we’ve worked together to protect ourselves from getting dragged into that mess, right?”
“…That’s true, I guess.”
Before I knew it, both Mike and the mice had disappeared.
Rufus embraced me, ran his fingers through my black hair, before sealing my lips with his.
…Oh, no. Lord Rufus’ lips are stained with my blood!
“Stop biting your lip whenever you’re stressed. Instead, come find me.”
Thus, I became the recipient of a gentle and long kiss.