“Mr. Watanabe, wake up.” A familiar voice called out to me, repeating the command when I didn’t respond. It was Helena, and each of her calls were like a crane stubbornly attempting to lift me from the depths of darkness.
I groaned, shutting my eyes tighter. I knew it was a losing battle, but I was willing to fight for every millisecond more of sleep that I could get.
“Mr. Watanabe you need to get up. The Princess would like you to meet her in the garden for breakfast.”
“So be it.”
The cursed sound of curtains being yanked open assaulted my ears, and a hellish light pierced my eyelids as if they were made of paper.
“All right, all right, I’m up! Just shut those curtains!” I cried, sitting up and shielding my frying eyes with my hands.
“I’m sorry but I’m afraid I can’t do that. The Princess wants you right now. Please get up and get dressed. I will return in five minutes to retrieve you again.”
I said nothing as the faithful servant of the royal family took her leave. Once she was gone, I raked my fingertips across my face which stretched along the trail my digits traced.
It was hard to believe so much had occurred in a single evening. From the worst dinner of my life, to being violently attacked outside the casino I had just illegally gambled inside of. The night ended with a dreamless sleep, but not enough of it.
I eyed my phone which was still powered off. I didn’t dare to change that fact, as I knew full well that I likely had well over a thousand hysterical messages from my parents and Mizuki waiting for me. I would surely pay for it later, but they would have to wait a little longer to hear from me.
I dragged my heavy body out of bed and slipped into autopilot. With my permission, my brain drifted into a thoughtless lull as my body performed all the functions of hygiene in the room’s fancy bathroom. The wires in my skull were thoroughly frayed and sparking, the last thing I wanted to do was damage them any further before my meeting with Cynthia.
As promised, Helena came knocking on
the door in a short five minutes, and I assured her I was almost ready.
After another three minutes, I was. And with a needless escort at my
side, I made my way to the garden where Cynthia was sat at a table
stocked with food, not unlike the first time we had shared a meal there.
“I’d say good morning, but it isn’t,” Cynthia remarked, sipping tea.
I sat across from the blonde and agreed. “Is it ever?”
“Let’s cut right to the point, Shinsuke. While you were asleep, I called Eva.”
“Last night, of course. You have a month to prepare for this fight, and that scrap you got into last night proves you aren’t ready. Not even close. You’re going to lose at this rate.”
My fingers found my temples and massaged them wearily. “So, what? You asked her to work me even harder than she already is?”
“Yes,” Cynthia confirmed. “And I called in a favor from her as well.”
I shot her a confused glance and she continued speaking. “By now, you already know that we’re on our own in this. I can help you with my own resources, but my parents will surely intervene and override anything I do to aid you that involves the benefits of my lineage beyond my individual status.”
“Which means I had an idea, but I couldn’t be the one to execute it. We need all the time we can get, and school is clearly interfering with your ability to train.”
“What did you do?” I asked.
“As a prodigy, Eva has the luxury of attending any school she wants. Her academic standing and her favored status by the Steylian Royal Army mean that she can get almost anything she wants if she asks for it from your school. They wouldn’t want her to leave and attend another institution, after all.”
I knew quite well that Eva had a remarkable level of clout when she had my detention thrown out like it was nothing. She was clearly more connected and powerful than she let on.
“So,” Cynthia proceeded. “I asked her to have your absence from classes forgiven for the month until the fight is over.”
“Seriously? And she agreed?”
“Of course. She understands how serious this is. For the remainder of the month, you will be training with Eva daily. No more school to interrupt your progress.”
While I wasn’t about to mourn the loss of attending school, I couldn’t help but feel my body tense at Cynthia’s nonchalance. It’s a difficult sensation to explain, but the feeling of being trapped and controlled by others makes the body quite antsy, and I found myself bouncing my leg irritably.
From the moment I pulled Cynthia and her driver from the burning wreck, I had lost any and all autonomy. Even if I didn’t care about missing a month of school, the mere fact that it wasn’t my decision to abstain from attending my classes added to the feeling that I was more marionette than human.
“I love the way you ask me about these things,” I remarked. Cynthia rolled her green eyes and sipped her tea once more.
“This is more important than your childish complaining and you know it. Now stop whining and eat already. As soon as we’re done here, I’m dropping you off back in Valport so you can begin your training immediately. I’ve already informed Eva to expect us.”
The both of us went quiet, allowing the sounds of the elegant garden to fill the air. I was more than a little hungry, so I appreciated the opportunity to focus on filling my stomach with biscuits and fruit. But the circumstances weren’t particularly jovial for such a beautiful setting and accompanying meal.
It didn’t take long for Cynthia to finish her meal since she had a head start on me. She placed her fork and knife upon her plate and set it aside. She released a sigh that caught my attention and began to speak.
“I promised you that I would be with you through all of this, but I wasn’t with you when you were attacked last night. I’m sorry for that,” Cynthia admitted. “I meant it when I said we were in this together, but I could understand if you believed differently after last night.”
I nearly choked on a grape when my brain processed her words. It wasn’t the first time I had seen the humble side of the princess, but it was still rare and quite out of character. At least, it was for the girl I was used to interacting with, anyway.
“It wasn’t your fault,” I clarified. “I chose to go alone with Eli last night and you were against it. Even if you did come along, I probably would have been attacked the minute I was alone anyway.”
Cynthia looked relieved by my reply and eyed her empty plate quietly.
“The person to blame here is whichever scumbag royal did that to me. Although, on that note,” I started. “I was thinking about it, and I think Siegfried is a strong possibility for the culprit.”
“No,” Cynthia replied without missing a beat or considering my words.
“Great counterpoint, princess.”
“Is there a need for one or are you that stupid?” she snapped at me. “Siegfried was with me all night. He obviously couldn’t have attacked you.”
“How many times will I have to explain this to people? The attacker could have been sent by one of the royals, it doesn’t necessarily have to have been one of them behind that mask.”
Cynthia crossed her arms and sneered at me. “I’ve known Siegfried my whole life and he definitely wouldn’t do something like that. If you knew him like I do, you’d realize how paranoid and ridiculous you sound.”
“Yeah, I don’t know him. That’s the point,” I remarked.
“Clearly. Why would you jump to accusing him, anyway?”
I stalled. I wanted to mention the weird way he singled me out during the banquet, or the strange look he gave me when I returned from the casino. But as I wanted to say it, I realized how devoid of logic it would sound coming out of my mouth. It was clear she had a bias for him in some way, and I wasn’t interested in arguing with her. It was already clear enough that my words and observations weren’t important to her.
In this together, huh?
“Yeah, let’s,” she declared.
The two of us didn’t share another word with each other through the rest of the meal.
The ride back to Valport was as silent as the latter half of breakfast. And despite the fact that we were sitting beside one another, the coldness Cynthia radiated made it feel as though we were sitting in two different cars. She had been angry with me before, but it felt like suspecting Siegfried had set her off to a degree higher than I was used to. She was normally keen to argue, but this time she was icing me out completely. Though, to be fair, I made no effort to speak to her either. But even if I had, it was clear that she didn’t want to hear the sound of my voice.
So angry over a plausible suggestion. Interesting.
I rolled my phone in my hand and lost myself in the passing scenery. I still wasn’t about to deal with the unholy horde of text messages I knew awaited me. I was already close to home; I would deal with the questions there. They were bound to come up again, regardless of if I answered any texts or not.
In time, we pulled up to the rear of St. Cirelia. Without a word, Cynthia exited the car and her driver stepped out to open my door.
Evangeline had been sitting on a bench, fiddling with her phone until she noticed the car had arrived. She pocketed the device and ran up to meet Cynthia as she got out of the vehicle.
“Hey, I’m ready to start as soon as possible,” Eva greeted Cynthia more dutifully than I expected.
“Good,” Cynthia replied, her tone curt. “Thank you for doing what I asked of you. He’s yours now.”
I made my way around the car and beside Cynthia who immediately turned away from me and got back into the car. The car drove off seconds after the driver reclaimed his seat.
No goodbye. Guess I really ticked her off.
Before I could say a single word, Evangeline wrapped her arms around me, clamping onto me tightly.
“I’m so sorry, Shinsuke,” her trademark pep completely absent from her tone.
“Why are you apologizing?” I asked, taken aback.
“Because I wasn’t there to protect you and my training wasn’t good enough for you to defend yourself. That should never have happened to you…”
“Eva, this wasn’t anyone’s fault. Don’t blame yourself, please.”
“No, this is a failure that will not be repeated. I promise you that the next time something like this happens, you will be ready for it.”
A second pair of arms wrapped around me from behind, giving me yet another surprise.
“You…never answered your phone after that message you sent last night,” mumbled the second hugger in a soft yet stern tone. It was none other than Mizuki, of course.
“Yeah, I’m sorry, Mizuki,” I replied, feeling guilty for prioritizing my own peace of mind. “I shut it off so I could get some rest. I should have reassured you and my parents I was okay.”
“Please don’t do that again…”
“I won’t. You have my word. But, um, it’s not that I’m not happy to see you, but what are you doing here?”
“Did you really think I would come see you after what happened without bringing along Mimi?” Eva interjected. “Fat chance. That would be a direct violation of the code of big sis Dioli!”
“Sh-she’s right…” Mizuki added timidly.
I couldn’t help but crack a smile at their antics. I had been so lost in thought about the last twenty-four hours that I truly didn’t realize the unease I had caused myself and those around me. I had ignored my family and Mizuki to try and get a little bit of peace, but a big, fluffy bed and meager amounts of sleep didn’t bring me that peace, nor did speculating about my attacker. No, being uncomfortably squeezed between two of the only people I could stand in the entire world was where I found peace for the first time in too long.
“We’re a team, Shinsuke. Don’t forget that,” Eva asserted.
I nodded and did my best to hold both of them in our awkward position. “Yeah, we are.”
Thanks for reading! Still dealing with a lot but will try my best to keep chapters flowing more frequently. I hope you enjoyed!