Tragedy struck all at once.
I was only twenty-five when I died so suddenly, but just as suddenly—I was reincarnated.
They say death and birth are inseparable, but I didn’t think both would happen so close together. It’s pointless to go on and on about how I died, how terrible my life had been, how hopelessly destitute I had been in that first life…so let’s skip that.
The important part is where I ended up, and what my new life was like. I had retained my memory from my previous life through my early childhood, and I was pretty pleased with that at least. In this life, I had a caring mom and dad, an older brother who was always delighted to see me, and two older twin sisters who would carry me around all day. I was coddled and treasured to the point that I hardly ever needed to walk on my own.
Man, what an upgrade from my last life. Everything would be better here. Easier. Happier. I just thought my life was all set, you see.
Then everything came crashing down.
On my seventh birthday, my father announced, “Our Estella is old enough to start taking lessons now.”
I was ecstatic. The time had come to take classy private lessons like all the young noble ladies do in movies and novels. I’d get to have tea time like an elegant lady, learn how to arrange colorful flowers, do intricate embroidery, take dance lessons…
But I was way off base. The collection of gifts I received on my birthday made that very clear.
“D—Dad?” I managed. “What’s all this?”
The gifts filled an entire storage room. The jewels encrusted on each item glinted in the sunlight that shone through a small window, and each gift was so expensive and dazzling that I had to shield my eyes. But they weren’t items suitable for a young lady of noble birth.
Instead, all kinds of blades from daggers to longswords, a heavy ball chained to a sickle, javelins and spears twice my size, a huge bow you’d only see in video games… And what on earth is that thing with the spiky metal ball?
Everything in the storage room was a weapon. I blinked.
“Oh my, does nothing suit your tastes, Estella? Take a good look at this sword. This sword belonged to Count Kiskalla III, and it has bathed in the blood of thousands. Legend has it…” And so, Dad began his endless description of the weapons that were supposed to be a child’s birthday gifts.
“S-so all these weapons are legendary?” And they were used to kill thousands?
“That’s right, Estella,” he beamed down at me. “Aren’t they fantastic?”
Unable to reply, my mouth hung open. I needed an explanation as to why an ordinary seven-year-old little lady like myself was getting weapons for her birthday. I preferred playing house, cooking up imaginary soups by mashing up weeds with little rocks, or even playing jacks with pebbles.
“It’s just like I told you, dear,” my mother explained. “Estella is more interested in concocting poisons. I saw her experimenting with poisonous plants.”
“No, Mom. That’s not what I was doing. Not poisons! I was just playing house!”
“Oh my… is that right, Estella?” my father asked. “I guess I didn’t know you well enough. In that case, we’ll start building a laboratory for you straight away. You can start with poison-making lessons tomorrow. Wouldn’t that be great?”
Wouldn’t that be great? Wouldn’t that be…Dad’s question echoed in my head.
“And this armory is yours as well,” he kept on. “So, feel free to come here whenever you like. And if you need a sparring partner…” Dad’s eyes glinted. “Just let me know.”
Along with the thought that I should never ask for a sparring partner, I finally realized that I had not just been reincarnated.
I had taken over a character in a novel.
The epiphany hit me like a book over the head. I had become a character in a book. More specifically, I was the youngest daughter of a family of villains with absolutely no hope for that bright future I had so hoped for.
House Kartina was a family of irredeemable villains.
The Kartinas, including me now that I had taken over this life, were not the kind of villains who meddled in silly little wrongdoings like throwing drinks at people at social gatherings or stealing things to frame someone—not even just accusing the protagonist’s family of treason and starting other ruinous rumors.
Unfortunately, they were the kind of villains who kidnapped and tortured people for no reason, who then sold them off as slaves to other countries once they got bored, or started wars between countries for fun and profit…
They were like kings of the criminal underworld.
Kind of like the mafia, so to speak. Or the Hong Kong triad? In any case, they were cruel and awful. So cruel to the point that, in my past life, before I had joined this villainous story, I had actually had to stop reading during the most crucial moments in the novel!
Being the worst kind of antagonists, their relationship with the protagonist was also the worst. They killed his parents, sold his sister off to another country as a slave, annihilated every family that helped him, and when it came to the woman he loved…
I’ll spare you the details. The Kartinas were villains in a hardcore, R-rated novel aimed at a male audience, so you can imagine the atrocities my new family committed.
“Estella, I caught a monster! Do you want it?”
“Estella, I stole a book full of recipes for poisons from a hundred years ago. It’s for you.”
“You must be tired from your lessons. Would you like me to buy you a slave masseuse from the Western Empire, Estella?”
But even though they were all villains and psychopaths, every single member of my family loved me dearly. Estella, Estella, Estella… Even in my sleep, I could hear them calling me. Their love for me was fierce and exceptional. Despite all the horror they committed, they not only protected me, but doted on me.
And so, I grew up as the beloved Estella of the Kartina family.
I’ve lived as a Kartina for seventeen years.
In that time, I’ve become adept in all kinds of skills villains excel in, such as sword fighting, martial arts, making bombs, shooting poison needles, archery, mind domination, seduction, etc.
“Apparently our little Estella failed her poison-making advancement exam.”
“We can’t just stand idly by. Should I steal the answer key?”
“There’s no need for that. I’ll beat up the proctor, so don’t worry, Estella!”
I smiled awkwardly at my siblings, who were ready to commit all kinds of crimes for me.
House Kartina had a very rigorous education curriculum. You could only be assigned even basic missions and be acknowledged as a proper member of the Kartina family after you achieved the minimum rank. That minimum was the class-two rank in all kinds of subjects, and I’d been sitting just below that rank for years now. My family was terribly worried, but I didn’t care. I’d been carefully, deliberately maintaining that rank. If I wanted, I could get to the first rank in every subject and receive the scarlet badge given to only the best students.
“Don’t worry, Estella. I’ve got your back. You won’t ever need to face the bad guys.” My sister Ayla, who must have thought my awkward face meant I was worried about my future, stroked my hair affectionately.
Ayla, we are the bad guys.
“I’m here too, Estella. Your brother will protect you.” Kalen patted my shoulder reassuringly.
My brother and sisters seemed anxious about me feeling discouraged. Aww man, don’t make me feel bad! But I needed to hide my true proficiency, lest I be thrown into the real villainy, so I kept my mouth shut. I’d keep their misconception of me as fragile and weak, and encourage it.
“Pfft, you? The guy who failed to assassinate Viscount Velot’s son not too long ago?” Ada, the short-haired twin sister, spoke up.
I gasped. The tea in the cup I was holding rippled with the tremble of my hand. Stay calm.
“What? Bahaha! You mean the Velot family’s son who was just knighted? You couldn’t take care of that small fry?” Ayla, whose long hair was twisted up in a bun, laughed at Kalen.
The atmosphere tensed. Kalen, whose pride was apparently wounded, scowled. “That bastard hired an insanely skilled mercenary. He blocked all my shuriken. That’s not a normal skill level. The smoke bomb he used was high-quality as well.” Kalen’s expression darkened. “I’ll get that mercenary if it’s the last thing I do.”
I spat out my tea at his declaration of violence.
“Oh? What’s wrong, Estella?” My sister looked over at me, worried.
“T-that person, the Velot family’s son. Is he a bad person? So bad that you have to kill him?” I asked.
“Of course. That thieving bastard caught the deer I was hunting.”
Oh… I guess his motive for murder was clear, at least? I was at a loss for words.
“I’ll take care of him for you. I’ll go to the Velot estate tonight, seduce him and cut his throat!”
“Ada!” Ayla yelled.
At least Ayla was somewhat normal. I hoped that she would stop the other two.
“Estella is listening,” Ayla scolded. She covered my ears.
And then the twins whispered over my head. “There’s an aphrodisiac in my room that dulls all pain.”
Oof. I let out a loud sigh. I guess I won’t be able to go to bed early tonight. Again. Because the Velot family’s son needed rescuing before my sisters got to him.
You may have realized by now, but unbeknownst to my family, I have been interfering with my siblings’ misdeeds all along.
“I’ll take care of the son and find out who that mercenary was,” Kalen growled.
“The mercenary? Is that really necessary, Kalen? How would he have blocked your attacks? I’m sure it was a coincidence.” I wiggled out of Ayla’s grasp as I spoke.
“No, he’s unreal. I need to find out who he is and what organization he’s from.” Kalen’s brow furrowed, and he gritted his teeth.
I gulped, lowering my head, and looking at my reflection in my teacup. I tried to breathe. They must never find out. That I, Estella, was that so-called mercenary who saved Viscount Velot’s son.
Technically, dealing with any of my siblings individually was no issue, though I might be in trouble if all three of them attacked me at once. I had no idea as to why I was so adept at villainous activities, but the moment I realized at the age of seven that I had been taken over by a character in a novel, all of my potential as Estella was unlocked.
Maybe this body remembered having lived through the plot once before? I was new to this role, but for the original Estella’s time had looped, after all. The Estella in the novel may have been a despicable villainess who died at the hands of the protagonist before she could use all her abilities on him, but those abilities were outstanding.
Let me make one thing clear. Estella was not just an antagonist from any old romantic fantasy novel; she could defeat the knights of the empire with her bare hands and destroy a whole troop with just a sword. Estella was one of the leading candidates to become the Kartina family successor.
And me, as this Estella—I hid my abilities. I had been hiding them as best as I could since I came into this world and into this role. I acted like I had none.
Because my family, the Kartinas, would give anyone capable—man, woman, or child—violent criminal missions. I may have been born a Kartina, but I had no desire to willingly partake in the murder and torture of people. Instead, I worked hard to create an image of a tenderhearted girl who was no good at hurting anyone, a girl who liked books (even though they just make me sleepy), who disliked blood, and who envisioned hope in the world.
And I succeeded.
Then one day I thought to myself why not something more? What if I took it one step further? What if I went around rectifying all the wrongdoings my family committed? Maybe that would mitigate some of the backlash when House Kartina falls.
So, I saved someone my siblings had tormented for no reason, and boy did it feel great. I didn’t dare mess with whatever my parents were doing, but I could at least amend whatever offenses my siblings were committing. I had already saved fifty people so far. Man, I bet I’ll go to heaven.
But the nail that sticks out gets hammered down. It’s obvious what would happen if my siblings found out I had obstructed their work. What if they attacked me all at once, blinded by rage? I wouldn’t be sad if I lost against them, but I didn’t want to hurt my brother or sisters. Throughout the seventeen years of my life with them, I had been showered with affection.
It’s a shame, but once Viscount Velot’s son was safe, I would have to lay low for a while. Now that Kalen was determined to catch this mercenary, it would only be a matter of time until I was caught if I wasn’t careful.
But my plans were dashed soon after. Thanks to the hero.