The usual legal stuff: I don't own these characters. All characters are owned by their respective right holders. This is just a fan fiction created for your amusement and all that jazz.
Just a bit of info before hand: This story is based on the anime, although it does pull a bit from the Light Novels as well. There is a very small potential future spoiler in here for those anime only watchers. As of this writing, the anime is complete season 1 and I will be assuming you have knowledge of it but that is not what I'm referring to. There is a brief mention of a plotline that has not yet appeared in the anime. Honestly, even if they do add it to the anime (and I hope they do), this shouldn't be anything major, but I did want to warn just in case.
So with that out of the way, on with the story...
My Name is Jessica Florel. I am the daughter of Marquees Florel, now passed from this world for 8 summers. Since my father's passing, my eldest brother has had to shoulder much of the responsibilities of our holdings, but I have nonetheless had to press myself to aid him as best as I can along with my mother. Still, while a demanding life so far, I have been relatively happy I suppose. That is, until the topic of a certain someone comes up.
But, I am getting ahead of myself? I suppose it would be best to start it at the beginning of my time at the academy of magic. All citizens who can wield magic are required, by law, to attend the academy to learn to better control their power. In practice, though, since nearly all those who wield magic are of noble birth, the academy is overwhelmingly dominated by the nobility such as myself. However, this year was one of the very rare exceptions where a commoner joined us, one Maria Campbell.
Maria was exceedingly rare. Not only a commoner with magic, but the rarest magic, Light, and was particularly powerful too. In truth, in our modern times, the usefulness of magic has diminished greatly. Many see it as little more than a status symbol, but those blessed with the most powerful affinity for it are still very valuable, and having the rarest element on top of that makes Maria in all practical terms a once in a lifetime, perhaps even longer, anomaly.
As you might expect, there are many in the nobility that see her presence at the academy as an affront to their very being. Jealousy over her power, disgust at her low station, these combined to set many of those attending the academy against her from the very beginning. I was not one such person.
I will admit some jealousy. My own magical aptitude is average at best, and of the exceedingly common earth variety. Still, my ire was reserved for fate itself, not Maria Campbell. I actually had some admiration for the girl as she was clearly very devoted to proving herself. I thought my academic talent was quite strong, but even I could only manage an 8th place in our assessment test, while Miss Campbell placed 2nd, only under the 3rd Prince Geordo. For a commoner who had no tutors or other aids to achieve such speaks greatly to her talent. Some would quietly accuse her of receiving favoritism but having seen her study in the library nearly every day I knew this was nothing but nonsense.
And so it quickly began, as the other nobles set upon her, intent to tear her down in some foolish attempt to soothe their battered egos. It was said they would harass her near daily. This was, of course, just rumor, as I had never witnessed such an incident myself, but I knew it was likely all too true. Still, I told myself, I should not get involved. Nobility of all ranks attended the academy, and even crossing those of lesser status could come back to haunt you in the future. My family had enough troubles without taking on such risks. So, I paid it little mind, consoling myself that Maria could easily go to administrators and have them deal with the situation.
That is when Catarina Claes enters my tale. Oh how I dislike her! No, dislike doesn't even cover it. Hate is more like it. Catarina Claes and I have history, much history.
That history starts many years ago where the 3rd born prince of our kingdom, Geordo, was holding interviews for his soon to be fiancee. He was any noble girl's dream! Smart, capable, well mannered and even at the time a total charmer. I was smitten with him the moment I met him. You see, I was one of those interviews, and if the rumors at the time were to be believed the front runner as I had been the only one to that point invited for a second visit.
This was great news for me, and my family. With my father's passing, our status had taken quite the hit and linking ourselves to the royal family would have been a huge help in repairing that damage. While that was good for my family, it was also good for me as I actually liked the boy. Too often you hear about noble ladies having to simply take what is given to them, or being claimed by some higher ranked man and having little choice but to go along with it. So this was likely a once in a lifetime chance for me, and Catarina totally ruined it!
How might you ask? That utter clutz, during her interview, tripped and smashed herself upon the stone ground in the castle gardens! I'd almost like to say she did it on purpose given the outcome, but no, she just got lucky. The fall scarred her forehead, which was used to then guilt Geordo into proposing to her. When I heard the news, I was so crushed I practically locked myself in my room for a month.
Oh, but that's not all. Hearing of this was not all I knew of Catarina Claes. I had met her previously and my goodness was she a total insufferable... brat! As the daughter of a duke, she has a status second only to the family of royalty and she would make much use of that status. She was always known as a self absorbed child, acting pompous and arrogant to those below her only to put on a cute face when around her parents who naturally spoiled her. It took only one meeting with her for me to decide I would avoid her from then on.
Still, time changes people. The rumor mill had quieted much over the years and when I came to the academy I was at least willing to judge her anew. And she had changed, no doubt, but I dare say she got worse!
For starters Catarina was beyond foolish. It was true she managed an average placement in the assessment exam, but that hardly speaks the tale. The highest nobility can all afford the greatest tutors and instruction there is. As such, the top placements are almost always dominated by the higher ranks, so Catarina's average placement actually places her right near the bottom for her upbringing. Still, I could ignore this if it weren't for the fact she so heavily uses those around her to compensate for her inadequacies. How often have I seen or heard of her getting personal instruction from the likes of Sirius, the head of the student council, or any of a number of her far more able peers, like Sophia Ascart or Mary Hunt.
If that weren't enough of an affront, then there was the matter of her being given unheard of favorable treatment. Our noble student council, a grouping that for generations has been reserved for only those of the best placements in the assessments, was invaded by Catarina. Heaven knows what stings she pulled to achieve this given her low assessment. This sort of thing was unheard of! Plus, if that were not enough of an insult, she had none of the responsibility, simply the benefits! It was a grand insult!
She was also quite the glutton. There wasn't a social function she attended that she was not swiftly found by the food, downing all that she could manage. It was a mystery how she could maintain her figure with such food intake. Perhaps it is a petty concern I would forgive others for, after all these functions did tend to over prepare, but it was just yet more demonstration on how she would exploit anyone and everything for her own pleasures!
Oh, and it doesn't end there. She is not even satisfied with Prince Geordo's attention, clearly flirting with other high ranked noble men as she pleases! Nicol Ascart and Geordo's brother Alan both are constantly seen in her company and they are acting all too familiar. Some whisper of even her own brother being caught in her sway. I can't speak to the truth of that I must admit. Too often such rumors are grounded simply in the close bond of siblings, and even if true he was only adopted at a relatively late age. Still, while I had my doubts with Keith, I had personally seen Alan and Nicol around her and their affections were all too obvious! Making this even more infuriating is Alan was engaged to Mary Hunt, who Catarina played at being the friend of! I don't know what thought was worse, that Mary is oblivious to Catarina's flirting with her fiance, or that she knows and is too afraid to confront her over it. It was all enough for me to firmly conclude that Catarina Claes was the worst! A true villainess!
So, you may then ask, how does this relate to Maria Campbell? That is yet another of Catarina's crimes. You see, one day the rumors of Maria Campbell's bullying came to a mysterious end. It was a curiosity to be sure. Had the administrators intervened? No, it was in fact Catarina Claes. I was almost ready to give Catarina some small measure of respect, that is until I learned that Miss Campbell was found nearly daily now in the school kitchen cooking up sweets which inevitably found their way to Catarina Claes' mouth! Yes, that right, Catarina had turned this bright young shining star into her glorified personal cook! No doubt, I thought, she had promised her protection in return for this personal service.
It was all so infuriating that I was tempted to go to the administrators myself and complain, but what good would it do? Even they were not above the power and influence of the highest ranks of nobility, of which Catarina was a part. No, all I had was a well reasoned accusation, backed up with no real evidence. Any complaint would be summarily dismissed, and I might likely suffer a backlash from Catarina or perhaps even Geordo. No, I had to simply simmer in my own feelings.
I was not alone in this though. My two childhood friends were of like mind. Abigale Stone was one of them. She was the daughter of an Earl that my family had strong connections with and we were introduced very early in life and were practically inseparable. She was a homely sort, her poor eyesight forcing her to wear glasses from an early age which had greatly hurt her marriage potential. I felt for her, having had my own dream match stolen from me meaning I'd likely end up forced to take some scrap that was thrown my way eventually, much as she would. We would often lament this together, dreaming of some savior coming along to sweep us away, but sadly such things are reserved for fairytales.
More recently, Elizabeth Hawkins, the daughter a Viscount likewise closely linked to my family, had joined me. We knew each other before our days at the academy but she had her own circle of friends before coming here. However, unlike me, she was the lone magic user of her group, so quickly fell into my company as one of the few she knew well. Her family, like mine, was struggling, although even more severely, so much was expected of her.
While we had helped each other with school work and socialized through much of the year, as it neared its end, the antics of Catarina became an increasing matter of discussion between us. Elizabeth in particular found Catarina's continuous leveraging of those around her for study aid to be quite irritating, herself having to struggle to keep up her grades. Abigale, on the other hand, was most focused on Catarina's exploitation of the same, particularly Maria. Still, in the end, all we could do was vent our frustrations in private.
And then it happened. What? I honestly dearly wish I fully knew, but for the life of me I can't remember! What I do recall is being given the evidence I needed to finally reveal Catarina for the true villainess she was! It detailed it all, revealing even crimes I had not suspected. I had thought Catarina merely leveraged the bullying of Maria to her advantage, but these documents revealed the truth, that it had been Catarina herself who had arranged the whole thing! It made perfect sense. She had all the hallmarks of those that would accost Maria, I had just never put the dots together. This is all I needed and I and my friends were energized, planning to confront Catarina the next day in front of the whole school at the dining hall.
And... and... it was all an illusion! All of it! How could I be fooled so easily?!
We had Catarina dumbfounded just as Maria and the other members of the student council arrived. It was to be my shining moment as I presented the evidence to them, so assured it would crack Catarina's defenses and they would finally see the truth and turn on her. But, it wasn't the truth at all! It was all lies!
Maria rebuffed us first, then Geordo pointed out the obvious, how these documents were nothing more than paper! To say we were in shock was a gross understatement. Then came the killing blow to our entire set of assertions.
"My simple-minded sister isn't even capable of such elaborate harassment. Did you really see my sister doing all this?" Keith Claes asked us with an expression I cannot fully describe.
The only true answer was no, and at that moment the haze of my self assured position crumbled to dust. He was right. I didn't need to hear the others repeat it again and again. The Catarina Claes I had come to hate was simply incapable of such a thing. She lacked the talent, the smarts and the cunning to pull it off. How had I been such a fool?! It was all I could think to do to retreat from the scene, along with those that had stood with us.
By the time Elizabeth, Abigale and I could regroup out of sight of the others we were at a collective loss. What had overcome us? Why would we do this? None of it made any sense.
Abigale was the first to give into despair, weeping openly and running off to her room to shut herself within. I could not blame her. I was only holding myself together in that moment through the absolute full use of my will.
"What are we going to do?" Elizabeth desperately asked, but I had no answers. My status might just protect me, but for them... this was very bad.
Unfortunately, it did not end there, and things just got steadily worse. That night we learned Maria Campbell had disappeared without a trace. Naturally many suspicious eyes fell on us even though we had no involvement in such. Geordo was particularly suspicious, questioning us personally a few days later. He clearly did not believe our claims of not remembering who gave us the papers and I could not blame him. I would not believe it, yet it was the truth. I nearly felt my heart stop when he departed with an open glare at me. The man I had once loved now surely hated me to my core. And just when I thought matters could get no worse, Catarina Claes fell into a mysterious deep sleep that no one could wake her from.
So it is now that Abigale, Elizabeth and myself were gathered in my room, the news just beginning to fully sink in.
"This is a disaster! What if she dies?!" Elizabeth wailed.
"Calm down!" I said quickly, but it did little. Elizabeth was already in tears.
"You just know if she dies, Geordo will target us! We'll be exiled, or worse!" Elizabeth said, and sadly I could not argue the point. She was right.
I had caught sight of Geordo just that morning and while he was putting on a brave face, you could tell he was deeply troubled. It was hard to admit, but whatever sparked their relationship, it was clear now that Prince Geordo deeply cared, nay perhaps even loved, Catarina which made the situation that much worse.
"We may be stripped of status and sold off as slaves," Abigale said, staring at the floor, her face pale.
"That's nonsense," I insisted, but it felt a weak counter even to me. Still, I had to be the one to keep them together. "That is not a legal punishment, and would never be allowed."
"Legal, sure, but we're talking about the royal family here," Abigale said, looking up with a grim expression. "They could arrange whatever they want for us. Slavery, torture... execution. There is nothing we can rule out."
I had no counter argument.
"Why can't I remember who gave us those blasted papers!" Elizabeth shouted in a fury before collapsing into a chair. "Why... what did we do to deserve this?" she whimpered. All I could do was offer a comforting hand as she once more broke down into tears.
Several minutes passed in relative silence before an angle finally appeared to me. "Look, I know it looks bad, but you know the princes will do everything in their power to find a cure. Catarina is just asleep right now. She could easily recover, and they could find Maria. If they do, it will reveal that we had no involvement in any of it."
Abigale looked at me, unconvinced, but rather than argue the matter, a look to Elizabeth seemed to convince her otherwise. "Yes... that is all we can really hope."
It took some time for Elizabeth to collect herself and we ended our meeting. At the door, seeing them out I stopped them and added one last thing. "Classes have been called off for now. You both might... want to go home."
"Home?" Elizabeth repeated in confusion.
"While you still can," I sadly explained. Both my friends took it poorly but nodded their heads in understanding before heading off.
Closing the door behind me, and now alone save my personal maid, I let my own control fall away and collapsed against the door, my own eyes full of tears.
"My lady?" my maid asked in concern before I swiped away the tears.
"Have a coach prepared for me in the morning, Tessa," I instructed her as I reset myself.
"Of course," she said with a slight bow. "Is there anything else-"
"No. Thank you, no. I doubt I'll be getting much sleep tonight, so I think it best I head to bed immediately."
"As you wish," she said again with a bow before aiding me in my change of clothing and heading off to the servant quarters.
In bed my mind was going over all the possibilities and they were all grim. Doom awaited at the end of nearly every one. Truly, in a weak moment I even considered being the master of my own doom and ending it, but it was only a momentary thought. No, I'm not so weak as to give into despair. If my doom is to come, then I will meet it head on and fight it to the last!
The next day I indeed headed home. Many other students apparently had the same idea, as much of the academy was emptied in the wake of the incidents. I fell asleep on the ride, being roused just before our arrival, although my sleep had not been pleasant.
"Jessica! Whatever brings you home now?" my mother inquired as I stepped off the coach.
"Sorry, mother. There have been some strange incidents at the academy, and classes have been cancelled," I explained as my mother joined me.
Mother blinked in surprise then held me by the shoulder. "Jessica, you look like a mess! This must be more than a simple incident? Come, tell me all about it."
Yes, mother was always good at reading me. I had done my best to not betray the stress I was under but I might as well have hung a sign about my neck declaring it. Still, I did manage to dodge the most pertinent matter, that of my failed confrontation with Catarina. It was sufficient for my mother's curiosity to hear of Catarina's strange affliction and the disappearance of Maria.
"Hmm, indeed, something foul is definitely afoot. You must have been scared, my dear. Anyone could be next," mother commented as we finished our discussion over lunch.
"Uh... yes," I replied.
"Well, take all the time you need to recuperate here. I'm sure they'll send word once the matter is resolved," mother said as she stood up. "I have some other guests coming that I must prepare for, but you pay them no mind."
"Thank you," I said with a nod as she departed, giving me the opportunity to sigh in relief. She may very well have seen through me, or perhaps not, but regardless she had not pressed for further details and for that I was thankful.
My first day back was spent doing little more than doing exactly as mother said, recuperating. I slept most of the afternoon, spent a good chunk of the evening repeatedly going over my appearance until I was satisfied it was back to normal, only to be forced back to bed that night.
The next day, with my worries seeming just a bit distant, I was able to go about the manor and check in on various things. Brother had arrived home that morning from a short trip and was in the study, busily writing away but set aside his work at the sight of me. "Jessica! Mother told me all about it. Quite the mess there," he greeted, gesturing for me to join him at the desk.
"Yes," I replied simply. "How are things with you?"
"Ugh, I'm up to my eyeballs in paperwork! Baron Camen is still as incompetent as ever. I swear, I don't know why father tolerated him. I have a good mind to strip him of his duties!" he said seriously, then we shared a laugh. The Baron's stupidity was always a good topic to ease the tension.
"Yes, but he's just too nice," I said with a smile and my brother nodded with his own smile.
"Yes, he is indeed," he agreed, his smile continued as he probed me with it.
Sensing he had me figured out, I sighed and looked to the floor. "I think I really messed up... far worse than the Baron ever did."
"Oh? Hmm, something to do with Catarina I take it?" he asked and I nodded in answer. "I know you weren't involved in this whole sleep thing, so I assume it was just impossibly bad timing."
"Yes," I answered. He sighed and leaned back. "If she doesn't wake up..."
"She'll wake up, and if she doesn't we'll do everything we can for you, I promise."
"You don't even know what I did," I pointed out, looking back up, my eyes already stinging.
"I don't need to know. I know you, so I know whatever it was it can't be that bad. You're my sister, after all."
"If you try to defend me, they could come after you too. It would be just like Marsha Catley."
"Catley?" brother repeated then laughed. "If all that happens is we get shipped off to the country, I'll count it as a win. Always wanted to see the countryside."
He said this with such calm I could not help but feel somewhat better. Still, after a moment I hung my head once more. "Abigale and Elizabeth were involved too. They haven't got that kind of protection."
Brother frowned. "No... no they don't."
I looked back up, desperate. "I can't just let them... they're my friends. I've known Abigale since we were kids, and Elizabeth doesn't deserve any of this. You should have seen her, she was a wreck!"
"I believe you. So what are you planning?" he asked.
I blinked in surprise before looking away. "I don't know."
"Sometimes you can't win. Sometimes you just have to do damage control."
I nodded. "You're right. They're my friends, I can't just... abandon them, but the only option I'm seeing is to take it all onto myself."
"Hmm," brother murmured, clearly not pleased with my answer, but he didn't argue it. "Alright then, if it comes to that, we'll do what we can. I'll tell mother, when she needs to know."
"You should just cut me loose," I said but he shook his head.
"Not happening," he countered. "Besides, I think you're so close to this you're taking it all way too seriously. You just wait, and this will all blow over."
"I highly doubt that."
"Call me a hopeless optimist then," he said with a reassuring smile which I could not help but echo.
The meeting with my brother ended there and I must admit, I felt considerably better. There seemed to be a light at the end of this deep tunnel I had dug myself into.
A few more days passed when word finally came that classes were to resume. Details were scant so as I arrived at the coach to return to the academy, my brother had joined me, filling me in on what he had learned.
"The entire Dieke family has apparently been arrested by royal decree," he explained.
"The Dieke family?! That's the president's family. Why... I just don't get it," I replied.
"You and me both. Good news is Catarina Claes is back on her feet and Maria Campbell was recovered safely."
"Oh thank goodness," I said with a sense of true overwhelming relief.
"Yeah, thought you would want to hear that. Afraid I don't know of anything much else. Maybe they'll inform you when you get back, but this sounds like something major so might be all hush hush."
I nodded. "Thank you, for everything."
"Right. You keep in touch," he said before aiding me into the coach and seeing me off. Within I nearly collapsed feeling like an overwhelming weight had been finally removed from me. However, reality was not so kind. I had still crossed Catarina. That much had not changed, and that much I would have to deal with when I returned.
Not long after my return that evening, Abigale and Elizabeth joined me. Both looked much better than when I last saw them, but like me they knew we were all still in trouble.
"Any word at all about what happened?" I asked, both having returned before I had.
"Not much. I'm sure you heard about the Dieke family?" Abigale asked, to which I nodded.
"Arrested by Royal decree. So the president was the culprit. I just can't believe that."
"Seems to be true. He is nowhere to be found, and many are saying after Catarina fell into that sleep, he disappeared and everyone was just too distracted to notice."
I nodded. That made sense, and did not fit with him being simply made to take responsibility for the crime. Thinking about it, a flash came to me. "Did... he give us the papers?"
The others looked shocked at this and thought about it, but after only a moment all three of us shook our heads.
"I still can't remember," Elizabeth said through clenched teeth. "It feels like maybe... I just can't..."
"Yes, I cannot recall either," I said with a sigh. "If it was him, I don't know how he did it. How was he able to blank our memories so?"
"Some magic?" Abigale suggested.
"I have never heard of such magic," I replied.
"Yes, me neither," Abigale agreed. "Maybe some drug... it is all speculation."
I shook my head once more. "Let's forget about that. There is still our original problem." Elizabeth and Abigale both silently nodded in agreement. I took a long breath before declaring, "I thought long on this, and have decided I will meet with Catarina and tell her it was all my idea."
"What?" Abigale said in surprise.
"I'm the highest status among us. If I take all the blame, I stand the best chance of getting through it."
"I... I suppose, but you can't be serious?" Abigale said, wide eyed.
"No, you can't! We all did it together. You didn't force us to do anything!" Elizabeth added.
"It isn't a matter of the truth, it is a matter of doing what must be done. Elizabeth, you are particularly at risk."
"I know that, but... I just can't let you do this," Elizabeth said.
"She's right. We do this together or not at all," Abigale said forcefully, standing up to emphasize herself.
I was honestly surprised at them both. They were my friends, but I never expected them to be willing to risk this. "Don't you-" I started to say but Elizabeth shot up to join Abigale.
"Of course we understand!" Elizabeth nearly yelled, but quickly calmed herself. "It is exactly because we understand that we're not letting you take all the blame. We'll face her together, right?" she asked, looking to Abigale.
"Right!" Abigale declared, her look giving no room for disagreement.
So it was that I was forced to reluctantly agree.
The next day, classes were held as usual, although we were right near the end of the school year so these were little more than formalities. The second years were to have their graduation the next day, so much of the conversation surrounded that. I had practically forgotten about it, and the graduation party afterwards.
There is so little time, I thought to myself as I gathered with my friends after the end of class.
"Catarina's usual group is all in the student council and they have a meeting today, so now's our chance to get her alone," Abigale pointed out.
"You're right, but where is she?" I asked, looking about but unfortunately our quarry had eluded us.
"She usually visits the student council, or is in the fields from what I've heard," Elizabeth answered. "I think I saw her head off to the fields."
"Mary Hunt tends a flower garden there. She's probably there," Abigale suggested.
"Right, let's go," I said and led the way to the fields.
We soon found Miss Hunt's flower garden, but Catarina was nowhere to be found. However, we did not give up and began exploring the surrounding areas. It was in one such area we came upon a sight quite unexpected.
"Is this... a vegetable garden?" I asked in confusion.
Elizabeth nodded as she looked about. "It sure looks like it. Maybe it is for the kitchen?"
"I would have thought they would have purchased all their wares from the shops, but I suppose that might be," I replied before dismissing the minor mystery. "I still don't see her."
"Nor do I. There is a gardener there. Perhaps they have seen her pass by?" Abigale suggested, pointing to the individual in question.
"Excuse me!" I called out as we approached. "I was hoping to ask you a question if I may."
"Just a moment," a female voice replied. She had her back turned to use as she tended to a particular patch. "Yeah, I think this will do it," she said before rising up with a large bundle of broccoli in her arms and walking over to us, her head bowed as she examined the vegetables.
"Have you seen a noble lady pass by here?" I asked as she joined us.
The woman raised her head at the question and went into thought, tapping her chin with a finger. "I don't think so. No, think you are the first ones I've seen since I arrived."
Elizabeth was the first to notice and let out a stifled gasp. It took a second longer for me and Abigale but then we too clued in. This was no gardener before us. This was Catarina Claes!
I was struck speechless at the sight before me. Here was the daughter of a duke dressed in gardening overalls with a shawl over her head. The sight was so preposterous that I just could not comprehend it.
"You okay?" she asked on seeing our expressions, but then seemed to clue in and nervously laughed. "Oh... ah, yeah, I have a bit of a hobby."
"A hobby... uh, of course," I responded, looking to the others who all just nodded along.
"Who were you looking for?" Catarina asked, dropping the matter of her situation suddenly.
"You actually," I answered.
"Oh?" Catarina asked, but my mind was so thoroughly confused by this point I had honestly forgotten why exactly so I stood speechless.
Elizabeth took over, asking, "What are you doing?"
"Oh, I heard we're supposed to give the 2nd years some bouquets for their graduation and I had this awesome idea! Instead of flowers, I'd give Nicol a bouquet from my garden," she said excitedly. "Doesn't that sound like a great idea?"
"A... bouquet from a... vegetable garden?" Abigale asked, gesturing over the garden in question.
"Yes, exactly. That way he can eat it later. Much better than sticking a bunch of flowers to wilt in a vase I say."
I could not fault her logic despite finding it beyond absurd.
"Uh, so you're using the broccoli?" Elizabeth probed further.
"Yeah. I figured it would make a great centerpiece... but I don't know much about bouquet making," she admitted hanging her head. "Maybe Mary..." she started to mumble to herself.
"I make bouquets actually," Elizabeth said and found Catarina immediately uncomfortably close.
"Really?! Can you give me some advice? What would go with this?"
"Uh... well, um... perhaps something red?" Elizabeth suggested nervously.
"Red... yes! Right, hold this for a moment," Catarina said, handling off her broccoli to Elizabeth before rushing back to the garden. At a loss we could do little more than follow her. There she showed us a miniature tomato plant and asked. "Like this?"
"Yes," Elizabeth confirmed with some more confidence. "And something green and leafy too," she added on and Catarina excitedly tracked down the next ingredient. After about ten minutes we were all now loaded down with various vegetables to make the bouquet.
"Right, now what?" Catarina asked, taking back each of the loads from us.
"Uh, well, we'd need to wash them, and have some place to cut and arrange them," Elizabeth instructed.
"The kitchen should be free. Can you meet me there? Anne will lecture me all night if I go there looking like this."
"Of course," Elizabeth said, looking at us.
"Perhaps we could take the vegetables with us while you go to change?" I suggested and Catarina brightened up.
"Oh, would you? It isn't a bother is it?"
"No, not at all," I replied. It honestly was a bother but by this point I was just caught up in the moment, and it only seemed appropriate somehow.
"Okay then, I'll be quick!" Catarina said with a beaming smile, returning the vegetables to us and rushing off.
So it was that we headed off to the kitchen. True to her word, Catarina rejoined us promptly and together we got to work fixing her novel bouquet, with Elizabeth doing most the primary instruction. Truthfully, none of us had any real experience in the facility. We were noble ladies after all, not cooks, but it was quite the shock to see Catarina seemed to know the whole place by heart. Abigale too must have noticed as she inquired and learned that Catarina had taken to helping Maria cook recently, although she said her own creations were no match for Maria's. Yet again, Catarina Claes was engaged in yet more absurdity, and here we were helping her, which was even more absurd yet somehow it just felt right.
In the end we created 3 bouquets of various designs from what we had, Catarina settling on the last as the one she would give to Nicol. "What should we do with these others?" I asked.
"Oh, well, we shouldn't waste them. Do you want them? If not, I'll take them," Catarina said in return.
Elizabeth took up one, while Abigale took up another. "We'll take them. They look... very... tasty," she offered.
"Oh, they are! I have stuff from my garden all the time, and so do my friends. Anything that isn't up to standard I just use for compost," Catarina explained with a smile.
"Right... compost," Abigale echoed with a nervous smile. Honestly, I had to have her explain what compost was to me later to understand her reaction. That Catarina Claes would be speaking of such things so casually to us was yet another surprise of the day.
"Okay, well, thank you so much for your help," Catarina said, bowing to us in yet another shocking display. "I'm sure Nicol will love it."
"It is no trouble at all," Elizabeth assured her in a bit of a panic that Catarina seemed oblivious to.
"Okay, then I guess I'll see you at the party tomorrow," she said and began to depart.
In truth I was so mentally exhausted from this encounter I was sorely tempted to let her leave, but all the time making the bouquet had finally allowed me to reorder my thoughts, so I called out to her. "Wait!"
"Hmh?" Catarina said, turning back to us.
"Uh... don't you remember us?" I asked desperately.
Catarina blinked, looked to the side, then up, then down, and finally back to me. "Wait, I do remember you!"
It is about time, I thought.
"You were the one to be engaged to Geordo, right? Oh, I'm so sorry about that. I totally messed that up."
"Uh, what?" Is all I could say. Had she completely forgotten the previous day? Had whatever strange ailment that struck us struck her as well? "Uh, yes, that's true, but that's not what I meant."
"Oh?" Catarina said in surprise and once more looked about in thought before going wide eyed. "Oh right, that was you at the dining hall."
I sighed in relief, heaven knows why. How exactly Catarina remembering that I had falsely accused her of bullying Maria became a relief I can't even fathom but somehow it was.
Abigale was the first to step forward and bow her head. "We ever so sorry to have accused you of all that."
"Yes, we don't know what overcame us," Elizabeth quickly added, likewise bowing her head.
Before I could join them, Catarina interrupted with a bit of a laugh. "Oh, don't worry about it. It wasn't your fault. It was all because... and I'm not supposed to talk about that," she said suddenly with a frown. "That's very annoying. Do you even know what happened to you?"
"Uh, no," I said.
"Hmm," Catarina said with a continued frown. "This is so... I'm not supposed to talk about it, but... hmm... well, let's just leave it at you were not yourselves. You understand?" she asked in uncertainty.
"Not really," I admitted.
Catarina sighed. "Okay... just nevermind, that won't work. Um, well, whatever. I don't hold it against you at all. I mean, after all, you thought you were doing it for Maria's sake, right? I mean, I'd be mad too if I believed what was in those papers, and you all thought it was real so how can I hold that against you."
She said this with such honesty I simply could not believe it. As absurd as making a vegetable bouquet was, as ridiculous as Catarina Claes acting in the role of a common farmer was, as unfathomable that she would be acting as a cook, somehow her just blowing off what he had done so casually was the most ludicrous thing I'd seen her do. Yet I could not deny she was doing it.
Part of me wanted to believe this was all a trick, that she was lying and scheming to let us think we were off the hook to just jab the knife into our backs that much more maliciously in the future when our guards were down. Yet, this did not make any sense. Catarina was not that good an actress. She was not that smart. As her brother said, "My simple-minded sister isn't even capable of such elaborate harassment."
Still, my worry remained. "Forgive me, Lady Claes, but even if you see fit to overlook what we did, there were so many others there."
"Others?" Catarina asked in confusion.
"Your fiance, Prince Geordo for instance. He will not forgive us so easily for such an open attack on your character. He alone could doom us," I explained.
At those words, Catarina's eyes shot wide open. It was so shocking a reaction I stepped back a pace. "Doom? Of course!" she said suddenly with a completely new determination. "No, that will not do at all! You are absolutely right! We must make every effort to ensure every doom flag is completely avoided!"
I looked at my friends in shock. I had hoped for a reaction but nothing like this. They could only share in my confusion though.
"Nono, this won't do at all," Catarina said to herself, suddenly deep in thought. "Geordo is the black hearted prince. He's just the sort to scheme at revenge when you least expect it. Hmm," she mumbled to herself before suddenly looking up at us. "Alright, that settles it. We're going to work this all out right now! Follow me!"
"Uh, where?" I asked but Catarina was already on the march, forcing us to follow.
"We're going to talk to Geordo directly and get this all worked out! No one is doomed on my watch!"
We could only follow having no words to match this.
Sure enough, after a brief detour to drop off our bouquets, we arrived at Prince Geordo's room and Catarina was quickly announced. Catarina led the way in, with us following shortly behind.
"Catarina! It is very rare for you to pay me a visit on your own," the prince said with a beaming smile of his own that slipped on seeing us enter. "Oh, you brought guests with you."
"Geordo, we have to talk," Catarina said with a surprising level of seriousness. "My friends here are worried you are upto no good!"
"What?" Geordo said in surprise before easing Catarina to the side and out of earshot to speak. We could only stand about nervously as the two talked, unclear what they were discussing. However, the discussion was brief, ending with Geordo sighing and smiling before together with Catarina coming back to us. "My apologies, ladies. Catarina is quite right. You must all be very puzzled by the circumstances and I have done little to help with that, so let me explain. First, I must say what I am about to tell you is to be held in confidence. It is a matter normally reserved for the highest ranks, but seeing that you too were victims of it, you deserve to hear.
"Sirius Dieke, as you have no doubt deduced from the rumors, was the culprit behind the kidnapping of Maria Campbell and Catarina's mysterious sleep. He has also admitted his responsibility in manipulating you all."
"Sirius? Truly it was him?" I asked. We had of course suspected such, but to hear it confirmed was still a shock.
"Yes," Geordo said sadly. "He made use of particularly rare and forbidden magic, which included the ability to erase memory. Maria was immune and thus he was forced to kidnap her to silence her, and later Catarina likewise discovered his involvement so he put her to sleep. Naturally, that situation has been resolved now, and it is clear you all were not responsible for your actions, so you need not fear any retribution."
Magic that can erase memory, and put someone into unwaking sleep? Were circumstances not as they are, I would call such an obvious lie, but there was no doubting it was true. "The Dieke family was involved as well?" I asked.
"Yes, Sirius' mother in particular was the one who arranged for the acquisition of the magic in question. She is also guilty of a number of other crimes which I can't get into."
"My goodness," Abigale said with a shake of her head.
"And everyone knows about this... well, all my friends anyway," Catarina explained.
"Yes, we were all present when Sirius surrendered himself and witnessed his power," Geordo explained.
"It all sounds so fantastic," I said.
"Fantastic certainly, but true nonetheless. Regardless, as Catarina is so insistent, I give you my word of honor that I bear you no ill will for the incident."
"Right!" Catarina said, crossing her arms confidently causing Geordo to chuckle much to her confusion. "What?"
"It is nothing. WIll you be staying?"
"Sorry, but no," Catarina said as she rejoined us. "We have to go talk to Alan now."
"Alan?" Geordo repeated in confusion before hitting upon Catarina's intent. "Ah, I see. I hardly think him the sort to take petty revenge."
"No, I don't think so either," Catarina said as she turned to the door, "but you can never be too cautious when doom is involved!"
"Doom?" Geordo questioned but Catarina was already out the door. We quickly gave our thanks and departed to join her.
And thus began a tour of each of Catarina's close friends. As expected Prince Alan easily declared he had forgotten the whole thing. Nicol Ascart was difficult to get any response out of but did finally likewise offer his word that all was forgiven. Kieth Claes easily gave us his word that we had nothing to fear from him. We even visited Mary Hunt and Sophia Ascart's rooms and received similar declarations. Of all of them, only Mary gave me some pause, but it did not seem to be on the matter at question.
Truly though, what I found more surprising about these visits was the reactions of Catarina's friends to her presence. For some it was subtle, for others like Mary it was all too obvious, but they were all overjoyed at even the briefest visit from her. Was she truly such a valued friend to them? I had thought she was exploiting them, but clearly that was far from the truth.
Nearly exhausted from all that had happened and late into the evening we finally arrived at our final destination. My friends and I were so exhausted in fact I think none of us noted that we were now in the low class living quarters, usually reserved for servants, but it was obvious we were to visit Maria Campbell.
Honestly, there was little to fear from Maria. Being a commoner her only threat was through Catarina and her friends and we had already received their assurances, so it was a bit puzzling that Catarina was even bothering, but here we were.
"Do you regularly visit Miss Campbell here?" I asked in surprise.
"Hmm?" Catarina asked as we waited at the door for Maria to answer. "Actually, no. Maria usually meets me, come to think of it, but I have been here before."
"I see," I said, thinking to myself, visiting Maria here must mean they are just as close as the others. How have I misjudged this situation so? As this question nagged at me, Maria opened the door and on seeing Catarina in the front she smiled brightly confirming my suspicion.
"Lady Catarina, what brings you here so... oh..." she said before taking notice of us.
"Maria! You aren't busy, are you?"
"Uh, no, please come in," she directed, opening the door wide and allowing us to enter.
Maria's quarters were sparse, probably the best of the servant quarters, but still clearly of that level. Being in them for the first time I found some new respect for her to live in such circumstances.
"Maria you remember Jessica, right?" Catarina asked.
"Uh... yes, I do," Maria said with a neutral expression, clearly unsure how to take what was happening. "You were the one who confronted Lady Catarina in the dining hall."
"Yes," I said, bowing my head. "Please forgive me, and my friends. We understand now everything was untrue."
Abigale and Elizabeth quickly followed my lead, bowing their heads and apologizing.
"Nono, it is quite alright," Maria said with a sudden alarm at our apologies.
I was tempted to leave it at that, take the victory and head home, but by now there was something else prying on my mind that needed to be said. "No, I don't believe it is alright. I knew of your harassment months ago, yet I saw fit to do nothing. I made excuses to myself, and in the end it was Lady Claes that took a stand. This was bad enough but I then spoke out against the very person who helped you. I feel deeply ashamed for this, even if it was driven by some magic."
"You make me sound like some sort of saint," Catarina said with a sudden bout of self consciousness. "I'm sure you would have done the same if you had seen Maria in trouble."
I'm not so sure, I thought silently, but I let the point go uncontested.
"It is quite alright," Maria assured me, still nervous. "You thought you were acting on my behalf. You were just misled."
No, that too is a lie. I acted not out of concern for you, but out of hatred for Catarina, the very person who was now helping me and my friends. I didn't say those words, but they were deeply entrenched in my mind and I could not hold back a sudden outburst of self loathing. With it came a sudden rush of tears I just could not hide and I burst out. "I'm so sorry!"
Everyone else was quickly around me, trying to help me recompose myself. I don't know how long I was in that state. I do know I somehow ended up sitting on edge of Maria's bed being given a glass of water by Catarina who looked truly concerned over my sudden breakdown. I looked about to see that Maria, Abigale and Elizabeth had convened in the hall, presumably to give me some space.
"You alright?" Catarina asked.
I drank the water, sniffling like a child. I felt truly embarrassed but somehow I did feel just a bit better. I nodded wordlessly as I finished the water. "I am sorry," I said after finishing.
"It's fine!" Catarina assured me. "You should see me when I get a splinter, I'm a total mess," she joked.
"No, I mean I am sorry that I believed you were such a... Ever since Prince Geordo chose you, I've been so jealous. I always thought the most ill of you. I was a fool!"
Catarina blinked in surprise at the declaration, nervously looking away. "Uh... I can understand that. I mean, I'd be mad too if the guy I loved just got stolen away because of some stupid scar." Catarina said, rubbing her forehead. "I still don't even get it. I told him it was gone, and I'm sure it is, but he just won't call off the engagement."
"What?" I said in shock. "You tried to call off the engagement?! Whatever for?!" Everytime I thought I had seen the most absurdity from Catarina Claes, I was proven wrong.
"Uh, well, he just agreed to that because of the scar, right? That seems silly to me. I figure he'd want to be free to find a girl he really loves," Catarina explained.
Really loves? I repeated in thought. It was clear as day from his reaction to her incapacitation, to his interactions today that he was in love with Catarina. How could she be oblivious to this?
I wanted to tell her, but something told me she just would not believe it. She had built up her own little lie for herself and no words from me were going to dispel that. Realizing this made clear everything else I'd see around her. It was not her flirting with them, but them being interested in her, and she just too... too... dense to realize it. It was enough to make me start to laugh, much to Catarina's confusion.
"What's so funny?" Catarina asked.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, a sudden thought hit me," I explained.
Catarina nodded, apparently accepting my explanation. "Well, I'm just glad we got this all worked out. Doom flags need to be taken seriously, especially when it comes to us in the villainess face club."
There she goes again about doom flags... wait... "Villainess face club?" I asked in confusion causing a sudden bout of nervousness in Catarina.
"Oh, did I say that... yes I did... I mean, don't take it the wrong way. I mean, we both got that kind of look, you know?" she asked with a slight cringe.
I could do little more than blink. This matter was interrupted as the others rejoined us. I dried my eyes of the last of the remaining tears and stood up, bowing once more to Maria but also to Catarina. "I thank you deeply for your patience."
"It's quite alright. You must have been under a lot of stress with all that happened," Maria assured us. "Please don't pay it any further mind."
I bowed my head once more before asking, "If I might ask. You said you remember those who had bullied you and could name them. I would have thought you would have brought the matter up with the administrators already."
Maria hung her head. "I could, I suppose, but I felt it better not to further the conflict. Besides," she said, looking to Catarina then us, "perhaps everyone deserves a chance at forgiveness."
"If they desire it," I added to which Maria nodded. "Thank you Miss Campbell. I think we've taken enough of your time."
"Oh right, it is getting late, isn't it," Catarina realized. "See you tomorrow, Maria. Oh, you got a dress prepared, right?"
"Oh yes, thank you for helping me with that," Maria said with an appreciative smile.
"Great, then I'll see you tomorrow then... uh, there isn't anyone... ah, nevermind. Good night!"
"Good night, Lady Catarina, and to you too, Lady Jessica, Lady Abigale and Lady Elizabeth," she said with a bow as we all gathered to leave.
"And to you too Maria," I said without thought, noticing Maria smiling brightly. I realized my mistake in naming, due to following Catarina's lead, but Maria's reaction prompted me to simply let it lie. And with that we left.
Catarina parted ways with us at the entrance to the upper class dormitory, her own apartment in the opposite direction to ours, leaving me alone with my friends once more. We watched her leave and then looked at each other.
"This is all a good thing right, not just some elaborate act?" Abigale asked.
I shook my head. "No, that is not an act. I don't know what it is, but it is no act."
"Right," Abigale accepted before shaking her head in confusion at it all. "We totally misjudged her, didn't we."
Collectively we sighed and after a moment I asked, "Do I have a villainess face?".
Abigale and Elizabeth looked between each other before Abigale replied. "I mean... a little maybe. I mean, Catarina has a very villainess face if you ask me, so it isn't a big deal."
"Yeah!" Elizabeth agreed.
"Hmm," I murmured.
Tired beyond imaging, both physically and emotionally, we decided to put this day behind us and parted ways. Only once in bed and preparing to fall asleep for the busy day ahead did I realize something. Over the course of the day, Catarina had become so familiar with us, dropping all sense of formality so quickly. "She even called us her friends," I whispered, tears once more threatening my eyes. I dabbed them quickly away. Somehow it was a comforting thought that allowed me the first pleasant night sleep in some time.
XXXXX The End XXXXX
Yes, that is the end. This is a one shot and I have no plans to continue and no real story to speak of even if I did plan to continue.
A bit of background that will get a bit spoilerish, so feel free to end your read here if you're an anime only.
So again, back to that future anime spoiler... Marsha Catley isn't just a name I made up, she's a character in the 5th Light Novel. I won't get into that story here, but reading it did start the inspiration for this story.
Now to be clear, to my knowledge we know next to nothing about the actual canon trio. The Light Novel says the lead girl is of high station and was a potential fiancee to Geordo, and Catarina felt a bit of kinship with the lead as they shared a villainess face, but that's basically it. The manga gives us no further info than that. However, I started developing a head canon for them after reading the 5th novel which filled in an oddity I noticed in novel 3, which is that Catarina has a new set of friends she's going around with who are never explained, and never named. They are completely throwaway characters in the Light Novel. However, after reading Catley's story I got to thinking, 'hey, what if they were the girls from that confrontation'. That thought was just so amusing to me I built this story as a means of explaining that outcome.
Now, sadly, that doesn't actually work in reality. The manga also has these new friends and they're clearly a completely different trio, although still unexplained. So far the anime has used the manga designs where others are not available, so unless they do something really weird, I fully expect them to use the same designs so my head canon is bunk... hence why I didn't go that far in this story. Still, the build up I thought was too good to waste so why not use it anyway, just without the final connection. And so, here we are.
One side note, there are 2 other girls apparently in the group. We see them when the trio runs off from the confrontation joining them, but I have been unable to place them earlier in the scene. Honestly I thought they were members of the bully group, but checking it does not appear so. I think they do match up with some of the manga designs for girls shown briefly with the lead (Jessica in my story), but I guess the anime decided to largely cut them out of the confrontation. Other than being present they don't do anything in the manga either and the trio seem to act as a trio rather than these other 2 girls being involved. I decided to cut them out because ultimately they didn't do anything so even if they were present with Jessica here, they can be pretty assured they are unlikely to get backlash.