Magi Craft Meister 441 13 Stronghold Enhancement Arc 13-29 Struggle “J-Jin... What are we going to do?” Her face turned pale, Saki asked with a trembling voice. “We...
9 – 7
“Come on, Lady Mary! Just forget about Lord Patrick and we can go grab a bite to eat, all three of us!”
Alicia’s cheeks puffed out, and Mary almost instinctively pressed her hand against her forehead.
It should be mentioned, at this point, that she had done her utmost to keep Alicia at bay with yells of, ‘Don’t you come over here!’
Needless to say, the effort had been fruitless.
It was obvious to anyone that Alicia thought little of being left behind. She regarded the ring of onlookers who were only growing in numbers and balefully stuck out the tip of her tongue, as if she were a petulant child.
Faced with the juvenile behaviour that so deviated from the image a student of Caleria Academy was meant to uphold, Mary could only reprimand her by saying something to the effect of, ‘Enough of that! That’s just unsightly!”
“Why would you even leave Patrick as the odd man out? Because you assumed all four of us would go out to eat? I’m eating at home, I’ll have you know.”
“Come on, what’s the problem? I know a store that sells the most amazing croquettes. Let’s just go.”
“…Oh! That was close. Almost lost it there!”
“You, M’lady, are too easily swayed.”
The mere mention of croquettes was enough for Mary to forget herself, if only for a moment, and all Addy could muster at the spectacle was a long sigh. Collected once more, he turned his attention back to Alicia and gently laid her hand on her shoulder.
“That just wouldn’t do, Alicia. You and Lord Patrick need to talk this out, face-to-face.”
“I completely understand why you don’t want to get involved. But that’s something you have to make clear, and make clear on your own terms.”
“You… You’re right. But I don’t know how I’d even get close to him…”
Addy’s gentle counterpoint found its desired effect, and Alicia, having changed her mind on the matter, regarded the group with drooping brows. Despite all her peevishness and her quick assertions to forget about the issue and move on, there was no denying that, in her heart of hearts, she wanted to be together with Patrick.
While the noble lady and the common girl who had come here to shop, purely by chance, continued to converse about one of the members of Carelia Academy’s student council, the masses of people had only grown. It would take considerable courage to break through their lines.
Someone like Alicia, considering the hows and whys of her personality, would… likely lack the capacity to push her way through them, even if she did want to be with Patrick.
Well-acquainted with her ways, Mary told her that she might as well just resign to her fate and just eat dinner on her own or something. Addy, in stark contrast to her, told her that he would lend her a hand, looked into her face, and nodded.
“Alicia, I just want you to be happy.”
“You want me to be happy, Addy?”
“That’s right. I want you to break through what your social status is doing to hold you back. I want to see you doing just that. That’s why I’m more than happy to accompany you to where you’ll find Lord Patrick. And M’lady here, she’s the key…!”
The very same minute a sliver of seriousness overtook the mood, Addy had to go and ruin it by triumphantly roaring his Lady’s praises. This was something that Mary, naturally, put an immediate stop to.
But still, as far as Mary was concerned, his sudden outburst made for quite the slip-up. Her call of, ‘Don’t fool around!’ came a tad too late, and before she knew it, Addy was standing behind her, boxes in hand.
It didn’t stop there, either. Addy, still standing behind her, made to step forward. Mary was caught off guard by this, and found that she had little choice but to move to the front. The moment was made all the more impactful with the knowledge that even the slightest impact with Addy and the boxes he was holding would scatter them.
It was also the knowledge that should the boxes fall and reveal their contents, or lack thereof; that the whole world would know she had bought nothing more than a simple, empty box.
“Hey! You can’t just say whatever you want!”
“Sure, certainly, of course. Why don’t we get walking then?”
“Stop fooling around! Hey- Wait- Don’t push… Those thing might fall if I bump into them!”
“True… You may indeed bump into them and they’d fall… So come on now, don’t dally.”
“You have a lot of nerve if you think this is guiding me! Whose side are you on?!”
“Just think of me as a military officer, cheering Alicia on by using my allegiance to you as a base!”
“You know what that is?! That’s called being a traitor!”
Pushed along by Addy – or, to be honest, the boxes – Mary gradually drew closer to the group, all the while making a huge fuss. It wasn’t long after that the people standing on the outermost rings of their congregation took notice of her and let out a small ‘ah’ of recognition, an action that soon spread to the others in the group like a contagion.
Every last one of them looked on with wide eyes, her appearance having been far too unexpected for anyone. The appearance of… yes, that’s right, none other than Mary Albert, Patrick’s former betrothed.
The confusion aimed at her presence was entirely feasible. It was, for one thing, almost unthinkable that the young lady of the house Albert would be seen in a city with such common a populace, and shopping no less. It was even more inconceivable that she would willingly show her face to the circle surrounding her once-fiancée.
It was only natural that she’d turn heads.
The situation made it all the more apparent that none could simply push Mary aside to speak with Patrick. There was also the recent event with the members of the student council to consider, and it was a safe bet to say that most women there had some sense of inferiority when compared to Mary, or more accurately to the young Albert woman.
But none dispersed. Instead, they scooted away and made a little room, throwing furtive glances as they did. Mary, feeling somewhat scandalised by this, heaved out a sigh. She made sure to glare towards Addy and mouth the words, ‘I won’t forget this!’ before turning back to Patrick, who still stood in the middle of the ring.
“A pleasant day to all of you. You see, Lord Patrick, I was out shopping on my own – pardon, if you would be so willing as to invite me to join you, I would be glad to do just that.”
With all the emphasis Mary had given the part the betrayed her solitude, what she had left unspoken should have made its way across without need for a direct explanation.
Mary didn’t even have to finish her sentence before Patrick adopted a somewhat troubled expression, and though he faced her for fear of appearing boorish, his eyes danced about his surroundings as if he was looking for something.
It was almost certain that he was searching for any sign of Alicia, who was hidden from view. When he finally did find her standing behind Mary and Addy, a light touch of relief rushed into his face.
“Alicia, I’m so sorry…”
Having found his dear lover, Patrick offered his apologies as he drew ever nearer.
Mary sidled as if to give Alicia the stage, worming in some light-hearted jest about how rude he was to ignore her when she was the one to speak to him in the first place. Addy immediately followed suit, leaving the onlooking gazes adrift towards the couple as they locked eyes with one another.
The embarrassment so evident on Alicia’s face stemmed from the simple, discomforting fact that all stares had gone her way. She was much too different from Patrick, whose position as student representative had called him to stand in the spotlight, the next man in line to lead the party of the Dice household that had stood publicly so many times. Alicia was a girl of common standing, and she felt as if the stares might pierce through her.
If it wasn’t for the confidence Alicia had in herself, and if it wasn’t for the sheer growth she’d undergone until she had reached the perfect harmony with her lover, a place such as this would have shoved her own feelings back down her throat.
It was a sort of ironic twist for a game, as if there was only a single dialogue option that floated on a screen, accentuating its importance. There was just one, single option to choose from. A choice that could barely be chosen in the first place.
Mary stared Alicia’s way with a catlike grin, wondering how this would turn out.
She was keeping her head low and her eyes to the ground in some feeble attempt to escape the stares, and could only muster the occasional strength to weakly call for Patrick by name. The way she looked at that moment made it impossible to discern just how much she wished to keep her lover for herself.
“Lord Patrick… I, you see, I…”
“I… I think that, since there’s so many people here… it’s best if we… if we all go and eat together…”
When Alicia was done slowly churning out her words, and when those words were an invitation for everyone to eat together, Mary glowered her way by a tad.
She’d avoided the subject. The thought echoing in her mind, she turned to her side and watched as Addy verbally expressed his own disbelief, his eyes never leaving the couple. He looked just as shocked as she felt.
Her hands idle and not wishing to stand by and just gawk, she grabbed his sleeve.
“That’s enough of this farce. Come on. Let’s go home.”
“Right.. Ah, M’lady.”
Addy did his best to restrain Mary before she could make her getaway. She turned, on the verge of asking what it was now that so demanded her attention, before she took another look at both Mary and Patrick as they both faced each other. There were a few minute differences, namely in the crimson that blotted Alicia’s face and the way she held on to the hem of his clothes.
“I-I… I really think there’s… nothing better than eating with everyone around you… also… I know this might make it difficult for you… but still…”
Though she looked so frail she might burst into tears and while she was so unclear that just about everyone felt confused, Alicia did her best to get her point across. Then, as if erasing all thought from her mind, she raised her head in a rush and directly returned the gaze Patrick sent her way.
“I want to, if only for a moment, have you all to myself…!”
The words she spoke through the undivided attention she gave Alicia turned everyone silent. Even Mary, for all her experience with these types of patterns, just gawked on.
By the time everyone had come back to reality, Alicia had once again turned bright red and directed her gaze to the floor. Patrick, for one, was so happy to hear his lover acting for her own benefit for once that he couldn’t contain his grin.
The expression was so unfamiliar on Patrick’s face, and peculiar enough for Mary to grumble about it under her breath. He didn’t look like the cool, handsome prince then. He looked like any other man who was hopelessly smitten by his adored lover.
“I’m afraid I owe you all an apology. I’ve decided that I’ll be escorting this fine young lady around today. Both our conversation and our shared meal will have to wait for another time.”
Those were the words Patrick giddily let out while doing his damnedest to keep up a facade of gallantry. Mary’s further mumbling, which noted that his head seemed to be in the clouds, went seemingly unnoticed by him. To top it all off, Addy watched over the two with such glee he might as well have been looking at himself and guffawed, saying something about, ‘that’s just how men are’.
From one farce into another… It was exactly at the moment when Mary decided she needed another nod that the ring around both Patrick and Alicia slowly began to scatter.
“Lady Mary, I… I’m so sorry.”
“Sorry about this, Mary, but I do believe it’ll just be the two of us dining tonight.”
Patrick and Alicia came closer, each with their own words of apology, to which Addy nodded. Mary, on the other hand…
“Again, why do all just assume it’ll be the four of us that go eating?”
…could only form another complaint, though she knew full well nothing would come of it. Alicia responded to her conduct with a small peal of laughter, took her by the hand, and slipped a bracelet onto her wrist that was encrusted in decorations.
“…What is this?”
Mary titled her head to the side in her confusion, lowering her wrist and letting the decorative orbs lightly cling to each other. They were tinged with white, some coloured beige and others silver. It almost reminded her of a certain someone or two.
“Heheh. It’s a present from me to you, Lady Mary.”
“A-A Present?! Why do I have to accept presents from a commoner girl?!”
“Because it fits you!”
And bam! There was something else that matched the noise Mary’s new bracelet made, swaying as it did. That said, the two were somewhat different from each other. Alicia’s brand was a combination of indigo blue and silver. Mary recognised it and let out a small sigh that showcased just that, her eyes wide and round.
“It fits you so well, Lady Mary. This was a little embarrassing, but it still makes me so happy.”
Shyly, Alicia latched on the Patrick’s side and the two of them made their retreat. The only one among the two watchers who found themselves able to see them off with a simple, friendly call of, ‘See you tomorrow!’ was Addy. Meanwhile, Mary started at the present adorning her wrist with something akin to astonishment.
The thing was small. Tiny, even, almost as if it had been built on the cheap and meant for a younger target demographic. It was so pretty it could have only been made for girls, and offered much variety in its colours. There were plenty of combinations to make.
The colours complimented the various captured targets, and was without a doubt a sample of Doragaku’s official goods.
“Weird, I didn’t think Mary’s colour was supposed to be here…”
What did that mean? The question lingered in Mary’s mind. She didn’t have it in her to question just who the rust-coloured decorative orb next to the silver one was supposed to represent.
(Original Author’s Note): Reddish-brown? I wasn’t too sure, so I switched it around a little. Reddish-Brown to Rust-Coloured. I thought it might feel off if I just called any product ‘rust-coloured’, but I thought it’d be more direct so I wrote that instead.