༺ The Ashen Witch ༻
District 4 of the Empire was a place difficult for ordinary people to access. It wasn’t that there were particular restrictions, but the atmosphere there made it so.
The streets were extravagant, meant for the aristocrats boasting immense wealth and power, filled with the Empire’s most luxurious 5-star hotels and department stores brimming with all sorts of high-end goods.
We were standing right there.
Despite it being the festival season, District 4 was not as crowded as the other districts.
However, those walking the streets were all aristocrats or their servants. Except for the two of us, there was no one around who wasn’t attended by a servant.
“Instructor, Instructor Graham. Are you sure this is the place? Shouldn’t we turn back now?”
“…It’ll be okay.”
With Instructor Lirya, who was nervously looking around as if she had come to a place she should not be, we headed to the restaurant that Sylvia had reserved.
As expected from the moment we heard about the district, the location of the restaurant Sylvia had reserved was extraordinary.
Hotel Arcadia. The most luxurious and premium hotel in the Empire where foreign royals and VIP guests stayed. And ‘Himel Garden’ was a restaurant located within the Hotel Arcadia.
The restaurant, befitting its name of ‘Heavenly Garden’, was adorned with bright white marble and radiated a bright and vibrant atmosphere. Even the palace could be faintly seen beyond the windows.
Instructor Lirya looked around the restaurant with her mouth slightly open. After looking down at the dress she was wearing, she tightly grabbed my sleeve with a face that had gone pale, seemingly thinking this was all wrong.
“I, I really shouldn’t have come here! I’m not even dressed for a place like this…!”
“I think you fit in just fine.”
“That…! That’s kind of you to say, but… The woman over there is Mrs. Lemong, the wife of the Merchant Guild leader, and those over there are the Mayor of the Empire and his wife! And everyone else here is an incredible aristocrat, and to reserve a place like this so easily, there must be some misunderstanding. This is not a place you can get into just because you have money…!”
In my view, it was more surprising that Instructor Lirya, just by looking at their faces, knew who all these people were.
And it piqued my curiosity. It was strange to see a gentry-born person, who was an academy instructor, a job nothing to be ashamed of, and had a deep knowledge of the upper class, feeling so resistant to high society.
I was slightly concerned about what kind of environment Instructor Lirya grew up in that led her to have such a mindset.
Regardless of my thoughts, Instructor Lirya gripped my sleeve tightly and spoke.
“Ah, anyway… I don’t fit in places like this. It’s not too late, we can still-“
“Right. You country bumpkins are an eyesore here. Can you stop blocking the way and move aside?”
The one who said that was not me, but an ashen-haired woman in a flashy dress standing behind us. Lirya’s eyes widened at the sight of the woman’s audacious dress that exposed a dizzying amount of her back and chest.
But it was not her attire that surprised me. Seeing that I was surprised upon recognizing her face, Lirya asked me curiously.
“Do you know her…?”
I slightly shook my head.
I did not personally know her, but I recognized her face.
She was the Chief Mage of the Imperial Palace Mage Corps and a companion of the Hero.
‘Ashen Witch’ Greta von Runhardt.
Flicking her characteristic ashen hair aside, she spoke with a sharp voice.
“The fact that such country bumpkins can walk in here so nonchalantly… the management here is really lax. Seems like Hotel Arcadia’s standards have fallen.”
Greta tried to brush past me and walk into the restaurant, but she failed to push me aside. Instead, she lost her balance and stumbled backward.
Her face scrunched up as if she could not understand the situation.
“What the hell? You’re not some boulder… Ahem, hey, you! How dare you not move out of the way while the Chief Mage is walking- Huh?”
She put a hand on her hip and glared at me aggressively. Upon doing so, Greta’s eyes widened and her lips slightly parted in surprise.
Her stunned eyes were only for a moment; she hummed with interest and unabashedly scrutinized my face. Her gaze was mixed with the deep avarice typical of a mage.
“At this level, well… it’s not bad. Yes. You’re worth showing around for a bit. You, what’s your name?”
I responded to her question with silence.
Greta’s eyebrows subtly furrowed at my silence.
“…Right, so you’re playing hard to get, huh? I’ll let it slide this time. Do you want to enter this restaurant? If you want, I can guide you in. But not your country bumpkin little sister.”
At the words “little sister”, Instructor Lirya flinched slightly, but although she seemed to recognize Greta, she didn’t say a word, instead casting anxious glances between me and Greta.
“Not just this restaurant. I can even take you to the Imperial Palace Ball. Have you ever been to the palace? Of course you haven’t. But I can make it possible. Because I’m the Hero’s companion and the Chief Mage of the palace, Greta von Runhardt. You’ve obviously heard my name, right? So acknowledge it as an honor and-“
Recently, I’ve been running into unwanted faces wherever I go.
Seeing no end to her words if I let her continue, I firmly cut her off. Unintentionally, my voice was colder and heavier than usual.
Upon hearing my stern rejection, Greta furrowed her brow and could not hide her discomfort.
“……Ah, is that so? I see I’m kicking my own fortune away. Well, have fun amongst yourselves, country bumpkins.”
With that, she flipped her ashen hair and strutted away. This time, instead of trying to push past me, she stepped slightly aside and walked around. And then, she confidently spoke to the staff standing at the entrance.
“You know who I am, right? Lead me to my seat.”
“…Ms. Greta, pardon me, but did you make a reservation?”
“Huh? Don’t you know who I am? I’m Greta von Runhardt, the Chief Mage of the Imperial Palace. If I wish to use this restaurant, should I have to notify all of you?”
“I’m really sorry, but due to the large number of guests during the Victory Festival, we’ve been advising for two months now that reservations are a must. Even if you are Ms. Greta, without a reservation, you cannot use our facilities.”
“What? Are you out of your mind? Are you talking like this knowing that my father is the Grand Mage? He doesn’t tolerate disrespect. If he finds out and drops a meteorite on this hotel, will you be the one responsible?”
“I apologize once again, but even if Mr. Runhardt himself came here, without a reservation, he cannot be accommodated.”
“You… you dare… to in, insult…!”
Greta, her face reddening, glared angrily at the clerk for a while.
Several customers in the restaurant looked this way due to the commotion, and eventually, Greta turned around, unable to hide her humiliation.
I passed by her and approached the entrance with Instructor Lirya. Seeing this, a smile spread on Greta’s face. It was a smile as if to mock, ‘Do you think you, of all people, can get in here when even I couldn’t?’
“Welcome, guests. Could you please tell me the name of the reservation?”
“It’s under the name Eon Graham.”
“Eon, Graham… here it is. You made a reservation for two, correct? I will guide you to your seats immediately.”
Greta shouted at the clerk in a mix of anger and disbelief.
“Hold on, why can he get in and I can’t!?”
“Eon made a reservation, Ms. Greta, you did not.”
“But still, how could you allow such lowlifes… Eon Graham? Ha! The name tells me he’s not even a noble!”
Ignoring Greta, who was seething with rage, I followed the clerk into the restaurant with Instructor Lirya.
Glancing back, Instructor Lirya sent me a worried look.
“Instructor Graham, are you alright…?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I mean her. She found out your name… won’t she seek revenge later? Maybe we should give up our reservation to her right now…”
“There’s no need for that. And I’m fine.”
The Chief Mage of the Imperial Palace?
A mere fame in name and a skill that couldn’t even measure up to the tip of the Crimson Sage’s foot.
Meteor? The very same Meteor that I had sliced and shattered dozens of times in the last great war. In order to harm me with magic, one would need to wield magic of the magnitude of Caius’s Breath or the Sage’s Infinity.
What really bugged me right now was the trivial curiosity as to how exactly Sylvia managed to make a reservation at this restaurant. The ashen-haired witch was less than that to me.
Still, whether Instructor Lirya was still worried, or was not able to adapt to the atmosphere of this restaurant, she was hunched like a scared rabbit.
I sighed briefly and said,
“Instructor Lirya, straighten your shoulders.”
“At least compared to that woman earlier, you, Instructor Lirya, are a much more mature woman who fits in here far better.”
At that, Instructor Lirya looked at me with surprise. Her face was a mix of surprise and shyness.
“Th, that remark…”
With her cheeks flushed, she tightly closed her lips, not uttering another word.
However, she stepped a little closer to me.
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