༺ The First Letter (46) ༻
The pale moonlight permeated the room through the window’s crevice. A shadow of a flame was cast by the soft scarlet light as it flickered intermittently like a fickle candle.
A woman akin to the sun was sitting with such a dreamy landscape as a background. Radiant golden hair, red eyes reminiscent of rubies, her appearance was capable of shining through even the darkest of nights.
The color palette seemed to fit her very well, and she had a presence that would shine anywhere she went. She sipped her fragrant wine with a strange smile on her face.
Even the sound of gulping down alcohol was mesmerizing. There were only the two of us in this room, a man and a woman drinking, one would be so inclined to believe that this meeting was one of romantic intentions.
However, only this woman exuded such a mysterious atmosphere.
My eyes were locked onto her, frozen in place. My mind was in disarray.
What did she just say?
I was doubtful. If it wasn’t for my absolute confidence on whom the culprit of this matter is, I wouldn’t have made such a claim. It was against the will of the heir of the Yurdina family. An excessive level of determination was necessary before making such a decision.
Yet, I found it difficult to speak. I was thirsty, and the only glass filled with wine was the one the woman had offered me.
I decided to quench my thirst before emitting a hoarse voice from my throat.
“Why would you do it…?”
“Is there any reason not to?”
Senior Delphine looked at me with a sweet smile. That innocent, gentle attitude made me even more embarrassed.
Didn’t you just say you were sorry?
For Seria, the memories of her mother and the nightmares of that day were akin to thorns that have long since pierced her heart. Even if she believed she had forgotten the despair, even if all that remained were painless scars, one day that old wound may come back to haunt her.
Even if she was her step-sister, that didn’t give her the right. Wasn’t it good manners to not reopen people’s old wounds?
My eyes narrowed slightly as I contemplated such a fundamental matter.
“Yes, there are a couple of good reasons not to. No, it’s not just a couple, there are countless.”
Senior Delphine laughed at my serious tone and shifted her gaze out the window.
Her eyes sparkled like the radiant night sky. She spoke with a languid voice, as if the conversation she had shared with me was of no value.
“Are reasons necessary?”
I expressed my doubts as I couldn’t discern the intent lying behind her brief question. Senior Delphine’s blood-red eyes turned towards me again.
“Why would I need a reason?”
“Of course it’s necessary to have reasoning…!”
“No, it’s unnecessary.”
After interrupting my speech as I was on the verge of screaming, Senior Delphine slowly stood up. She poured the remaining wine into her mouth and put down the glass with a clank.
The rustling sound of her gown, her body worthy of being defined as a work of art, and the sweet scent of wine that tickled the tip of my nose. My head began spinning.
She leaned slightly against the table in an alluring pose before speaking.
“Hatchet Lord, of course they aren’t necessary… Will any of those so-called ‘reasons’ be useful for winning?”
“…So, digging up Seria’s trauma regarding her mother will help you win?”
Senior Delphine smiled faintly in response to the words I spat out through grinding teeth. No words were uttered, yet the answer was apparent.
She stared at me momentarily with fierce eyes before she straightened her posture that was previously leaning on the desk. She slowly walked towards the window.
The clear glass window reflected a blurry image of her face. Even in the reflection, her face was unbelievably calm.
“The heirs of the Yurdina family have been attending the Academy for a very long time. It’s the same with any of the five most prestigious families in the Empire. We have a tradition in our family.”
“Bullying your step-sibling?”
Senior Delphine’s relaxed expression did not collapse despite my ridicule. She placed her palm on the window sill.
She lowered her upper body, accentuating the view of her lower body.
Slim legs, her pelvis’ smooth curves, and the charming contours of her hips were exposed due to the thin gown that clung to her skin.
There was no better spectacle to seduce a man. Yet I did not give her a second thought nor did I cough in embarrassment.
I merely stared at her fiercely with my forehead wrinkled. Senior Delphine glanced back at me and grinned upon seeing my expression.
Did she think of me as ridiculous, or did she find me cute?
Regardless, neither outcome suggested that she was intimidated by me. Senior Delphine raised another topic in an apathetic manner.
“The Hunting Festival.”
‘Hunting Festival’, I did not expect to hear those words again. I immediately frowned. However, Senior Delphine continued to speak in a nonchalant manner, as if stating an obvious fact.
“To grasp victory in the Hunting Festival. That is the tradition of the Yurdina family.”
“Do you think you will achieve such a goal?”
“Yes, I will. But isn’t it my responsibility to prevent my poor little sister from dreaming in vain?”
I kept my mouth shut. It was only then that I finally began to comprehend her thought process.
Seria saw this year’s Hunting Festival as her last chance. This was the result of a combination of a multitude of factors.
The fact that Delphine was a 4th year student, the gap between the failure and the pride of the family, and the traditions of the Yurdina family.
Despite all of this, Seria desired to prove her worth. She wanted to prove that she was a member of the honored Yurdina family like her sister, that she was a useful human being. She didn’t want to live amidst fear ever again.
With this information coming to Senior Delphine’s attention, she decided to take action to reduce as many variables as possible to ensure her own victory.
She seemed very obsessed with victory, so much so that she’d eliminate even the slightest threat to her chances of winning.
I bit my lips while pondering for a moment before finally asking Senior Delphine a question.
“So, that’s why you even used Seria’s trauma regarding her mother?”
“No, you are incorrect. I just wanted to create an atmosphere where it would be difficult for Seria to gather a large following. Who would have thought our current situation would be the end product?”
Senior Delphine stood straight once again while leaning on the window. She sat on the edge of the window sill and glanced down at me with a faint smile.
I didn’t like it one bit. A high-pitched scream burst out of my mouth.
“Then you should have stopped it…!”
However, even faced with my outburst, Senior Delphine didn’t lose her composure. Rather, she burst into laughter.
“Pfft. Hahaha! Me?”
Senior Delphine pointed at herself with her index finger before she shook her head.
As if not comprehending my words, she stared at me.
“Do you know how much Seria had to suffer…?!”
“… Hatchet Lord.”
Senior Delphine sighed and stood up again. She strolled slowly and grabbed a bottle of wine. A squeaking sound was emitted.
The glass was filled once again. She spoke with a frigid voice.
“Seria is a member of Yurdina. She is not so weak to be broken like that.”
In response to those words, I jolted up. A blatant hostility flared up in my eyes. Even so, Senior Delphine just sipped her wine with her relaxed demeanor.
The look in her eyes, what was she planning to do?
In the midst of my ire, I thought to myself that perhaps I had seen those eyes somewhere recently.
“Do you know how severe the bullying got back then? How Seria was mentally pushed to her limits…!”
“Then it must have been because Seria was weak.”
She spoke nonchalantly, as if she was providing an obvious answer. I froze instantly.
“The North is a barren land. Winter is long and spring is fleeting… The land is not suitable for agriculture. If we do not import food from the affluent eastern part of the country, many people will starve to death.”
“…… What does that have to do with Seria?”
Senior Delphine responded to my resentful tone with a gentle smile, as if she was attempting to sooth me. Her nonchalant speech continued.
“To survive in such an environment, the Yurdina family took a completely pragmatic approach. We became obsessed with achieving our goals regardless of methods employed, sometimes resorting to ruthlessness. The history of the Yurdina family is one of blood and progress that has survived countless strifes.”
“So the Yurdina family has no place for a weakling that succumbs to pressure like that??”
Snap. Senior Delphine snapped her finger, indicating I was correct.
Of course, those words did not calm my raging fury. I continued to glare at Senior Delphine with fierce eyes. Yet, Senior Delphine simply continued filling up her glass with wine again.
“I think of it as an expression of affection in my own way. I felt pride when Seria was recognized as a member of the Yurdina family. Whenever she sees me, she lowers her gaze and sees me off with a trembling voice… Ha, she is such a cute little sister.”
The conversations I had with Seria flashed through my mind.
Although she admired her step-sister, she also feared her. It had been like this ever since that night when she was warned that if she didn’t prove her worth, she’d be discarded.
As the heir of the Yurdina family, Delphine must have accumulated numerous victories with her backing. On the other hand, Seria had to experience rigorous training for her to be recognized as a member of Yurdina.
There was no way Seria could beat Senior Delphine. There was a fundamental difference in the circumstances in which they matured. Even if Seria had much greater talent, it still would not have been enough to make up for the difference in time and resources.
At any rate, if Seria had attempted to compete with Senior Delphine, the Yurdina family might have cut off their support for Seria. That is the world of ‘High Aristocracy.’
It was too harsh towards Seria, and too gracious towards Senior Delphine. That’s why Seria must have found it difficult to properly make eye contact with Senior Delphine whenever she saw her.
My voice deepened further as I spoke again.
“…Have you been living like that while attaining victories along the way?”
“That’s not all, I’ve never lost. My ‘Invincibility’ is proof that I’m more suitable than anyone else as the heir of the Yurdina family.”
“The reason you were trying to recruit me must have been an extension of that.”
‘Hmm,’ responded Senior Delphine while staring at me as if I had said something intelligent. It was a fascinating look, but I did not feel any excitement due to the mixed emotions that were swirling in my chest.
“Although I may seem useful, am I not just someone who happened to cross paths with Seria? It would be more beneficial for you to gather the team of hunters you originally desired.”
“That ‘little sister’ of mine won’t be able to climb any further without you.”
Senior Delphine responded in a polite manner that accounted for the shortcomings of my response. I couldn’t help but laugh in vain.
“…Then, why did you tell me the truth?”
The final question I had for her.
Why did she tell me the truth? It was fine to continue to deceive me. I would have used this as an excuse to incite my guilt and forge a friendly relationship.
That would’ve been a better strategy. Yet Senior Delphine chose the more arduous path.
Telling me the truth, it seemed relatively clear that it would worsen the relationship between me and Senior Delphine.
Therefore when I first heard Senior Delphine’s words, I was unsure of how I’d respond.
Senior Delphine listened to me and closed her eyes as if it were a problem she could not comprehend herself. She repeatedly smacked her lips together, deep in thought.
Her worries didn’t last long. Senior Delphine spoke to me with a faint smile.
“Well? As I said, courage must be rewarded, and…”
With those words, Senior Delphine’s movements, which momentarily paused, suddenly continued.
As usual, she slowly approached me with a rustling sound. That fair nape and the sweet scent that seemed to entrench my nose.
The hot fragrance of the wine enveloped me. Suddenly, she was right in front of me.
The body of a glamorous woman was standing there, but my eyes were just staring at Senior Delphine’s crimson eyes without averting. As if appreciating my fortitude, Delphine brought her face closer to me with an alluring smile.
The next moment, her voice tickled my ear.
“…Just for your information, nothing will change, you know?”
That was the breaking point. I instinctively brought my hand to my waist. Before I knew it, I was holding the handle of the hatchet that hung from my belt.
Like magic, Senior Delphine’s body had disappeared from her original location. As if she were oblivious to what my hand had reached for, Senior Delphine once again filled her wine glass with alcohol.
She glanced at me. It had only one purpose.
It was a look of curiosity, wondering if I really would draw the weapon.
The hand holding the hatchet shook. However, I then relaxed my grip. I had no choice.
This was Senior Delphine’s sanctuary, moreover she was unarmed. Nevertheless, she was not an opponent against whom I could guarantee my victory, nor did I have enough reasoning to justify my actions.
It was a situation that could escalate into a more serious issue beyond just an academy’s brawl. It was ill-advised for me to draw the hatchet.
As if she knew I wouldn’t do it, Senior Delphine glanced at me with a smile before taking a sip from the glass of wine. She winked before pointing at the other glass still teeming with wine.
It was the same glass she had been drinking and had offered me. Would it be fair to say that in the north it symbolizes a ceremony of camaraderie?
I stared at Senior Delphine without uttering a word. Senior Delphine spoke to me with a relaxed smile.
“…How about one last drink? Though it’s a pretty expensive drink.”
That was the final straw.
There was no change in her expression.
The ax’s blade tore through the air.
The hatchet was struck down like a beam of light.
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