༺ The First Letter (77) ༻
The day I first arrived at the Academy, I was very withdrawn.
I was nervous, like an adventurer stepping into unexplored territory.
I would be spending four years at the academy, and I had already begun missing my family.
Before, the longest I’d gone without them was a few months while I stayed at the Einstern and Haster estates, so four years was unfathomable. Nevertheless, I was excited to spend my youth at the prestigious academy.
I arrived at the plaza for the entrance ceremony with bated breath. Around me were people I didn’t recognize. Until that moment, Leto had accompanied me, which made me feel less isolated, but without him, I couldn’t see myself meshing with the throng of students.
The high-ranking nobles were already walking about and exchanging greetings amongst themselves. However, no matter how much I looked around, I didn’t recognize any of them, let alone know their names.
I sighed and shook my head, trying to pull myself together.
A girl had bumped into me. She must have made a mistake while attempting to push her way through the crowd. My eyes fell on her.
She was a striking woman with innocent, light green eyes. That was my first impression of her.
She stared at me with fear in her eyes.
“I, I’m sorry. Please forgive me, young master…….”
As soon as I heard those words, my eyes dimmed.
I didn’t understand why she reacted like that, but then my eyes caught sight of her uniform.
The fabric was not of high quality and was seemingly made from the supplies provided by the academy. Conversely, nobles often only used the finest materials for their academy uniforms, if only for pride’s sake.
I was no exception, having spent a fortune on my uniform after being forced by my sister. Based on her reaction, the answer was simple.
She was a commoner.
Looking back, it was probably a bit rude, but I looked at her with a touch of wonder. On my second day at the academy, I finally saw what I had only heard rumors about.
There was no class distinction or hierarchy at the academy.
Merit was the only thing that mattered.
As I watched the girl tremble with fear, I couldn’t help but scoff.
“I’m not a young master.”
“B-but then what should I address you as…….”
And with that, I held out my hand. She stiffened, startled at first, but soon looked at my hand curiously, like it was a puzzle that needed to be solved.
She might have thought the Academy’s rules were just a bunch of nonsense, so I decided to reassure her.
“My name is Ian Percus. I hope we can become close friends.”
The girl said nothing for a while. She looked back and forth between my face and my outstretched hand.
She took my hand cautiously, like a cat that had just discovered something new.
Her name was Emma, and she was the first commoner friend I made at the Academy.
“What are you thinking about?”
An impatient voice snapped me back to reality. I was jerked back to the present inside the hospital room.
Emma was no longer a young girl but rather a woman of many years and a mature beauty.
Her light green eyes stared back at me, accompanied by a soft smile. They once possessed traces of fear, but now it was nowhere to be found.
We had been at the academy for three years now. Even though we weren’t close friends, we shared some memories and often saw one another.
It would have been a little hurtful if she still feared me. I shook my head with a bittersweet smile.
“I was thinking about the past.”
“Our first day at the academy?”
My pupils fluttered as Emma hit the nail on the head. I glanced at her, surprised, but she was still smiling weakly.
She was a very perceptive woman. She had a knack for reading people’s minds.
“You were a poor country girl back then.”
“And you were a ‘young master’, remember?”
“Back then, I was good at getting my way. Don’t you remember how I got you a place at the Alchemy Faculty?”
Emma covered her mouth and let out a weak giggle. She still hadn’t fully recovered from her coma, but seeing her smile made me happy.
Finally, I could be free of this guilt, and Emma and her father would be able to live happily ever after.
I haven’t been at peace since the day she collapsed knowing I could have prevented it.
I was able to fix that mistake. Even though I’d lost the chance to gain tens of thousands of gold, I wasn’t desperate enough to willingly weigh my friend’s life against money.
Emma smiled briefly, but then her eyes sank and stared straight ahead before returning to me.
It was the look of someone who was reminiscing on the past.
“It’s funny…how we met ……. and how we built a connection.”
It was an unremarkable comment. I snorted and spoke.
“That’s how relationships go. You happen to run into the other person and it somehow keeps going from there.”
“Yeah, but I never thought I’d be friends with a noble until I joined the academy.”
There was the word ‘noble’ again. Emma was always like this.
While she pretended not to care, she was always mindful of the class distinction between nobles and commoners. And it wasn’t just Emma. All of the commoners at the Academy thought this way.
Some nobles had a light sense of class, while others had a heavier one. I belonged to the former, so I felt comfortable talking to commoners, but I didn’t need to ask how the latter felt.
I purposely didn’t point it out to Emma when she showed signs of it. But today, she seemed so lonely that I couldn’t help but say something.
“Emma, I told you, nobles and commoners are the same in the academy, so it’s no wonder you and I became friends…….”
“I know, but were we really that close?”
I was silent for a moment. It was an easily misunderstood statement. The kind of words that would haunt me for weeks if I had heard them from a friend I thought I was particularly close to.
But Emma seemed to be hinting towards something else as her helpless gaze turned to me.
“I heard it was over ten thousand gold–The corpse of that demonic beast you sacrificed to save me.”
“……Don’t worry about it.”
“How can I not?”
My words were sincere, but Emma’s reply was short. In the end, I couldn’t say anything and just shut my mouth.
Emma looked at me with shaky eyes. She even looked a little scared.
“I’m a commoner. I can’t repay something like that. Even if I sold my life, it wouldn’t be worth a tenth of that, so how could you make such a decision without hesitating?”
“I made the choice of my own free will, so don’t worry and…….”
“What do you want?”
It was a straightforward question. I looked at Emma in disbelief as her light green eyes shuddered wildly.
“What do you want? Should I become an alchemist in service of the Percus family? Or do you perhaps want my body?”
A hushed voice flowed from my mouth to calm her down, but Emma’s anxiety was not easily quelled.
Ten thousand gold. A commoner could work a lifetime and never earn that much. Even high nobles were careful about transactions involving that much money.
The amount was truly astronomical. I hadn’t realized how much of a burden it would be for Emma – money she couldn’t repay no matter what she did.
Maybe I had been selfish. All I could think about was saving her.
For the sake of easing my guilt, I had disregarded Emma’s feelings. However, I would have made the same decision to save her life even if I were to go back in time.
“How the hell can I… h-how can I repay this favor……!”
A yell eventually burst from my mouth. Emma gasped, her body quivering, and looked up at me in surprise. I sighed and pushed myself up.
I gently placed my hand on Emma’s shoulder as she gazed up at me with trembling eyes.
My words were slurred. Emma’s watery eyes blinked a few times before she replied in a daze.
“Live as you always have… and as you should. Graduate from the academy safely, make potions that don’t take advantage of herbalists as you dreamed of, and make money doing so. Help your father and live. Be happy.”
My words flowed out like a waterfall. Emma continued staring into my eyes, trying to understand my intentions.
But no matter how she looked at it, I was speaking from the heart without a hint of falsehood.
Emma’s trembling visibly subsided as if she finally understood my sincerity. However, she didn’t say anything. She simply continued looking at me.
I couldn’t help but smile bitterly.
“That’s my wish and the only way you can repay me.”
There was no reply for a long time, but I didn’t care. As long as my feelings reached her, that was all that mattered.
I settled back into my seat without another word. The silence stretched on for a long time. Feeling awkward, I coughed weakly and looked away.
A burst of laughter soon erupted, the source being, of course, Emma.
“Pffff, ahhh, ahahahhaha!”
Feeling a little embarrassed, I couldn’t help but remark timidly. Emma continued to laugh loudly, giggling and covering her mouth.
“That’s such an Ian-like thing to say…hahaha. Stupid, idiot, dummy. All that to get taken advantage of by a commoner girl like me.”
“You’re cursing me quite a lot…….”
I pretended to pout, but a thin smile crept across my face.
The atmosphere relaxed. Emma may not have gotten everything off her chest, but at least she had a smile on her face that said she was somewhat at peace.
I was relieved. I was worried she’d start to wallow in her debt.
But Emma wasn’t done. With her usual sweet smile, she turned to me.
“……But, Ian, you shouldn’t do that to a woman.”
It was a warm smile – one that made me feel better inside.
I glanced over at her face. Her skin was flawless without a single blemish. I wondered how that was possible when I’d heard that commoners couldn’t even wash their faces properly.
There was moisture at the corners of her eyes that were curved into crescents, and her hair was an alluring reddish brown as it caught the sunlight from the window.
As if shyly confessing, the girl spoke.
“It creates misunderstandings.”
I reflexively asked back, but no answer came from Emma. She simply shook her head with a slight smile.
“Never mind, it’s too late, anyway.”
She breathed a faint sigh with a wistful look in her eyes and a hand on her chest.
“…… I’m in trouble….”
I thought she looked exceptionally beautiful, but I didn’t dare to put it into words.
It was a moment when the bonds of the past resulted in a strange incident.
After the visit, I went straight to the treatment room.
I originally planned on going tomorrow since tonight was the afterparty of the Hunting Festival.
There was going to be an all-night feast with an unlimited supply of food and drink. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. As the winner of the hunting festival, I even got four tables.
This meant I could invite some of my friends, and I decided to invite Leto first.
However, my plan soon hit a roadblock because of the Saintess.
“You need to come right away, Brother Ian. Do you understand?”
Her eyes were so frightening that I couldn’t help but comply.
There was nothing unusual about her expression. She was smiling, but for some reason, all my instincts were warning me that it wasn’t a benevolent one.
Once we entered the treatment room, I kept a watchful eye on the Saintess. She was changing the bandages on my arm with a pained expression on her face but soon turned to glance at me wryly.
“Brother Ian, didn’t you promise me that you wouldn’t participate in the Hunting Festival?”
“T-there were circumstances… To save my friend…….”
Fortunately, my excuse was perfect. Risking my life to save a poor friend because they couldn’t afford medical treatment, how noble!
The Saintess didn’t respond to my excuse and gave me a blank look instead. It was kind of cute, so I saved the view in my head.
Her curves slid past my arm while wrapping the bandages, and her sweet body odor pervaded my nose. I have never regretted my injuries as much as I did at this moment. To think I the damaged nerves in my left would prevent me from feeling such heavenly bliss…
As I struggled to look away, the Saintess continued to speak.
“……Your friend was a woman, right?”
I answered, unsure of the question’s intent.
Still, there were no signs of discontentment from the Saintess. Instead, she hummed and narrowed her eyes.
“In addition, all the members of your hunting party were also women.”
“Yes. It wasn’t my intention, but it just happened to be that way…….”
It was a strange thing to think about. It wasn’t easy to get three women together, even if you tried, but I somehow pulled it off.
It was the result of my efforts to select the best teammates, all of whom ended up being beautiful women.
I didn’t know whether to call it luck or misfortune.
It was an inexplicable coincidence. At that moment, the Saintess spoke to me in a cold voice.
“I suppose those women were more important than… me?”
My head snapped around at the faint chilling tone of her voice.
The Saintess was still smiling brightly, but for some reason, that benevolent smile seemed exceptionally frightening today.
“That must be why you broke your promise to me and participated in the Hunting Festival, isn’t it, Brother Ian?”
Chills ran down my spine.
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