The Lab for Experimental Magical within the Academy doesn’t generally see a lot of activity. Due to the high status of the students, security on campus is excellent for keeping new techniques secret. However, the high status also means anything too dangerous has to be held to stringent rules.
As such, it’s a rare opportunity for Prince Geord to attend the experiments being held here, and one he’s taking full advantage of, quickly shutting the door before a certain brunette can spot him.
“Prince Geord! Wait-”
He huffs a sigh of relief as the voice fades out. Honestly, he gets that Katarina is his fiancé, but ever since he started conversing with Maria, she’s become intolerably clingy.
“Having fun, your Highness?”
Geord smiles, looking over to see Keith Claes knelt inside a giant rune on the other side of the room, magicians and scientists dotting about and making notes.
Keith, he’s sure, is just as grateful Katarina’s grades do not allow her entry. The girl normally ignores him, but his flirting with Maria has not gone unnoticed either.
“Greetings Keith,” he says, walking over and looking at the rune. “Well, this is quite fascinating...”
It is a beautifully intricate rune – Geord doesn’t think he’s seen anything quite like it. “Where did they find something like this?”
“It was in an old tome that was willed to the Academy,” Keith explains. “Some old Viscount who spent his life collecting rare volumes. Most of it was destroyed, but how to draw the rune was still intact.”
Geord smiles and walks over the threshold, walking along the inner lines and taking in the spell work. “It’s amazing. What does it do?”
Keith chuckles. “They have no idea. Best guess is it’s some kind of transportation array, but no one can figure out how to activate it.”
“Transportation...” Geord says, kneeling down and looking at the centre. “I can see that – those are definitely runes used for it-”
“Alan was the one who figured it out,” Keith says. “But it drove him crazy because they’re not lined up right.”
He smirks at the Prince. “Do me a favour. If you figure out how to activate it, don’t tell him when I’m in the room. I have enough sibling squabbles without dealing with yours.”
Oh now the teen’s gone and made it a challenge. Geord smiles.
“Come now, if my little brother of all people can figure out it’s a transportation rune, I’ll have it running by dinner. Just in time to visit Maria and tell her all about it.”
Keiths smiles immediately falls, scowling at the Prince.
“You know, you have a fiancé. How about you leave the single girls to me?”
Geord huffs. “Maria deserves more than a flippant playboy, Keith. I might be stuck with Katarina, but I won’t just stand by and let you play around with Maria’s feelings.”
“I’m playing around?” Keith says. “You're the one whispering sweet nothings you can’t follow through on. Katarina will never agree to annul the engagement, and you know can’t break it without a valid reason.”
Geord frowns, and stands. As much as he hates to admit it, his fellow student council member is right.
“I wish Katarina didn’t have any feelings for me,” Geord says. “It would solve so many issues.”
Keith smirks and gets to his feet.
“And I wish I could have lived in a world where my family actually wanted me,” he says. “If wishes were horses, your Highness.”
He walks over and pats Geord once on the back, and the two start to walk out of the rune. However, when they both entered the middle circle, a bright light lit up against the pentagram, and both men paled as they found themselves frozen to the ground.
The rest of Geord’s worlds are stolen away as the rune activates. Outside the markings, they can hear teachers starting to yell, but it quickly fades away, as the rune pules a terrifying bright white.
“Are you sure you don’t want to come and see it Katarina?” Gerald asks, outside the door of the Lab for Experimental Magical. He’d convinced his fiancée to escort him to the door, and he’d rather continue the rare conversation he gets where it’s just the two of them.
The brunette laughs and waves off Gerald’s question. “Thanks for the offer Gerald, but my grades aren’t good enough to be allowed entry.”
“I’ll escort you,” he insists. “We can make it a date.”
To his frustration, Katarina rolls her eyes. “Don’t tease, Gerald. Besides, I have plans with Sophia and Mary and Maria.”
“And Nicol?” Gerald asks, eyebrow twitching, because lord knows Sophia doesn’t go anywhere without her brother.
“Huh? Oh no, he had Student Council work,” Katarina says, which is a little relieving.
Suddenly, someone throws an arm around both of their shoulders, and Gerald grimaces as Keith’s face looms between them.
“Here you are,” he says. “You weren’t trying to take Katarina into a secure room were you, your Highness?”
“Keith,” Gerald says, voice tight. “So, you also signed up to view it?”
The teen grins.
“I’ll be taking his Highness now, Sis,” Keith says with a strained smile, freeing his sister and yanking Gerald towards the door. Katarina merely waves them goodbye..
“You know, one of these days, you’re going to have to stop being so protective,” Gerald mutters, as Keith slams the doors of the Lab closed. “She’ll be my wife one day.”
“Not if I have anything to say about it,” Keith says, and turns to look at the rune being examined by court magicians.
“So, this is what all the teachers have been so excited about?” he asks. “I’ve never seen a rune this complicated.”
“I agree,” Gerald says, quickly following and heading for the centre. “I want to say some kind of transportation array…but there’s no way to set location, or even protection for the transport.”
Keith frowns and kneels by the outer array.
“It’s crazy. Nobody puts these incantations together, it doesn’t make any sense at all. I think there might even be musical notes in here.”
Despite himself, Gerald smirks. “Oh? Should get my brother in here then. He’d probably be fascinated.”
“Nah, he’ll just get frustrated that you got a chance to see it first,” Keith says. “Besides, he already turned down viewing it.”
“Right...” Gerald says. His brother had a recital coming up, and he’s no longer so obsessed with proving himself that he has to compete with Gerald in every arena.
“It’s a pity Maria doesn’t have the status to view it,” Keith says. “She’s really got a knack for figuring this sort of thing out.”
Gerald nods. “True. Sadly, she’s spending the afternoon with the other girls.”
Keith immediately looks up. “Worried?”
“Of course not,” Gerald scoffs. “Maria and Mary essentially cancel each other out, and Nicol won’t be there, so Sophia won’t be on the offensive. It’ll be a perfectly harmless get together.”
He stops, and sighs.
“Not that there’s any other sort when Katarina’s involved,” he adds. “She truly is dense to all compliments isn’t she?”
“I thank God every day that she’s still oblivious to your charms,” Keith replies with a satisfactory smile. “Don’t you think you should give up?”
Gerald doesn’t answer, and Keith looks up in surprise.
The Prince sighs, tracing the runes on the ground.
“She’s my fiancé, you’d think she’d have some affection for me at this point. Have I ever given her reason to doubt my intentions?” he asks. Keith winces – for all that he disapproves of Gerald’s match, the Prince has never been cruel or rude to Katarina. He’s just not selfless enough to give her up to anyone she doesn’t love back.
Gerald shakes his head. “I just wish I lived in a world where Katarina loved me. Is that such an impossibility?”
He then gives Keith a short glare. “And hopefully that would mean a world where you don’t try and sabotage me at every step.”
Keith just gives him a sharp smile. “Not going to happen. Though I have to admit, a world where I didn’t have to worry about my sister’s love life would be a relaxing one.”
He looks a little wistful. “Or even a world where she didn’t see me as a brother. That would be something to wish for.”
Gerald laughs to himself and stands up. The absolute last thing he needs is Katarina seeing Keith as anything other than her brother. But before he can voice his opinion, the ground beneath their feet starts to glow bright white...
Isekai World - Game characters
When Geord starts to come to, he’s in the infirmary. For a moment, he blinks at the roof, before memories of the light come rushing back, and he jerks up in bed.
The rune! It activated! What had it done?
He hears a groan from his right, and looks over to see Keith propping himself up – a look of disbelief on his own face.
“What happened?” he mumbles.
“I’m not sure,” Geord says. “The rune activated, but I’m not sure how. And I don’t remember exactly what it did.”
“That can’t be good,” Keith says, running a hand through his hair and looking over at Geord, scanning his frame quickly.
“Well, if nothing else, we both look like we’re in one piece,” he offers. “So that’s something.”
Geord nods, but before he can answer, a nurse walks into view, face clearly delighted.
“You’re awake!” she claims. “That’s wonderful. The professors were getting quite worried.”
Geord bets they were.
Keith quickly sends a winning smile her way.
“Thank you for taking care of us so well,” he says. “Any chance we can leave?”
To their frustration, the woman shakes her head. “Sorry, but we’re under orders to keep you here overnight. The professors will be in shortly to discuss what happened.”
Geord sags. That’s not unexpected, but still somewhat irritating.
“However, Lady Claes has been waiting outside ever since you arrived,” the nurse continues, and heads for the door. “I’ll send her right in.”
Both of them blanch at that.
“Wait-” Geord starts, but it’s too late. The nurse has opened the door and left. A second later, a familiar brunette practically knocks the door down getting in.
“You’re okay!” Katarina yells, looking overjoyed.
Geord freezes, then braces himself for the girl to invade his space. Only to blink and stare in shock as Katarina runs past him with barely a glance, in order to sit at the side of her brother’s bed, slipping a hand onto the equally shell shocked Keith’s forehead.
“Are you okay, Keith?” she asks, worry clear in her voice. “When Maria told me there’d been an accident with an experimental rune, I was terrified. Are you hurt? Do you have a fever?”
Keith is boggling at his sibling, and Geord doubts he’s doing much better. Is that really Katarina? He doesn’t think he’s heard his fiancée say that many worlds to Keith...ever. Least of all with any genuine concern.
Keith slowly gets over his shock, slowly pulling Katarina’s hand away. Katarina just looks puzzled.
“Keith?” she says. “What’s wrong?”
“I...why are you here?” he asks in clear confusion. Katarina’s expression doesn’t look much better.
“Where else would I be?” she replies. “You might be quite grown up, but you’re still my baby brother! Of course I’m going to be by your side when you’re hurt.”
Anger takes over her face, and before either of them can process what she’s said, she’s spinning in her seat and pointing a finger towards Geord.
“Did you do something?” she says. “You know Keith is sensitive! Was this your fault? I know my brother would never mess with a rune he didn’t know, so it must have been you.”
Geord is openly gawping. He honestly doesn’t think he can stop.
A passing thought comes to mind, and the edges of his lips twitch upwards.
“Aren’t you being a little cruel to your fiancée, Katarina?” he says. The girl immediately pouts.
“You’re not going to get out of it that easily, Gerald,” she warns, and his eyes twitches at the odd pronunciation of his name. However, that thought quickly gains traction, and his mouth starts to curve into a hopeful grin.
“Katarina...are you in love with me?” he asks. Katarina frowns.
“What...no, of course not,” she says, and Geord’s heart leaps. “I mean, I love you, you’re my dear childhood friend, but we both know you don’t love me, not that way. I told you a dozen times that I’m happy to break the engagement ever since my scar faded. You’re the one who refuses to break it.”
The girl quickly turns and gives Keith an exasperated grin.
“I know he likes having a shield for all the other girls, but really, you’d think he’d be willing to admit his affections for someone else at this point.”
Her smile fades as she takes in Keith’s face. Honestly, it looks like the teen might start crying.
“Keith? Keith, are you hurt?”
“Miss Katarina...” he says, barely more than a whisper.
“Miss Katarina?” she yelps. Keith gets panicked.
“I-is that wrong?”
The girl looks almost broken. “Did I do something wrong?” she asks. “You always call me Sis...”
Geord thinks he might faint – Keith isn’t much better, but he’s clearly trying to gather that playboy confidence to ask the question.
“Then...Sis,” he says. “Do you love me?”
Unlike Geord’s question, this clearly upsets her.
Of course I do!” she says, as if outraged he could question it. “You’re my brother! I adore you.”
She lunges forward, arms wrapping Keith tight in a hug, and Geord is privy to seeing the school’s biggest casanova near tears at the touch.
“Why would you even doubt that?” Katarina cries, looking close to tears herself. “I love you.”
“Nobody loves me,” Keith says, shaking his head.
“That’s ridiculous!” Katarina insists. “Of course you’re loved. For God’s sake, we both know you’re mother’s favourite.”
Keith gives a choked gasp, looking as if he might throw up, and Geord decides to throw his friend a bone.
“Katarina, I think Keith and I could do with some more rest,” he says. “Could you give us some privacy?”
The girl frowns in his direction, but when Keith nods in agreement, she reluctantly releases him from her hold and shuffles off the bed.
“I’ll send in the healers in a few minutes,” she says. “And when you’re up for it, I’ll bring everyone to visit? Alan and Nicol and the girls were all really worried about you.”
As far as Geord is aware, Alan has never given a damn about Geord’s well being and would probably be elated if he was in the medical wing. Or, at least, his Alan would…
But as Katarina walks out the door, barely giving Geord anything more than a simple wave, it’s becoming very clear that something is off.
“Keith,” he says, the second the door is closed. “This is not our world.”
“You think?” Keith says hysterically, yanking off the blanket and throwing his legs over the side. He immediately crouches over himself, running his hands through his hair. “Katarina never even touched me without injury. Let alone call me her brother .”
Geord can’t help himself, he starts giggling, pulling off the blankets and sitting on the side of the bed to join his friend. Keith starts glaring at him, but there’s no real ire in it.
“Keith,” Geord repeats. “This is not our world. We wished for this. A world where Katarina did not love me-”
“-And I was wanted ,” Keith finishes, eyes wide. “Did...did we change reality?”
Geord shakes his head. “No. Reality altering magic is far beyond our current understanding. But that rune had travel incantations hardwired into the core. Nobody could figure out why, but it’s clear now. We travelled to a different reality. One with the parameters we set.”
Keith nods, though his face is scrunched up.
“But that would require more power than we provided,” he says. “Transportation is a two way street.”
Geord nods. “Which suggests that in this reality, our counterparts were also in the rune at the same time. And possibly requested made offhand wishes like we did. Our world likely fit their parameters, and allowed us to make the trade.”
He chuckles, placing a hand on his chin. “No wonder the rune seemed impossible to activate. The odds of getting suitable matches within realities within the same time must be astronomical.”
“So, if we’re here, then our counterparts must be waking up in our world,” Keith concludes. Geord grins.
“Let’s hope their awakening is as enjoyable as ours,” he says. He doesn’t know what they might have desired that they can find in their world, but they are certainly welcome to it. For now, Geord needs to plan out the steps for the immediate future. If Keith now has the familial affection he’s always craved, he can’t complain about stepping back for Geord to pursue Maria.
First of all, he has an engagement to break.
Game World - Isekai Characters
Gerald frowns as he regains consciousness. When he opens his eyes, it’s to the infirmary roof. He has just enough time to wonder what happened, when a voice hits his ears.
“Prince Geord! I’m so happy you’re awake!”
He’s not exactly sure who ‘Geord’ is, but perhaps the rune has damaged his hearing, because someone is clutching his hand tight, and he turns in surprise to see Katarina sitting by his bedside, face filled with relief.
“Katarina...” he says, eyes flicking over to the next bed, where Keith still lies unconscious.
“I can’t believe the nerve of those magicians!” Katarina tells him. “To allow you to be injured like that. I hope your father punishes all of them. What would I do without you?”
Gerald honestly can’t believe what he’s hearing, and slowly shifts into a sitting position. He keeps his eyes on Katarina, as if she’ll vanish if he blinks. Carefully, he lifts up his free hand to cup her cheek, and nearly goes dizzy when his fiancée blushes .
“P-Prince Geord,” she all but giggles. “You’re being very forward today.”
“How can I not, when my fiancée is being so affectionate,” he says with a smile, and is rewarded with Katarina going beet red.
Dear God – he doesn’t know what that rune did but it’s officially his favourite magic artefact ever .
The moment is broken a second later when Keith groans from his bed, and Gerald sighs, dropping his hand so Katarina can go to her brother.
Except Katarina doesn’t. In fact, she barely even registers Keith waking, and just keeps smiling at him. When Keith finally joins the living, he shuffles into a sitting position, and glances over in confusion at Katarina’s back.
“Sis?” he asks, glancing at the two of them. Gerald can’t blame him, Katarina never chooses him over her sibling. However, the second Keith speaks, Katarina’s back goes ramrod straight, and her smile becomes a scowl.
“What did you just call me?”
Gerald frowns as Katarina stands up and starts looming over Keith’s bed. His eyes are wide in shock.
“I don’t know how hard you hit your head, but don’t you ever refer to me in such a way again!” Katarina yells. “Know your place, Keith!”
Her brother is looking up at her in horror, about ready to cry, and Gerald starts to get a sinking feeling in his stomach.
“Katarina, I think the two of us could use some more rest,” he says. “Would you mind leaving us for a bit?”
Katarina’s tirade cuts off as she turns her attention back to Gerald, and suddenly becomes all smiles yet again.
“Oh, of course Prince Gerald,” she chimes, hands up to her cheeks. “I’m sorry I have to leave you with this , but I’ll come see you first thing tomorrow!”
She walks towards the door, though she keeps her eyes on Gerald as long as she can before reaching the door. There’s not even a second glance in Keith’s direction.
“Keith, are you okay?” Gerald asks, once the door is closed and they’ve been left alone. The teen is practically curled into the foetal position.
“Yes...no…I don’t know,” he says. “Sis-Katarina...she’s never been that mad at me. What’s going on?”
“Keith, the rune,” Gerald says. “Do you remember what we said before it activated?”
The other student looks up, realisation crossing his face.
“Oh god...I wished Katarina didn’t see me as her brother,” he whispers, hands twisting into his hair. “What have I done?”
“And I wished she loved me,” Gerald adds. “But specifically, we wished for a world in which that was true. The rune has transportation incantations – I think we’ve swapped places with this world’s Gerald and Keith.”
Or - ‘Geord’ and Keith, apparently.
That seems to relieve Keith, and his shoulders relax.
“Wait, so that wasn’t our Katarina?” he says.
“No, or at least, not the one we’re used to,” Gerald says, and smiles. While Katarina had been overly harsh on Keith, she’d probably just been upset because her beloved fiancée was injured. As far as Gerald is concerned, a Katarina that isn’t overly doting on her little brother can only be a good thing.
“I’m sure you can smooth things over with her tomorrow,” Gerald says. “Katarina isn’t the kind to hold grudges.”
Keith glares at him, before shuffling back down and throwing the blankets over his head. Gerald chuckles and settles down himself. Tomorrow, he gets to spend time with a besotted Katarina, and no Keith to sabotage them.
He cannot wait .
Isekai World – Game Characters
The next morning, while Geord is practically giddy to explore this new reality, Keith is feeling unnaturally nervous. He’s used to being the socialite, but if this is a world where Katarina treats him like a sibling, he has no clue what’s waiting for him outside those doors.
“What’s the plan?” he asks, once the nurse gives them both the all clear and privacy to change. “If Katarina is off, there’s no telling what else is.”
“First things first, I need to speak with my father,” Geord says, tugging on his jacket. “Katarina sounded quite agreeable to annulling the engagement, so I need to start the procedure with him.”
He gives Keith an innocent looking smile. “Since Katarina and you got along so well, why don’t you spend the morning with her? Play up the injured brother and have her show you around?”
Keith glares. “Great. A morning with Katarina, just what anyone wants.”
“You’re the one who wanted a closer family,” Geord singsongs, and Keith rolls his eyes.
“I’m grateful she doesn’t want to grind me under her boot any more, but you of all people know her affection can be suffocating.”
“I’m sure you’ll survive,” Geord says, and the conversation comes to an automatic stop as the door opens.
Both paste on smiles at the sound of Katarina’s voice.
“Ah, good morni...”
They both trail off as they see the entourage following the brunette. Most astonishingly-
“Maria?” Geord says, as the blonde walks in with a smile and a basket. She’s followed by Nicol, Sofia, and equally as surprising, Alan and Mary. His brother raises a hand in lazy greeting.
“Morning. Feeling better?”
His brother is smiling. His brother is smiling at him . While their relationship had been getting better in Maria’s presence, that is unnerving to see.
Geord manages a shaky nod, and Maria lifts up her basket. Inside, are two charming little gift bags.
“After Katarina told us about the accident, I thought I’d make you both some sweets,” she says. “Please feel free to eat them later, I know you have to take it slow today.”
Geord risks a glance at Katarina, but she’s completely focused on her brother (although Keith’s eyes keep flitting between her and Maria), and so happily accepts the gift.
To think, a world where Katarina and Maria get along. This truly is a fascinating reality.
“Thank you, dear sweet Maria,” he says. “You remain the most beautiful gem in this school.”
To his surprise, Maria’s smile slips, and she looks more confused than charmed.
“Oh, uh, thank you…?” she says, and Geord feels his eyebrows furrowing.
“Oh, Keith!” she says, breaking eye contact and darting over to the other teen. “Here’s yours.”
True to form, Keith is giving her a winning smile, plucking the bag up and tucking it in his jacket. “I look forward to it,” he says. “Your sweets are almost as sweet as you Maria.”
Katarina squeaks, and Keith flinches, returning his eyes over to his sibling. However, rather than mad, Katarina looks panicked...and a little red faced. Maria looks a little blind sided herself, but starts giggling nervously.
“Both of you seem in a very good mood,” she says.
“Not hard when the company is this charming,” Keith offers.
That has Nicol, Sophia and Mary all frowning, while Alan raises an eyebrow, but Katarina seems oblivious, clapping her hands and smiling.
“Well, I’m glad you’re both okay,” she says. “But I wanted to keep an eye on you Keith, so how about we spend the morning together? We can all get tea before I go to work on my field.”
Both of them feel their smiles twitch. Field?
“What do you think?” Katarina presses. “Does that sound good?”
Mary suddenly slides in, forcing Keith to step back slightly.
“When Katarina told us her plans, we all thought we’d join in,” she says, eyes sharp, and then turns her attention over to Geord, who hasn’t moved since Maria shifted her attention. “I hope you both don’t mind?”
“Actually, I was hoping to get word to Father today,” Geord says, taking the opportunity for what it is. “There’s something I need to discuss with him.”
Katarina pouts, but everyone else seems to relax. Including Maria...perhaps she realises why?
“Oh, okay,” Katarina says. “Maybe we’ll catch up later. Have fun with your Father.”
She grabs Keith’s hand and heads for the door – he doesn’t even try to resist – and Maria and Mary quickly chase after them, followed by Sophia and Nicol. Alan however, hesitates, staring at Geord.
“You need to see Father? Something wrong?”
“Just something I’ve realised needs to be done,” Geord soothes. “It’s quite urgent.”
Alan frowns, but doesn’t question it.
“Must be important if you’re skipping out on time with Katarina. Suit yourself - catch you later.”
He pats Geord’s shoulder and heads for the door. Geord can only watch, wondering what on Earth changed in their relationship that Alan doesn’t push to know why his ‘perfect’ twin sibling needs to speak to the King.
It’s useful, and there’s something exciting about possibly being able to interact with his sibling without the ice in the future. But that’s a later issue. For now, he needs to get to the palace.
As Maria pours tea in the school’s waiting room, in view of the beautiful patio doors, Keith is trying to wrap his head around the whole situation. Granted, he’s used to spending time with most of the people at this table in the council room, but they’re not really ‘friends’ per say. For all of them to be voluntarily sitting at this table, with Katarina in the centre, in their spare time, is something he just never saw happening.
Even more confusing is how they’re seated. Keith had made a point to sit next to Maria, and had expected Katarina to sit on his other side, but the second she did, Mary made a beeline for the chair next to her. He didn’t really talk to Alan or his fiancée, but he was of the impression that Mary disapproved of Katarina.
This Mary certainly doesn’t. If she moved her seat any closer she’d be sitting in her lap. Even more interesting, she’s barely paid any attention to Alan whatsoever.
However, Maria has barely paid any attention to Keith either, even though they’re sitting next to each other. She’s more interested in keeping the conversation with Katarina going – they’re talking about one of the classes and it’s upcoming test. He’s tried to reply to her remarks, in the hopes to urge her into a slightly more intimate conversation, but she’s not picked up on any hints.
So instead, he focuses on Katarina, whose eyes flit to Keith every other minute to check up on him, and the ‘friend’ at her side. Mary seems to use every chance Katarina is distracted by Keith to move her hand closer – she’s practically holding her hand by now. Strangely, every time she catches Keith’s eye, her smile becomes wicked, as if trying to taunt Keith, and for the life of him, he can’t figure out why.
“What’s wrong Keith?” Alan asks. “You’ve been staring at Mary for the last few minutes.”
Keith winces as everyone turns their attention to him. Mary is smirking at him, and he gives a small chuckle.
“Just surprised,” he says. “Didn’t realise how close you and Mary were.”
He regrets it instantly. The entire table is frowning, some of them quite suspiciously.
Katarina frowns. “Of course we’re close. Mary and I have been friends since before she got engaged. You were there .”
“Oh, right,” Keith splutters. “Sorry, my head is still kind of foggy from yesterday.”
Katarina's frown vanishes for worry, and she looks guilty.
“Ah! You’re still recovering, of course,” she says. “Maybe we shouldn’t have brought you out so soon!”
Mary recovers first, using the opportunity to grab Katarina’s hand, raising it slightly.
“Well I can assure you, Katarina and I are very close,” she says. “She’s my best friend in the world.”
Katarina blushes, and starts stuttering something about how amazing Mary is, and Keith takes the distraction gratefully. But when he looks around the table…
Why is everyone but Alan glaring at Mary now? Alan is frowning, but it’s more his resting scowl than anything of intent. Even Maria is looking agitated…
“Perhaps Keith should return to his room,” Mary says, standing up still holding Katarina’s hand. “If you’re still having problems, it might be best to rest up.”
Keith gratefully takes the out.
“Actually, I think that might be a good idea,” he says. “You should all go on ahead with your day. I can catch up later.”
That apparently isn’t what Mary expects to hear. Her smile falters, and she blinks several times in confusion. But whatever her issue, she recovers masterfully.
“Well...good,” she says. “Shall we leave you to it?”
Keith makes to stand, and then stops, glancing over at Maria.
“Maria, just in case something happens, would you be kind enough to escort me back?” he asks. “I don’t want to burden Mis-ah, my sister too much.”
The girl blinks, looking over at Katarina – who is in turn looking at Keith in confusion. She nods and smiles.
“Sure Keith,” she says. “I’d be happy too.”
“Wonderful!” Mary agrees. “Why don’t we head off?”
Katarina however, doesn’t stand. The confusion in her eyes is starting to turn into something resembling comprehension.
“Oh...Oh!” she gasps. “Of course, yes, that makes sense. Sure thing!”
Her head twists towards Mary and the others.
“Um, Mary, maybe you and the others could go ahead?” she says. “I need to tell my brother something.”
Keith sags, dread filling his stomach. Here it comes. Katarina’s don’t-you-dare-date-a-commoner speech. Even if she’s clearly friendlier with Maria, she won’t approve of a more intimate relation.
Mary doesn’t look happy about it, but Alan is rising from his seat, and Sophia has moved towards them too, Nicol a curious shadow behind her.
“You really must have hit your head pretty badly,” Sophia says. “This is not like you at all.”
She then smiles like a Queen. “But I don’t think anyone is complaining.”
“Oi, don’t take too long,” Alan says as a final greeting says, and the group move towards the patio doors heading into the gardens. Nicol however, stares at Keith, long and hard, before turning on his heel and following. When they’re out of earshot, Katarina then turns to Maria.
“Can you give me a moment with my brother, Maria?” she asks, and the girl nods, standing up and moving towards the inner door. Keith watches her leave with pining eyes, before turning and bracing himself for Katarina’s onslaught.
“Look, Sister, I-”
She doesn’t give him a chance to finish. Keith squawks as Katarina claps her hands on the side of his head and pulls him in close.
“Don’t ever forget Keith,” Katarina says somewhat desperately. “I am 100% on board with any romantic relationship you have. I will never stand in your way! I support you no matter what!”
Keith can’t formulate words, mouth flailing even as Katarina lets go of him.
“Good luck, little brother!” she says, with a strained smile, making a strange pumping motion with her arm, before standing up and running towards the gardens. Keith can only stare after her.
That...that was not expected.
His lips hurt, and when he reaches upwards, he realises he’s smiling wider than he ever has, and his eyes feel teary.
To think, a Katarina that both loves him, and supports his romantic interests? Nicol can only dream of such a devoted sister. He’s really starting to like it here – other Keith clearly didn’t appreciate his good fortune.
Now for the icing on the cake. Maria is already smiling when he approaches her, and the two of them start heading for the dorms in amicable silence. Keith lets them make it to the main campus exit, before turning his attention to the beautiful girl at his side.
“Thank you for your help,” he says. “I really appreciate it.”
Maria is smiling so brightly Keith can almost see the sparkles. “Don’t worry about it. We’re friends after all. And Katarina’s been so worried, it’s nice to know I can ease her fears.”
Keith nods. “She does really seem to care about me.”
Maria laughs. “Yes, Katarina cares about everyone in her life very much.”
She glances over. “How are you feeling, really? I heard that rune was very mysterious. Nobody really knows what it did. It must have hurt you quite badly if you couldn’t remember Katarina and Mary’s friendship.”
Keith nods. “I don’t know if I hit my head, or if it messed with my memories, but things do seem a little off. But I’m sure it’ll be solved with the right care...”
They make it to the stairwell, and Keith makes his move, stopping in his tracks and waiting for Maria to notice.
“I admit, my head is still a little fuzzy, but I would love it if you could help refresh my memories,” he says, leaning over Maria with his best smile. “Would you go on a date with me, pretty maiden?”
It’s almost word for word his first pick up line with Maria, and while it hadn’t worked back then, it’s become a fond in-joke for the two of them. He’s certain his other self has probably used it too.
Maria blushes, and then-
“I-I’m sorry, Keith,” she says. “But I don’t feel that way about you.”
Keith’s smile falters.
“Oh...I see...” he says.
‘ But...but Katarina seemed so certain what was going to happen,’ he thinks. ‘ Unless... ’
“Can I ask, Maria,” he says. “Is there a certain someone you do feel that way about?”
To his horror, Maria’s cheeks redden, and her face blossoms into a sweet smile.
“I do,” she says. “You must not remember, because I was certain you knew, but there’s a special someone I really love.”
Keith wants to throw Geord off a building. It has to be him. Even though he knows Alan and Nicol have some affection for the sweet and innocent student, they never would have left him alone with Maria if they were her intended. Katarina must have realised Maria had a crush, and when Keith asked for time alone, mistakenly assumed it was for him. How does the Prince get all the luck?
Maria then places a hand on his forehead, and he tries to jerk back, blushing.
“You really must have taken a knock,” she says. “Maybe we should take you back to the infirmary.”
“No, no need,” Keith says, trying to hide the anger in his voice. “But I think I’ll make the rest of the way on my own.”
Maria nods in understanding, and steps away.
“I’ll let Katarina know,” she says. “Feel better soon.”
He waves her off, and once she’s out of sight, glances up the stairs. For a moment, he wonders about heading back onto the main campus and finding some more willing romantic partners to occupy his time.
Then he shakes his head in dismissal. Right now, what he needs to do is head to his room and find some kind of record or diary so he can stay on track. His sweethearts often list the day to day goings in their letters – and he can’t afford another Katarina-and-Mary slip up unless he wants to end up back in the infirmary again.
So, with a sigh, he ignores the bright sky behind the door, and saunters up the stairs to begin his research.
Game World – Isekai Characters
It’s official. Keith is in Hell .
When they woke up this morning, the headmaster was there to greet them, apologising for the incident, and that the two of them would be allowed a few days off classes if necessary, and only to do light council duties if they were up to it. He’s barely out the door before Katarina has taken his place, clamping onto Gerald’s arm and looking at him with hearts in her eyes. She hasn’t even acknowledged Keith’s presence.
It takes everything he has not to jump out the window. What on Earth has he done to deserve this?
Gerald of course, is acting like his birthday just came early, kissing Katarina’s hand and complimenting her outfit. Katarina is barely holding it together, and Gerald happily whisks her out the door to walk the grounds, and warning Keith not to wait for them with a very smug smile.
It’s a little upsetting to find nobody else comes to greet him. He’s gotten used to the Student Council inevitably following Katarina’s wake, and leaves the infirmary feeling unnaturally lonely.
For lack of any other option, he starts walking towards the Student Council room – there’s probably some work his other self hasn’t completed, when he starts to hear high pitched giggling coming towards him.
He looks up and back, and finds three female students, elaborately dressed and eyeing him up like a tiger with a steak. They look vaguely familiar, and he’s fairly certain he’s probably spoken to them at society events, but certainly doesn’t know them personally.
Still, no need to be impolite. He stops and smiles as they approach.
“Good morning,” he greets. “Can I help you?”
The ladies titter, and move even closer.
“Good Morning Keith, we were all so worried about you.”
“We heard about your accident, it was so terrible!”
“I could barely sleep, I was so worried.”
Keith’s smile strains as they’re expressions turn almost predatory, and he chokes back a squeak as one of the ladies moves so close there’s nothing but fabric between them.
“I hope you’re going to make it up to us,” the first one croons, playing with a button on his jacket, while the one leeched to his side lets her fingers tiptoe across his back.
“If you’re still feeling under the weather, we’d be more than happy to help.”
“Oh yes, perhaps we should all go to tea?”
Can a person jump out of his own skin? Keith would really like to see if that’s possible in this world right now.
“I-I uh, I have to go!” he says, far higher pitched than he’d wanted, and practically lunges out of the maiden’s grasp. He spins and turns to face them, hoping his face isn’t as panicked as he feels.
“Maybe another time?” he splutters unconvincingly.
Like never? Never would be great for him.
All three of them look completely shocked at his reaction, before it’s quickly replaced with anger.
“Fine, be that way!”
The third looks genuinely crushed, but flounces off with the others, and Keith tries to get his heart back in his chest rather than his throat. Dear lord, what on Earth had the other Keith been doing?
He freezes at the female voice, and slowly turns around in panic, preparing for yet another ambush – only to relax when he sees the pink dress and blonde hair, a basket of sweets on her arm.
“Maria, good morning,” he says gratefully.
His friend smiles, though there's a question in her eyes as she approaches. “I’m surprised. Normally, you’d be delighted at Miss Papra, Elodie and Gwen fussing over you. You seemed out of sorts today.”
“That’s definitely one way to put it,” Keith says. “How are you Maria?”
The girl’s smile fades.
“Well, Prince Geord was supposed to meet me last night, but since the accident happened, I thought I’d meet him this morning,” she says. “But when I went to the infirmary, I heard he’d gone out on a date with Miss Katarina.”
She tries to force a happy expression on her face.
“I saw them entering the gardens, and they seemed quite affectionate,” she says. “I know they’re engaged, but I guess I never knew how close they were.”
Keith nods in sympathy. It’s probably as painful for dear Maria to see Katarina falling over that stupid Prince as it is for him.
“I’d probably expect that to become a regular occurrence,” Keith tells her. “His Highness is going to be putting far more effort into that relationship in the near future.”
The girl blinks, still looking quite upset. “Really?”
Keith’s own expression becomes more sympathetic. He cannot blame her for feeling crushed at all.
“I’m afraid so. But even with a ring on her finger, I know Prince Geord won’t stop you from being friends,” he says. “He’s not that cruel, and Katarina would never let him get away with it.”
It’s meant to be comforting, but Maria is frowning, as if she doesn’t quite follow what he’s said.
“Katarina wouldn’t...Keith, is something wrong?” she asks. “You’re not acting at all like yourself.”
He sighs, running a hand through his hair. “Yeah, I’m getting a lot of that today. It’s just – I’ve had a lot to process recently.”
She nods in understanding. “Well, it’s not really a bad thing,” she says, and gives him one of her more mischievous smiles . “I would have expected you to be telling me to move on and go on a date with you.”
Keith’s eyes nearly bug out of their sockets as Maria’s smile widens and she gives a soft laugh, one hand reaching for her mouth.
“This sweet sympathetic side isn’t something I’ve seen before. I kind of like it.”
Oh dear God, he’s even been fishing for Maria? Does his doppelgänger have any shame?
Clearly not, but Maria hasn’t noticed his panic, and offers up her basket.
“Here, these were for Prince Geord, but I don’t want to bother him,” she says. “Why don’t you take them?”
“Thank you, Maria,” he says, accepting the basket. “I’ll take these and share with-”
He stops the knee jerk ‘Katarina’ on his tongue, and reconsiders. “With everyone in the Council Room. I was heading there anyway. I’m sure everyone will love them.”
Maria claps her hands and lights up, clearly delighted. “That’s a great idea!”
She steps away and waves goodbye. “I’m going to study in the library, but perhaps I’ll catch you later. I hope your head feels better soon!”
Keith returns the wave – but the second she’s out of site, starts running down the hall. He can't risk another female bumping into him, his heart can’t take it.
He’s never been so relieved to see a door in his life, and practically yanks it open. Once he slams the door of the council room shut, and sighs in relief.
He jerks up to see Nicol and Sirius looking at him in curiosity. Sophia is also sitting at her desk, though her face is mostly hidden by a book.
“Wait, don’t tell me,” Sirius says with a smile. “One of your sweethearts spotted you with another sweetheart and didn’t take it well?”
“Sweethearts?” Keith mutters under his breath. Just how many did he have?
Nicol starts frowning. “Are you sure you should be out of the infirmary? You’re looking rather pale.”
Keith gives a nervous laugh. “Ever wake up and feel like everything in the world has just gone horribly wrong?”
For a second, Sirius’s face goes dark, but before Keith can question it, his face has smoothed over.
“Well, feel free to hide out here,” Sirius offers. “Just see if you can get some of the paperwork done – you’ve been letting it pile up.”
“Are those Maria’s sweets?” Nicol asks, and Keith smiles.
“Yes. They’re for everyone, feel free to dig in.”
He carefully places the basket on the table Katarina would normally sit at, and wanders over to his desk in search of a pen. He immediately has another aneurysm after sitting down when he opens his top drawer, and finds a literal mountain of ribbons, handkerchiefs and letters signed with lipstick, and slams it shut. Thankfully, the second drawer comes good, and grabs the pen to get through the work. It’s essentially identical to the forms that he’d filled out the day before in the real world, so doesn’t require much thought. For a while, he loses himself in the work, only looking up when he hears Sophia stand and move towards her brother.
“Nicol, I’ve finished my portion,” she says in the softest voice he’s ever heard from her. “Can we go to the library now?”
Nicol’s head immediately looks up, and he smiles, glancing between his work and his sister.
“I’m afraid that’s all I can do for today, Sirius,” Nicol says, reaching out a hand to his sister, who gingerly accepts it and huddles to his side. “I promised Sophia I’d escort her to the library earlier.”
The president however, is frowning – and Keith can’t blame him. Nicol’s desk appears quite laden down, which is odd for the teen.
“This is the third time this week you’ve begged out early Nicol,” Sirius warns. “And no other girl in the school needs an escort on the grounds.”
He turns his attention to the white haired girl at Nicol’s side, and gives a sympathetic smile. “I know you find it hard, but his work is starting to lag.”
The girl herself looks quite embarrassed, and she hides her red cheeks behind the book in her hands. Nicol is actively frowning, and Keith finds himself very confused. While Nicol has always been attentive, Sophia generally goes to the library alone, or in the company of the girls. She knows it like the back of her hand.
He decides to speak up, since it’s clear Nicol could use some help to clear his duties. “I know Maria is already in the library, so Sophia won’t be alone. You could escort her and come straight back.”
It sounds perfectly rational in his head, so he’s rather confused when Sophia drops her book to scowl in his direction, and Nicol narrows his eyes.
“That’s not funny, Claes,” Nicol warns. “You know Sophia and Maria have their differences when unescorted.”
Keith frowns. They do?
“Well, surely another friend can meet with her?” he says. “I’m sure Katarina and his Prince Geord must be finished with their outing, she’d no doubt volunteer.”
That he mostly offers because he would rather like an opportunity to break up that date should it still be going on, but he’s clearly stepped on a landmine, judging from the dark and suspicious looks all three Council members give him. Nicol is now actively frowning, walking over to assess Keith’s panic. He leans over, studying Keith’s face, before nodding confidently.
“I’m taking you back to the infirmary,” he announces. “Clearly you’ve suffered some kind of concussion. I’m surprised no one noticed.”
He hoists Keith up by the arm, and pulls him towards the door, Sophia quickly following in their shadow.
“N-no, really, I’m fine!” Keith defends. “I just got confused-”
“You just suggested that Katarina would willingly help out my sister,” Nicol argues. “That is more than just ‘confused’ Clearly you need additional help.”
Despite his protests, Keith was dragged all the way back to the infirmary, where he’d been poked and prodded and told to warn them of any other memory lapses, since they couldn’t find anything wrong. Afterwards, he doesn’t dare set foot in the school, and heads straight for his room.
It at least, doesn’t seem to have changed much. He’s missing a few trinkets – items he’d collected from his adventures with Katarina growing up, and there’s strange letters on his desk, all from women, but he’s starting to accept that. He grabs the letters, and starts looking for somewhere random to store them, and eventually decides on the drawer that holds his correspondence with his parents.
It’s a mistake, and he stills when he opens the drawer, finding only a few random letters, rather than the heavy stack of weekly updates. He dumps in the love letters, and shakily picks up the handful other-him had deemed vital.
There’s nothing from his mother at all, and his father’s letters are clipped and precise. Ordering Keith to maintain acceptable grades and to not bring shame on the Claes name. Not a single one offers so much as a query regarding Keith’s well being.
His next few breaths are staggered, and he drops the letters to the floor, before walking over to his bed and gripping his hair.
This is his nightmare. The world he thought he’d have back when he was a child and his magic was too powerful by far. His adoptive parents clearly have no love for him – he’s merely an acceptable heir for when his si- when Katarina gets married out. Katarina is no doubt the same, if she doesn’t see him as a brother.
He wants to take back those words. This isn’t what he meant! No even close. Please, if there’s a God, help him take it back! He’ll live the rest of his days out as Katarina’s beloved little brother and never once ask for anything more if they’ll just undo this! He’ll even plan her wedding and be her groom’s best man! Just let him go back !
Of course, nobody answers, and Keith is not the type to wallow. A certain someone never allowed it. For now, he’s stuck here, and even if Gerald is happy enough, he’s fairly certain he can talk the Prince into at least helping him find a way home.
In the end, he starts working on his homework, to stave off leaving the room. A few hours later, there’s a knock at the door, and he scowls as Gerald enters.
“Come to gloat?” Keith mutters into his homework. Quite literally the last thing he needs is for Gerald to rhapsodise about his first real date with ‘Katarina-Oh-You’re-Being-Very-Forward-Today-Claes.’
To his surprise, Gerald just closes the door quietly, and walks over to Keith’s bed, where he sits down and drops his head into his hands. Keith frowns, discarding the homework and turning to observe him, when he hears the quiet, but hysterical laughter.
A few moments later, he lifts his head up to meet Keith’s eyes, and he flinches when he sees the hurt in his eyes.
“Have you ever heard the expression, ‘be careful what you wish for, you might just get it?’” Gerald asks. “Because I’ve just crashed straight into it.”
Keith frowns. “I don’t understand. Is Katarina not your fiancée here or something?”
Gerald’s laugh is tragic. “Oh she is. She is. She’s just...”
The Prince answers in a pathetically broken voice.
A few hours earlier...
There is nothing quite as wonderful as having a willing Katarina hanging from his arm, Gerald thinks, as the two of them walk into the decorative gardens. He’s managed to trick her into it on occasion, normally for social gatherings, but she’s always been quick to let go and run off to whatever caught her eye.
This Katarina on the hand, keeps looking at Gerald’s arm like she expects it to vanish. Clearly her Prince has not been treating her well at all.
“Forgive my impropriety, but I think that magical incident did you the world of good,” Katarina says, clutching even tighter as they walk down stone steps. “You’ve never invited me to view the gardens before.”
“Clearly, a horrific oversight,” Gerald replies, smile widening as his fiancée blushes yet again. That will not lose it’s appeal any time soon.
“I thought we’d wander these gardens, and then perhaps go up to your field,” Gerald says. As affectionate as Katarina has been, there’s no way he can convince her to wander around so much greenery and not have her feel the urge to work on her own plants. Of course, that way lies company and having to mingle, so he’d like to hold it back until the very end.
Katarina however, loosens her grip to look up at Gerald with narrowed eyes.
“Field?” she repeats. “The Claes don’t have any gardens on the school grounds.”
Gerald’s smile falters.
“You don’t garden, Katarina?”
The girl on his arm gives a haughty laugh. It’s an odd sound that he’s never heard from her before.
“Of course not, your Highness,” she says. “That’s what we have gardeners for.”
Her eyes light up.
“No, don’t tell me Prince Geord has named a garden after me?” she asks. “That would be too wonderful.”
Gerald blinks, and shakes.
“My apologies, I must have hit my head harder than I thought yesterday,” he says. The girl looks disappointed, but quickly recovers.
“Oh, well, I prefer jewellery anyway,” she says, with an odd smile. She starts looking around, and Gerald realises she’s less looking at the plants, and more watching whoever is in the garden to witness their date.
A Katarina that doesn’t farm. Gerald isn’t really sure why that bothers him so much, but if removing her field is what it takes to have Katarina focus on him, it’s not that big a loss. Perhaps without her fields, she didn’t get so distracted by Mary for so long, and Gerald won her heart in her other hobbies? Maybe he can reintroduce it to her?
He’s mulling over that thought, when Katarina’s smile quickly drops into an angry looking scowl. Gerald’s never quite seen the resemblance to her mother until right this moment. He follows her gaze, wondering who could possibly have upset her that much.
To his astonishment, he sees Maria just outside the main building. Her head is down, and she’s heading inside, but it’s clear she’d been staring at the two of them beforehand. But, why would Katarina be so upset? She’s always-
“Ugh, I don’t understand why they let a filthy commoner into this school anyway.”
Gerald’s head snaps down so fast he nearly gets whiplash. Katarina seems oblivious to his shock, continuing her rant.
“At least you’ve come to your senses regarding her. It’s been quite frustrating, watching her flaunt herself at you. As if talent can make up for breeding and education.”
Gerald keeps staring, and his mouth feels very dry. As such, his voice cracks when he asks a dangerous question.
“I must be confused,” he says. “I thought the two of you were good friends?”
This time, Katarina is the one who snaps her head in shock.
“Friends?” she repeats, sounding utterly disgusted at the concept. “Me? The daughter of a Duke, friends with the bastard child of a commoner?”
She frowns. “Prince Geord, you’re looking rather pale, do you need to sit down?”
He does, but shakes his head regardless.
“Your memory must be very muddled, to have made a mistake like that,” Katarina insists. “But don’t worry, I won’t leave your side! I’ll make sure you stay right.”
“Then perhaps you can refresh my memory on some other students,” Gerald says rather weakly. “Who are your closest friends?”
“Oh, only the most well bred ladies in the school,” Katarina assures him. “I would never embarrass you by socialising with anything less than a child of a Marquess.”
“What about Mary Hunt?” Gerald asks, though there’s a dark, ominous feeling in his belly, warning him that he won’t like the answer.
“Your brother’s fiancée?” she says, and his heart sinks even further. “Hmph, she thinks she’s so high and mighty, why would I ever interact with her? It’s not my fault she got saddled with the inferior Prince.”
Oh God, Gerald might just throw up. This...person, no matter what she looks like, is not Katarina at all. There is nothing of the incredible woman he loves to be found.
“How about Nicol and his sister?” he tries, because no matter the world, the Prime Minister’s son would still be his friend – surely Sophia?”
“Nicol? Oh he’s very handsome and supportive of you,” Katarina says, but before Gerald can get the tiniest hope up- “It really is too bad about that sister of his. You’d think her family would just home school her, rather than let a child as cursed as that outside...Prince Geord, are you sure you’re okay? You really are going dreadfully pale...”
As Gerald finishes describing his day, Keith looks horrified, and Gerald finally understands his feelings from when he’d first woken up in the medical wing.
“Then...Sis – no, Miss Katarina...” he stumbles. “She’s not-”
“She’s nothing like our Katarina,” Gerald says. “I don’t know what happened, what changed, but she’s the perfect stereotype of a Nobles daughter. Well bred, master of etiquette, and arrogant against anyone who isn’t her to an extreme degree.”
Keith gives a nervous laugh. “You mean, she’s the daughter my Mother always wanted. And to think, I used to help mother encourage that behaviour.”
“Never again,” Gerald orders. “If ill manners is the price to keep Katarina from becoming...that-”
He flails towards the door, half panicked. “Then it’s a bargain beyond measure.”
A thought comes to Keith, remembering a conversation in the hall, and with the Student Council, and laughs.
“Actually...an awful lot of conversations suddenly make a lot of sense,” he says. “Now wonder Nicol thought I had a concussion. Maria, Nicol and Sophia must have thought I lost my mind today.”
“It’s more than just Nicol, Sophia and Maria,” Gerald says. “After I managed to extract myself, I ran into my brother. I was hoping to talk to him about Katarina, and if he knew why she was this way.”
Gerald just looks at him with sad eyes.
After that disaster of an encounter, Gerald is walking the halls, in something of a daze, wondering exactly how Katarina could have had such an extreme personality shift, when he spots a familiar face in the hall. Alan is heading towards the Experimental Lab, Mary at his side.
“Alan!” he calls, genuinely relieved. His brother might be completely dense to his own feelings, but he’s known Katarina as long as he has. Perhaps he can shed some insight.
The second he calls, Alan freezes, back straightening as if he’d just heard a death threat rather than a greeting, and swings round with an angry glare. It’s so intense, Gerald actually hesitates getting any closer.
“What do you want?” Alan asks, clearly annoyed, and Gerald blinks in surprise as Mary moves closer to him in a silent show of support.
“I was hoping to talk to you,” Gerald says, trying to keep his voice calm. “Regarding Katarina.”
Mary’s eyes go dark, and Alan raises his eyebrows in disbelief.
“Why?” he asks. “I have even less interest in your fiancée than you do, which is saying something.”
“It’s regarding our childhood,” Gerald says. “Did you ever notice a change in her personality? Something that could have affected her?”
Now his brother just looks confused.
“What are you talking about?” he asks. “I don’t think I met her more than twice when we were kids.”
“Lady Katarina has always been a strong personality,” Mary offers, hiding her mouth behind a fan – no doubt to hide her scowl unbecoming of a lady. “I have certainly never known her to be any different.”
Gerald shakes his head.
“No...something must have happened,” he says. “This doesn’t make any sense .”
That apparently rubs Alan the wrong way, because his hackles start to raise.
“Then why don’t you figure it out?” he says. “Rather than ask me questions you know I don’t have answers to.”
“Prince Alan-” Mary starts, reaching for him only to stop at the last moment. His brother shakes his head, maintaining his glare.
“I don’t know what’s up with you, but stop trying to taunt me,” Alan snaps. “I’ve got another appointment to check out the rune this morning. The magicians gave it the all clear once you woke up.”
Gerald’s eyes widened. “ You’re going to study it?”
“Yes!” Alan growls, clearly agitated at the question. “I’ll be checking out that rune, and figure out what it did long before you even get near it again!”
“You really shouldn’t Alan,” he says, confused that his brother would even want to. “Rune’s aren’t really you’re special-”
“Stop talking down to me!” Alan yells, and Gerald flinches, eyes wide. “Just because you couldn’t figure it out doesn’t mean I can’t.”
Alan sounds so bitter, and Mary is now actively glaring at him. Gerald can only stare in incomprehension – it’s been years since Alan has let himself get this wrapped up in his self esteem issues. Not since…
“My apologies,” Gerald says smoothly, stepping back and praying his expression looks sincere. “I’ll leave you be.”
Alan is still frowning, but nods before storming off. Mary however, stays in place for a few more moments, body bristling.
“Prince Alan is more than you think he is,” she says. “You shouldn’t treat him like that.”
She then runs after him, and Gerald sees her expression change to something soft and longing as she catches up. It’s an expression Gerald doesn’t think he’s ever seen her wear, and his legs start to feel weak.
He needs to find Keith. Now.
When he finishes his story, Keith looks as disbelieving as he was.
“Mary and Alan?” he says. “ Really ?”
Gerald nods. “I don’t think Alan’s relationship with her has changed all that much, but it was clear Mary’s feelings were genuine. She’s never even pined that much at Katarina.”
The other teen shakes his head in disbelief.
“I just...I can’t picture it,” Keith says helplessly. “There’s just something wrong with that image.”
“Perhaps, but it’s the least of my worries right now,” Gerald replies. “Without Katarina’s friendship, and that ridiculous tree climbing contest, Alan never had a reason to let go of his anger. For all intents and purposes, he sees me as a challenge, not a brother.”
And that stings far, far more, than Gerald ever thought it would. He hadn’t realised how much he enjoyed their easy camaraderie until it was gone. It’s been less than a day, and he already has deep sympathy for his other self, to be saddled with that version of Katarina and an Alan consumed by anger and inferiority issues.
He sighs, dropping his head down to stare at the ground, a mirror image for Keith’s own depression.
“No wonder my other self wanted to leave-”
Gerald trails off, and the two of them jerk their heads up in tandem.
“The Gerald of this world wanted Katarina not to love him,” Gerald gasps.
“And Keith probably wished for a better family situation,” Keith sums up. “Given the reality of this world, it makes perfect sense to wish for it. Our wording just happened to match up.”
“Yes, well they clearly got the better end of the bargain,” Gerald mutters, hand on his chin as he thinks about the situation. “Although they’re probably quite confused too, given how extreme the differences are. I wonder how long it’ll take this other Gerald - this ‘Geord’ - to realise his luck?”
“He might not,” Keith tells him. “It took you interacting with Katarina one on one to realise anything was wrong. If he’s used to not interacting with Katarina, he might not realise how different she is for a while.”
Gerald nods. “True. While I was looking forward to spending private time with an affectionate Katarina, he was probably aiming for an ambivalent or resentful Katarina so he could...”
He trails off, eyes widening in horror.
“He’s going to break the engagement...”
Keith’s eyes widen, and Gerald starts gripping his hair with his hands in panic.
No. No, no, no, no, no! That is literally his only trump card in the fight for Katarina’s heart. There’s no way she’ll agree to it again, and without the engagement, Nicol will have absolutely no reason to stay out of the fight. Sophia will probably confess for him!
And that’s not even considering what Mary and Alan might try – or even Maria. She’s never once held back her feelings on Katarina, and without that social expectation holding them back…
“We have to get home right now!” Gerald snaps, getting to his feet, and Keith gives a hysterical laugh.
“How?” he wails. “We ended up here practically by accident. Maybe if we go back into the rune we could jump back, but our alternates would have to do it at the same time. And I don’t think they’ll be as ready to swap back as we are right now.”
“Then we get help,” Gerald says. “I’ll summon every magician in the country if I have to. Go speak to the student council, and I’ll speak to the headmaster. It’s time we revealed exactly what happened.”
Isekai World – Game Characters
“I’m sorry...you wish to annul the engagement?”
Geord keeps his ‘obedient and loveable son’ smile firmly in place as he nods to this world’s version of the King. “Yes Father. I know Miss Katarina will not protest the decision.”
His father is frowning, even as the maids finish pouring tea in front of him, mulling over the request. When Geord had arrived at the Palace, his father had almost immediately found time for him, and invited him into his parlour. It’s almost identical to every other time the two of them had been together, and Geord didn’t foresee any issues. His father would obviously expect him to defend the decision, but would ultimately agree with him so long as he could guarantee the Claes cooperation, thus resulting in a manageable settlement.
His father huffs and shakes his head, picking up his cup as the maid steps back, looking as the steam rising from the china.
“I must admit, I am surprised,” he says. “For the last seven years, you have been adamant about maintaining that engagement. Even when the Duchess Claes and her son requested you annul it.”
That throws Geord off course. “I’m sorry, even the Claes are against it?”
He regrets the question when the King looks at him as if he’s said something stupid.
“Her mother has not exactly been quiet about her feelings on the matter. I’ve lost count of the number of times the Duchess Claes has begged me to intervene,” he explains. “But if I ever tried to approach you regarding your choice, you made it clear it was not up for discussion.”
Katarina’s mother had-?
The King's eyes narrow. “So I’m sure you can understand why I’m so surprised at your change in opinion. Considering just two months ago, you announced at the dinner table that you would be marrying Katarina Claes even if you had to give up your title.”
Geord only just manages to keep his jaw from dropping. Truly? What kind of masochist was his other self?
“I guess I just didn’t want to admit I was wrong,” Geord says, going for the only explanation that might pass muster. “Going back on one’s decisions and responsibilities is not becoming of a Prince. However, even Miss Katarina has acknowledged that the engagement is unnecessary, given our circumstances, and continuing with it is more foolish that committing to such an error.”
The King looks at him, long and hard.
“And if I were to contact Miss Katarina and her family, they would agree with this?”
“I have not spoken to the Claes family, but Miss Katarina has stated, in front of me and her brother, that she is happy to break the engagement,” Geord assures.
“Hmm...well, I guess that’s that,” his father says, drinking from his cup and placing it down. “We’ll need to get the paperwork and settlement formalised, so I’ll send word to the Duke Claes today. Can I leave the preparations regarding Miss Katarina to you? I will need the two of you here tomorrow, in order to go through the necessary motions.”
Geord’s face bursts into a genuine grin.
“And should I ask...is there another woman?” the King asks, but before Geord can answer, the King shakes his head.
“If so, please give me at least a few months to weather the scandal,” he says. “Even if it’s voluntary on both sides, cancelling an engagement after this long without any proof of improper behaviour will cause tongues to wag.”
“Of course, thank you for understanding Father,” Geord says. “I will have it done.”
It’s official – Keith has no idea what’s going on any more.
His room looks more or less the same, although his shelves are filled with strange odds and ends he doesn’t recognise. They include a fishing lure, a child’s bracelet, a strange looking snake made from paper, and a charming ornate box – which when opened, contains nothing but a handful wooden splinters for some reason. There’s also a notebook filled with his childish scrawls – several drawings and a lot of angry scrawls saying things like RIVAL!!! and HOW MANY MORE???. Clearly his other self had issues with someone and their refusal to stay away, although the context eludes him.
What isn’t here however, is his maiden’s letters. His desk is bare of everything but some homework. He clicks his tongue in annoyance and starts digging through drawers. His other self must keep them hidden away, and they’re going to be filled with the most up to date information regarding this world, and he needs to know who he’s wooing if Maria is already this far gone for Geord.
He yanks open a bottom drawer and grins when he finds a stack of letters neatly stacked away. Jackpot. He picks them up and hops onto his bed, flicking through them to find the best one to start with.
Within a few moments, his smile has faded though, because all of these letters are from one of two senders. His parents.
It takes a herculean amount of effort to open up the oldest one from his mother. The woman has never had a kind word to say about him, but Katarina’s words from the day before ring through his head.
‘ We both know you’re Mother’s favourite.’
His mouth is abnormally dry, and his hands tremble as he opens up the paper.
‘ Dear Keith,
I do hope you are settling into your dorm room comfortably. It gives me great comfort to know that of my two children, I do not at least have to worry about your ability to bring honour to the Claes name.’
He swallows, almost curling up on himself as he continues. The Lady Claes has never cared for his well being, and never seen him as anything but a shameful necessity, not something honourable.
‘ Speaking of my greatest frustration, I know I over rely on you regarding her, but please continue to support your sister. Now that she’s away from her ridiculous garden and in the constant presence of Mary and Sophia in addition to you, I truly hope she will become a better example of nobility.’
Keith frowns. Greatest frustration? Katarina? And what’s this about a garden? Could it have something to do with the field Ka-his sister had been talking about?
‘ Now that you’re at the school, please let me know when you manage to charm the future Lady Claes. You’ve grown into such a fine man, it is truly inexplicable that you should still be without a fiancée.’
He bites back a laugh at that. The future Lady Claes is still very much anyone’s race, with no real frontrunner. Looks like his other self isn’t any better. Unless he’s mentioned someone in later letters, he might still be able to play the field as usual.
Although...that’s kind of odd. His parent’s adopted him specifically to have an heir to inherit. If they’re on such good terms with him in this reality, it’s actually rather surprising that he doesn’t already have at least a marriage candidate set up, right? Unless his other self had been actively dissuading them, but why?
‘ Please let me know of any issues with your servants. Given Katarina’s...issues, I feel more comfortable giving her the more experienced staff, but if you feel they are underperforming I will see to getting you a better attendants.’
Katarina again. He’s going to have to spend more time with this version of Katarina, because something must be off, outside of her considering Keith her sibling.
‘ All the best, my dearest son-’
He doesn’t even make it to her signature, dropping the letter and running a hand through his hair. This...it’s unreal .
But, crazy as it sounds, it’s the reality now.
With another dry swallow, he picks up the rest of the letters, and starts gorging on the love another version got to embrace wholeheartedly.
Game World - Isekai Characters
Prince Gerald has always been a perfectionist, and highly motivated regarding the things he wants. So Keith probably shouldn’t have been surprised at just how quickly his fellow traveller managed to get the word out regarding their situation. Most people would have waited until the morning, but Gerald had the headmaster, the head researchers, and his Father, the King, all at the research lab by midnight. How he even convinced them of the truth, Keith has no idea, but it does help his situation with the Student Council, who all get dragged into the lab first thing in the morning for a briefing. Difficult to argue when everyone above you is fully on board.
“Wait, let me get this straight,” Alan says, looking like Gerald had just knocked him over the head with a bat after they’d gone over the story one more time. “So, you’re not our Geord and Keith?”
“Yes,” both of them say. Not for the first time. They’re sitting at a table at the back end of the room while the Council sit at the other end, looking absolutely baffled.
“Instead, you’re from some kind of alternate reality, and got here because you made some ill timed wishes?”
“ Yes ,” the both growled. The younger Prince blinks, and starts snickering.
“Oh, I am never letting this one go. Geord is going to live with this for the rest of his life.”
“And you’re welcome to,” Gerald says. “But first let’s get your ‘Geord’ back to his life before he does something irreversible to mine! And for me, it’s ‘Gerald.’”
They all sort of automatically nod, and turn to Keith, who is half leaning on the table and propping his head up in his hands.
“Still just Keith,” he says.
“But wait, how did you know?” Maria asks. “I mean, the two of you were acting a little strange, but nothing that extreme. Is your world really all that different?”
Gerald and Keith glance at each other, then at the rest of the council.
“There is one, definite difference,” Keith says. “And as crazy as it sounds, that one difference changed everything. Our Katarina.”
Maria frowns, flinching at the name, and Mary scowls.
“Katarina? What could your fiancée possibly have to do with anything.”
“Sis is amazing,” Keith defends, and just the familial relation is enough to make eyes go wide. “She’s kind, and sweet, and unbelievably dense, but she loves her friends and family with everything she has.”
He shudders, closing his eyes to fight off the tears threatening to come. “She’s the most precious person in the world to me. I’ve never left her side this long before. I...I just need to get back, nothing else matters.”
Gerald quickly puts a comforting hand on his shoulder. While he’s always found Keith’s dependence on Katarina a frustrating thorn in his side, he can only imagine what being in this hell world is doing to the teen.
They don’t seem to know how to process this news, looking at the upset teen with new eyes. Nicol however, is watching Keith in understanding. What little Keith had mentioned to Gerald strongly suggested that this world’s Nicol and Sophia have a very similar relationship to their Keith and Katarina’s – which is probably a little awkward. At least Gerald’s Keith and Katarina are only distantly related by blood.
Keith leans a little into his hand, and takes a deep breath before looking up.
“You’ve got to understand, our lives are very different,” Keith says. “I have a good relationship with my family, so when Katarina reacted badly to me after the accident, that was a pretty obvious warning.”
Then he scowls.
“As was her fawning over Gerald. That was a pretty big red flag.”
Gerald gives a short laugh, bringing up a hand to hide his smile. “Yes. I thought I’d gotten the one thing I always wanted. It wasn’t until the next day I realised the price.”
“I’m sorry, but you wanted Katarina to be in love with you?” Sirius says. “I’ve never heard you, well, other you, say so much as one fond word for her.”
They both nod in understanding.
“We’ve only been here a day, but your confusion is understandable,” Gerald says. “But as Keith said, our world’s are very different.”
“What exactly did the two of you wish for?” Sirius asks, looking curious, and the two of them frown. They’d tried to avoid mentioning that, given how foolish it sounds now faced with it in this reality.
“I want it noted, that I did not mean it in this way,” Keith defends. “But I wished for a world where Katarina didn’t see me as her brother.”
“And I wished that Katarina loved me,” Gerald says. As expected, this revelation does not go down well. Alan’s openly gaping, and Nicol’s eyebrows have risen above his hairline. Mary looks disgusted, Sophia is frowning, and Maria looks absolutely heartbroken. Sirius on the other hand, is grinning like this is the funniest thing he’s ever heard.
Nicol is also nodding, and staring at Keith. “I can understand Keith’s wish, if she was overly possessive, but I am surprised any version of Geord would wish for that.”
“And if our Katarina was anything like yours, I would understand that,” Gerald says. “But ours is...”
He trails off and smiles, picturing his fiancée. digging in the dirt in her field. How she lights up when he finds a rare plant for her to add to her collection, and that dense charm which has seduced everyone that comes in contact with her.
“When I was little, I didn’t care about anything,” he explains. “Then I met Katarina, and all her quirky, crazy hobbies. She was impossible to predict, and everyday I got to see her just brought more colour into my world.”
He straightens and stares down the flabbergasted group.
“Proposing to Katarina after her accident was the best decision I ever made,” Gerald says. “She makes life fun. I never know what to expect from her, and even though I know she doesn’t love me the same way yet, I won’t give her up.”
He glances over at Keith. “No matter who tries to get in my way. One day, I’ll win her heart. I refuse any alternative.”
“Of course you do,” Alan mutters under his breath, and Gerald decides to twist the knife. This whole spiteful brother bit is something that should have been dealt with years ago.
“At least I’m honest about it,” he snaps in his direction. “Our Alan’s just as head over heels as I am but too dumb to realise it.”
Alan gapes, and Mary stiffens in shock.
“What? Alan is in love with your Katarina?”
She looks utterly horrified, and it’s such an odd look at the girl who both Gerald and Keith acknowledge as their main competitor, they can’t help but snicker a little at the ridiculousness of it all.
“In his defence, everyone Katarina meets falls in love with her,” Keith says. “It’s a full time job keeping her suitors away. Including you, Mary.”
The girl blinks repeatedly, having trouble processing the thought.
“Our Katarina likes to farm ,” Keith says. “She’s been maintaining a vegetable field since before I was adopted. The two of you met at a tea party, she saw your garden, asked you to give her some advice, and the next thing anyone knows you’re dropping hints to her about how hard it would be to become a Princess and how the two of you should run off to another country together.”
“That, and trying to make sure Alan doesn’t realise his feelings so that he breaks the engagement with you and starts pursuing her, giving you another competitor.” Gerald adds. “You’re surprisingly ruthless when you want to be. It’s kind of admirable.”
“B-but, I- that is, that’s impossible!” Mary says. “I love Alan!”
Gerald only just refrains rolling his eyes.
“Mary, you learned how to dance the lead so you could dance with her at her fifteenth birthday party,” Gerald says. “You even deliberately tried to match her colours – you’re utterly besotted . The only two people who don’t know it are Katarina and Alan. On this, they’re perfectly matched.”
“Don’t get us wrong, you like Alan well enough,” Keith admits. “You’re just not in love with him. Both of you understand that it’s a political match rather than a romantic one.”
“Sophia’s rather smitten too, but she doesn’t really compete,” Gerald continues, rather enjoying how much this is throwing off the people in front of him. “Most of her support is thrown towards Nicol, although he’s smart enough to pine rather than pursue.”
The white haired girl flinches, and grabs her brother’s arm. He merely puts his other hand on hers and frowns.
“That seems odd.”
“Not if you know Katarina,” Keith says. “She met Sophia at one of Gerald’s tea parties, and they bonded over books. Katarina really enjoys romance-”
“The greatest irony of our lives,” Gerald mutters.
“-And the first thing she ever said to Sophia was how beautiful her hair was,” Keith finishes. “There’s a book, Sophia and the Princess?”
The girl gasps and nods, and Keith smiles.
“Sophia and her got close, and well, Nicol likes anything his sister loves.”
He sighs and leans back. “Then she went and accidentally gave him the final push. Told him how lucky he was to have such a wonderful family. I practically saw cupid's arrow that day.”
Nicol gives a long, slow blink. His eyes flick over towards Maria, who has been surprisingly quiet this whole time, and looks very lost, before returning his attention to them.
“The worst part of all this though, is if what we know about our alternates is accurate, your Geord is going to see about cancelling the engagement. Katarina will let him do it, she’s told me repeatedly that she would.”
For the first time, Maria finds her voice, though it’s quite mumbled to start with.
‘B-but, I thought you were in love?”
“He is, she isn’t,” Keith says, looking a little amused. “Katarina’s been trying to convince him he doesn’t need to ‘take responsibility’ for years, and Mother’s been pressuring the King to consider it.”
“The point,” Gerald snaps. “Is that Katarina has many suitors, and our engagement has been the only thing holding most of them back.”
“And most of them really haven’t been holding back all that much as is,” Keith adds.
Gerald just starts glaring.
“Look, all I know is that the only thing that’s kept Nicol from actively pursuing Katarina is the fact that she was engaged to me,” Gerald says. “No matter how he feels, I’m his friend, and I found her first. If he thinks I’ve genuinely given up on her, Sophia will have him down on one knee in front of her door within an hour of annulment, and you know it.”
Keith goes a frightful shade of white.
“Crap...and she’s weak to that stupid smile of his. She’ll probably agree without even knowing what she’s agreeing to.”
“Stupid...smile?” Nicol asks weakly.
Gerald allows a wicked smirk to broach his face.
“Right. And while you’re pretty good at stopping me, I don’t rate your chances at stopping Nicol and Sophia working together with an engagement in place.”
The siblings glance at each, and then back, and from the centre of the group, Sirius starts chuckling, leaning over the table with his head propped in his hand.
“Should I dare ask about me?”
Both Keith and Gerald perk up.
“Currently immune to her charms, thank God,” Keith says.
“And I would very much like to get home and make sure it stays that way,” Gerald adds, before standing up.
“We have some of the best grades in the school,” he says. “With this and the researchers, we have a good chance at undoing whatever we did.”
Everyone still looks shaken, but they all stand – except for Maria, who is wringing her hands.
“Um, before we do, can I talk to Prince Geor- ah, Prince Gerald and Keith?” she asks.
Both Alan and Nicol furrow their brows, but allow Mary and Sophia to pull them away. Sirius idles for a brief moment, an unreadable look on his face, before he also leaves them alone.
“Maria?” Keith prods, and then looks away, playing with her hands.
“Sorry, it’s just...what’s your relationship with me in this other world?”
Gerald frowns, but Keith immediately winces.
“Oh, yeah...can I just apologise for how much of an ass my other self must be?” he says. “I swear, I’m not a flirt.”
Gerald’s neck snaps in his direction, and his jaw drops slightly.
Maria blushes, and looks quite embarrassed, waving her hands frantically.
“Oh, no, no, no! It’s not- I didn’t!” she says. “I mean...”
“Flirt?” Gerald repeats, somewhat in disbelief. Keith just moans.
“Trust me, you don’t want to know.”
“To be honest, he really wasn’t that bad,” Maria defends. “He’s just...lonely. Once you get past his walls, Keith’s actually really sweet.”
Her face goes a little red. “And Prince Geord always seems to just be going through the motions. He’s never really been challenged by anything, and for a while, I just thought he was interacting with me because I was something new. He’s got a dark personality, but there’s a good man underneath.”
“I can imagine,” Gerald says. He knows the path he’d been on when Katarina hit her head, and it wouldn’t have ended well for anyone. The brittleness of his brother’s relationship gives weight to that.
However, Keith’s words, and this whole conversation, helps him come to a fairly obvious conclusion, and his eyes widen slightly.
“You and Prince Geord?” he asks. “You’re together?”
Now Keith is the one who looks shocked, but Maria bites her lip.
“No,” she says. “I mean, not exactly?”
They both frown, and Maria droops a little.
“I think...no, I know Prince Geord has feelings for me. As does Keith, a bit. It’s hard to tell with how he flirts, but...it sometimes feels genuine. But Alan kind of does the same thing, and sometimes I think I catch Nicol staring at me, so, I don’t really-”
She gets cut off when Keith slams his head into the table.
“Oh God, we’re all doomed to a harem life no matter what we do, aren’t we?” he wails. Gerald leans back and runs a hand over his face.
“Same problems, different girl,” he chuckles. There really is no justice in any world, is there?
Poor Maria laughs despite herself, but then looks a little down.
“It’s just, everyone who was at this table has been so kind to me,” she says. “After so many years of being alone, I finally feel like I might have a bright future. I guess I feel sorry for your Maria, to not have that.”
Gerald meets Keith’s eyes, and they can’t help it. They burst into peals of laughter, and Maria flinches, looking a little hurt.
It takes a few moments to recover – and get a few odd looks from the friends a further distance away, including disapproving glares from both Nicol and Alan – but when they do, they offer her sympathetic smiles.
“Remember the ‘everyone’ part of our explanation?” Keith says. “You are not immune to the charms of Katarina.”
Maria’s eyes go wide.
Gerald nods. “Katarina’s been a fan of you since you first met, and even though she doesn’t realise that’s what you’re doing, you’ve been trying to confess your feelings for some time.”
She’s taken aback even as Keith nods.
“I think the killing blow is when she went to invite you to lunch, and found you getting bullied by some noble girls because of your grades and position in the Council. She went on a full on rant about how hard you worked on your schooling, and how kind and dutiful you were to everyone on the council. You told us later nobody had ever stood up for you before, not without trying to get into your good graces.”
“It’s a little frustrating,” Gerald admits. “You came into the race late but Katarina adores you. She loves your sweets – she’ll eat them off the ground if she has to – and you’re always spending time with her and the other girls.”
“It drives Mary nuts,” Keith laughs. “She really thought she was making headway until you arrived. Katarina has even said you were ‘No.1 marriage material.’ I thought Mary was going to have a stroke .”
“I know I nearly did,” Gerald huffs, and pats Maria on the shoulder. The girl looks utterly shell shocked.
“I...that sounds impossible,” Maria says softly. “I mean, I’m kind of friends with Sophia, and Mary is tolerant of me rather than friendly, but I’ve never had a friend who would care that much. I wonder what happened to Katarina to make things so different?”
Keith shrugs. “I don’t know, but I’m just grateful we got our version.”
“For what it’s worth, I’m not surprised our other selves were drawn to you,” Gerald says. “If Katarina hadn’t entered our lives, if we’d grown up with this world’s version...You would have been a true light in the darkness.”
He gives her a soft smile. “I wish you luck with them when we get them back.”
Maria blushes, and the three of them head towards the rune to start discussing options.
Isekai World – Game Characters
When Geord returns to the school, he’s in high spirits, and eager to inform Katarina and Maria of the news. However, Katarina isn’t in her room, and when he went to the Student Council room, it was empty. For lack of alternatives, he goes searching for Keith, and finds him holed up in his room, sitting on his bed with letters strewn around him.
“Did it go well?” he asks, not even looking up from the letter in his hand, and Geord nods.
“Far easier than it would have been back home,” he says, walking over and glancing at the strewn correspondence. “Katarina’s desire to break it off made things far easier than they would otherwise have been. We’ll start the annulment tomorrow. Now I just need to inform Katarina, but I haven’t been able to find her or anyone else.”
Keith smirks, gathering up the letters and quickly shuffling them together. “If the most recent angry rants from my mother are anything to go by, they’ll all be at Katarina’s field.”
“Field? She mentioned that earlier, but I thought I’d misheard...”
“Nope,” Keith says, setting the letters to the side and standing up. “Apparently, this Katarina’s hobby is farming, and she’s been working on a field just outside the main gardens ever since the start of the school year. Mother does not approve in the least little bit.”
He gives a rather hopeless grin. “I have suspicions that you and Prince Alan are probably the reason it hasn’t been shut down though. I double checked with one of my servants earlier, and she was given permission for a flower garden, not a vegetable field, but nobody seems to have stopped her.”
Geord shakes his head in disbelief, but follows Keith towards the door.
“Katarina gardening...I can’t picture it. That girl once threw a plate at her maid because she chipped a nail.”
Keith hesitates for a moment, before continuing down the hall by the Prince’s side.
“There’s something you should know,” he says. “This Katarina, she’s different from ours. And not just regarding me and the engagement.”
Geord frowns. “Truly? She’s still Katarina, it can’t be that much of a shift.”
His company chuckles. “I haven’t spent that much time with her, but I spend the last few hours reading the letters from my parents, and the Katarina they’re describing does not sound anything like the one we know.”
He continues to describe what he’d read in the letters as the two of them meander through the gardens. How his mother despairs for Katarina’s lack of manners, her inability to retain etiquette, the steadfast refusal to adopt more ‘acceptable’ hobbies, and a rather embarrassing appetite for anything sweet.
“To be honest, she actually sounds like someone I’d love to have as a sister,” Keith says with a soft smile. “If this morning was any indication, she’s also on board with my love life, though not all that involved, considering-”
Geord frowns as the other teen bites off the rest of the sentence and scowls. He’d like to press, but they turn a corner, and the conversation needs to be pushed to the side.
It’s as Keith said, there is indeed a vegetable field growing here – one Geord is positive does not exist back ‘home,’ and most of the Student Council is here. Alan is off to the side with Nicol, mulling over a basket of tools, while Sophia is kneeling next to what looks like a tomato plant. Mary and Maria are both deep into the patch, Mary tending to a wilting plant while Maria is handing a trowel to a gardener crouched between them and half covered in dirt.
For a moment, Geord frowns, especially when he spots Anna, Katarina’s maid standing to the side, because he can’t see Katarina anywhere.
Then Keith straightens, and his eyes bug wide.
“Oh dear God...” he says, and points back towards Maria and Maria. Geord frowns but follows his gaze – just in time to see the gardener stand up with a basket of potatoes and a grin, and feels his jaw drop.
That’s not a gardener. That's…
Well, unless she has a twin nobody knows about, that is Katarina. Wearing the rattiest green overalls Geord has ever seen, a very unflattering headscarf, and her face covered in dirt smudges. The girl, daughter of a noble and not all that removed from aristocracy then spots the two of them, and gives a wide smile as she lifts her cargo, without a single ounce of shame for her appearance.
“Keith! Are you feeling better?” she asks. “And did your meeting with your father go okay Prince Gerald?”
It takes a few moments for Geord to find the words. Keith, a master of female conversation, is clearly just as thrown, but manages to find solid ground a tad quicker.
“Oh, uh, yes Mi-gah, Sis,” he splutters, and tries to smile back – though judging from the concerned looks he gets from everyone other than Katarina, it’s more of a grimace. “I think I’m much more together now.”
Katarina nods and walks over, dropping her basket at the side of the garden. “In that case, you can help out,” she says. “Want to help me prune?”
He only just hides the shudder. Really, he dislikes even the idea of getting near the dirt, too familiar with the times he’d been kicked to the ground, but with the ladies all deep in the field, Keith doesn’t really have grounds to protest.
To his relief, Geord manages to recover, and attracts his sister's attention when he speaks up.
“Actually, there’s something I need to discuss with you Katarina,” he says, quickly crossing the distance to face her – and trying to keep a poker face at her shabby appearance. “The meeting was regarding our engagement.”
The words are barely out of his mouth before Mary and Maria are both flanking Katarina, each grabbing a hand and giving each other an odd, angry look before turning it towards Geord.
“Oh?” Mary says, not giving Katarina a chance to reply. “I can’t imagine why. Katarina still isn’t wearing a ring, and there’s no social events coming up that are high profile enough to make it official.”
“Yes, and Keith hasn’t told Katarina any news, and he would definitely have heard about it,” Maria adds, looking more worried than the brunette. Her mention of Keith is a little frustrating, but not surprising given how much gossip he hears – she’s probably just afraid that Geord is going to be chained down even more.
Well, time to dispel those worries.
“It’s rather the opposite,” Geord says. “Could I speak to you privately, Katarina?”
Mary’s eyes immediately flick towards Keith, and frown when he just stands there impassively. Judging from the looks on Nicol and Alan’s faces as well, his ally has missed a step somewhere.
Katarina however, goes from smiling to slightly panicked.
“Oh, um...you know, I’m sure that’s not necessary,” she says. “I share everything with Keith and Mary and everyone else. If it’s not dangerous, I don’t mind them hearing.”
It’s an odd reaction – most ladies would want to keep any conversation quiet to corral rumours. It says a lot about how much Katarina trusts the people around her to not put in any precautions.
For a brief moment, Geord feels a brush of doubt about his next actions, but quickly brushes them aside.
“Very well, but don’t say I didn’t offer,” he says, with just a small amount of spite. Granted, he acknowledges that this Katarina is not the target of his anger, but the wound still runs deep. “After what you said in the Medical Ward, I came to a decision. I went to the palace to speak to my father, and he agreed to cancel the engagement.”
The reaction is almost deafening – just not from Katarina.
‘WHAT!” Mary and (to his surprise) Maria both scream, forcing him to flinch and take a slight step back. Alan’s eyes grow impossibly wide, and while Nicol’s face seems impassive, there’s something resembling shock, and – unless Geord is reading him wrong, hope? - in his eyes. But before he can process that, Sophia literally wilts , only narrowly avoiding fainting to the ground by her fast acting brother grabbing her by the shoulders.
In fact, the only one not reacting in shock and astonishment is Katarina, whose eyes light up like stars, and Geord gasps as she grabs his hands tight.
“Really?” she says, as if he’s just promised her the crown jewels. “You’re really annulling the engagement?”
“Yes, so long as you give confirmation to my father of your willingness to break it tomorrow,” Geord explains, giving her a genuine smile for once. “If your parents can also make it to the Capital, we can arrange to have the paperwork processed quite quickly.”
He has tried to back out of the engagement with Katarina twice before. Once when Katarina’s scar had clearly healed – and she had made it clear that the very memory of the scar was enough to beholden him, and again when they had started attending the school and Maria had started to bleed colour into his life. That had gone badly for Maria, and he’d had to do some very fast talking with his father to avoid bringing shame on the Royal Family.
There’s part of him that’s genuinely expecting the worst here. That Katarina’s giddy smile will turn into that far more recognisable smirk, and her words will become knives promising unholy rage at his attempt.
But no, Katarina’s smile, if anything, becomes even brighter. He’s not sure he’s ever seen anyone look more elated in his life .
That’s...actually, that’s a little offensive. Was he really that awful an option?
“Perfect! I’ll send word to my parents tonight,” she says, while he’s still mulling that over. “With any luck they can be here by tomorrow, and this can all be over.”
She lets go of his hands and turns to everyone with a grin. Shock seems to have abated, and while Alan, Nicol, Sophia and Anna are still staring at Geord in utter confusion, Mary and Maria only have eyes for Katarina. Happy, hopeful eyes.
“Sorry to cut this short,” Katarina apologises. “But I need to-”
“Oh no! No need to apologise!” Mary says, although she’s grinning even wider than Katarina at the moment. “I understand the urgency!”
“Yes, this needs to happen!” Maria adds, her face turning slightly red. “Please go!”
His future ex-fiancée laughs, and runs off, her maid in close pursuit. A few moments later, Geord thinks he can hear her yelling something, but she’s too far for him to hear properly...
“-eath flag averted! Wo..hooo! I didn’t...ev...eed the...ake!”
“Mother will be elated,” Keith says, though he’s looking more concerned than anyone. And he keeps looking at the garden as if it’ll answer some great question. His calm demeanour seems to draw the attention away from Geord, and Mary starts frowning.
“I would have thought you would be more excited by this, Keith,” she says in suspicion. “You’ve been an advocate of cancelling the engagement since day one.”
Her eyes narrow. “Actually...both of you are acting really weird. Prince Gerald cancelling the engagement and you not following Katarina like a puppy dog? What’s going on?”
Keith bristles at the insult. Granted, his father’s letters had alluded to the same idea, but this school already has Nicol in the role of Sis-con. He is not going to follow that lead.
“Maybe I decided to let Katarina live her own life,” he snaps back. “She’s a big girl, she doesn’t need me hanging over her all the time.”
Mary’s jaw actually drops for a brief moment, before recovering elegantly.
“I...I...wow...” she says. “Well, that’s...good, I think.”
She straightens and smiles. “No, that’s very good,” she rephrases, and by her side Maria giggles.
“I’m very proud of you Keith,” she says with a smile. “I know that must have been hard to decide. It means a lot.”
Still a sucker for that sweet smile, even if he’s at a disadvantage for her heart, Keith gives her a soft smile in return, and Geord’s hackles raise, quickly stepping forward.
“Maria, might I speak with y-”
He’s cut off when everyone starts to hear bickering coming from the side, and turn to see Sophia practically shaking her brother by the arms, and speaking at a somewhat fast pace.
“-Ose tomorrow or you might lose your chance!”
“Sophia, it’s not that simple.”
His friend looks somewhat panicked, trying to calm his sister down, and Geord frowns.
The two of them jerk up from their conversation, looking a little guilty.
“Sorry, but Nicol and I need to head into town!” Sophia insists. “There’s something very important we need to buy!”
Nicol looks a little torn, frowning at his sister.
“Sophia, don’t you think it would be too sudden-”
The girl doesn’t let him finish, moving around and pushing on his back towards the school.
“No! You’re graduating soon and this is the perfect opportunity. We need to go now!”
The taller teen protests for all of a second before sagging in defeat and letting his sister march him away. Geord can only stare as the siblings make a hasty getaway. He means to comment on it, but before he can, Alan’s hand is clamped on his shoulder.
“You’re really giving up?” he says, sounding utterly confused. Geord frowns. Has everyone in this world gone a little crazy?
“Giving up?” he repeats.
“You love Katarina,” Alan says, and Geord laughs.
“I don’t,” he insists. “Perhaps I thought I did once, but I certainly don’t now.”
“Oh...” Alan murmurs, brow furrowing. “So, as of tomorrow, she won’t be your fiancée...”
Geord frowns and pulls away. He’s not sure how to act around this version of Alan. There’s history he clearly doesn’t know.
“Yes,” he says. “That is generally what happens when you cancel an engagement.”
His brother flinches, and then, to his surprise, blushes.
“Sorry, it’s...I guess I’ve always just thought of Katarina as your fiancée. The idea that she isn’t...makes me feel weird.”
Alan shakes his head as if shaking off a heavy blow, and pats Geord’s shoulder a few times before smiling and heading back towards the school. Geord watches him leave, rather befuddled at the interaction. Regardless, it’s unimportant. With one girl out of the way, he needs to make his intentions clear. He turns to see Maria-
-and blinks when he sees an empty vegetable field.
“Wait, where did Maria go?” he asks, utterly lost.
“She and Mary ran off after Katarina,” Keith says, from where he stands at the edge of the field. “Mary was saying something about ‘comforting her through the scandal,’ and Maria insisted on following because Mary ‘can’t be trusted with Katarina alone?’
Geord frowns. He was of the impression that Mary was friends with Katarina given how close they’d been in the field. But more pressingly...
“Maria and Katarina are friends in this world? I know they all came to see us, but I thought that was just coincidence.”
Keith shakes his head. “Nope, they’re close. I think Katarina might be her best friend.”
He glances back at the school with a frown. “Though I don’t get why Maria didn’t want Mary alone with Katarina. Mary is even closer with Katarina than she is.”
“I hope that won’t complicate things,” he says. It is rather gauche to propose to one of your ex-fiancée's best friends...
“I doubt it,” Keith mutters. “I tried to ask her out earlier-”
Geord grits his teeth.
“-but she shot me down flat,” Keith continues. “And told me there was someone she loved. Given that Nicol and Alan haven’t gone anywhere near her, and I haven’t seen any other men circling, I think your other self made far better headway.”
That knowledge has Geord bursting into a grin. He loves this world...
Tomorrow, he thinks. Tomorrow morning, he’s going to invite Maria to the tree where they first met, and ask Maria to start courting officially. His parents will never approve of an engagement without a proper waiting period after the first, but he can set the groundwork for his new bride.
So Geord and Keith are still semi-in-the-dark about their new reality, but Gerald and Keith have flat out gone NO! Undo! Undo!
Game World – Isekai Characters
After they manage to reverse the rune, Gerald runs from the lab in a panic, heading straight for Katarina’s field. To his relief, she’s there alone.
“ Katarina!” he yells, and the girl looks up from her gardening with a smile.
“ Prince Gerald, you’re back,” she says. When Gerald reaches her, he grabs her by the shoulders, and asks-
“ Katarina, our engagement-”
The girl holds up her hand, stopping him in his tracks.
“ Oh don’t worry,” she interrupts. “After it was annulled, Nicol proposed. Isn’t this ring lovely?”
“ Oh, you’re back.”
“ Where is Katarina?”
His brother shrugs. “No clue. After the engagement was annulled she and Mary disappeared. I think they started a farm in a foreign nation.”
“ What do you mean you’re engaged to the other Keith now?”
“ Well, it’s kind of crazy, but after I realised he wasn’t my brother, I couldn’t help but fall in love with him, so now I’m going to stay in the Claes family. I’m sure brother won’t mind.”
“ Oh hi Prince Gerald! After the engagement was annulled I accepted Maria’s feelings and now we have a dozen adopted children with light magic and run a bakerystrokegrocery shop. We named the oldest Gerald Jr!”
“ OI! WAKE UP!”
Gerald gasps and jerks up when something shoves him to the side, and throws out an arm to brace against the wall.
It takes a few moments to get his bearings. He’s still in the lab, sitting on a chair in the corner. Alan is looming over him with a scowl.
“You were moaning in your sleep,” he says. “If you’re not going to rest, you need to help.”
Gerald closes his eyes and runs a hand down his face. Right, he’d spent nearly the whole night arranging to the best minds he could get into this room, and the lack of sleep had been getting to him. Everyone had insisted he try and take a nap when it was clear he wasn’t able to concentrate fully.
“I see, my apologies,” he says, getting up as gracefully as he can. “Have there been any developments?”
Alan huffs, and the two of them walk back towards the rune, and the curious faces watching.
“No,” he spits out, sounding extremely frustrated about it. “Even given the information you and the other Keith gave us, we’re still at a loss at how to reverse the process.”
Irritating, but not unexpected.
“There has to be something we’re missing,” Gerald says, as he reaches the rune. To avoid accidents, everyone is banned from setting foot in the rune, and Maria looks up from where she’s kneeling at its side, scribbling in a notebook.
“Not necessarily,” she says with a sympathetic smile. “It’s entirely possible this rune was made to be one way. Nothing about it is making any sense.”
That absolutely cannot be true, no matter how valid a solution it may be, and Gerald gives Alan another once over.
“We spotted something similar to musical notes the first time, I don’t suppose you can make any headway with them?”
Alan scoffs, and his head drops as if trying to hide behind his large collar. “Why don’t you stop trying to boss me around? Who cares about musical notes, why don’t you focus on them.”
He then storms off, and kneels down by a distant spot, leaving Gerald standing alone, and Maria looking between them with worry.
“Um, Prince Geor-ah, Gerald, please don’t take it personally,” she says, standing up just a little closer than Gerald is used to. “Prince Alan is just-”
“I’m aware,” Gerald interrupts, giving her a smile, and then striding over, ignorant to the girl’s genuine surprise. Alan tenses as he approaches, and it gets worse when Gerald kneels next to his sibling.
Enough of this. Alan’s talents don’t lie in runes to begin with, and if he’s going to be of any use at all, Gerald needs to slap a giant band aid on these insecurities.
“What?” Alan snaps, looking even more riled up at his proximity. Gerald just meets his eyes.
“When we were younger, I envied you.”
Alan freezes where he kneels, before curling his fists.
“I don’t know why you enjoy-”
“Our brothers were both amazing heirs, so the two of us were already precariously situated as third and fourth,” Gerald continues, cutting Alan off before he gets going. “And you were sick, which meant any attention that could be thrown our way immediately went to you. I was left in the cold.”
He gives a sad smile, remembering that time. “It wasn’t your fault, you couldn’t help being sick, but I had to try twice as hard. My only option was to excel. If I wanted even a scrap of attention, or validation, I had to be the best at anything I did.”
Love, or the need to find it, is an excellent motivator.
“I...I never thought about it like that,” Alan says, just under his breath.
“In the end, I succeeded,” Gerald says. “I wouldn’t allow anything less than perfection, or I’d lose the attention I’d earned. But it did have an unexpected outcome of making me a serious contender for the throne.”
“Unexp-wait, you don’t want to be King?”
Gerald shrugs. “Not really. I know I could do it, but it never held any real appeal for me. Especially not now.”
‘ Katarina as Queen? Even if she did love me, she’d flee the country before she’d let anyone put a crown on her head. She already chafes under his nobility title, she’d never give up her freedom, not for anyone.’
That apparently doesn’t compute with Alan. He’s looking at Gerald as if he’s never seen him before.
“When you spend your life knowing that it only has value if it’s perfect, you tend to get bored with life very quickly,” Gerald says. “When we were children, I was just going through the motions. I knew how everyone would react, what they all wanted. Nothing was surprising, and you didn’t want anything to do with me. In the end, I thought that would just be how things went forever. Then Katarina walked into my life, and I finally found something new.”
He stops and stares directly at this other version of his brother, whose eyes have gone wide.
“I don’t know if your Geord is the same or not,” he says. “But I’ve never said anything with the intent to mock my Alan, no matter how he took it. You’re my brother, and I’m genuinely proud when you achieve anything.”
His lips twitch. “Your talent with music is something I can never match. I can’t tell you how irritated I get when Katarina hears you play. She truly admires it, and I’ll never be able to make her smile like that. So don’t undermine your skills or strengths, they’re something to be admired.”
Alan doesn’t answer, but he’s looking at Gerald as if he’d never seen him before.
“So, what do you think about the rune?” Gerald asks, offering the olive branch. “Could the musical aspect be important?”
“I...maybe,” Alan says, and glances back down at the rune. His fists clench, and sighs. “Where exactly are these notes?”
Isekai World – Game Characters
Keith is resting in his room, mulling over the day's events, when Katarina bursts into his room. He jerks up and squawks as she jumps on his bed and practically slumps over him.
“Keith! Keith!, look!” she squeals, waving a letter in the air, while he flushes red at just how close she is. “Mother was so elated to hear Prince Gerald was finally breaking the engagement she even paid extra to get the reply to me tonight! They’re coming to the capital tomorrow morning.”
“Ah, that’s great Sis,” he says, grateful it’s starting to get easier to refer to her as such. It helps that she’s so friendly.
“Isn’t it?” she laughs, and shuffles so she’s sitting right next to him, far closer than he’s certain siblings would normally sit. “You know, I’m very grateful.”
Keith frowns. “Grateful?”
Katarina nods. “Don’t think I didn’t notice you’ve been talking to Prince Gerald quite a bit the last two days. Let me guess, you managed to convince him after the accident? You’re always looking out for me.”
She gives him a quick peck on his cheek, and Keith feels himself turning red again.
“Oh, uh, no problem,” he mumbles. Technically, she’s not entirely wrong.
“How are you feeling now anyway?” Katarina asks. “I never got the chance to ask earlier.”
She then looks a little panicked. “And um, Maria? You spent some time with her right? I don’t blame you, she’s really charming, but did you do-”
“I tried to ask her out.”
Keith decides to cut that off at the pass, and bursts into laughter as Katarina goes white, then red, and then starts mumbling.
“Ah, of course you would! She’s so sweet and amazing and you would be perfect together and of course I’ll completely support you so please please don’t think I’ll ever do anything to sabotage that I’m not going to stand in the way I absolutely would never do-”
“Sis, relax,” Keith says. “She turned me down.”
Katarina’s mouth snaps shut, and Keith bites back the smile as she starts looking outraged instead.
“What!” she says. “But you’re amazing! You’re smart, and sweet and a complete gentleman and not at all a playboy! Why wouldn’t she be interested?”
Keith’s eyebrow twitches at the ‘playboy’ remark. If only she knew.
“I think you must have read her wrong Sis,” he tells her. “Because she said she was already in love with someone else.”
Katarina falls off the bed. But before Keith can even think about leaning over to help her up, she’s lunging to her feet, eyes wide.
“Prince Gerald! Of course!” she says. “That’s why he’s breaking the engagement. He finally fell for her charms.”
She sucks in a deep breath. “I just need to make sure the annulment goes smoothly and not get in his way at all, and I’ll be completely safe.”
Keith frowns. “Safe, Sis?”
The girl nods with a happy smile. “Yup. If I get in Prince Gerald’s way, he might try and exile me. Or maybe even kill me if it doesn’t go well.”
His jaw drops. “What?”
She does understand that a Prince just can’t exile a noble, right? There has to be at least some kind of cause – and Keith has seen enough of this world to know Katarina, while an unconventional noble, is guilty of less than his Katarina. Even if Geord did want to try, she’d clearly have support from her allies before it got anywhere close to a trial.
Wait, is this why she’s been so keen to cancel the engagement? Because she thinks Geord will kill her?
“Katarina, that would never happen,” Keith assures her. “Even a Prince can’t just exile or kill another member of nobility.”
His sister merely spins and points a finger straight at Keith’s nose. “Do not underestimate what people will do for love Keith!”
She sounds so certain, Keith starts to doubt himself. He only has letters and the two times he’s seen the group interact, but he was of the impression that Katarina and Prince Gerald had a friendly relationship in this world. What if it wasn’t? Perhaps ‘Gerald’ is more dark hearted than his own friend – it’s entirely possible that Katarina’s relief comes less from a lack of love, and more from the hope of freedom.
“Well, it’s being annulled, so you don’t have to worry,” Keith says, and stands to meet her. He bites his lip, pondering if he dares, but throws caution to the wind and ruffles her hair, giving a genuine smile when she squawks and ducks her head.
“ Keith!” she whines, but gives him a happy grin as she moves away.
“So, with you and Prince Charming ending things, do you have any new suitors in mind?” he asks. He’s not certain, but the way Sophia and Nicol had been going on...he suspects Nicol might have feelings for her. And if not, Sophia at least approves of her, which is really all that guy ever really cares about.
Katarina however, just shakes her head.
“Don’t be silly, I don’t have the charm or looks to win anyone’s heart,” she says. “I’m happy just to spend time with my friends and to work in my fields.”
“And that would be why Mother is going grey,” Keith says, though he’s genuinely surprised. “But you shouldn’t sell yourself short, Sis. You wouldn’t have so many friends if you weren’t charming, and you’re not exactly ugly.”
Katarina merely points to her eyes. “Maybe. But I have the eyes of a Villainess, and I’ve got nothing on real beauties like Maria and Mary and Sophia.”
“I think you might be surprised,” Keith replies, and Katarina shakes her head.
“Well what about you?” she says, clearly trying to change the subject. “If Maria and Prince Gerald are getting together, you should try and find someone too!”
Keith allows the shift, eyes flitting to the side to look out the window.
“You’re right,” he says, stepping aside and leaning against his desk. “I think I’m going to seriously look for a special someone from now on.”
The girl’s eyes widened. “Really? You’ve always refused before now.”
“Maybe I just wasn’t ready to grow up,” he says, and looks over at the shelf. “Perhaps I should start putting myself out there.”
He gives one of his more wicked-playboy smirks. “There are plenty of single ladies at the school. Maybe it’s time I dance with more than my sister.”
He regrets it instantly, because Katarina goes frightfully pale – as if she’s seen a ghost.
“...Sis?” he asks, and she stays frozen. “Katarina?”
She flinches back to life with a minute shake of her head.
“Um, nothing. I uh, I should go.”
She looks completely thrown from one line, and Keith almost feels bad about it. Apparently that dependency he’d suspected from the letters goes more than one way. This Katarina is probably used to having Keith completely to herself.
She makes it to the door, and Keith quickly follows to open it. She steps out, then hesitates.
“Now that you’ve rested a bit, do you remember anything more about what the rune did?”
Keith looks over. The girl looks genuinely curious, so he moves closer, slinging an arm around her shoulder, and grins.
“Nope,” he lies. “Still a complete blank, Sis.”
Katarina nods, an odd look on her face as he frees her.
“Okay...good night, Keith.”
Game World – Isekai Characters
It's a frustrating situation, but even after nearly a full day of experts and top students analysing the rune on the floor, and spending the whole morning today with knowledge of what it does , nobody has any clue how to make it function in a controlled situation. Every usual avenue is a dead end, and after a few hours, they gather at a table to discuss it.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” says the head researcher from the Ministry of Magic. “There’s no activation sigil, no reversal array, no protective architecture – I can’t even tell how it could be voice activated!”
He throws up his hands in frustration. “Are we absolutely certain this isn’t an entire hoax?”
“Are you suggesting I would do such a thing?” Gerald growls, and the man immediately backtracks.
“N-no, of course not your Highness,” he says. “But it’s possible that someone has altered your memories rather than it being the cause of the rune.”
“Valid, except for the fact that every researcher in this room saw the thing activate,” Keith says. “This is supposed to be one of the more secure rooms in the country. Are you suggesting someone was able to break in and cast magic on the dozen or so people here without anyone noticing?”
The man drops back, properly cowed, and the woman at his side sighs.
“Regardless, his point is valid,” she says. “This rune goes against every rule we have regarding arrays. We’re still not sure if this is a full body switch, or just a memory transfer, and more importantly, we don’t know if this was the rune’s primary function, or an unexpected side effect. We’ve been here all day, and we’re no closer to understanding it than we were when it was first drawn out.”
“We must be missing something,” Gerald insists. “The very fact that we activated through sheer chance means there must be a way to intentionally trigger it.”
There’s a disturbance at the door, and the table glances up when they spot a servant from the dorms heading towards the table.
“We had orders not to be disturbed,” said one of the researchers, and the man bows.
“Apologies, but I needed to speak to Prince Geord,” says the servant. “Lady Claes is asking for you.”
Gerald sighs, suppressing the knee jerk reaction to go bolting for the door. It’s not his Katarina.
“Please give her my apologies, but I cannot spare any time at the moment.”
The servant doesn’t look happy, but walks out the door, and Gerald returns his attention to the group. The researchers still look frustrated, so he glances over at the Student Council members. Alan has been scribbling in a notebook for hours, but the others are all comparing their own work. Maria’s lips are pursed, eyebrows furrowed as she looks over some research.
“It’s kind of like a mythical chimera,” she says. “A strange amalgamation that shouldn’t exist, let alone survive.”
“Not a bad example,” Sirius agrees. “I’m not even sure we’re looking at it properly.”
He looks rather outraged at it, and considering the teen spends most of his time bringing order to the chaos that is council duties, he probably is. Gerald then turns his attention to his brother, who has been uncharacteristically silent, and focused on his own notes.
He frowns when he realises Alan isn’t paying any attention, and is mumbling something under his breath. It’s not even music – the sound is all over the place, and Mary places a hand on his arm.
“Prince Alan...are you humming?” she asks, and Alan jerks his head up.
“Huh, what?” he says, looking confused.
“What has you so focused?” Keith asks, and Alan’s cheeks turn red.
“The musical notes,” he says. “They’re littered all around the outside array. Some of them are hard to make out, but there’s a pattern to them.”
Gerald leans back, eyes narrowed. “A pattern...as in a score?”
“There’s actual sheet music in this?” Mary asks.
“Oh great, like it couldn’t get even more ridiculous,” the first researcher groans. Alan just glares at everyone, and Gerald sighs.
“At this point, we’ll take anything. Alan, what have you found?”
His brother turns his head. “I’m not sure – on their own, they don’t make sense, but there’s... something , about them. They look almost random, but my gut says they’re not. I’m trying to figure out if they make a reasonable tune.”
“If you think you can make sense of it, keep going,” Gerald says. He’s not exactly certain how musical notes would be of any use, but if there is a pattern to be found, it could be the first step to finding order in the rest of it. “If anyone will find an answer in that route, it’ll be you.”
Alan looks away, but Mary looks genuinely surprised, and sends him a grateful smile as she scoots closer to Alan’s side, even as he starts scribbling again.
“What about the inner arrays?” Keith asks the main researchers, and they start going off on another tangent, but the general consensus is clear – traditionally speaking, this rune should not function, and everyone is at a loss as to why it does - or even if it does. Gerald is trying to follow each argument, hoping to find at least one that has a new idea to work with, when he hears commotion coming from the entrance of the room.
He turns his head, and sees the servant from earlier heading back with a rather panicked look on his face, and sighs. When he stands, the conversation grinds to a halt.
“Prince Gerald?” Maria asks, looking confused. “Is something wrong?”
Everything is wrong, but Gerald gives her a smile.
“Apologies, but I need to step out for a moment,” he says. “I’ll be right back.”
He waves off the servant heading their way – ignoring the relief on the man’s face, and exits the door. As expected, Katarina is waiting outside, and lights up when Gerald arrives.
“Prince Geord!” she greets. “I knew you’d come see me. That idiot clearly didn’t understand.”
“Miss Katarina, I’m afraid I’m very busy,” Gerald says, trying to disarm her with a smile. It’s clearly not what she wants to hear, because Katarina scowls.
“What’s going on with you?” she accuses. “Yesterday, you were so gentle with me! You were a perfect fiancée, so sweet and affectionate, and now you won’t even give me the time of day!”
Gerald holds up his hands in an attempt to soothe her. “Miss Katarina, there is currently a very urgent project being held right now. Once it’s sorted, I’ll have plenty of free time.”
Or at least, his other self will.
She stares at him, and whatever she sees, only makes her anger grow.
“Urgent project?” Katarina growls. “The kind that needs you to contact your father? And has you locked away with Keith and that commoner girl?”
Gerald’s eyebrow twitches. “You know I contacted the King?”
Katarina tosses her hair with an arrogant huff. “I have connections Prince Geord, of course I’m going to hear when my fiancée contacts his father unexpectedly.”
He bites his lip, and wonders how to handle this.
“It’s to do with the incident a few days ago,” he explains. “As it turns out, we figured out the cause, and now we’re trying to undo it. In a few days, everything will be back to normal.”
Katarina pauses, and looks at Gerald as if trying to pierce his soul. It’s an odd look on her.
“Prince Geord...” she says. “Do you love me?”
Gerald opens his mouth, and then closes it. He honestly isn’t sure how to answer, Katarina goes cold.
“You never even hesitate to answer that with a no,” she says. “What’s going on?”
“Why are you acting so nice when your eyes are so cruel? Normally you ignore me, or push me away. I was so happy yesterday, but even if you’re acting the same, the love is gone. You loved me yesterday, so what changed?”
Gerald’s eyes widened. This Katarina is far more observant. He probably should have realised that. This is one who has perfected the skills his Katarina has never even tried to learn.
“You loved me yesterday,” she repeats, and Gerald closes his eyes. “I’ve spent years wishing to see that look in your eyes, and now it’s gone again. What happened?”
He mulls over his options, and opens his eyes to face her. What happened has not been classified, but he’s reluctant to explain.
“If I tell you, do you promise to leave this room be?”
Katarina frowns. “So long as it doesn’t affect our engagement.”
Fair enough. “The reason for my change in behaviour, is because I’m not Prince Geord.”
Her jaw drops, and Gerald continues.
“Keith and I have both been replaced by counterparts,” he explains. “The incident yesterday accidentally brought the two of us here and transferred our other selves to our world.”
“Another world?” Katarina says, looking astonished, and Gerald nods.
“I’m afraid so. We realised the difference yesterday, and are focusing on trying to return things to the way they were.”
He’s barely finished speaking when Katarina grabs his hands.
“But you’re still Prince Geord, so why do we need to send you back?” she asks, eyes looking scared. “You were happy yesterday before you realised the truth, so I’m sure you can settle in here. I’m just as much a Katarina as yours is, I’m sure she’d understand!”
Gerald immediately shakes his head.
“No. I wish to return to my Katarina, and I’m afraid I cannot be unfaithful to her, even if you are her counterpart."
“Sorry, but Keith and I have to return to our world,” Gerald insists, his voice now more firm. “And while you may look the same, you are not my Katarina any more than I am your Geord, or Keith is your brother.”
He pulls his hands free, and reminds himself yet again that this is not his Katarina. That it’s not the sweet, eccentric woman looking at him as if he’s stabbed her with a sword.
“I advise that you stay away for your own safety until this is over,” he says. “I’m sorry for giving you false hope.”
And with that, he turns his back and heads into the lab again.
To his relief, Katarina doesn’t follow.
What happens when you write without a skeleton? You forget your own stupid timeline and in an attempt to get both plots lined up you accidentally jump one even further ahead. Watch me jump through hoops to fix that next chapter!
Turns out being raised with a distinct lack of love in one reality, makes for poor decisions in another...
Things have been a little too bright and fun so far. Time to take a sharp right into dark territory.
WARNING: Spoilers for the manga are VERY prevelant in this chapter. Anime-only watchers read at your own peril.
Isekai World – Game Characters
It’s the early morning with Geord slips out of his room and heads for the female dorms. In his pocket he carries a letter for Maria, inviting her to the gazebo at lunch. There, he intends to announce his intentions, so she can properly prepare. While it will be some time before he can make it official, he wants the sweet natured girl to be without any doubts as soon as possible. Perhaps it would be best just to confess this morning, but he wants to do this right. He won’t even dare let a servant deliver it, in case of sabotage.
It’s a decision he appreciates, when he arrives at the dorm and hands the letter to the receptionist who views all comings and goings, only to have her reply in a chipper manner-
“Oh, but Miss Campbell has already left for the day. She won’t be back until class lets out.”
The letter is immediately handed back, his hand twitching in surprise, but he hides it well.
“Ah, I see,” he offers, extremely grateful he’d hand delivered it. Waiting at the gazebo alone would have been crushing. “I was unaware Maria would leave so early.”
The woman tilts her head slightly and gives a small chuckle.
“Well, today is hardly a normal day,” she says, face blushing slightly. “Word around the school is that an engagement is to be broken. It’s all anyone can talk about.”
Geord returns the small laugh. He can imagine.
“You’ll no doubt find her at the Lady Claes field,” she explains. “She only left a few minutes ago – you might be able to catch her.”
The humour immediately leaves his face.
“Lady...did Katarina call her out?”
Has Katarina realised his intentions? Is she making her moves to ruin his plans?
The receptionist shakes her head, looking a little wistful for some reason. “No. Or if she did, she didn’t send a letter. This place would have been far more hectic. Maria just mentioned she didn’t want to waste any time.”
Geord thanks the woman, but walks out the building in obvious confusion. Why would Maria leave so early? And ‘wasting time?’ Is there a deadline involving Katarina he doesn’t know about? No matter how he looks at it, even being in agreement about annulling the engagement, he can’t imagine Katarina would be too elated at her friend shoving her victory in her face this early in the morning. He also can’t imagine Maria doing something so cruel, especially since Katarina knows Geo-
No...Katarina was supporting Keith. His friend had said Katarina must have been confused, supporting him even though Maria’s affections lay elsewhere. She thought Maria had a crush on her brother, not him. Maria has gone to get Katarina’s blessings to pursue Geord!
With a panicked swallow, he decides to hurry to the field. Granted, Keith has said the two of them are friends, but to ask her the very morning before seems risky. He should be there – make sure Katarina takes it well.
In a best case scenario, perhaps he’ll even get Katarina’s blessing!
He heads towards the field, and sees the two of them standing in the middle of the field. Katarina is in those overalls again, but standing on the grass, and Maria is holding the other girl’s hands. To his relief, Katarina doesn’t look the slightest bit upset.
Part of him wants to call out and be there for Maria, but he hesitates. Maria might think he’s stalking her if he just shows up – or Katarina might start thinking he’s had second thoughts. Instead, he slips around the building, and inches around the wall to eavesdrop on the conversation.
‘-grets about annulling the engagement?” Maria is asking, and Geord leans forward.
“Of course not,” Katarina replies. “Prince Gerald only asked me out of duty. It’s better that he gets engaged to someone he loves.”
Behind the building, Geord smiles. He thinks he could grow to like this Katarina as a friend. Hopefully, she herself will find someone.
He can only make out half of her face, but Maria looks elated at her answer, and lifts Katarina’s hands up, the two of them in a facsimile of prayer.
“Katarina, I know I should wait until the annulment is completed, but I’m afraid that if I do, I could lose my chance,” Maria says. “There’s something I need to tell you.”
It’s utterly unbecoming for a Prince, but Geord feels himself leaning forward to hear Maria’s next words.
“Miss Katarina, I want to be with you forever,” Maria stresses, her cheeks red. “You’re the one I love more than anything. Please let me stay by your side!”
Geord’s hand slips on the wall, and thinks his heart might actually stop beating.
Oblivious to the knife wound ripping out his heart, Katarina just smiles.
“That’s very sweet of you to say, Maria,” she says. “It makes me really happy to hear that. But don’t worry, me and Prince Gerald will still be friends, so it’s not like anyone will have to choose.”
Maria’s hands grab hers tighter.
“Miss Katarina, I’m not sure how else I can say it,” Maria continues, looking a little exasperated. “But I promise, I’ll make you understand one day, no matter what it takes.”
Katarina laughs. “You really are too charming Maria!”
Geord jerks back further as he sees Mary Hunt running towards the field, looking rather out of breath and in her nightwear, a coat hastily slung over her shoulders. She looks rather frantic.
“W-what, Mary?” Katarina yelps, yanking her hands from Maria’s grasp and running to meet her. “What’s wrong?”
Her back is to Geord, so he can neither hear or see what the other girl is saying, but his eyes are locked on Maria’s face before it vanishes from view. The affection is unmistakeable even from here.
A dark, ugly feeling rises in his chest, and he slips away, uninterested in what had pulled Mary out of bed before she was respectable, and no longer capable of looking at Maria without feeling rage. When he makes it back to the main school grounds, he finds himself laughing, and struggles towards a bench, suddenly unable to support his own weight, as he ponders the situation he’s now in.
It appears that Katarina really is a Villainess no matter what the world. Rather than make his life miserable as his fiancée, she’s stolen the only person Geord has ever loved right from under him. She’s probably been laughing under her breath ever since he promised to break the engagement – then she can steal away with the woman he loves and leave him humiliated and alone.
Oh, he can even picture it. Katarina’s wicked smile as she lifts up Maria’s chin with sharp claws, evil eyes savouring every piece of the innocent mouse caught in her trap. First she’d thrown her brother at the girl, and when that failed to ensnare her, gone to work herself, wrapping Maria up in honeyed works with hidden barbs until she didn’t know up from down. He hadn’t given this Katarina enough credit – clearly she’s a far more intelligent viper than his own garden variety. A seductive chess master who lives to hurt him.
He lifts his head up to see the Student Council President walking towards him, a curious look on his face.
“Good morning Sirius,” he greets, pasting a smile back on his face. Clearly it’s a meagre substitute, because the student president’s just deepens.
“Is something wrong? You haven’t seemed yourself lately.”
Geord’s lips quirk upwards. Well, he’s not wrong.
“I just had a rather startling revelation this morning,” he explains, and Sirius quickly steps forward, sitting down next to him. “Katarina and Maria...appear to be intimately involved.”
Sirius’s eyes widen – but not for the reasons Geord expected.
“Really? Maria finally found a way to confess her feelings that Katarina didn’t misunderstand?”
Geord’s jaw drops. “What? This is common knowledge?”
Sirius gives a light chuckle. “That Maria is in love with Miss Katarina? I think everyone in the school except Miss Katarina knows that. She doesn’t really hide it.”
Well isn’t that just fantastic. Geord’s suddenly very grateful he never managed to deliver the invitation to Maria – it would have been beyond humiliating.
“I don’t understand,” Geord says. “I know Maria is a kind girl, but to be so devoted at this point...Katarina must be a truly manipulative seductress.”
After all, even after several months of testing the waters with his Maria, her affections were still torn between several men. How had Katarina managed to catch her eye so completely and utterly.
“Yeah she’s really not...” Sirius mumbles, and starts patting him on the back.
“Oh, nothing. Just thinking out loud. But...this could work.”
Sirius smiles, and Geord’s eyes suddenly feel very dry. They close and he rubs them, somewhat relieving the pressure, but it’s left his head with a throbbing headache. He can’t even remember what Sirius just said.
“My apologies, I don’t think I got enough sleep,” he admits. “Please excuse me.”
He gets to his feet and gives the president a short nod, before making his way back towards the dorms. When he’s a suitable distance, he pulls out the invitation, Maria’s name elegantly written out.
How ironic, that something he’d once seen as beautiful could now look so abhorrent.
He lifts it way from his body and concentrates his magic. It turns to ash in the fireball in seconds, and he drops the embers to the ground as he storms back to the school.
Fine then. If Maria’s made her choice, then so be it. Once the engagement is over, Geord will just make sure the right rumours make it to the proper channels. A lady breaking her engagement to be with a female lover is a scandal that will never allow either to survive high society without the right support. Katarina will have to abandon Maria to save her own skin, and Geord can sweep her off his feet the way his other self should have been doing from the start.
And if Katarina really does love Maria? Well, the Claes will probably disown her, and they’ll both have to flee the country in shame. Either way, Katarina will be crushed on Geord’s heel for good.
Nobody makes a fool of the Third Prince.
From the bench, Sirius leans back on the support and grins at the dark aura surrounding the blond.
“...Huh,” Sirius says. “I really didn’t think that would take as quickly as it did. Your version of Katarina must have done a number on you, Fake Prince.”
Because that blonde teen cannot possibly be the one Sirius knows. He honestly doesn’t understand how no one has spotted it yet. True, his magic allows him to see the darker emotions in a persons soul, and the sheer depth of negative feelings regarding Katarina Claes both this Gerald and Keith have make them almost unrecognisable, but surely someone else has noticed the change?
It just goes to show how unreliable things like love and friendship truly are, if you can be replaced by a stranger so easily. He of all people knows that very well.
His grin becomes something almost malicious as Gerald wanders into the building, the darkness around him almost double in size already, and chuckles to himself.
“You really should get a hold of those emotions your Highness,” he whispers. “Or that kind of darkness might push you into something you regret...”
Later that morning, Keith also visits the female dorms to collect Katarina, his heart pumping far too loud in his chest.
Their parents will be arriving in less than half an hour, and they need to be there to greet them. The Duke Claes and his wife, his legal parents through adoption, who in this reality, love him as if he truly was the flesh and blood child his Mother suspected he was.
In the reception, he swallows heavily, pulling at his collar. He thought he could handle this, but reading letters and coming face to face with them are two very different things. As much as Katarina is altered here, outside of the house they had little interaction at school, and this Katarina has left him alone whenever requested. He has no frame of reference for his parents outside of the home, least of all a positive one.
“Focus, Claes,” he hisses to himself, slapping one cheek as he tries to calm down. If he looks too nervous, they might think something is wrong. They might punish him for not being-
No...no these ones wont. They’re not that way towards him...right?
He glances towards the stairs, wondering if he should go up and collect Katarina, when he hears a commotion at the door. His jaw drops when he turns his head, spotting Katarina stumbling through the door, Anne tailing after her with sharp words.
“-old you we needed to leave at least 2 times, Miss Katarina,” the maid is saying, stress clear in her voice.
“I know, I know!” Katarina whines, only to light up when she sees Keith. He on the other hand, is still gaping, because Katarina – thirty minutes before meeting with her parents so they can discuss the annulment terms – is dressed in those ridiculous overalls.
“Morning Keith!” she greets. “I’m just going to get changed. Be right down.”
“You’re not ready?” Keith wails, mentally going over a ladies usual regime. “We need to leave in fifteen minutes if we want to be waiting at the gate for them.”
“It’s fine, Mother will wait a few minutes. I’ll just tie my hair back.”
“You will not,” Anne says, voice firm, and ushers her wayward Lady upstairs, tossing a sympathetic glance Keith’s way.
“I will do my best,” she offers, and chases after Katarina. Keith walks to the side of the wall, and drops into a couch before running a hand through his hair.
Does Katarina even have the slightest clue what’s about to happen? How is she this nonchalant? Even if it’s a mutual dissolution for both parties, women do not come out the victors with broken engagements, especially when the man is a member of the royal family. She should have been ready hours ago, preparing her terms and putting together an action plan for her future. Graduating without a future spouse is social suicide for a Duke’s daughter. Does she have any idea how her actions reflect on the Claes name?
He’s not feeling any more lenient when she reappears, dressed in her usual white and blue, but with a reddish face that suggests she’s been scrubbed rather harshly, and her hair looking rather dull – given that Anne follows with a brush, she’s clearly not had time to properly style it.
“Okay, lets go,” Katarina cheers, apparently uncaring about her unkempt appearance despite the future meeting, and Keith grits his teeth, trailing after her.
When the gates come in view, Keith sighs and steps forward, reaching into her hair and plucking out a dirty leaf.
“Did you really have to work on your field this morning?” he asks, genuinely curious at what she’d been thinking, and Katarina laughs.
“Well I was had a lot to think about last night. I could barely sleep,” she admits. “So I thought I’d do something practical instead. The cauliflowers have been wilting a bit, so they need all the attention I can give them.”
“I don’t think that explanation will satisfy your mother, Miss Claes,” Anna offers with more bite than Keith has ever heard from his version. Katarina just brushes it off.
“No explanation would satisfy my mother,” she whines. “Honestly, she really needs to calm and relax. There are so many more things to worry about other than their daughter doing a little gardening.”
“Katarina, Mary does a little gardening. You, have a miniature farm,” Keith says, disapproval clear in his voice. “One you’re apparently obsessed with maintaining.”
“It was necessary!” she insists. “If Prince Gerald hadn’t broken the engagement, that field was going to support me.”
Keith frowns, and glances over at the maid. She just gives him a shrug, but doesn’t look surprised. Apparently this has come up before?
“Refresh my memory,” he asks. “How would a field support you if you married the Prince?”
Katarina rolls her eyes.
“Well, obviously he was never going to marry me,” she says, and Anna drops her head into her hands momentarily. “But if I ever got exiled, I knew could become a farmer!”
“You can’t just exile someone!” Keith half yells, remembering the evening’s conversation. “Why do you keep saying that like it’s gospel?”
Katarina stops in her place, looking at Keith in shock. Anna is also looking at Keith like she’s never seen him before.
“Keith?” Katarina says in the quietest voice he’s ever heard, and Keith erupts.
“You have this ridiculous hobby, and it’s for the most ridiculous reason I’ve ever heard!” Keith snaps. “Exile? In case you become a commoner? What kind of noble thinks like that? If that’s what terrifies you, you should be ensuring you fit in high society, so nobody will ever have reason to!”
“I-but-love-” Katarina splutters, but Keith doesn’t let her finish.
“Prince Geord’s breaking this engagement, and you seem to think that everything’s going to be fine now,” he warns. “But you’re fifteen, and have to bear the shame of a broken engagement, and thanks to me, you’re no longer the official heir to your house. Do you understand the position you’re in right now? Not a lot of men your age are without their own engagements – and the ones that are will think twice with a broken contract in your past. Our parents might have to arrange a marriage with a noble much older than you, possiby a widow, or even one in another country! Your only chance to avoid that, is to be desirable enough on your own for them to overlook that, and you’re...swanning around in garden overalls and angering your parents on the one day you should be giving them the entirety of your attention. Your future is in their hands!”
Silently, he knows it’ll never come to that. Their Father has clearly been indulgent with her over the years, and he’s still pretty certain that Nicol will make a move after the annulment, but it’s the sheer obliviousness to her situation that has created an odd mix of anger and panic in his mind, amplified by the stress of meeting this world’s version of his parents.
It’s a rage he’s never experienced, too terrified to ever speak up in any Claes presence, but when he sees Katarina’s eyes tearing up, the far familiar feeling of shame creeps back up.
“Why...” Katarina whispers, sounding so broken. “Why are you saying this me now? You’ve always supported cancelling the engagement, and helping me in the field. Where is this coming from?”
His voice dies in his throat, and he looks away.
Why does it matter? He’s never cared one whit about what Katarina does before.
Next to him, he hears Katarina sniffling, then flinches as she grabs his hands.
“I know...I know Keith is always looking out for me,” Katarina says, clearly trying to force the tears down. “I guess I never realised how much of a burden I was being. I always thought you’d tell me – didn’t I say you could tell me anything?”
Now Keith wants to cry.
This Katarina is kind is a way his Katarina is almost allergic to being. He cares because he wants her to be happy. This dim but sweet and oh so protective big sister is everything he never dreamed he could have for a sibling – hell, everything he’s ever dreamed in having in any significant relationship – and he’s terrified for her.
“I just want you to be safe and happy, Sis,” Keith offers. “I think I’ve started to realise how little you seem to understand about the world.”
Katarina’s gives him a tiny smile. “I know more than you might think,” she offers, and Keith shakes his head.
“Sorry, I won’t yell at you again,” he says. “But I promise, I will do whatever it takes to make sure you are never exiled, so stop worrying about that, okay?”
He risks tugging at her shoulder, pulling her into a very loose hug. Katarina huffs into his chest, throwing her arms around him and making it awkwardly tight.
“You’re a great brother, Keith,” Katarina mumbles into his shirt, and then pulls away. Keith keeps smiling, although he notes Katarina’s eyes seem a little subdued compared to what he’s seen so far.
“And you’re the best sister I’ve ever had,” Keith answers. Katarina bites her lip.
“Keith, last night, you-”
“Keith! Katarina!” How are my darlings doing?
The two snap their heads towards the gate, where their parents have arrived. Their mother is moving as fast as she can while maintaining an elegant flair, and making a beeline for Keith. He is frozen to the spot as the woman throws her arms around him in a tight hug, but she doesn’t appear to notice, letting him go a few seconds later to kiss him lightly on each cheek.
“Oh, Keith, you become more charming every day. How are we not here discussing your engagement?” she asks. “We will need to rectify that soon.”
“Ah, Katarina, finally got your wish?” their father says, hugging his daughter tightly and matching her elated grin. “How did you finally break him?”
“I don’t really know, but I think Keith convinced him.”
His mother pats his cheek. “That’s my boy! I knew you could do it. I’m so proud!”
Keith finds himself battering pride and terrifying nerves as his Mother moves away to hug her daughter, and finds himself embraced by his Father. The man frowns when they separate, eyebrows furrowing as he stares at Keith’s face.
“Are you okay son? You look like someone has a sword to your throat.”
Keith immediately shakes his head, trying to compose himself.
“Katarina! What is going on with your hair?”
“Ugh, it’s fine, I promise. I just ran out of time-”
“It is not fine! Anne, give me the brush, we need to fix this.”
His father sighs.
“Can it wait, dear? We do have some time before the King arrives. Perhaps we can all wait in the meeting room rather than broad daylight?”
Keith frowns. “The King is coming here? I thought we were going to the palace.”
“So did we,” his Father admits. “But before we reached the city, one of the King’s messengers intercepted up. He has a prior appointment at the school so decided to change the location.”
“Which means we all have some time to catch up. Doesn’t that sound wonderful dear?”
His mother, who has been scowling at Katarina’s obstinate face, immediately melts, grabbing her husbands hand and blushing. Keith only just hides the astonishment – the Claes seniors don’t do physical contact. They can barely stand being in the same room as each other.
What kind of love spell was cast to make these two so smitten towards each other?
“It is,” his Mother admits. “And truly, we’ll need the time. Anne and Keith can really only do so much.”
She smiles at him again, and Keith finds himself spewing words before he can fully think them through.
“Mother...can you hug me again?”
The words are barely out of his mouth before his Mother’s arms are wrapped around him, and Keith drops his head onto her shoulder, breathing in her perfume, desperately trying to immortalise this one moment in his head forever.
“Keith, what’s wrong?” she asks, moving away and cupping his face in her hands. “You’re not usually this affectionate. I thought you ‘were too old’ to hug your dear Mother.’”
There’s not a touch of anger of disgust in her expression, just honest concern for someone she loves dearly. Keith tries to smile, but he can feel his eyes tearing up.
“I just...I’ve really missed you?” he offers, and his Mother almost melts.
“Oh, my sensitive boy,” she says. “You always know what to say.”
“He was rejected yesterday,” Katarina decides to offer up, and Keith flinches as his Mother’s face twists into something far more familiar.
“Rejected? My Keith!”
He gasps as the anger dissipates, his Mother pulling his head down to her chest as she brushes her hand through his hair.
“My poor boy. I promise, they did not deserve you!” she insists. “Completely their loss. You can do so much better.”
It’s literal agony to pull away, but if Keith doesn’t get distance, he’s going to break down in tears and never stop. The smile he wears is almost completely fake, but it’s one he perfected years ago, when he needed to hide how close to a mental breakdown he was on a daily basis.
“Don’t worry, I’m already over it,” he lies. “I promise I’ll make you proud.”
His father laughs and pats him on the back, coaxing the family into moving towards the school. “You make us proud every day Keith. There’s no worry of that changing.”
Can Keith just live in this moment forever? Mother holding their hands, smiling and laughing between her children, his sister happily chattering away with the odd glance over, and his father at his side giving him an indulgent smile. Life cannot possibly get better than this – everything that comes after is just going to be a disappointment.
He isn’t giving this up, he realises. Why does his other self get all of this and he doesn’t even get crumbs? He didn’t deserve what his family put him through, any more than his other self deserved to have this family handed to him on a platter – especially since he just threw it away.
It doesn’t matter that none of it is really for him, he’ll earn the right to this family.
Because this Lady Claes, his Mother, loves him. His Father loves him. They’re a family. And they’re relying on him to be a supportive influence on his sister, especially now that she’s lost her engagement. A role he will wholeheartedly throw himself into from now on - his flirting and dates can wait.
As the future heir of the Claes, it’s his job to make sure Katarina can secure another engagement, and not bring shame on the Claes name. Her farming is embarrassing, but with Prince Geord clearly uninterested in curbing his future wife’s bad habits, has been allowed to get out of control. Especially if she’s been doing it under some ridiculous notion that she was going to get kicked out of high society once her fiancée was bored of her. The way she’s going, her actions will do that on their own.
Keith nods to himself. That settles it, once this engagement is broken, he’s going to ask his parents for more authority over Katarina, and put her back on the right track like a decent brother should. That field will be ripped out and replaced – he’ll salt the ground if he has to, and get Katarina focused on more acceptable hobbies. If she wants to garden, Mary can perhaps give her a rose bush. Flower gardening will be an acceptable substitute, so long as he burns those ridiculous overalls.
His Father throws an arm around his shoulders, and Keith lets himself lean into the action, his Mother’s hand still intertwined with his.
There's no other choice. They love him, and he needs to repay that.
Game World – Isekai Characters
In another reality, a different Keith is sprawled out next to the outer array, about ready to give himself a paper cut and see if a blood sacrifice will make the thing activate, when he hears a loud yell from the table, jerking him up as if electrocuted.
“I figured it out!”
He lifts himself up by his arms to see Alan, staring at what’s been keeping him occupied for hours, and looking extraordinarily pleased with himself. Before Keith can get to his feet or the other scientists and classmates can get to him, Gerald is on the other side of the table, looking desperate.
“You have? Does it have to do with the activation.”
“I think it has everything to do with the activation,” Alan tells him, and things get a little loud.
“Calm down, everyone!” Sirius yells over the multiple questions, trying to get everyone back on track. He forces the researchers and council to step back from the now stricken Alan, and offers him a sympathetic smile.
“Alan, you were saying?”
“It’s the notes. I figured out why it looks random,” Alan explains. “It doesn’t make sense on it’s own because it’s missing half the notes.”
Still on the other side of the table, Gerald’s face lights up.
“It’s a puzzle. You need both pieces or it doesn’t work.”
Gerald’s eyes widen. “This rune activated with our words. A song where you have to know the missing pieces.”
Alan nods. “Whatever both versions of you said matched up enough to substitute the musical incantation, but to make this thing work correctly, you need both sides to know the song.”
“That would be an exceptionally intelligent lock,” a researcher admits. “And it would explain why it only activated when the two of you were inside it. You and your counterparts inadvertently created a connection with your sentences.”
Gerald nods. “Us being transported here was probably an unexpected side effect. The odds of having two people enter and speak similar lines at the same time – nobody would create an array to do that.”
“But how would they manage to create the array in the first place?” Keith asks. “If this is true, then somebody would have to create the other half in the other world.”
“That’s a question we can answer once we’ve set things right,” Gerald adds. “For now, we need to figure out the missing notes.”
He glances over to Alan. “Can you do it?”
Alan bites his lip. “Maybe. But even if I do, it won’t activate on their side.”
“It’s halfway though, that’s a good start,” Nicol offers. Alan nods, and he looks down at the notes, mulling over something in his head.
“...Give me an hour,” he says. “This composition is...nothing like anything I’ve seen, but it’s been made to make sense if you understand music. I can figure it out.”
“Alan, Sophia and my Katarina would fight me on this,” Gerald says. “But if you pull this off, you are the greatest brother anyone could ever have in any world.”
He means it with every fibre of his being too. His Alan’s going to have to work his back off when he gets home to regain his title as Gerald's favourite twin. On his end, Alan reacts by blushing bright red, and looking ridiculously embarrassed.
“Wha-you, don’t just say things like that!” he yelps, running a hand through his hair before storming away with his notes. However, everyone can see the satisfied smile on his face.
Slowly, Mary leans in, poking Sirius on the shoulder.
“We sure we can’t keep Gerald? That’s a good look on my fiancée.”
Sirius hides a smile behind a hand. “I don’t know if Alan would be able to take that.”
Mary sighs, but nods. “You’re right. Pity though. He hasn’t looked this happy in a while.”
With a huff, she brushes down her dress, and goes to see if there’s anything she can help her fiancé figure out.
Sirius however, turns his attention back to Keith and Gerald. If this works, they’ll soon have everything back to normal, and have their own versions back in hand. No more of the bright, positive relationships these two collect like candy, but dark, broken, angry versions, like the world should be.
He can hardly wait.
Exactly when did this fandom explode so much? I got so much positive reaction from the last chapter I'm genuinely terrified I'm not going to be able to meet your expectations. Thank you so much to everyone who reviewed or started leaving theories on what would happen. It's a huge boon to my writing, and hope you continue to enjoy it!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Isekai World – Game Characters
Nicol is sitting in the Student Council room, enjoying one of the few rare occasions he has the room to himself, staring at the object in his hands, when the door bursts open. It’s Mary and Maria, looking elated.
“The Claes have arrived on campus!” Mary squeals. “Not long now!”
“I heard that the King is coming here too,” Maria says. “They’re not wasting any time.”
“You’re one to talk, Maria,” says Mary, her face looking rather calculating. “Was the sun even up before you tried to make your claim?”
Maria smiles back, innocence personified. “It’s not my fault you don’t excel at early mornings, Mary. You were still quick to intercede.”
The other girl pouts. “I can get up early! I just didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“You both tried to confess this morning?” Nicol asks, drawing their attention. Both girls look over with some embarrassment. “The engagement hasn’t been annulled yet.”
“It’s Katarina ,” Mary stresses. “You need every advantage you can get.”
Maria however, glances down at Nicol’s hand, and frowns.
Nicol follows her line of sight, and lets his eyes soften. He holds out the small red box, allowing the girls to draw closer. Mary recognises it first, giving out a sharp squeal.
“Is that an engagement ring?”
“Is that what you and Sophia were out getting yesterday?” Maria asks with a gasp.
Nicol nods, looking down at the customised ring. He suspects Sophia has had it on order for months, given how quickly the jeweller put it together. It’s not overly flashy, and doesn’t have a single diamond, but the girl it’s for has never been the materialistic type.
“Five stones, to represent five key moments from our lives,” Nicol says. “A blue sapphire, for the dress the day we first met, peridot for the dress when I first fell in love, yellow topaz for her birthday, where I told her I was in love, though not with who, and emerald for the day I learned I could have a chance, all circling her birthstone, honouring the life of the girl I love.”
Mary and Maria both blush a little at that. Mary almost looks ready to faint.
“Wow...” Maria says, looking torn. “That’s beautiful. And so romantic.”
“ You did not come up with that,” Mary says, throwing off the romance filter. “When it comes to romance, you are utterly hopeless. That is Sophia’s work to the core .”
Nicol nods. “It’s an homage to a character in the second 'Devilish Count' novels - it's one of Sophia and Katarina’s favourite novels. The character proposes with a ring adorned with five stones, each of them mined from the five places he met his love during their romance.”
“So even if she completely missed the romantic part of your confession, she’d want the replica jewellery from a book enough to accept,” Mary says. “Sophia plays dirty .”
Maria nods, looking depressed. “That would be hard to say no to.”
“Yes,” Nicol admits. Even if he himself wouldn't have managed to put it together himself, it's exactly the kind of ring he'd want to give to his future wife. One that speaks to them, rather than to their status or lineage.
He snaps the ring box shut with a sigh.
“Pity I’ll never get the chance to give it to her.”
Both girls freeze.
Nicol sighs, and tucks the box away before locking eyes with Mary.
“You know very well why. It might have been fun to live in the fantasy yesterday, but we need to start acting rationally.”
“What are you talking about?” Maria asks, rather confused. Mary winces.
“Absolutely nothing,” Mary says. “Nicol’s just getting confused-”
“Mary,” Nicol interrupts. “We both know that’s not Prince Gerald. Or the real Keith Claes for that matter.”
Maria's eyes go wide with shock, but Mary immediately moans and sags into her desk.
“Dammit...” she whines. “Why couldn’t you keep your big mouth shut? If you did, I could pretend I was just imagining things and keep ignoring it. At least until the engagement is out of the way.”
“I couldn’t,” Nicol says. "Not if I ever wanted to look Katarina in the face ever again."
“Wait, what?” Maria asks, and Nicol takes pity on her.
“I know you haven’t spent much time with Prince Gerald and Keith without Katarina, but do you really think Gerald would break the engagement so easily? Or that Keith wouldn’t be walking on air at the loss? I suspected something was up with the way Keith acted yesterday morning, but when Gerald visited Katarina, it was clear. The way they act, and their reactions to us in general isn’t right. They’re playing parts, and not particularly well.”
“Then why didn’t you say anything yesterday?” Maria asks, and Nicol looks away.
“Because Sophia was so excited, and it was so late, there was little I could do,” Nicol says. “I sent a message to my father, telling him I needed to speak to the King urgently, and then...well, I let myself get pulled along in Sophia’s enthusiasm.”
His lips quirk upwards.
“Just because I know it’s not real, doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about what I’d do if it was.”
“So you’re why the King’s coming here,” Mary concludes, leaning forward. “I’d heard the rumours, but I thought it was strange. You’re going to stop the annulment before it starts.”
“And get these plants arrested and interrogated, so we can retrieve the real Prince and Keith. Hopefully nothing untoward has happened to them, and they can be retrieved easily.”
Maria goes pale. “You think they’re here to cause harm?”
“This still could just be because of the rune incident,” Mary says. “A minor personality alteration. It’s not impossible!”
“Maybe so, but what if Prince Gerald and Keith are in danger?” he asks. “If whoever these people are want to cause harm to the kingdom? Even if they don’t, what do you think Katarina would think of us if she found out we knew her brother and dear friend had been switched out and did nothing about it?”
Both girls blanche and look at each other, finally understanding. He knows what he’d do if Sophia had been replaced and Katarina had kept silent. He loves her, truly, but if she allowed even the possibility of risk to his sister then his actions would probably be just shy of treason. Katarina might not be in love with Prince Gerald, but she does consider him a friend, and she adores Keith. He highly doubts the girl, good natured as she is, would forgive them easily.
“Thankfully, my father knows I wouldn’t request to meet the King unless it was urgent,” Nicol says. “Given that they were meeting with the Claes anyway, they’ve changed the venue to the school. I’ve arranged to speak with them before the annulment proceedings begin.”
Mary sighs. “Well, it was fun while it lasted. Those two better appreciate it.”
Her lips purse. “Though, I guess I hope they’re not in too much trouble...”
Game World – Isekai Characters
“Easy, easy, little to the left...”
Everyone watches as Alan aids the servants trying to manoeuvre a piano into the room, ready to try and make the strange tune he’s composed activate the array on the floor. By Gerald’s side, Keith is standing with slumped shoulders, looking tense.
“Do we really think this will work?”
“It has to work,” Gerald says. “We’ll be back to square one otherwise, and we don’t have that kind of time.”
“So, you do have doubts. I was starting to think this newfound faith in your brother was unshakeable.”
Both glance over as Sirius wanders close, a placid smile on his face.
“It’s quite the difference, watching you interact with everyone.”
Gerald shrugs. “It’s been quite different interacting with everyone here for us too,” he says. “I never quite realised how much I relied on our friendship group until it was shattered.”
“I swear, the second we get home, I’m hugging my sister and not letting her go until someone pries me off,” Keith promises.
“Good luck getting hold of her long enough to try. I have an engagement to salvage, and I’m not above grovelling, if necessary” Gerald warns.
Sirius’s smile becomes a little more disbelieving.
“The two of you really do care for her, don’t you?” he says. “I’d say you don’t have a single ill thought against her.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Keith mutters. “It would be nice if she wasn’t quite so oblivious. Especially to the intentions of certain people.”
Gerald smiles, and Sirius hides his own behind a hand.
“It can be frustrating, but it’s just one of the things that make her endearing,” Gerald says, and walks away when he sees the servants walk away, the piano now in place. Alan is walking around it, testing the keys and making sure it hasn’t been damaged in transit. Everyone is almost subconsciously drawn towards it, as Alan sits down.
“Are you ready?” one of the researchers asks. “We’ll be analysing the array if there’s any reaction, but we have no idea how it’ll act once this song starts.”
Alan nods. “I might have a few off keys, but the bulk of it is about as right as I can make it. Should be able to amend along the way.”
“Good luck, Alan,” Gerald says, his hands clenched into fists.
Alan sits at the keys, takes a deep breath, and cracks his knuckles.
“Okay, here goes nothing...”
Isekai World – Game Characters
“Ah, good afternoon ladies, by any chance have you seen Prince Geord?”
“His Highness? I-uh, I’m afraid not.”
Keith sighs, and gives the girl another heartbreaking smile. “Thank you. Do let him know I’m looking if you do.”
The girl blushes beet red and practically staggers down the hallway. Keith waits for her to move out of sight before dropping the smile and sighing in frustration.
“Dammit, your Highness. Where are you?”
It’s more than a little frustrating. You’d think today of all days it would be easy to track the Prince down, but Keith has been checking every expected haunt and coming up empty.
This shouldn’t even be his job! He was in the parlour room, enjoying tea with his father while his mother frantically made Katarina presentable, when one of the King’s attendants had arrived. Apparently, he was being held up by his previous meeting, but wanted to make sure ‘Prince Gerald’ was ready and waiting for when he was free. One would think they’d send a servant, but Katarina of all people had volunteered his services.
“You’re always so good at tracking Prince Gerald down,” she insisted. “I almost never see him without you – you’re such good friends!”
His parents had chuckled at a joke he clearly didn’t know, and also agreed it was a splendid idea, and so Keith had to be taken away from his precious ‘me-time’ with his family to track down a wayward Prince. Who on the day of his annulment could not be found anywhere! It’s as if he wasn’t even in the school any more.
At that, a thought crosses his mind, and he frowns.
No, maybe not out of the school...but why would he be there?
And yet, despite his doubts, he finds himself outside the research lab, and knocking on the door. When he slips in, he’s relieved to see it appears abandoned, and most of the lights are off.
“...Can I help you?”
Keith jumps about two feet, and swings round – only to see a rather panicked young researcher staring at him.
“Oh, uh, sorry,” Keith says. The researcher nods.
“You were one of the victims who got caught up yesterday?” he asks, and smiles when Keith nods. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m looking for Prince Geord,” Keith says, walking up to the array. “Nobody’s here?”
The researcher nods. “Since nobody is certain what happened when it activated, it’s been put on a minor lock down for the immediate future. I’m just here to record earlier findings and make sure nobody without clearance gets in.”
That makes sense, and Keith turns to look back at him. “Has his Highness been in?”
“Not today,” the researcher says. “Perhaps the library?”
“Maybe,” Keith mutters. “Thanks for your help.”
He makes it two steps, before he hears a familiar hum, and the room fills with a bright light. Keith’s eyes widen in horror, and he swings around, panic on his face.
No, no, no...it can’t be activating now!
“Dear lord!” the researcher exclaims. “But how? Nobody has touched it in over a day!”
Keith grits his teeth, trying to figure out what it’s doing. The array is glowing white, brighter on the inner array, and barely there on the outer. The whole thing looks fragmented, as if only half the array is getting fuelled.
“I have to go get the others!” the researcher yells, lunging for the door. “Stay here and document everything!”
“Wait!” Keith yelps, but the man is already out of the room.
‘ Dammit! You’re the researcher here!’
The array’s humming has altered somewhat now, and Keith is hesitant to go near. But the longer the thing is activated, the easier it becomes to make out. It’s a tune – one he’s never heard before, but very unique in its composition. There’s nothing he’s heard quite like it.
Then, the bright light in the centre blooms, a giant ring floating in the centre, and Keith jumps back in horror when he spots people inside it.
That’s him. And Geord. As well as the student council and a dozen researchers. To the side, he can see Alan performing on the piano, clearly the source of the song.
Is that how this thing activates? Music? Those musical notes are important? Then how did they activate it?
Crap...he’s not going back. Sorry other him, but if steps through, he better be ready to share.
His other self however, just appears to be frowning at something.
“Is it working?”
By his side, the Geord copy looks equally dismayed. “It’s hard to say.”
Someone moves closer to view, and Keith’s heart stabs when he realises it’s Maria.
“It should be,” she says with hesitancy. “They should be able to see and hear us, but unless they activate it on their end, it’s one way only.”
Keith lets out a sigh he didn’t know he was holding.
“So you can’t see me?” he dares to ask, and smiles in relief when they don’t react at all.
The other Geord however, looks frustrated.
“Fine, listen up, members of the Magical Research team! Your third Prince and the Son of the Claes family have been switched with doppelgängers from this world. You need to activate the array on your side in order to switch us back. The secret is in the musical notes carved into the outer ring.”
“You should have the other half of the sheet music!” His other self says. “Alan figured out the missing pieces on his side, so our Alan should be able to do the same. Or just take a recording of this performance. You need to get Alan or someone else to play the song on their end! That opens up a two way conversation. It doesn’t work unless we both have the whole thing.”
Slowly, Keith nods, and looks behind him. Nobody else has heard the explanation – but he does hear a commotion outside. The researcher is bringing backup.
“If all else fails, this is the song.”
Mary moves in, holding up a music sheet, and Keith’s eyes narrow, before lowering to the rune.
“We’ll keep contacting you, repeating this message, to make sure you get all of it,” the other Geord says, and starts to repeat his earlier speech.
“Attention, the array’s activation switched-”
Keith ignores the sounds, eyes focused on locating musical notes, grinning when he spots several nearby. Another look towards the door to ensure he’s alone, and he steps forward, summoning his magic directly onto the rune. The outer ring starts rippling, and when he locates a handful of notes, Keith grins, forcing the ground to move upwards, crumbling the ink lines to dust.
The sound and image vanish as quick as they came, and as the door behind him opens, Keith hastily smooths over the array, trying to make his alterations invisible.
“It stopped?” the researcher asks, walking towards him, face dismayed. Keith immediately plasters on a disappointed look and nods.
“Afraid so,” he says. “I’m not sure what activated it, but nothing happened. Maybe because nothing was inside it?”
The other researchers start cornering Keith, throwing questions his way about the light, what he’d seen, did he notice any oddities. He handles them with grace, but quickly extricates himself – reminding them he’s meant to join his family for a prior meeting.
He feels a little bit sorry for his other self, he admits as he walks down the hallway. The teen did look quite frantic, and Keith feels a little guilty.
Just a little, though.
He stops where he stands, and turns to smile at Geord coming into view. It’s an expression that falters when he sees how sour faced the Prince appears.
“Where have you been?” Keith asks. “I’ve been looking all over for you.”
Geord's eyes narrow, and he shakes his head.
“I’m not sure. I think I was just wandering. It’s been a strange morning.”
“Are you okay?” he asks. “You look kind of upset.”
That’s an understatement. He doesn’t think he’s ever seen the other teen without a smile on his face, a perfect mask for his daily life, and Keith crosses his arms as he cocks his head, taking in the teen’s appearance.
“Would have thought you’d be pretty excited, considering you’re about to achieve your greatest fantasy.”
Geord doesn’t meet his eyes, glancing over his shoulder.
“It’s nothing, I have a headache. What were you doing in the lab?”
“Looking for you,” Keith says. “The King is finishing up with a meeting, and wants you to come speak with my parents. We might be able to get the basics cleared up early and move things along. Katarina’s pretty eager.”
“I just bet she is,” Geord mutters, pushing past him. “Let’s go.”
Keith’s own smile falters, but he brushes it off, quickly matching step with the Prince. To fill in the silence, he starts whistling – and realises it’s the tune he’d just snuffed out.
“What is that?” Geord asks. “I don’t think I’ve heard it before. It's quite unique.”
Keith pauses, and gives him a charming smile.
“Just a pointless ditty. Nothing important.”
Geord ‘hmms’ in reply, but doesn’t stop Keith when he restarts the tune, whistling down the corridor.
Sorry guys, but you didn't really think I was going to let the annulment go through without a hitch did you?
Short chapter, because if my plot points line up as I expect, the next one will be a doozy...
In which everything goes very wrong, very quickly.
Game World – Isekai Characters
“Wait, what just happened?”
It’s an understandable question. One moment, the rune is glowing, a large blue circle hovering in the centre. The next, everything cuts off – rendering the rune completely inert.
Gerald looks over to Alan, who has stopped playing and is frowning at the notes. “Alan, did you make a mistake?”
“I...don’t think so,” the other Prince says, practically nose to paper. “That should have been the right notes. Nothing seemed off.”
“I don’t think it was Alan,” says Maria, kneeling by the rune. “It was working. I think something must have happened on the other side.”
“Miss Campbell is likely right,” a researcher says, going to her side. “It was such an abrupt cut-off, it’s possible that the rune was damaged on their side.”
“Damaged...” Sophia whispers. “But was it accidental, or intentional?”
Both Gerald and Keith clench their fists while Nicol nods, hand on her shoulder. “It’s possible that when it activated someone panicked. But...the way you’ve spoken about your home, it’s possible that either Prince Geord or Keith is not as eager to come home as you. They could have damaged the rune on their side to keep you from making contact.”
“But how would they even have been able to do that?” Gerald asks. “Surely someone would have stopped them?”
“Um, well, if you hadn’t contacted us about what happened, this room would have been put in lock down,” the head researcher says. “If they haven’t explained on their end...”
Keith crouches down, drops his head in his hands, and gives out a long, low moan.
“I’ve never hated myself more!”
“W-well, it could have been Prin-”
“No. It was other-me,” Keith assures. “I’d bet money on it. Trust me, he will have to be dragged back.”
“Fine. What’s our next step?” Gerald asks. Nobody answers, and when he looks around, everyone is avoiding his eyes.
“What?” he asks, voice low.
To his surprise, it’s Keith that answers, standing up and taking a half step back.
“Prince Gerald, if the rune is damaged on their side, there’s nothing we can do,” he says. “The connection is severed.”
“No,” Gerald says. An order to the universe.
“Yes, your Highness,” Keith says, eyes dark. “As of right now? We’re stuck here.”
Gerald stares back – before moving away, brushing past Maria’s outreached hand and Alan at the piano, heading for a small table by the door, sagging under multiple tomes. He stops in front of it, and screams, grabbing the edges and tossing it to the ground. The books scatter across the ground, and Gerald ignores them, going for the door, and slamming it behind him. Keith sighs, but taking in the pale faces around him, quickly gives chase.
Isekai World – Game Characters
Katarina really doesn’t know what’s going on any more. She’s finally getting the one thing she’s been dreaming of for years, but after her initial excitement yesterday, a weird ball has formed in her stomach. It’s twisting and writhing, making it impossible to concentrate. She’d tried to ignore it, going out early to farm her field, but it hadn’t really helped. And then Keith had…
It’s not like it’s the first time he’s yelled at her. She’s aware of her flaws, and good natured as her brother is, even he has a limit. But he’s never sounded so...angry before. And last night, that smile…
She’s never seen him smile like that. And yet, the image has been in her head for years. Keith being agitated at her antics is not a reach given that they’re nobility, but how would annulling the engagement give Keith reason to act like the playboy? She’s gone over and over it in her head, and she just can’t figure it out.
“What have you done?”
Katarina squeaks, and pulls her hair out of her mother’s grip. “Done? I haven’t done anything.”
Her mother merely smirks, reaching over to pull her back close. They’re sitting on the couch, with her father watching them from the opposite seat, in a simple waiting room.
“I highly doubt that, Katarina,” her mother jokes, moving the brush through her hair. “Keith seems on edge. He should be elated. Did the two of you have a fight?”
“It wasn’t really a fight,” Katarina defends. “He’s just worried about me...I think.”
Her father frowns. “You think?”
Katarina quickly pastes on a smile, and waves her hands a little.
“Oh, it’s nothing. I’m sure he’s just excited about the annulment too. It’s an important day.”
As if summoned, the door opens, revealing both her brother and Prince Gerald. He’s smiling, but the Prince has a face carved from stone. Katarina feels another chill – that’s another familiar face from memory, not reality.
“Good afternoon, Prince Gerald,” her mother says, as the family gets to their feet. “It’s so good to see you again.”
Prince Gerald nods, and pastes on a smile that Katarina knows is fake. It’s funny, she always thought Gerald was constantly fake smiling, but apparently, there’s a difference between fake, and fake .
“Good afternoon, Duke and Lady Claes,” Gerald greets, nodding politely, and heading for an empty seat. “My father should be with us shortly, he’s a little held up.”
“That’s no problem,” Katarina’s father insists. “We can go over the logistics informally for now. Best to have everything lined up before we get to the table.”
Gerald nods, and Katarina bites her lip. Her soon-to-be-ex fiancé hasn’t looked at her once.
Once Keith and Gerald have settled in, Katarina’s parents switch from doting mother and father to shrewd nobility.
“Now, Prince Gerald,” the Duke begins. “Are we to confirm that you wish to annul the engagement entirely? This isn’t a request to delay for a certain period of time, or to add some additional requirements?”
“No,” Gerald says, voice clipped. “I want this contract gone for good.”
Katarina flinches. She doesn’t think she’s ever heard that tone from him. Her mother however, seems oblivious, giving him a charming smile.
“Excellent. Now, on the topic of palimony-”
“Oh, but that’s not necessary!” Katarina insists. “We weren’t living toge-”
She clams up when she feels Keith drop a hand on her shoulder and squeeze it tight. “Katarina, please stay quiet.”
Her mother nods in approval. “Thank you Keith. This engagement was high profile, and even if it’s mutual, Katarina’s marriage prospects will suffer for it.”
Gerald frowns. “She’s the one who's been trying to break it.”
“Yes, but you’re the one who began the process,” Duke Claes reminds him. “Every time Katarina or I approached you about it, you’ve refused. Which makes Katarina the wounded party in this scenario.”
“We won’t ask for much. Katarina was never taken for bride training so she’s not lost any investment, so just a standard one time payment to apply to Katarina’s dowry given that she’s returning to high society with a broken engagement should suffice,” her mother says. “I’m sure the two of you will remain good friends, and that will help her prospects, but we cannot ignore social etiquette.”
She turns and gives Katarina a look . “No matter how much Katarina doesn’t understand it.”
Katarina blushes red and looks downwards.
“Fine,” Gerald states, crossing his arms. “She’ll probably need it anyway.”
Katarina frowns, wanting to question his answer, but her father is already talking, discussing how they’re going to announce the annulment to society, and she sinks back down in the seat. Keith’s hand quickly slinks around her neck, pulling her close.
“Just relax, Sis,” he says. “Just sit back and let your family take care of you.”
Katarina bites her lip, and wonders why that doesn’t sound as comforting as it should.
Game World – Isekai Characters
To Keith’s relief, Gerald hasn’t gone too far. The research lab looks out on a flower filled courtyard garden, and the Prince is sitting slumped on a bench, head in his hands. He comes over, making a point to keep his footsteps heavy as to not surprise him. Gerald however, doesn’t look up.
“Are you okay?” Keith asks, more out of something to say than a question. Gerald makes a sound, slightly too broken to be a laugh.
“Oh, just dandy,” he says. “You?”
Keith bites his lip, and sits by Gerald’s side.
“...I’m scared, Keith.”
He stills at those three words, and turns to stare at his friend. Gerald’s body shudders before lifting back up into a seated position.
“Ever since I was a child, I’ve always been in control,” Gerald says. “About the only thing in the world I haven’t been able to twist around my finger is Katarina...I don’t know how to handle a situation where there’s nothing I can do to solve it.”
By his side, Keith sags. “I’ve been spoiled,” he admits. “For all that people think I’m the one supervising Katarina, she’s the one that keeps me at peace. I can’t process the thought that I won’t see her again.”
“Prince Gerald? Keith?”
The two look up to see Maria walking towards them, with Alan, Mary and the Ascart siblings close behind her. She looks worried, and stops just a few steps in front of them.
“Are you okay?”
The glance at each other for a moment, before giving her their full attention.
“Not exactly,” Keith tells her. “We put a lot of hope into getting a message through.”
Maria nods, and her eyes go dim.
“It’s still a little hard to take in,” she admits. “That Keith or Prince Geord might have sabotaged it. Is this world really so bad?”
Behind her, Alan scoffs, kicking at the ground. “Given how much these two have been pining, their world might just be that good.”
Gerald’s lips twitch upwards, and leans back on the bench.
“My other self doesn’t know what he’s giving up,” he says. “At this point, it’ll take a miracle to get there in time, and I’m willing to bet he hasn’t spent any time with Katarina to realise it. I’m not going to have an engagement when I get home.”
When. It’s still when. He’s not willing to consider otherwise.
“You never know, perhaps someone has noticed Prince Geord isn’t acting like himself,” Mary says. “The way you speak about your Katarina makes it clear how much you love her. Surely asking to break the engagement so quickly will raise some concerns?”
Gerald smiles. “I highly doubt anyone will look too closely. They’ll all be too excited at the idea of her being back on the market. Our Katarina is universally loved. Even if they have suspicions, they won’t dare voice them until after the annulment.”
“Can’t deny I’d be too excited at finally getting rid of you to look too closely,” Keith agrees, and then looks at Maria.
“Although...if what you told us about him having feelings for you is true, he’s in for a nasty surprise if he decides to pursue our Maria afterwards.”
Immediately, Gerald perks up, glee on his face as he thinks over that idea.
“Oh, that would be hilarious ,” he says. “Maria likes me well enough, but she’d push me off a bridge if it would get her Katarina’s complete attention.”
“We’d all push you off a bridge if it would get us that,” Keith quips. Gerald just huffs.
“All I’m saying is, he’s in for a nasty shock if he expects our Maria to react positively to his attention,” he says. “And once he realises that, we might just get him to reactivate the rune.”
Then his face falls. “But who knows how long that will take.”
“Well, if you’re stuck here for a while, we’ll help you out,” Alan mutters, before scowling and looking away. “You know, since, you need the help.”
Nicol nods. “Yes. Besides, we’d like to hear more about your world.”
By his side, his sister nods furiously. “Yes. The idea of falling into an alternate world is like something from my novels. All we need is an epic romance and an old magician.”
Gerald looks up, and gives them a smile. He’s acutely aware it’s fake, but it seems to do the trick.
“Oh, if there’s any epic romances happening, it’s on the side that’s desperately trying not to get back,” he says. “Our Katarina is good at that.”
“One sided, utterly devoted romances,” Keith adds, the laugh just a little shaky. Gerald nods, looking over the group.
“Honestly, I don’t know if I pity you for having your Katarina, or envy you for not having to chase an oblivious cupid,” he says. “I can’t help but wonder why there’s such a difference.”
Keith frowns. “I haven’t spent much time with her, but that alone is strange,” he admits. “What changed here?”
“Or, what changed there ,” Gerald replies. “The first time I met Katarina, she was closer to this version. Spoiled, bratty, everything you’d expect of a noble daughter. But then she hit her head.”
He stops, and looks up at the group. “Alan – do you know if Katarina had an accident when she visited the palace?”
Alan frowns. “Of course she did. That’s how you ended up with the engagement in the first place.”
Gerald sighs. “Right. For a moment I thought that might have happened through other means. Pity.”
“Still seems rather strange that so much would change just because of one person,” Mary says. “They almost seem like two different people.”
Maria claps her hands. “Well, there’s no real point in worrying about what we can’t change. The two of you have been working so hard, why don’t we all go have lunch? We can come back and brainstorm after we rest and fill our stomachs. I have a few sweets I was saving for the next council meeting too.”
Keith and Gerald share a glance.
“She’s got a point,” Keith tells him. Gerald sighs, but gets to his feet.
“Yes. Katarina would no doubt be chiding both of us for going without food for so long. If she finds out we weren’t eating-”
“She’ll give us that worried, puppy-dog look and get the maids to cook up a banquet, and then offer us Maria’s sweets,” Keith finishes. “And then get all pouty and start eating it herself because we’re not eating it fast enough.”
Gerald hides the smile as Keith stands beside him.
“We’ll see her again,” Gerald says. “I promise.”
With that, they let the alternate versions of their friends lead them away.
None of them noticed a brown haired girl dressed in blue and white, stepping out from behind a large bush. She watches them walk away with gritted teeth, before her eyes lock on the doors of the lab.
Isekai World – Game Characters
Katarina is barely paying any attention to the conversation happening around her. She honestly feels a little like a prop, which is somewhat ironic since this conversation is all about her.
Honestly, the game totally lied to her about how easy annulments are. It was just a one screen image, after Katarina’s trial – but apparently, if the person you’re breaking up with hasn’t been evil to a light magic commoner, it requires discussion and negotiation and vicious back and forth about the future.
Maybe she should have just run away and let herself be exiled. It would probably have been less painful, given how her stomach is churning.
The conversation tapers off when there’s a knock on the door, and everyone stands – only for a servant to enter.
“Good afternoon, Duke Claes,” he greets. “His highness wishes for you and your wife to join him in private for a few minutes before you begin.”
Katarina’s father frowns. “Really? Very well.”
He takes his wife by the arm, and heads for the door. It closes with a soft click, and Keith is immediately pushing Katarina back to her seat.
“This time tomorrow, you’ll be single again, Sis,” Keith says. “Before our parents go home, we’ll need to talk to them about your plans for the future.”
Katarina winces. “Plans?”
Her entire life plan was ‘don’t get killed or exiled before you turn fifteen.’ Forgive her for not thinking further than that.
Keith nods and pats her head. “Don’t worry. I can handle that. Just leave it in my hands and you’ll be just fine.”
Her stomach is twisting again. Why, oh why , do Keith’s soothing words make her feel this way? What is she missing?
She shakes her head, trying to gather her thoughts. Her braincells all feel in a tizzy – as if a bunch of tiny Katarina’s are running around her skull screaming incoherently at a blue screen.
“Um, Prince Gerald,” she says, realising nobody is speaking, and the silence is uncomfortable. “Once the engagement is gone, will you be confessing to someone else?”
She expects Gerald to smile, or at least react to her question with a subtle comment. But instead, he continues to stare at her, with an expression that almost seems…
“Prince Geor-Gerald, are you okay?” Keith asks, the smile dropping away to something more tense. Which honestly, makes Katarina a little relieved.
Good. It’s not just her picking up on it. She gives a shaky laugh, and clasps her hands together.
“I mean, you’ve never budged when I tried to get you to break it before,” she continues. “So I thought you might have fallen for someone else?”
“Did you now?” Gerald replies, eyes narrowing. “Perhaps you were even counting on that?”
Katarina falters. “W-well, yes? I mean, you only really used me as a shield, but I always knew you’d fall in love for real eventually.”
Finally, Gerald smiles. But it’s something vicious, and not at all suited to his face.
“Oh? Perhaps you even have a candidate in mind?” he asks. “Care to guess?”
Katarina flushes red. Ah! So forward!
“I guess, um, the only real possibility I can think of is Maria, right?” she says. “For a while, I thought she had feelings for Keith, but I must have misread things! And Keith did say she was in love with someone, so it must be you, right?”
Gerald stares at her for several moments, before his head drops, and his shoulders start shaking. Both Claes jerk back when the Prince bursts into laughter, sounding hysterical.
“You really are the worst, Katarina Claes,” Gerald says, once his laughter is under control, standing up in a smooth movement. Keith immediately matches him, as Katarina goes pale.
Gerald’s eyes narrow, and he steps forward, until he’s practically looming over her.
“I’ll admit, you had me fooled at first, that little play in the infirmary. You probably have this whole school dancing to your tune – it’s almost elegant, far smarter than she could ever pull off. When exactly were you planning on pulling off my humiliation, hmm? In the next few days? Graduation?”
“Your Highness, I’m not sure what you’ve heard, but perhaps you should get some air,” Keith asks, stepping in front of Katarina.
“Heard? I’ve seen it, Keith!” Gerald snaps. “This villainess is playing everyone for fools. She smiles and supports our endeavours, all the while sabotaging us from behind the scenes. I watched Maria confessing her undying love to her just this morning!”
Keith blinks in shock. “...What?”
“What!” Katarina says, only for her jaw to drop in horror.
Oh no, Prince Gerald had completely misunderstood! Curse Maria for being so charming to absolutely everyone!
“You’ve got it all wrong!” Katarina insists, jumping to her feet. “That was just Maria being-”
“I won’t let you manipulate her,” Gerald growls, and Katarina gasps as he reaches for his sword. Keith is immediately on him, trying to pin his arms back.
“Prince Geord! What’s gotten into you!”
“Unhand me Keith! She’s had this coming for years!”
It happens so fast, Katarina barely registers what happens. Gerald somehow jerks out of Keith’s grip and pushes him away. Keith’s hands are immediately glowing, but before he can conjure anything, Gerald has unsheathed his sword and slammed the butt of the handle into the side of his head. Katarina shrieks as her brother drops to the ground, and tries to stumble away, only to bump into the sofa’s armrest and trip to the floor.
“P-Prince Gerald?” she squeaks, eyes wide. What’s going on?
He doesn’t answer, and merely steps towards her with that dark smile.
“There’s more than one way to get out of an engagement,” he tells her – and Katarina panics.
Geord isn’t entirely sure what happens. One minute, he has the utter wretch of a woman dead to rights, the next, a terrifying, vicious reptile is lunging towards his face.
He yelps, the sword dropping to the ground as he back pedals, trying to shake the thing loose. It finally does – just as the back of his legs hit the sofa and trips him up. In the background, he hears the door open and slam shut, and when he sits up, he scowls when he sees Katarina’s weapon of choice on the floor.
A toy. She’d attacked him with a toy.
The Prince sees red, getting to his feet and lifting his sword back up in one quick motion. He storms out the door, eyes flitting in both directions before seeing the girl flee.
Part of him – locked deep in his psych, is screaming at him to stop. His title of royalty can only give him so much leeway, especially with no actual proof of Katarina’s misdeeds. He was supposed to be aiming for exile, not murder.
But he can barely hear it. The voices infecting his ears drown it out, reminding him how much misery Katarina had caused him. How much harm she had caused to Maria. It’s practically his duty to take her out. He’ll save everyone if her head is severed from her shoulders.
He tightens the grip on his sword, and quickly gives chase.
Keith groans as he comes to, wincing as he feels the agonising headache ripping through his skull. He vaguely hears voices above him, and when he comes to, he sees one of the King’s guard leaning over him.
Suddenly, the last few events lunge to the front of his brain, and leaps up.
The guard immediately pushes him back down, and as Keith gains more coherence, he sees the King standing by the door, and his parents at his side. His heart sags when he sees the suspicious looks on their faces, and when he looks outside, he sees Nicol standing in the doorway.
“Pull him up,” the King orders, and the guard complies, hoisting Keith to his feet, but not letting go of his arm. Then the King steps forward.
“I will ask this just once,” he warns. “Where is my son, and the real Keith Claes?”
“Do not play dumb with me,” the King says. “I had my own doubts when Gerald changed his mind so suddenly, and the young Ascart has already made a compelling case. Whoever you are, you are not the Claes heir.”
Keith flinches, eyes flitting over to his parents. He sees his father’s arm tighten around his mother’s shoulders, but their faces remain unchanged.
He sags in defeat.
“Nicol, huh?” he says.
“You were not believable in the slightest,” the other teen says. Keith nods, and then starts panicking.
“Wait-forget that! You need to find Prince Geord now!” he insists. “Something...I don’t know what happened, but he’s gone crazy! He’s going to kill Katarina!”
Almost on cue, a scream comes from the distance, and Keith freezes as he realises it sounds exactly like Katarina...
Katarina is running down the hallway, aiming for the stairs, while she processes what just happened.
“I don’t understand!” she screams, vision blurred by the tears. Her brain’s running overtime, trying to process what’s just happened. Prince Gerald had...he had...
“ Katarina, I brought you these new cuttings. You said you were looking for artichokes, yes?”
It’s funny...sort of. Katarina has spent years preparing for this moment. For Gerald to turn on her, either through exile or blade. And yet…
“ I have a surprise for you, Katarina! An entire table of new treats. There’s three confectioners competing for one store front, and I thought you’d be the best person to choose the winner!”
For all her panic and preparation…subconsciously, she’d never truly believed he’d hurt her.
“ Ah, Katarina, please never change.”
She couldn’t even bring herself to bring out her blade to defend herself. The idea of hurting her friend was...she couldn’t...
“ I don’t know what I’d do if I’d never proposed to you, Katarina.”
Gerald isn’t just her fiancé. He’s her friend . Other than Anne, the black hearted Prince has been her companion the longest. He’s visited her several times a week since childhood. She’s been observing every interaction with him to make absolutely sure she’s not upsetting or irritating him, and coming up blank. What has she missed? How have they gone from plant cuttings and sweet tasting to that look of rage and the demand of execution? Love? Love doesn’t explain this – she’s willingly backing out of the engagement so he can be happy! She wants him to be happy! So that she can stay friends with him and Maria and everyone else! A threat to Maria? Maria’s always been overly charming to Katarina! Gerald’s seen her act like that several times now, why is this time different?
She sobs as she reaches the bottom of the stairs, makes a left and runs straight through a courtyard. Perhaps she should have run towards her parents, but she didn’t want them to be threatened. What if they agree with Gerald’s decision? They’re far more observant than her, perhaps they’ll see what she hasn’t. Better to get some distance, until she can figure this out.
Her eyes widen as she crosses the courtyard, and spots a familiar figure.
“Sirius!” Katarina yells, watching the president flinch and swing round from where he’s been staring at the doors that lead to the research lab. His eyes widen when he takes in Katarina’s presence, along with her dishevelled appearance. She stops in front of him, panting heavily.
“Miss Katarina?” he asks. “What’s wrong?”
“You need to get out of here!” Katarina begs. “Prince Gerald is...he’s very angry.”
After all, if he’s willing to hurt Keith to get to Katarina, what might he do to someone else in his path?’
“He is?” Sirius asks, head tilting slightly. If Katarina had been any less panicked, she might have noticed the twitch in his lips, the teen trying to fight the grin. “I thought the two of you were supposed to be in your annulment meeting?”
He gasps, almost mockingly. “Did he react badly and exile you? He did seem ra-”
Katarina gives a hysterical laugh, cutting him off.
“I wish!” she wails. “He’s-”
The girl freezes, and Sirius only has a few seconds to register the fireball aiming towards them, before he’s grabbed her by the shoulders and flung them both to the side. Katarina screams, high and shrill, before they crash into the ground and the fireball hits the doors behind them – the force all but shaking the walls.
When they look up, Katarina is shaking, and Sirius goes pale. Gerald is walking towards them, fire in one hand, and sword in the other. The expression on his face can only be described as insane.
“Is Sirius another one of your puppets?” Gerald croons. “I’d run along, president. You’ll thank me later.”
“Sirius, we need to go!” Katarina insists, only for both of them to flinch as another fireball gets flung just above their heads.
“You. Stay right where you are,” Gerald growls.
Katarina whimpers, but pushes Sirius away from her. He allows it, too distracted by Gerald to protest – but when he raises his sword, Sirius finds himself moving without thought.
“Katarina! Get inside that room!” he orders, and runs towards Gerald, knocking him to the ground before he can shoot off another magical attack.
"Get off me Sirius!" Gerald howls. Sirius just clings tighter, and when he hears the doors open behind him, he lets loose his magic, and shudders at what he sees.
Dear lord...he’d only cursed the False Prince with enough to make him think badly of Katarina. How had it multiplied into this? His victim is practically drowning in darkness, to the point of insanity.
He’d wanted to use the pawn to exile Katarina, or at least shame her out of the school. Not that he would care if Katarina died, the world would be better off but- using someone else to do it? Something about that rubs him the wrong way.
‘ Nonsense! This kills two birds with one stone. Take out Katarina, and cripple the royal family!’ a voice in his head hisses, but Sirius ignores it, and tries to pull back his magic. Clearly this guy is too unstable to use as a pawn.
But before he can really get started, Gerald throws him to the side, and is throwing the doors to the lab open.
Game world – Isekai Characters
Maria had been right. Taking a break to eat had done Keith and Gerald a world of good. Granted, they’d only been willing to sit for sandwiches, refusing to be away too long, but while they’re still on edge, their bodies do feel somewhat more at ease.
“Once we get back to the lab, maybe we can discuss our options,” Nicol says, as they wander back. “You may be here longer than you hoped, but we don’t have to give up.”
By his side, Sophia nods. “Maybe we can look at the book the rune came from. Now that we have an idea of what it does, maybe the researchers can decipher more?”
Keith immediately perks up. “You know, that’s actually not a bad idea. It’s in bad shape, but there could be hints we missed the first time.”
Gerald is already nodding, hope blossoming at the idea. “Agreed. I’m certainly not going to just stand around and wait for someone on the other side to figure it out.”
They’re approaching the lab, when they start to hear yelling, and the doors burst open, allowing a figure to run out. Everyone stills, eyes widening when they take in the panicked look on Sirius’s face, only for it to shift into relief.
“Prince Gerald, you have to come quick!” he says, running towards them. “It’s Miss Katarina.”
Everyone gasps, and Keith steps forward.
“This world’s Katarina?” he asks. “She shouldn’t even have entry to the lab.”
Sirius nods. “I know, but she convinced someone to allow her entry. She was curious about the rune, and since it was broken, the researchers decided to humour her. But she suddenly started trying to destroy it!”
“What!” Keith and Gerald yell, and rush past the president at high speed. They hear the others giving chase, but Gerald makes it to the door first, running inside and stopping midway into the room.
It’s true. While the researchers are all on the edge of the rune, unwilling to enter, Katarina has grabbed a chair and is smashing it against the design in the centre. Around the edge, he can make out cracks, no doubt where she’s tried and failed to use her earth bump, and he calls out.
“Miss Katarina! You need to stop this!”
He can hear the others arriving behind him, and the outraged squawk from Keith, but he ignores them, taking a few steps forward, hand outreached.
Katarina however, doesn’t comply.
“Shut up!” Katarina screams, hoisting the chair up and not even looking at Gerald. “I’m Katarina Claes! The only Katarina Claes! And I will not stand idly by and have people say I’m inferior at being myself!”
She throws the chair against the rune again, breaking off a leg and damaging the ink, and Gerald quickly runs towards her, stopping just a few steps from the rune, while the researchers step back.
“Miss Katarina, stop!” he begs. “Of course you’re not inferior. This world is just different to ours.”
The girl lifts the chair back up and glares at him. “I heard you! All the two of you could talk about was how much you miss her! How much you want her back!”
The chair shakes in her hands. “Do you know what I’d give, to have just one person want me that much?”
Gerald hesitates. “Miss Katarina...”
“What am I doing wrong?” Katarina yells, face contorted in anger. “I’m well bred, my etiquette is beyond reproach, my choice of company and extracurriculars are perfect! How am I not the desirable one? I’m the perfect example of nobility!”
She screams and smashes the chair down on the rune again.
“I’ll make you love me!” she promises. “If this rune is broken on the other side, I’ll break it on this one, and make you stay. You’ll learn to love me like you loved her, I promise!”
“Yeah...that’s not going to happen,” Keith mutters from behind, and Gerald turns to give him a glare. Thankfully, the other teen backs off, and Gerald tentatively steps forward, just outside the rune.
“Miss Katarina, we’re from two different worlds,” he says. “Our history is different. Even if we can’t get home, that can’t be changed.”
“We’re both still Katarina!” Katarina argues back. “At the core, we’re the same person!”
“But you’re not!” Keith yells, unable to keep quiet any longer. “You’re not anything like Katarina!"
"Shut up Keith! You stay out of this!" She says. Keith doesn't even pretend to hear her.
"You think you can replace my sister?" he asks. "Katarina’s manners are turning mother prematurely grey, and her hobbies have done nothing but raise eyebrows. She’s honest, and erratic and has never acted like a noble girl a day in her life, and we wouldn’t have her any other way !”
The chair drops from Katarina’s hands, and her face falls.
“What...no... No... I represent my family with every action,” she says. “You can’t act like that and be loved. That’s not how high society works!”
She turns to Gerald, eyes pleading. But he won’t lie.
“Everyone loves her, just the way she is,” Gerald admits, and the girl looks away. She mumbles something, and he frowns.
“I said, how is that fair?”
Her hands clench. “How can doing everything wrong give you success? That’s not how the world works! I should be the one who lives in a world where everyone loves me. Is that so wrong? I try and try and just get kicked to the side! Why can’t I be the loved one? I wish I could have that!”
“And I wish I could have Katarina back!” Gerald yells back, patience finally gone. “You’re not the only one suffering here!”
Katarina’s face shifts in outrage, but before she can reply, the rune suddenly lights up. Gerald pales, and looks down at the ground – where his foot is planted in the outer array.
Ignoring the sounds from behind, he runs straight into the rune.
Isekai World – Game Characters
Katarina slams the door behind her shut, and desperately looks for something she can block it with. Her panicked arrival however, brings forth the one researcher still writing observations in the corner.
“Oh, excuse me Miss,” he greets. “This is an off limits area-”
“You have to help me barricade the door!” Katarina begs. “He’s coming to kill me.”
The researcher blinks, and Katarina looks around frantically yet again, only to shiver as the door opens.
“Prince Gerald?” the researcher greets, looking confused. Katarina bites her lip, and goes for her sword, unsheathing it and spinning on her foot to face her attacker.
Even if Prince Gerald is her friend. Even if she’s done something unforgivable by accident, she won’t let him kill her without at least trying to defend herself.
‘ If I can just get to the door or the window, I can escape the school, ’ she thinks to herself. ‘ Then I can run away, be a farmer in some foreign land. That’ll be the best outcome.’
It’ll hurt, to leave her friends behind, but she’s always known that was inevitable for a villainess like her.
Her eyes narrow as Gerald stops a short distance from her, that mad smile still on his face, and she prays Sirius is okay.
“A sword, Katarina?” Gerald says. “Where did you steal that?”
Katarina frowns. Steal?”
Gerald huffs and shifts into a ready stance. “You really think a lady will be able to beat a trained swordsman?”
Katarina flinches. That kind of hurts, Gerald has sparred with her before, and while she'd realised some time ago she'd never beat him in a life or death match, he’s never had anything but supportive words for her skills. Has he always thought like this? That her attempts were pointless?
She frowns and gets into position, and grits her teeth as Gerald swings towards her.
A few strikes later, Gerald’s smile has thinned into a frown, while Katarina has started to smile. She’s making mistakes, she’s never had the skill or the fluidity or the strength to fight for too long, but Gerald is struggling to knock her down. He’s not registering her telltale weaknesses or techniques that he knows she has.
It’s as if...as if this Prince Gerald has never seen her fight before…
She shakes her head, dismissing the crazy idea, and continues to defend. Her eyes are on the open door, yanked open when the researcher fled the second they matched blades. Gerald however, just looks frustrated.
“What is this?” Gerald growls. “How do you know how to use a sword?”
Her eyes widened. Wait, what?
The answer hits like a brick wall.
“You’re not Prince Gerald,” she gasps. “He-you, who are you? There’s no death flag like this?”
She realises her mistake instantly, as Geord uses her shock to advance. She only just manages to hold onto her sword as she goes flying across the ground, her other hand going straight for the torn cloth on her chest. She rolls across and into the rune covering most of the room’s floor, and staggers to her feet. While she’d avoided a fatal blow, the sword had cut through skin, staining the white fabric red.
“Where is Prince Gerald?” she yells in panic. "What did you do with him?"
Her opponent doesn’t answer, merely stepping forward – only to freeze as the doors burst open.
“Halt! Stop right there, imposter!”
Both Katarina and Geord look towards the voice. Two of the kings guard have burst in, pointing their swords at Geord, while a frantic looking Keith and Sirius are in the doorway. They’re quickly pushed past to allow the King entry.
“I’ve been informed of your masquerade,” the King warns. “Drop the weapon.”
The Prince flits his eyes between the King and the guards...and drops the blade, raising his hands. Katarina releases a breath she hadn’t realised she’d been holding, and sees her parents frantically running through the courtyard outside towards her.
“What’s happening?” Katarina asks. “Who are you?”
“Miss Katarina, you’re safe,” the King says. “While we haven’t had confirmation, it appears that the magical accident replaced my son and your brother with doppelgängers.”
Geord sighs. “When did you figure it out?”
“Nicol Ascart,” the King replies. “He informed us of your erratic behaviour. I’m rather ashamed I didn’t realise it when you first came to be regarding the engagement.”
“Then...it wasn’t Prince Gerald?” Katarina asks, her hand gripping at her wound while an odd rush of hope flows through her body. “Or my brother? That’s why...that’s why everything felt strange?”
At the door, Keith looks away, and Katarina starts crying.
“What did you do with them?” she demands. “Where are they? I want them back, right now!”
“Well they’re not here!” Geord snaps, and the guards grab him by the arms. Katarina shakes her head.
“Well I wish they were! I want everything back to normal!”
The rune hums, and flashes white. The last thing Katarina hears, is a loud, panicked ‘ no! ’ in the distance.
Told you it was a doozy...
Let's be honest, for all of Katarina's plans, if Gerald or Keith genuinely did try to kill her, I think she'd probably break down over it. You can't be friends with someone for years and not react with some horror to them coming at you, no matter how much warning you've had.
Gerald learns the truth, Maria sees a truth, and Keith keeps hiding the truth.
Game World – Isekai Characters
Gerald runs through the light just in time to see Katarina disintegrate in front of him, and tries to reach – before jerking his hand back.
He wants to get home, but if this Katarina is being sent to their world, then that would mean-
He waits a few moments, but the phenomenon doesn’t appear to hit him, and where Katarina had been standing, another figure starts to emerge. Their eyes are closed, and Gerald rushes forward before the girl ( Katarina, oh lord it’s Katarina! ), falls forward, catching her in his arms and moving her into a Princess carry as the light dims around them.
He hears something metal clatter to the ground, and as his eyes adjust back to normal, his eyes widen when he makes out the sword on the ground. Why had Katarina-
Any words die, and his heart leaps when he finally gets a good look at the girl in his arms.
“She’s injured!” he yells in panic, running out of the rune and clutching the unconscious girl tightly. Her chest is stained red, and he can see the wound. It thankfully doesn’t look too deep, but it has no right to be on Katarina's body.
Everyone’s face goes white, and while someone in the background yells to get the healers here, Gerald makes a beeline for Maria.
“It doesn’t look too deep, but can you help?” he asks. The girl is already nodding, tugging him by his arm towards several chairs against a wall.
“Please, set her down and I’ll do what I can.”
Gerald obeys, tentatively putting the girl down. Now that he’s really looking, she looks awful – there’s even fresh tear stains on her face. It takes a herculean amount of strength to back away to let the girl do her job, her hands glowing white as she takes in the injury.
His eyes are only dragged from the girl when he feels Keith move forward, kneeling and dropping the sword between Maria and the chairs.
“If she was carrying a sword, then she’s probably going to panic when she wakes up,” Keith says as he moves back. “Probably best if it’s in grabbing range.”
Gerald nods in agreement, and the rest of the council move in to block the two girls from view.
“So, that’s your Katarina, huh?” Alan asks.
“If she was fighting, then something very bad must have happened,” Sophia says. Nicol nods.
“Whatever is going on in the other world, hopefully she can tell us once she wakes,” he concludes.
Both Keith and Gerald nod, but stand silently as Maria continues her work.
Isekai World – Game Characters
When the light dies down from the rune, both Geord and Keith have gone pale. Instead of the bleeding, sword carrying Katarina, there is now an unconscious, unblemished Katarina...and a chair, for some reason.
The guards on his arms quickly yank him into reality.
“What did you do to Miss Claes?” one of them snaps at him, and Geord glares back. How dare they be so impertinent.
“Don’t talk to me that way,” he growls. “While I may not be of this country’s royal family, I am still a royal.”
He tries to pull his arm free, and scowls when the hands only tighten.
Both the Duke and Lady Claes rush into the room, straight for the rune. Ignoring the yells warning them not to enter the rune, they rush to their daughter’s side.
“She’s still breathing,” the Duke says, looking relieved. “I think she’s just passed out.”
There are now softer footsteps behind him, and he glances over to see Nicol and Sirius walking into the room. By the door, Keith is standing silent, a guard at his side. Nicol only has eyes for the three in the rune.
“Much like the others,” Nicol says. “But that isn’t your daughter, Duke Claes.”
The Lady Claes stills, her hands centimetres from her Katarina’s face, and turns to glare at the teen. “What do you mean, Nicol? Of course this is my daughter.”
Sirius shakes his head, supporting Nicol’s claim. “No, or rather, this is not your daughter. I think recent events prove that whatever this rune is meant to do, it’s currently swapping whoever enters it and provides the right incantation with an alternate version of themselves.”
He then turns to Geord, a complicated expression on his face, before risking looking at the King.
“That would explain why they can pass so well, and yet not know simple things any spy or plant would know,” he says. The King nods, and turns his attention to Geord.
“Is this the case?” he asks. “Are you my son, from a world a step beyond this one?”
Geord sags in his hold. There’s really no point in hiding it now. “Yes. I am Prince Geord, the Third Prince of Sorcier.”
“Tell me, did you mean to come here?” the King asks. Geord shakes his head.
“No. It was as accidental on our part as I believe it was our other selves,” he says. “But we saw no reason to undo it.”
He gives out a harsh laugh. “I should have known. Be careful what you wish for.”
Everyone frowns, only to focus on Keith, when he starts talking.
“You all heard Katarina making a wish?” he says. “The two of us did the same inside the rune. Most likely, so did your versions. This world essentially made our wishes come true.”
He gives a weak smile. “Why would we want to undo that?”
His eyes then glance towards Geord, and his eyes harden, though there’s no denying the hurt deep inside them.
“What happened, Prince Geord?” he asks. “You were fine last night, and then today – what was that?”
Geord turns his head as much as he can, and Keith flinches back at the anger brimming in the Prince’s eyes.
The King shakes his head. “Take him away,” he orders. “One of the secure rooms on the first floor with the seals. He is to remain there until we find a way to return him home.”
“Please, let me escort you,” Sirius quickly says, walking in front of them. “I’m quite familiar with the layout.”
The guards nod in agreement, and the Prince goes without a fight. The Duke gathers his ‘other’ daughter in his arms, and quickly walks out of the rune with his wife.
“Your Majesty, I’m going to take this Katarina to the infirmary,” he says. “She’ll probably be confused when she wakes up, but perhaps she can offer us some answers on what happened.”
He then looks up to see Keith, still standing in the doorway.
“What will you do with him?” he asks, and Keith looks away.
“I...I know my actions haven’t been fully honourable, but I swear, I never meant any harm,” he says. “I might not be your son but-”
“No, you’re not,” the Duke says, voice clipped. “Keith would have been in that rune before either of us even realised Katarina was in danger.”
The teen flinches, and the two of them walk past, heading straight for the infirmary. Keith keeps his head to the ground, hands clenched, and doesn’t resist when the guard grabs his arm, to lead him away to another secure room.
Game World – Isekai Characters
The healers arrive a few minutes after Maria has already finished fixing the worst of the damage, and strongly encourage their visitors to allow them to take her to the infirmary for observation. While they understand the reasoning, neither are particularly eager to let her out of their sight.
“Maria has done an excellent job patching up the worst. It might be best to wait until Katarina has woken before we move her,” Gerald says, with as much diplomacy as he can muster. “It may be worse for her to wake in transit, given the circumstances.”
“I agree, but this really isn’t the best place for her to rest,” Keith says, gesturing to the chairs. “That can’t be comfortable.”
They’re still debating the ethics of moving an injured woman when Katarina makes the decision for them, groaning and shifting her head, returning to consciousness. Gerald and Keith are immediately at her side, kneeling close. Both reach for her hand, and glare at each other for a moment in a battle of wills, before becoming focused on her face. Her eyes open, and she blinks a few times, clearly trying to focus. Both Gerald and Keith smile in relief.
“Katarina, you’re ok-”
Katarina screams. It’s a bone chilling sound, not of shock, but of genuine fear . Both lunge back almost on reflex as the girl arches awkwardly, hitting the backs of the chairs before crashing to the ground with such little grace, they actually hear a few people in the background gasp in astonishment.
Their girl however, recovers quickly. Her eyes lock on her sword, and before either can really recover, Katarina is back on her feet in a battle stance, sword in hand, and aiming it straight at Gerald, her face a mess of hatred and panic.
“Get away from me!” she yells. Gerald doesn’t think he’s ever heard anything crueller. Katarina...she’s terrified. Of him.
Her hands are shaking, and he wants to move in, to comfort her. But his legs won’t move – he’s paralysed where he stands.
Thankfully, Keith isn’t, and is slowly inching closer, hands up in a non-threatening manner.
“Sis...it’s okay,” Keith all but whispers. “It’s us. I promise.”
“Don’t say that!” she orders, with more bile than she’s ever thrown her brother’s way, and Gerald keenly feels the full body flinch he sees ripple through Keith. “What did you do to them? Where’s my brother and Prince Gerald?”
Keith doesn’t back down, and just keeps staring at Katarina. Gerald can’t see his face, but he imagines the expression is something heartbreakingly endearing.
“You came to us,” Keith says. “We had an accident, and got transported to this world when we made a wish in the rune. You must have done the same. It’s really us this time.”
The sword drops just an inch, and Katarina’s eyes have gone wide – but suspicion is still clear.
“Prove it,” she half begs. “Tell me something only my brother would know.”
Keith takes a deep breath.
“Not long after I was adopted into the Claes Family, I hurt you with an earth doll,” he says, and Gerald’s eyes widen, glancing round the room at the curious onlookers. He hadn’t expected Keith to offer this story around so many strangers. “I was so terrified I was going to hurt you or someone else again, that I locked myself in my room and swore I’d never come out.”
The sword drops even further.
“You wouldn’t let me,” Keith says, hope clear in his voice. “You...it still sounds crazy, but...you grabbed a battleaxe from a suit of armour in the hall, and cut the door down to splinters.”
In the background, at least one person chokes, and there’s a ripple of whispers. Gerald ignores it all, focused on Katarina.
“When you’d made a large enough hole, you walked straight through, got on your hands and knees and apologised. Then promised you’d always be there for me.”
Keith steps forward. “I’m sorry I left you. I’m so, so sorry.”
The sword drops to the ground, and Katarina bursts into tears. Ugly, messy, loud tears.
The whispers behind them get louder, but neither of them can care. Keith is moving before the sword even hits, wrapping Katarina in his arms, instantly staining his jacket wet. Gerald finally regains function to his legs, and moves forward just as quickly, his hand outreached.
-Only to yank it back when Katarina adjusts her head, spots him coming, and flinches. She immediately looks overwhelmingly guilty, but Gerald just smiles, shaking his head slightly to show no ill will. He moves in slower, and starts removing the cape from his suit, quickly wrapping it around her shoulders. Her hands tug it down instinctively, and when she looks down, sees the red stain and open cloth of her dress.
A normal noble girl would no doubt be blushing bright red and hyperventilating at the scandal of being undressed in such a way, but their Katarina just gasps, and adjusts the cloak appropriately.”
“Thank you, Prince Gerald,” she sniffles. She’s still crying, but her eyes have finally lost all their fear. He smiles back, and slowly – so she can see his moments, places his hand on her shoulder.
“Katarina, what happened to you?” he asks softly.
‘ Or more accurately, what did our other selves do to you?’ his mind growls.
Katarina just shakes her head, and hides in Keith’s arms. Thankfully, after a minute more of crying, she’s starting to gather herself. Keith’s arms however, remain tight, and Gerald glances at the very awkward looking group encircling them, all clearly curious and desperately trying to hide it for etiquette’s sake.
“Maybe we should continue this in the infirmary?” Maria says, when Katarina seems more stable, and the sound of her voice seems to bring Katarina back to reality, lifting her head up to look behind her brother. “Miss Claes should probably have some privacy.”
Katarina’s face is a picture, even behind the red cheeks and tears.
“Miss Claes?” she says, in a broken tone. Maria’s eyes widen, a little taken aback at how hurt she sounds.
“Katarina, remember,” Gerald assures her. “This is not our world. The other Katarina and Maria do not have the relationship the two of you do.”
His fiancée blinks at him a few times, and starts glancing between him and Maria, before her eyes widen with sudden comprehension.
“Wait, so...if we travelled to another world, and that was a different Keith and Gerald, and this Maria calls me, and Katarina is...Ohhhh...”
Gerald isn’t exactly sure what Katarina has figured out, but she’s gone pale. However, she’s also become compliant to Keith, who’s trying to coax her to the door.
“I think the infirmary is a good idea, Sis,” Keith says, refusing to take his eyes, or hands, off her. Gerald suspects the teen will literally have to be pried off in the near future, but it’s keeping Katarina calm for now, so he’s less frustrated than he’d normally be. “Coming through that thing was exhausting for us, and you’re still hurt.”
Katarina looks down at her chest, now hidden by red fabric, and nods.
“O-okay,” she says. “There’s no doom flags at the infirmary anyway.”
The two of them still. Doom flags?
They share a glance, and Gerald steps forward, dispersing the crowd so Keith can escort her without issue. He opens the door, and Keith gives him a grateful nod as he walks the far-too-silent-girl through, followed by the healers. He follows, only to hear a voice behind him.
“She really is quite different from ours, isn’t she?”
He turns to see Sirius analysing him, looking quite curious. The rest of the council have moved with him, clearly just as interested.
“I admit, I don’t know Miss Katarina very well, but still, that entire incident...” Mary says. “She was truly overjoyed to see Keith, wasn’t she?”
"I'm still processing 'battle axe,'" Sophia says rather weakly.
“She seemed scared of you though,” Alan adds, eyes narrow. Behind his own smile, Gerald grits his teeth.
“A very new, and highly unwanted situation,” he says. “One I intend to investigate the cause of quite thoroughly.”
This time, Sophia pipes up.
“But...if you say she doesn’t love you anyway, and now she’s afraid, maybe it’s better to step back?”
Gerald is shaking his head before she’s even finished.
“Not an option,” he states. Not even in the worst case scenario.
“Is she really that important to you?” Maria asks, eyes wide, and Gerald chuckles for a short moment before answering.
“Give her time,” he says. “Once she’s over her panic and back to her old self, you’ll see it first hand. Just remember, we’re taking her back with us, so don’t fall in love.”
Alan scoffs. “Come on, she can’t be that charming.”
Gerald’s lips twitch.
“Don’t say I didn’t give you fair warning,” he says, and quickly chases after the siblings.
Isekai World – Game Characters
It’s not a normal occurrence, but Maria finds herself eating lunch with Alan, Mary and Sophia in the courtyard. When Nicol had explained his suspicions, none of them had wanted to be alone, and had joined her in the open area while the ‘annulment hearing’ took place.
As she picks at the last remnants of food, Sophia looks forlorn.
“Do you think Katarina is crying?”
By her side, Mary immediately tenses.
“Don’t say things like that! You’re going to make me want to run over and interrupt things!”
They all sigh, looking down at empty plates and containers.
“I know I’d be devastated if my brother had been replaced by someone,” Sophia adds, and Maria nods.
“Even if she doesn’t love Prince Gerald, she does care about him too,” she says. “At least her parents are there to comfort her.”
“Yeah, but they lost their son too,” Alan says. “They’ll probably be hurt just as much.”
Another sigh, and another round of picking at almost empty plates, before Mary drops hers to the ground, and stands up.
“All right, enough of this,” she says. “We’ve eaten, and we’re clearly not going to stop being distracted. As Katarina’s friends, it’s our duty to be at her side during this awful time.”
“Oi, Mary, you can’t just decide that!” Alan yelps, face white. “My father is handling it.”
“He’s handling the interlopers,” Mary corrects him. “Someone needs to be there to help Katarina, so the Claes can focus on getting Keith back. Do what you want, but I’m going!”
She spins on her heel, and starts heading towards the waiting room she knows would have been used. Part of her hopes the others will stay behind, but she honestly isn’t surprised when she hears loud noises and footsteps chasing after her. Maria is on her left in a matter of seconds, Sophia on the right, and Alan holding up the rear.
“If the King yells at us, I’m blaming you,” Alan mutters, face slightly red. Mary just smiles.
“He won’t yell,” she says. “We’re just concerned friends and family. Aren’t you worried about your precious, dear, twin brother?”
Alan slaps a hand on his face.
“He’s my brother, and I love him, but absolutely nobody in my family would buy that line, and you know it.”
Maria and Sophia both giggle, but as they get closer, they get closer to the Research Lab, and the official meeting rooms on site, when they see kings guard in the halls. They quickly halt, just in time to see two guards escorting the false Gerald down the hall. They can barely see him between the uniforms, but that shock of hair is unmistakable in these halls.
“Where are they taking him?” Maria asks Alan, who doesn’t look as good as he had a few moments ago. While it might not be ‘Gerald,’ watching someone identical to his brother being arrested is probably disconcerting.
“We’ve got a handful of rooms used for incidents with nobility, when you don't want them communicating with someone to cover up an incident,” he says, voice low. “Or for political prisoners – students from foreign countries that can’t immediately be trusted. They’re not cells, but you’re also not free to leave.”
“Wait, is that Sirius?” Sophia asks, and they all watch as they realise the guards holding ‘Gerald’ down are being escorted by the red head towards a set of stairs.
For a moment, Maria wonders why the president was even involved. Shouldn’t it have been a closed confrontation between the King and the Claes family? That’s why they had all stepped back.
The convoy is almost out of sight, when one of the guards shifts slightly out of the way, giving Maria a perfect view of the false Gerald – and she stands stock still, the colour fleeing from her face when she registers what she’s seeing.
“Maria?” Mary asks, realising the girl looks horrified. “What’s wrong?”
Maria doesn’t answer, too overwhelmed at the black cloud she sees practically drowning out the blond man being dragged away.
The guards drag Gerald up the stairs and out of sight, and Maria sucks in a breath she hadn’t realised she was holding.
“I need to talk to Nicol,” she says with a shaking voice. “He needs to tell the King something’s very wrong with that Gerald.”
Mary pales. “What do you mean?”
“He’s enveloped in dark magic.”
Game World – Isekai Characters
Once Katarina has been diagnosed, treated and cleared by the school’s official healers, and Gerald has a rush order of sweets brought in for her nerves, the girl is almost back to her old self. She’s smiling and laughing between treats, while Gerald sits on the bed opposite, and Keith sits at her side, still holding one hand tight. He only just stopped contact for the exam, and Katarina doesn’t seem interested in stopping him.
Seeing her like this is a balm for the soul...but they need to know what’s happening back home.
“Katarina, how did you get here?” Gerald asks, once she’s finished her last sweet. The girl pauses between licking her fingers, and her eyes dim.
“Um, well...I’m not really sure,” she says, and Keith squeezes her hand.
“Start at the beginning,” he says. “What happened after the rune incident, and we were swapped.”
Katarina seems quite relieved that she can start there, rather than more recently, because her smile lights up.
“Well, after the accident, I went to see Keith when he woke up, and I guess I should have realised something was up, because he seemed to be shocked when I came to visit. He acted like nobody loved him, and seemed shocked about being mother’s favourite, even though he shouldn’t have, but I thought he was concussed or something.”
Keith winces, and starts getting redder and redder as Katarina continues, talking about other Gerald (“Geord” Gerald corrects) going to see his father, and her trying to motivate other Keith into confessing to Maria.
“Then, that evening, we were all at the farm, and Geord and Keith came to visit,” she continues. “And Geord said he was cancelling the engagement.”
Gerald quickly drops his hands so they’re out of sight before Katarina sees them forming fists.
“I sent a message to my parents, and the very next day, they arrived,” Katarina says. “They were pretty excited about it.”
“I see. My fake started annulment proceedings,” Gerald says, panic gripping him.
Part of him wants to grab her by the shoulders and beg her to tell him that they’re still engaged, that she jumped here before anything was signed, but she’s nowhere near recovered to handle that. He needs to be more diplomatic.
“However, as he was not me, any contract signed would be considered void due to fraud,” he says.
“Oh, we never actually got to the official annulment meeting,” Katarina tells him. But before Gerald can do more than give a mental sigh of relief and thank random gods, she continues with- “because before we got to that, he tried to kill me.”
Ice. He feels like he’s been dipped in ice. Opposite, Keith’s eyes have become the size of golf balls. Lord...it had been a sword wound, he knows that, and Katarina wasn’t flinching from his presence for fun, but...he thought perhaps Katarina had found out about the switch and attacked his fake. Not that his fake had...
“He what,” he growls, ready to rip the fabric of reality apart to seek his revenge. Katarina immediately hunches in on herself.
“Keith...I mean, other Keith, thought it was weird too,” she says. “He tried to stop him, but Geord knocked him out, and he turned on me.”
She looks up, realising how horrified both of them look, and pastes on a smile.
“B-but, you know, I’ve been preparing for doom flags for years,” she says. “I threw a toy snake at him, and it really freaked him out. It gave me time to run away!”
“That...wait, planning for what?” Keith splutters.
“Toy snake?” Gerald says at the exact same time. “You mean that thing you torment with me every other month?”
Katarina just nods, though it’s not clear if she’s really heard them. “At first, I was just trying to get some distance, but then I ran into Sirius, and he tried to hold him back, and told me to hide in the Lab. I tried, but Geord followed me and attacked. I tried to fight back, and that’s when I realised he definitely wasn’t Prince Gerald.”
“What?” Gerald says, leaning forward, looking pale.
“See, you didn’t seem to know how I fought, and I know Prince Gerald has sparred with me dozens of times, so he should have had some idea-”
“Katarina!” Gerald snaps, and immediately regrets it when she immediately clams up and looks terrified. Keith looks ready to commit murder, so Gerald continues.
“Are you telling me, that before the sword fight, you truly thought that I was trying to kill you?” he asks. He knows she’s fragile right now, but he has to know.
Katarina, goddammit, looks confused. “Well...yes?”
“How could you not suspect anything before that?"
If Gerald was a less together person, he’d be setting a building on fire. Instead, he grabs her spare hand, clasping it in both of his.
“Katarina, I know that no matter what I say, you will misunderstand it,” he begins. “So I will speak frankly, have I ever given you any reason to suspect that I would hurt you? That I do not care for you deeply?”
“Prince Gerald-” Keith starts, and Gerald glares in his direction.
“Keith, with all due respect, please stay out of this,” he warns, and returns his attention to Katarina, who looks rather faint. “Tell me, Katarina, what I did, that a doppelgänger could try to kill you, and you don’t even suspect that it’s not me.”
“I-that’s...it’s,” Katarina mumbles, refusing to meet his eyes, but Gerald refuses to let this one go.
“Please, Katarina,” he urges. “Why did you believe that so easily?”
“I...because I thought you wanted to be with Maria!” she admits, sounding very embarrassed, and both Keith and Gerald share a glance of utter confusion.
“Maria...Katarina, when have I ever-” Gerald starts, only for Katarina to explode.
“I mean, that’s how it’s supposed to go!” she wails. “You met her on the first day climbing trees and you were really interested in her, and you’re never interested in anyone, and Maria’s so charming and the two of you would make perfect sense! And you only really use me as a shield for other women so when you said you wanted to annul the engagement and Keith...I mean, ‘other Keith’ told me that night that he’d been rejected by Maria because she had feelings for someone else, I figured it had to be because you were in love with Maria!”
During that spiel, Keith has dropped his head into his free hand to hide the blush, no doubt utterly horrified at his other’s antics and having to face their Maria again, and Gerald doesn’t know if he wants to laugh or cry. Of course Katarina would completely miss the mark entirely, oblivious to Maria’s feelings, or the fact that Gerald’s entire life revolves around gaining Katarina’s attention.
There’s a rather dark part of his brain that’s a little terrified Katarina’s utter belief that Maria would win Gerald’s heart comes from Katarina’s subconscious belief that Maria is the most desirable of her suitors, but that idea gets firmly shoved to the back of his head, because nothing good comes from thinking about it.
“Then we went to the annulment, and my parents wanted to talk about the specifics, and...and I knew something was off,” Katarina defends. “You weren’t...right. When my parents got called out of the room, I tried to find out what was wrong, and he just...”
Her shoulders dropped. “I mean, it makes sense now ,” she says. “He went crazy, talking about how I seduced Maria away from him, and how he’d seen us talking that morning. Maybe he didn’t realise that Maria’s just naturally charming to everyone?”
Or Maria had done yet another confession in the wake of an annulment and a Prince completely not in the know had reacted badly. Although, given he was used to this world’s Katarina, Gerald can sort of see how he might have made that conclusion.
“But to go straight to trying to kill you?” Keith says, putting it into words. “That’s extreme. Not to mention illegal.”
“Yes!” both of them yell, astonished she even has to ask. She looks astounded, and Gerald suspects they’re going to have a long talk about what nobility can and can’t get away with.
“Well, like I said, he seemed crazy,” Katarina admits. “Which was weird, because he was just fine the day before.”
“Let’s get back to the sword fight,” Gerald sighs. “You were fighting, and realised he wasn’t me?”
Katarina nods. “He didn’t know how I fought...but he was still better than me. Especially because I wasn’t trying to hurt him.”
“You weren’t? Sis!” Keith says, and she flounders.
“I mean, I knew it wasn’t Gerald, but he looked just like him!” Katarina defends. “It’s why I ran in the first place, I thought I could try to fight him off, but...”
“You couldn’t,” Gerald finishes, the awful feeling in his stomach finally starting to lighten. “You didn’t want to hurt me.”
Katarina looks embarrassed. “You’re my friend. I didn’t understand why you wanted to kill me, but I couldn’t bring myself to seriously fight back. My sword instructor would be so mad at me...”
Keith immediately starts shaking his head. “No, no, he’ll understand, Sis. That was your first real fight. Of course you panicked.”
“Anyway, he managed to hit me,” Katarina continues, pulling her hand from Gerald’s grip to touch the bandages on her chest. “And I guess I rolled into the rune or something? But when he tried to come after me, the guards and the King came, and arrested him.”
Gerald’s eyes widened.
“Wait, really?” he says. “How did father know?”
“Nicol figured it out,” she says. “I’m not sure how, but he realised that you were replaced pretty early, and sent word to the King. If Geord hadn’t attacked me, they would have been arrested at the annulment hearing.”
Gerald’s eyes tear up. He takes back every horrible thought he’d had about the dark haired teen since he was trapped here.
‘ Nicol, you are the best friend a Prince could have. I will never forget this... ’
Katarina however, looks guilty. “I feel kind of ashamed. I thought my brother and you were acting a little odd, but I just thought you’d fallen in love, and Keith was getting tired of my antics, but he knew right away. I’m a terrible sister, and a friend.”
Keith is immediately shaking his head, and grabs Katarina’s shoulders.
“Sis, don’t think like that,” he says. “You couldn’t possibly have known. It’s amazing Nicol even figured it out.”
“But still!” Katarina pleads. “I knew something was wrong with you when we met our parents. And Prince Gerald was just...wrong! And I just stood there and accepted it.”
Gerald shakes his head. “Neither blames you one bit. It was a unique situation.”
He gives her a gentle smile. “To be honest, I would have been astounded if you had realised. Reading people isn’t your strong suit.”
At their words, she looks somewhat relieved, and the two of them share a look, before standing up.
“You need to get some more rest,” Gerald says. “We’ll be back in an hour, and go over our plans.”
She looks doubtful, but she yawns the second Keith convinces her to lie down. He’s extremely reluctant to let go of her hand, but he finally lets it fall.
They keep their smiles up until the door closes, and then sag against the wall, the ire almost enough to peel the paint from the walls.
“That...bastard...” Gerald seethes.
“I swear, if he’s ever in front of me, I’m going to knock his teeth out,” Keith growls. “Every single one of them. I don’t care if he’s royalty, he’ll be gumming food for the rest of his life.”
“How optimistic of you,” Gerald replies, clenching the hilt of his sword tight. “To think he’ll still have a head for you to punch.”
Keith smiles despite himself. “Always the competitive one, aren’t you Prince Gerald.”
Gerald ignores him, looking towards a window.
“The one good thing, is that this means our world is finally aware of the switch,” he says. “So even if one of them did sabotage the rune, they know to start looking.”
Keith nods. “And now, with our Katarina in this world, the council have a lot more incentive to figure it out.”
They both share a laugh at that, and both find themselves drawn back to the locked door.
“If nothing else, at least we know Katarina is safe and with us for now,” Keith says.
“Yes...Katarina, and just you to share her attention with,” Gerald adds. Keith scowls, and Gerald smiles back.
“Come now, as much as you resent my attempts, don’t tell me you’re not slightly excited about having Katarina with no Mary or Maria shoving themselves in? No Alan being painfully oblivious and yet somehow gaining ground? No Ascart double team? Just me, and you, and Katarina.”
Keith slowly starts to smile.
“Actually...yeah...I can see the appeal,” he says. “There’s nothing else we can do on this end, but we can at least give Katarina a good time. She deserves it, after what happened.”
Although, knowing Katarina, they both suspect their plans will immediately go up in smoke once she’s up and walking again.
Isekai World – Game Characters
The room they’ve brought Keith to is slightly less ornate than his own in the dorms, and consists of one singular room. There’s a painting on a wall, depicting the school grounds that’s placed to replicate a window, but other than the door, there are no other exits.
It’s a cell. A beautiful one, but a cell all the same.
He sighs, making his way over to the bed before sitting down on the sheets.
How had all of this gone so wrong? One minute, everything was fine, and then-
The door opens, and Keith looks up, frowning as Nicol walks in.
“I asked to be the one to check on you,” he says. "I was hoping you could explain a few things so we can undo this.”
Keith smiles. “Really? What makes you think I have any desire to do that?”
Nicol frowns, his eyes narrowing almost an imperceptible amount.
“This is not your world,” he says. “Surely you must have some desire to return.”
“Not really,” Keith quips, watching Nicol take that information in.
“I guess you wouldn’t, now that your Katarina is here,” he says. “If we reunited the two of you, would you or she be more agreeable?”
Keith can’t stop the bark of laughter that comes out at the ridiculous remark.
“Not even a little bit,” Keith says, still chuckling. “If you want Katarina to cooperate, it’s probably best if you keep the two of us as far away from each other as possible.”
Nicol blinks. “Blackmail?”
Keith gives another harsh laugh, and the look he sends Nicol almost has him stepping back.
“Hardly. She hates my existence. She’ll be happy to leave me here. I’m sure your Keith is absolutely delighted to have his Katarina back. There’s definitely no love lost between the two of us.”
Nicol frowns. “I don’t understand,” he says. “You and Katarina have always been close. How can it be so different in another world?”
Keith shrugs, tugging his knees into his chest and wrapping his arms around them.
“In one world, the Claes wanted a son,” he tells him. “In mine, they just needed an heir. And I’m not going back.”
“...Even though the Claes now know your inaction keeps their son from them?”
Keith smiles. It’s a wicked looking thing.
“So what, they’ll hate me now? That’s nothing new. At least this way, we’re both miserable.”
He turns his head, starting at a painting on the wall. By the door, he can feel Nicol shifting his feet.
“That seems rather cruel,” he says. “To deny someone happiness.”
Keith smirks. “The Claes didn’t raise me to be nice. And at the end of the day, your Keith wished to go to my world. Clearly, he didn’t love them as much as you think.”
For several moments, Nicol is silent, before-
“Someone will be back here after they’ve questioned your sister,” he says. “Hopefully some time to reflect on your actions will help you do the right thing.”
Keith doesn’t reply, and after Nicol walks out, Keith drops his face into his arms, sighing heavily.
What the hell got into Geord? The crazed monster that attacked Katarina was not the man he knew. Clearly, their captors had been aware of the switch before his episode, but the Prince’s actions had done nothing but paint both of them in an awful light. Perhaps if he’d come clean...if Geord had kept his head on straight just a little bit longer...he could have salvaged this.
But he can’t. And now there are two sets of Claes who look at him with disdain, he’s back to a Katarina that despises him, and it’s a world where Maria has never looked at him twice. Really, he might as well submit. He has nothing left to lose.
And yet...he still doesn’t want to go back. The idea that his other self can go back to what Keith had enjoyed not one hour ago...well, maybe he understands Geord’s breakdown a little more than he wants to admit.
He still has one bargaining chip – the rune and his sabotage. They currently have no idea he touched it. How long that will last is hard to say, but it gives him time. Even if Katarina has some idea of what happened, she won’t know the whole story.
An idea comes to him, and he lifts his head.
Nicol said someone would come to question him again, after he’d had ‘time to reflect.’ Maybe...if he acts apologetic...and gives them crumbs...they’ll let him out. Let him interact with people...give him some freedom.
He knows the school grounds, and the local town. The security is designed to keep people out, not in, it wouldn’t take much to get away. He could escape, flee Sorcie and head for a neighbouring country. Away from the Claes, and the risk of being forced back through that rune. This world could get back their Gerald, and their Katarina, but their Keith would have to stay behind. True, he’d have to give up his noble title...but frankly it’s never done him any favours, and his magical ability will open many doors, even in exile.
He smiles, and stretches out, mentally planning how contrite he should look when the door opens again. While he’s sorry for Geord, he’s on his own now. Keith has to do what Keith does best, and look out for himself.
After all, nobody else is going to do it.
To anyone upset that the Gerald and Keith didn't press more on the doom flags...I did write a whole scene about it, and then realised this idea has spun WILDLY out of control and the last thing I needed was to shove another plotline that had to be dealt with IMMEDIATELY, into the main story. So while they're aware and want to talk to Katarina about what she's saying, they're putting a pin in it for the moment.
Also, for anyone not on Tumblr, Masterhandss did a quick comic from one of the scenes in this chapter. You can check it and their Tumblr out at:
Katarina's wake up, and the original text is brought out.
Slightly delayed because a) COVID restrictions were reduced in my country and I got hit with a lot of real world obligations, and b) I had to commit to a plotline and I wasn't 100% which was the right route. Fingers crossed I succeeded!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Isekai World – Game Characters
When Katarina wakes up, she’s instantly on edge, because this is not the research lab she’d been in, but the infirmary. Had someone knocked her out? Who would bring her here? None of the witnesses to her desperate tantrum would have had the inclination to help her.
She stills, and turns her head, eyes widening when she sees her parents sitting to the side.
“Mother, father?” she says, desperately pushing herself into a sitting position. “What are you doing here?”
How long has she been out? She is certain her parents were still at the mansion, so how could they be here?
Her parents look at each other, and then give Katarina a sympathetic look.
“Katarina, we’re not your parents,” her father says, and Katarina frowns. But before she can question it, he continues with, “there was an incident with the rune.”
Never let it be said Katarina is slow on the uptake. She collapses back on the bed, with an arm on her forehead.
“Oh lord, I’m so humiliated,” she says. “I apologise for displacing your daughter, but there were extenuating circumstances.”
She doesn’t hear a reply, and opens her eyes just in time to see her parents sharing another look, this one more of disbelief. She sits up again, breaking it up.
“Do not worry, considering what has happened with others who have been switched so far, your arrival may be a boon,” her mother says. “We’re hoping you might be able to help us with any breakthroughs you’ve had on your end. From what we’ve been told, there hasn’t been much headway here.”
Katarina nods, and isn’t too surprised at that knowledge. While Prince Gerald might have been desperate to return, she doubts Prince Geord had the same motivation.
“I’m afraid I don’t know much, but I will help where I can,” she says diplomatically. “To be honest, I would allow Prince Geord to try and solve the issue. He rarely fails at anything he attempts.”
Her mother’s face instantly goes dark.
“Prince Geord is currently under guard until we can send him home,” she says. “After he attempted to murder my daughter.”
Katarina’s breath catches in her throat. What? Prince Geord had...what?
“I-I’m sorry, I don’t think I heard you correctly,” she says, laughing a little. “Did you say Prince Geord-”
Her mother nods and grabs her hands.
“I don’t know what your relationship with Prince Geord was like, but he’s clearly not a stable individual,” she says. “We were preparing to annul the marriage, at his request, when he snapped. If he will not allow you to break it, I would recommend you petition the King to annul the marriage as soon as you return.”
Katarina’s jaw drops.
“But...but he’s my fiancé!” Katarina defends, yanking her hands free. “I haven’t spent the last seven years removing every rival that came my way to give him up now!”
Her mother seems rather taken aback, and Katarina scowls, vaguely remembering what she’d been told about her other self.
“Perhaps your daughter is not suitable to enter the royal family, but my mother has done nothing but press me to maintain it,” Katarina says. “She’s proud of my achievement – I’d be publicly disowned if I even attempted to break the engagement.”
She shakes her head. “Whatever Prince Geord did, it must have been something that this other Miss Claes did to set him off. He would never cross a line like that with me.”
Her father frowns. “I take it you’re quite happy with your engagement then?”
“Of course I am,” Katarina says. “Are you not?”
“No...and clearly, you’ve heard why,” her mother says. “My Katarina...I love her dearly, but she is not suited for the role of Princess Consort. Prince Gerald however, refuses to see reason and is adamant that he’ll wed her or no other. We were quite elated when we heard the engagement would be annulled, and the attack came out of nowhere. Katarina was truly doing everything he wanted.”
“I almost didn’t believe what Nicol was telling us,” her father adds. “But then, after what Keith didn’t do when Katarina was in danger-”
“Keith?” she interrupts with spite in her voice. “What did that wretch do this time?”
The two of them blink in shock.
“Wretch?” her father asks. “Keith? Your brother, Keith?”
“He is not my brother!” Katarina snaps, outraged at this version of her father, and turns to her mother in disgust. “Do not tell me that he broke you! My mother has never forgiven him for bringing his bastard child into the house.”
Her mother’s jaw drops, and the colour fades from her face. Katarina’s own anger fades, and a sinking feeling starts to emerge.
Did...did this version of her mother not know that Keith was a bastard child? Had her father been more manipulative and convinced her that Keith was just a distant family member? How could any version of her mother be that foolish?
“Katarina,” her mother says, grabbing her hands one more time. “I think there’s been a misunderstanding. Keith isn’t-”
“No,” her father says, getting to his feet. “This is not a conversation we should have here, or with just us. We’re going to see Keith. The other Keith.”
Katarina and her mother both frown, but Katarina starts scowling when instead of arguing, her mother nods in compliance.
“Yes dear,” she says, realising something Katarina clearly isn’t. “This...puts many things in context. Both of them need to hear the truth.”
“What truth?” Katarina asks, only to be tugged to her feet and led to the door. "I said, what truth?"
"Please, Katarina," her mother pleads, an iron grip on her arm. "I promise we'll tell you, but Keith needs to hear it too."
Katarina grimaces, but after one more tug to test the grip, complies; allowing these alternatives to her parents to guide her away.
Game World – Isekai Characters
From where she sits at her desk in the classroom, Katarina smiles and waves.
“ Morning A-chan.”
Her friend quickly seats herself opposite and leans over. “So, Fortune Lover comes out next week. Have you pre-ordered it?”
Katarina moans and thuds her head on the desk. “No. I don’t have enough to buy it, and my parents won’t forward my allowance unless my next test scores improve. And that’s going to be months from now.”
A-chan pouts, and pats her on the back.
“ Hey, don’t worry. I’ll let you borrow it. At least you got to play the prequel, Time Tales All, last year, right?”
Her head jerks up. “Right. That was so good!”
A-chan shrugs. “I don’t know, I thought it was a little too complicated for an otome game. I mean, the whole ‘time loop’ and having to capture all the targets was a little forced.”
“ Still a good game though!” Katarina defends, and A-chan smiles.
“ I admit, the secret capture target was pretty cool”
She grins back. “Yup. That was such a good twist! I can’t believe Marty was the secret capture target! I mean, he dies at the start of the game!”
A-chan laughs. “I know. I was so shocked on my fifth run and I was given a chance to save him. I swore it was going to be Leon.”
It really was a great twist, Katarina thinks to herself. Time Tales All is a little more complicated than most otome games, but she’s always had a soft spot for it. You play a Lady in Waiting in the Sorcier Palace, who somehow finds herself living through the same month. With each capture target, you learn more about the spell, and it’s only by capturing them all, that you can free the palace from it. At which point, you can choose which timeline you wish to live in – or, live through another loop and go for the secret capture target, the Royal Magician’s Assistant, Marty. Which is pretty crazy considering his murder happens two days into each loop, and everyone thought he was responsible since his reactions were the only ones that changed each time. It also wasn’t a popular choice, as the Princess’s personal butler, Leon, was a huge fan favourite. But as it turned out, Marty was framed, and his death was used to put the loop in place. His happy ending had such beautiful CGI!
“ I hear Fortune Lover is going to be a lot more traditional though,” A-chan says. “It’s still based in Sorcier, but a few hundred years later, and in the Magical Academy.”
“So long as the characters are cute and it’s fun to play, I don’t mind that at all,” Katarina agrees. “Besides, didn’t you see the art for the main character? Isn’t she just the cutest thing-”
Katarina groans, and slowly opens her eyes, blinking as she stares up at the infirmary roof.
“Huh, what am I doing here? And why was I dreaming about that old game-”
Recent events suddenly flash through her head, and she jerks up with a gasp, her dream instantly forgotten.
‘ Crap! Prince Gerald...I mean, Prince Geord tried to kill me, and I got transported to the actual game world! This is super bad!’
This is the worst place Katarina could possibly be. It’s a world filled with doom flags, and she has none of her back up plans in place here.
“Well, at least Keith and Prince Gerald are here,” she mumbles, swinging her legs over the bed. Given what had happened in her world, it would have been far too dangerous to be here without help.
She frowns at that thought. While she’d struggled with the idea that Prince Gerald was trying to kill her, he’d seemed horrified that she’d even considered it. Which is strange, because a sadistic, black hearted Prince could totally do something like that. Oh! Maybe he was upset because he didn’t think Katarina was smart enough to realise he could kill her?
Then again, they both seemed quite frustrated that she thought he could kill her and get away with it, so maybe that’s not quite right.
There’s a knock on the door, and she pushes the thoughts out of her head. This is too complicated for her to deal with right now, she really doesn’t understand, so maybe she’ll just wait till she gets home to worry about it.
The door opens, and she gives a hesitant smile when she sees Keith and Gerald enter.
“How are you feeling, Sis?” Keith asks, instantly rushing to her side as she stands. “Do you need some more time?”
Katarina immediately shakes her head. “No, no I’m good. I want to help, however I can.”
Gerald smiles. “We’ll be happy to have you. But please stay by our sides, and don’t be upset if you can’t contribute too much. This is a complex problem.”
Katarina nods. She knows that, but still, she can’t just sit still and wait for others to solve it.
“Okay, let’s go.”
To her frustration, the two of them shake their heads, and push her back down.
“First of all, we need to explain the situation,” Gerald says. “This world is very similar to ours, but there are still significant differences. We don’t want you to get upset when people don’t react the way you think they should. This world’s Katarina had very different friends.”
“But the other versions of our friends in this world are a little curious about meeting you,” Keith says. “You’re very different from the Katarina here.”
“That’s an understatement,” Gerald mutters, but keeps the smile up. “She was more a traditional noble.”
Katarina nods. “Right. She was mean to Keith and wouldn’t leave you alone and was very cruel to Maria all the time.”
Both of them blink.
“Um...actually, yes, Sis. That covers it pretty well,” Keith says. “She didn’t garden, and if she liked romance books she definitely didn’t read them with Sophia, and Mary and Alan seemed to disapprove of her.”
Katarina just keeps nodding, and Keith starts to feel concerned. She doesn’t seem horrified or upset about any of this. Maybe she’s still in shock after Prince Geord tried to kill her? Or maybe just after that, nothing in this world can surprise her.
Gerald’s also starting to pick up on it, because while he’s smiling, his eyes are getting that glint that’s been rather prevalent since they got here.
“So how did we end up here anyway?” Katarina asks, and both teens suddenly find the walls and floor very interesting.
“We believe the word ‘wish’ was involved,” Gerald says, ever the peacemaker. “The two of us may have said something while in the rune, at the same time as our duplicates, that allowed the switch.”
Katarina’s eyes widened. “Oh! I did say something like that! I remember, I said something about wishing the real versions were there instead of the wrong ones...I think.”
Both stand a little straighter at that, only to freeze when she looks at them with innocent eyes and says.
“What did you wish for?”
Keith makes a muffled sound in the back of his throat – it sounds like a puppy dropped from a great height, and looks at Gerald with something resembling panic.
“Well, I wished that you had feelings for me,” Gerald says, shifting slightly so Keith’s not immediately in view and picks up her hand, giving it a kiss. To his frustration, Katarina still looks utterly befuddled.
Honestly, her denseness is charming, but really , how much more blatant does he have to be? He fears for their wedding night.
Still, given that Keith is only a few shades from having a panic attack, he quickly follows with. “Keith replied with a joke, and unfortunately the rune took it as gospel. I wouldn’t worry about it.”
Katarina’s eyes widen, but she smiles in understanding.
“Oh, okay. Guess that must have been unsettling.”
She then pulls her hand away, and stands.
“Don’t worry, I won’t do anything to embarrass you,” she says. “But we need to get home as soon as possible, right?”
They nod, and Katarina heads towards the door, and the healer watching them from the side for approval to leave. As Gerald stands to follow, Keith leans in.
“Thank you,” he whispers, genuinely grateful. Gerald smiles.
“I hardly did it out of the goodness of my heart,” he warns him. “That was a favour, and when we get home, I will be collecting. One date, uninterrupted, by anyone. ”
Keith flinches, but nods in acceptance.
Isekai World – Game Characters
“Are you certain?”
Maria swallows, and desperately wants to drop her head, but feels Mary’s hand tightly squeezing hers and maintains eye contact with the King.
“Yes, your Majesty,” she says. “The Prince was surrounded by black mist. It could only be dark magic.”
He sighs, the information clearly not welcome. Alan had approached the King as he left the lab, and they’d all quickly been escorted to an empty classroom on the grounds of urgent information, but from the expression the King is now making, Maria’s wondering if they should have held off.
“That does complicate matters,” he says. “The fact that he seemed reasonable up until today suggests he was put under in this world as well.”
“But who would do that?” Sophia asks, standing to the side. “I can’t actually think of anyone who wouldn’t approve of the annulment.”
They all can’t argue with that. Between family and friends who don’t think Katarina would thrive in the palace, to other families with daughters who would have been in the running, the annulment was hardly undesired.
“It might not have been about the annulment,” Alan says. “As the third Prince, Gerald has access to information and areas most people would struggle to obtain. Whoever did this might have been aiming for something later. After the annulment, Geord would have been taken to the palace.”
Maria however, shakes her head. “I don’t think so,” she says. “I think this magic was aimed at Katarina. Prince Geord was just a convenient tool.”
The King frowns. “What makes you say that?”
“It’s not the first time I’ve seen that black mist,” Maria says. “Sometimes, I’ve seen flickers of it, around Katarina, but she’s never been infected by it. I didn’t realise what it was until I saw it in such large quantities, but I think somebody with dark magic has been stalking her, looking for some way to attack.”
She hears Mary gasp, and judging from the pale faces around her, this was understandably not being taken well. The King however, remains rather stoic.
“I will have a light and dark user from the Ministry of Magic confirm what you’ve told me,” he says. “If he was influenced by an outside source, it puts his actions in a different light, especially if it was someone here that did it.”
He sighs. “This information does not leave this room,” he orders. “Not until we have confirmation. For now, continue researching the rune. It is now imperative that we get our guests home as soon as possible.”
He nods to Alan, and he coaxes the others out, before hesitating at the door.
“Father,” he says. “If Geord is found innocent, we could use him in helping to decipher this. Given the circumstances, he’ll probably want to get back quickly.”
The King nods. “It will be considered.”
Alan smiles gratefully, and starts chasing after his friends, aiming for the research lab.
After the whole earlier disaster, the lab is in a full on tizzy, with people huddled round tables and talking furiously. There are also now guards on the edge of the rune, to make sure nobody steps on it by accident. Nicol is also there, sitting at a table, and smiles as they return. As they make it over to another table, Alan grabs a passing researcher, and a few moments later, joins them with a heavy stack of papers. Mary glances up at him, before gingerly picking a set up.
“What is this?” she asks.
“This is a replica of the Grimoire chapter they copied the rune out of,” Alan says, and gestures to the loose papers. “Since it’s old and damaged, we can’t let too many people hold the original, so they created copies to study. But most of it is still indecipherable.”
“Do we know where it came from?” Nicol asks, picking up one pile. “Does the tome have a listed author?”
Alan shakes his head. “No, it appears to have been a compendium, put together by multiple magic users over the years. We believe, given the sigil on the first page-”
He taps the symbol on the front page of his copy. “-That this particular rune was invented by a magician in the Royal family’s employ, but we can’t narrow it down much more than that.”
They all start leafing through the notes, and Maria frowns.
“I see what you mean,” she says. “What language is this?”
Granted, most of the basics are in Sorcier, and are now just heavily damaged and indecipherable due to age, but there are distinct chunks of the text that are completely alien to her. Strangely enough, there are certain aspects that appear to be handwritten notes, no doubt transferred from the original version of the rune when it was placed in the book.
“It looks more like a code than any language I know,” Nicol says. “The research team has looked up every known language and can’t find a match, so it’s likely been invented by the creator to keep their secrets.”
Mary nods, and slowly taps on text at the bottom of the page, written in the strange code and underlined three times. “This might be a warning, or some kind of important instruction. If we can translate it, we might get a lead.”
“We should get Sirius to have a look,” Alan agrees. “He’s pretty good with languages.”
“He should be back here soon,” Nicol says. “I’m rather surprised he’s not back already, he was just meant to escort him.”
He glances over, to see Sophia staring at the papers. “Sophia?”
Sophia is frowning, focused on the text, and Nicol frowns.
“Sorry, it’s just...I feel like I’ve seen this before,” she says. “It looks so familiar.”
“Really?” Maria asks. “Do you know where?”
Sophia shakes her head. “No. It’s not coherent. It’s as if I saw it in a dream or something. Like I should know it, but I don’t.”
“Well, if you have any breakthroughs, let us know,” Alan says. “For now, lets see if we can make out more of the text that’s decipherable.”
Game World – Isekai Characters
Shielded between Gerald and Keith, Katarina was feeling fairly confident as they headed towards the lab...right up until they opened the door and she was faced with a sea of curious faces.
She instantly pales.
‘ Ah, I didn’t think this through!’ she wails in her head. ‘What if they all hate Katarina and decide to get rid of her through me like Prince Geord?’
She kind of wants to run, but Keith is a solid presence at her back, and she takes comfort in knowing he’d never send her to certain doom - at least, not in this situation - and walks inside. The council members are all huddled around a table, and Katarina gives a shaky wave at the curious faces as they walk over.
“So, um, hi?” she greets. “I’m Katarina Claes. Or, well, another Katarina Claes. Nice to meet you.”
She gives her best smile too, and she’s honestly not too surprised when Maria is the first one to stand, a tentative smile on her own face.
“Hello, Miss Claes,” she greets. “Are you feeling better?”
Katarina quickly nods. “Uh huh. I just needed some rest.”
Her hand goes up to her hair, scratching behind her ear. “I’d like to help figure out a way back, but I’m not sure I’ll be very helpful. Please bear with me.”
Maria’s smile becomes more genuine as she talks, and her body seems to relax. While she can’t see it, Gerald and Keith are also staring at her with an almost ridiculous level of affection, which also reduces the apprehension felt by most of the others.
(Sirius, on the other hand, hides the scowl he wants to wear with a hastily fumbled yawn. Here comes one more noble filled with sunshine and rainbows).
“How much has Prince Gerald and your brother informed you?” Nicol asks, taking the control as they take a seat.
“Only how we got here, and some of the differences,” Gerald says. “Explaining our progress makes more sense in a group.
“You had progress?” Katarina questions. “We didn’t even know you’d been swapped!”
“We were very motivated,” Keith tells her. “But Alan had the biggest breakthrough.”
“You can communicate through the runes with music,” Mary says, looking proud. “He had to compose a piece while missing half the notes.”
“Really?” Katarina says, looking over at Alan, whose shoulders raise slightly in defence.
“Yeah. Rune has different notes on each side,” he mutters. “Just had to figure out how the piece should have gone and-”
“That’s amazing!” Katarina exclaims, genuine admiration on her face. “You really are incredible when it comes to music, Prince Alan.”
Mary squeaks, and Alan’s mouth drops open slightly.
“Huh...um, thanks?” he says, cheeks slightly flushed. His eyes flit to the side – meeting Gerald’s – and feels his face getting even redder at his smug look.
‘ All right, fine, you warned me,’ Alan hisses mentally. ‘I get it, you ass!’
“Unfortunately, something happened on your side, and the link got cut off,” Sirius says. “Thankfully, from what the researchers told us, our Katarina was informed of recent updates before she switched, so your world should know Prince Geord or Keith sabotaged it shortly. For now, we’re trying to find additional information in the original grimoire.”
Both Keith and Gerald brighten, looking at the papers on the table. “Ah, are those the copies?” Gerald asks. “What about the original?”
“The Ministry of Magic took it into custody when you revealed what happened,” Alan says. “They’ve said we can have it back once they’ve double checked it against their own records, but for now we have to work with the transcripts.”
Sophia and Nicol both reach and hand over additional papers to the three of them.
“Most of it is illegible, and many parts that aren’t are in some kind of code,” Sophia says, keeping her eyes on the table. “So we’re not sure how useful it will be. It kind of looks familiar, but I can’t place it.”
“I don’t recognise it either,” Sirius says. “But I’m still cross referencing.”
Katarina nods, scanning the first page – only to pause, her finger stilling on a symbol near the top of the paper.
“Wait, what is this?” she asks, voice slightly higher than she’d like.
“The sigil?” Nicol asks. “We think it’s the sign of the creator, but there’s no record of who it belonged to, so we’re rather at a loss.”
Prince Gerald is saying something about doing a more thorough search of the records, but Katarina isn’t registering any of it, too focused on the papers in her hands.
Because Katarina has seen that symbol before. In fact, she saw it in a dream less than an hour ago.
That sigil, was on the title screen of the ‘Time Tales All’ otome game.
Even more importantly, the ‘code’ scribbled all over the page, is perfectly legible Japanese. And on the bottom of the page, underlined, reads:
' Like Hell I’m dying in an otome game!
I’m getting out of this world if it’s the last thing I do!’
Will be some delay in the next chapter, cause next week is Dr. Stone week and I wanna finish a few ideas, so they take priority!
A pair of Katarinas go looking for answers.
Apologies for the delay, I knew where I wanted to end this chapter and refused to cut it down, so it took a little longer to put together (an 11k beast to make up for a missed week!). Also, OG Katarina fought me every step of the way when it came to figuring out her voice, and that took a while to figure out.
Isekai World – Game Characters
“So how much truth do we hold to Miss Campbell’s claim?”
The King doesn’t bother to turn to the speaker, a blue haired man with glasses, and merely continues to walk up the stairs.
“Her teachers have had nothing but positive reports regarding her work ethic, and my sons hold her in high regard. I highly doubt she would lie about seeing dark magic. Your job is merely to confirm her suspicions, and to dispel any foreign magic from his body.”
At the top of the stairs, he halts, spinning round to face both men. “Ideally, you will also be able to track the user. If someone is using dark magic to target any student in these halls, I want to know who, and I want them stopped .”
“Yes, your Majesty!” the shorter man says. “Whatever I can do!”
The blue haired one just smiles. “As you wish.”
He nods, and continues down the hall, the two quickly falling in step. Given the threat level, he’s brought in two of the most reliable agents the Ministry had on site. Considering the nature of dark magic, the Ministry doesn't have many candidates, but the blue haired Sora had been happy to volunteer, along with Tobin, a competent light user that the upper echelon had recommended. Tobin is clearly still quite green, from how straight backed and nervous he is just being in the King's presence, but Sora has no such issue, meandering the hall as if they were all mere students themselves. He manages to maintain that relaxed air until they reach the last corner, and tenses.
“I sense something.”
Tobin flinches, looking at him in disbelief. “From this far away? That doesn’t make sense. Unless-”
Sora pushes past both of them, heading round the corner. The King and Tobin quickly follow, only to stop in their tracks. By the door of the room that holds Prince Geord, a guard lay slumped on the ground, next to an unconscious Sirius Dieke.
“Check the room!” the King orders, and Sora runs straight for the door, while Tobin goes to the guards and the fallen student.
“All of them have been affected by dark magic,” he concludes, no trace of his earlier nervousness. “Not a lot – but enough to knock them out. Doubt they’ll remember who did it though.”
Sora opens the door, and slumps in relief. “Prince Geord and the other guard are inside.”
“That makes sense,” Tobin says, hands glowing with light magic. “This wasn’t an escape attempt. They just needed to cover their tracks.”
“Can you still tell if he was under?” the King asks, although he admits that if someone has gone to the effort of knocking out four people with dark magic, it’s essentially proof enough.
Sora smiles. “Of course. No matter how well one tries, the remnants of dark magic will always leech in.”
He kneels down, his hands glowing with that ominous dark glare. His smile falters. “Well, someone certainly did a number on him. I’m sensing two different dark magic influences on him.”
“Two!” the King splutters, and Sora shrugs.
“We only need to worry about one,” he assures. “The second is quite old. It could only have come from his own world, and has probably been a minor influence more than an attempt at using him. But the newer influence...I doubt he was under more than a few hours, but his own opinions did most of the work.”
“How could he hate Miss Claes so much?” Tobin asks. “They’ve only known each other a few days.”
Sora shrugs. “I can only offer a hypothesis, but I suspect his anger was aimed more at his own fiancee more than our version. Perhaps Miss Claes did something that allowed his negative feelings to transfer to her, just long enough for the user to affect them.”
“Can you track who?” the King asks, walking in and kneeling by the stranger wearing his son's face. It’s...disconcerting, to see him like this.
Sora shakes his head. “No. They made sure to cover their tracks. If I felt the magic again, maybe I could hunt them down, but for now, it’s a dead end.”
That’s the last thing he wanted to hear, but at least the dark magic user hadn’t gone and killed his puppet. He rather wants his own son back.
All three of them snap towards the doorway, where a horrified Katarina Claes is staring in the doorway in shock. Her parents are behind her, looking equally horrified – and the Duke’s tight grip on her shoulder is clearly the only thing keeping her pinned where she stands.
“What happened?” Katarina wails, and Tobin quickly stands, blocking the doorway.
“Why are you here?” the King asks.
“We...the three of us need to speak with the alternate Keith,” the Lady Claes explains. “Is this-”
“Tobin, escort them to the room. Make sure the guards haven’t seen anyone, and do not leave until the Claes do,” the King orders, and returns his attention to Geord. Slowly, he moves to lift him into his arms, and moves to lie him on the bed.
“Double the guard. Sora, you are not to leave the door until he wakes,” he says.
“He won’t remember anything,” Sora says. “And I highly doubt they’d come back.”
“Regardless, this error will not be allowed to happen again.”
He spins and heads for the door. “Double the guard – call in additional members from the ministry if you must. I wish to be informed the second he and the guards wake.”
Sora bows in obedience.
“As you wish.”
Something serious must have happened outside, because Keith can hear quite the commotion even through the thick walls of his not-a-cell. There’s loud voices, angry shouting, and heavy footfalls. Either Geord tried an impressive escape attempt – which considering his current insanity is not unlikely – or there’s another factor involved.
Suddenly, the door opens, and he stands automatically, eyes widening when he takes in Katarina and the Claes.
“Hello...” he says, spine tense as a springboard. He honestly hadn’t expected to see either of his parents again, but to arrive with Katarina? What kind of stories has she told? How fast should he be running?
As if sensing his terror, Duke Claes immediately raises a hand.
“At ease, Keith,” he says. “We only wish to talk.”
They look a lot more upset than they had before, and missing the anger that had clouded the earlier meeting. Like most of these VIP rooms, Keith has access to a set of sofas and a coffee table, and his alternate parents take a seat before staring at them both. Keith glances over at Katarina, who just bristles.
“Don’t look at me. I have no idea what I’m doing here either.”
“Both of you, please, sit,” their mother urges. Neither of them have ever been able to disobey that tone, and find themselves sitting opposite the Claes, and closer than they’ve ever willingly been in contact for years.
However, the story they reveal is enough to wash away that discomfort, because it’s beyond ridiculous. How Lady Claes made the same assumption as their mother, that Keith was a bastard child, but unlike theirs, she had seen it as a failing on her part, because Katarina was such a failure as a noble child with her antics. That she had gone to her husband to offer him a divorce, so he could be with the woman he truly loved that had given him a superior heir. How Duke Claes had suddenly realised his wife genuinely loved him, and confessed that he had spent years under the assumption that his affections were one sided, and that he had tricked his wife into matrimony. Two people in a political marriage, completely certain that their love was one sided, only discovering the truth at the very last minute, thanks to the antics of a precocious little child.
It’s the kind of thing you read in a cheap romance novel. Sophia would probably be swooning at how romantic it all is.
But this isn’t a book. This is Keith’s life . When they finish talking, explaining that every single, awful thing that has happened in the last seven years is because of a misunderstanding , he erupts.
“Are you telling me, that every ounce of grief I have suffered is because my parents don’t know how to have a conversation with each other?” Keith snarls, standing up and looming over them. “That they were so wrapped up in how they saw the world that they let innocents suffer rather than try and fix it? Duke Claes would allow his wife and daughter to torment the child he brought in rather than speak his mind?”
Of course he’d always known what his mother believed, but his words had never reached her, and his father had done everything in his power not to rock the boat. Sure, it all makes sense now , but that it all could have been solved by the two of them being honest with each other?
By his side, Katarina starts quietly laughing, sounding exhausted.
“So, yet another crime this world wishes to lay at my feet, yes?” she says. “My adequacy as an heir hindered my parents ability to love each other?”
“Katarina, no!” their mother says. “You were a child, this was our mistake, their mistake, not yours. You did nothing wrong.”
“Oh, of that I am aware,” Katarina replies. “Your son made that perfectly clear. But apparently imperfection is the superior currency here.”
That has Keith turning to stare at her, a smirk creeping onto his face.
“Oh, did other-me erupt at you?” he asks. “That must have been quite the moment. Wish I’d seen it.”
“Bite your tongue!” Katarina hisses, before visibly composing herself to face the alternate versions of her parents – who look utterly heartbroken at their reactions.
“It’s not like I wanted to believe my father would cheat on my mother,” Katarina says. “But my mother was so certain, why wouldn’t she have confirmed it?”
“Because she doesn’t believe that her husband loves her,” Lady Claes says. “In her eyes, in my eyes, him having a mistress made sense. But unlike me, your mother didn’t believe she failed her duties.”
Katarina just looks away, but her face is nothing but controlled rage. Keith slumps down on the sofa, dropping his head in his hands.
“I can’t believe this,” he says. “Actually, no, I can. It would just be the icing on the cake for how fucked up this whole situation is.”
“Language, Keith!” Lady Claes chides, then looks immediately embarrassed. Keith raises his head just enough to glare back.
“You don’t have any authority over me. I’m not your son.”
“You’re nobody’s son,” Katarina says under her breath, but before Keith can snark back, Duke Claes speaks up.
“You can recite the faults of your parents with our blessings when you get home, but for now you will be civil to each other, and hopefully help us with getting you there.”
Keith’s eyes narrow, but before he can consider how to answer, Katarina is getting to her feet with a look of rage on her face.
“It was him,” Katarina says, pointing a finger at Keith. “The researchers in our world told me all about it. They managed to activate the rune on their end, but someone on this side damaged it to keep it from working. Given that Prince Geord-”
She stops, and grits her teeth at the sour memory.
“-Was otherwise occupied trying to annul an engagement, it must have been him. The reason you can’t succeed is because the rune is damaged.”
They turn to face Keith, who is watching with an unreadable expression.
“Is this true?” they ask. Keith weighs his options, before slowly nodding.
“Yes. I didn’t want to go home so soon. I never got to enjoy the love I was receiving here there...I was going to fix it back eventually.”
A lie. The biggest he’s ever told, but the Claes seem to swallow it hook, line and sinker.
“Well, we’ll speak to the King and the guards, and see if we can’t get you back into the lab,” says Duke Claes. “Do you remember what you did?”
“Not exactly,” Keith says, honest this time. “But I’m sure I can figure it out eventually if I see it again.”
The two nod, and get to their feet. “We’ll see what we can do. For now, please don’t make waves. Katarina, please come with us.”
The girl obeys, standing and walking past Keith without a second glance. But he steals a look – while she’s putting effort into looking calm, her eyes are dark and vicious. The way they look whenever Keith knows he’s going to have a bad day.
He laughs to himself as the door closes. If the Claes are doing what he suspects and are taking Katarina to the lab. His friends are about to endure quite the reality check when they meet ‘other’ Katarina...
Game World – Isekai Characters
Katarina is reeling. She’s not the first person to receive her memories of another life in this world? Or at least, not the first person to receive the memories in a version of this world? There was another person? How? Why? What does it have to do with this crazy rune.
‘There was nothing about travelling to different worlds in Times Tales All!’ she wails in her head. ‘The main character and Marty could remember different timelines, but they didn’t leave their world!’
She squeaks, looking up to see the whole table frowning at her. Keith and Gerald are both looming on each side, each closer than normal. Keith is immediately frowning at her reaction.
“Is something wrong, Sis?” he asks, and Katarina looks down, face flushed.
Ah...how does she explain this? She can’t just say she can read this ‘mystery’ language.
“Oh um...this sigil,” she says, pointing at the paper. “It feels like I’ve seen it before?”
It’s both the truth and a distraction, and she silently whimpers when everyone is suddenly leaning forward in curiosity.
“Really, Katarina?” Gerald says, eyes wide. “Where?”
“I-I don’t know,” she says, looking down at the table. “It just feels like I have. Maybe in a book or something?”
Everyone slumps, and she feels like the worst person on the planet.
“Maybe I just saw something similar,” Katarina says, grasping for straws. “Perhaps it looks like a fictional symbol in one of my novels. Like the medals in the first Devilish Count novel?”
She looks over at Sophia. “Right, Sophia? They look kind of similar, don’t they?”
The white haired girl looks up, then immediately drops her eyes again and mumbles something under her breath. Katarina frowns.
“Sorry, what was that?”
Sophia hunches down, and Nicol quickly leans in.
“She said she’s never read that series,” he says, and Katarina’s eyes widened.
She gets to her feet and slams her hands on the table, oblivious to the automatic wince everyone other than Keith and Gerald have at the sound.
“Oh boy…” Keith says under his breath. Katarina’s face is one of unholy glee .
“You’ve never read the Devilish Count series?” she says in utter joy. “I get to introduce you to one of the greatest fantasy romance series of all time? This is wonderful!”
She turns to Gerald, hands clasped and eyes sparkling.
“Can I take Sophia to the library?” she asks. “Just for a little while? She absolutely can’t go any longer without ever knowing about them.”
“We really should be focusing on trying to translate this…” Sophia says weakly. Katarina shakes her head.
“A quick break won’t hurt anyone,” she immediately replies. “Maybe I can even look and see if I can find the book with a similar sigil?”
She looks so excited at the idea, Gerald deflates like a balloon.
“Only if Sophia agrees.”
“I-um...I guess?” she says, when Katarina whirls back to her, clearly unsure if there’s another answer she can give. Katarina’s smile is utterly blinding.
“This is going to be amazing! Come on!”
She grabs Sophia by the arm and practically hauls her out. Nicol is barely halfway out of his chair before Katarina has the other girl out the door and into the corridor, and he turns to stare at Keith and Gerald in disbelief. However, it’s Mary who asks the question on their minds, looking somewhat befuddled.
“Is she always like that?”
“No. That was actually fairly laid back for Sis,” Keith says, looking forlornly at the door and contemplating if he can risk leaving to follow her. “Someone should go with them though, just in case.”
“I’ll go,” Maria offers, immediately standing up. “I’m not really making any headway with the language barrier, and I think I’d like to speak more with Miss Katarina.”
“Thank you, Maria,” Gerald says gratefully. As she leaves, he turns his attention back to the table, looking at the still torn Nicol.
“Sophia doesn’t go anywhere without me,” he says, sounding far too worried. “What if your Katarina says or does something untoward to her.”
“To Sophia ?” Keith says. “I think it would cause Sis physical pain to do it even by accident.”
“Don’t worry, between Maria and Katarina, Sophia is in the best possible hands she could be,” Gerald says. “And I’m afraid we need your research skills too much to spare you. But if Sophia is about to rediscover the Devilish Count, then you have my sympathies, Nicol."
“...Why?” Nicol asks somewhat hesitantly. Keith gives a short laugh and shakes his head.
“Oh I wouldn’t worry too much...pretty sure you missed the worst of it. Our Katarina and Sophia haven’t made Nicol dress up in years.”
“How about less tormenting of the overprotective older brother, and more deciphering?” Sirius asks, though his smile is good natured, and the group settle back into their studies.
Isekai World – Game Characters
Consciousness returns to Geord at a slow pace. It feels as if he’s had a night of heavy drinking – not that he knows exactly what that’s like, but he suspects this isn’t too different.
He groans, wincing as he tries to open his eyes and fails miserably. The second try is more successful, and he pushes himself into a sitting position before he risks sunlight.
“Finally awake, are you?”
He frowns at the unfamiliar voice, and slowly opens his eyes. There’s more success this time, and his eyes make out an unfamiliar room, before taking in an equally unfamiliar blue haired man sitting next to the bed. The man straightens and smiles as Geord frowns, clearly confused.
“Who are you?” he asks.
“I’ll be asking the questions,” the stranger said. “How much do you remember of today?”
Geord just continues to glare at him. “Excuse me, but exactly what do you-”
He trails off, as when he tries to think back, a blurry flashback of the last few hours rush into his head, and his skin goes ice white, comprehension hitting like a vice.
Good lord...what had he done? What on earth had possessed him to-
He half bolts from the bed, only halted by the stranger pushing him back down.
“Stay exactly where you are.”
Geord complies, but only just.
“Please, tell me she’s okay,” he says, voice shaking. All of his most recent memories are fuzzy, and the latest ones are almost incomprehensible, but he knows he attacked her – and can only pray that his last memory of her being alive is true. “Tell me that Miss Katarina is safe.”
The man assesses him with a long look, before letting him go and grinning.
“Well, nice to see you’re back to your senses,” says the blue haired man. “Do you remember the last person you spoke to before everything went ‘blurry?’”
Geord tries. He truly, genuinely does, but his mind betrays him.
“No,” he says, feeling shameful. “Everything from today is a blur. I don’t even remember speaking to anyone before Keith collected me for the annulment hearing.”
The man sighs. “Well, that’s not unexpected. You took to the dark magic like a cat in a canary cage.”
“Dark magic?” Geord repeats, feeling both relieved and horrified at the thought. “I was under the influence of dark magic?”
“It had been stripped from you by the time we came to confirm, but the traces were clear,” the man says. “Congratulations – that might actually get you home in one piece. From the rumours I’ve heard, the girl you tried to kill has quite the set of guard dogs.”
“Is she okay?” Geord asks, anger starting to ebb into his voice, and the man shrugs.
“Well, you didn’t kill her, but considering the rune activated and swapped her with, well, your Katarina, we don’t actually know.”
Geord pales for a second time in as many minutes. Katarina has been switched. He’s sent a version of Katarina who had fled for her life from him straight to his home, while he now has his Katarina here, and no doubt aware of his actions.
He drops his head into his hands, wondering if he can curl up into a ball and hide underneath the bed until his death. There is no coming back from this – he might as well throw himself on his sword and be done with it. The political backlash is going to be biblical ...
Sadly, his interrogator or guard isn’t interested in letting him wallow.
“If that grief is genuine, then you might get home with all your limbs,” the man says with far too much glee. “Now get up – you’ve got a meeting with the King, and depending on his decision, you might be put to work on undoing whatever it is you did with that rune.”
“Yes...yes, of course,” Geord says, accepting the words easily. At this point, it’s the least he can do. Even before the dark magic had affected him, he knew his plans for Katarina and Maria had not been well meant. Perhaps getting back this world’s true inhabitants will act as penance for his decisions.
Sirius is thanking any god that will listen that he’s good at thinking on his feet. When Prince Geord was arrested, he’d been terrified his plans were going to go up in smoke. Once the guards had the hall to themselves, he’d acted, knocking both of them out and going to work on Geord. All memories of anyone he met that morning are instantly erased, and he hauls back his dark magic. It takes far longer than it should – normally it’s an instantaneous act, but the Prince has accumulated a tremendous amount.
Once Geord has been stripped of anything that could trace the magic to him, Sirius walked outside and set his magic inward. This is much harder, but dark magic is all about deception – he knows how to set ‘just’ enough to get caught in the spell, and keep himself out of the suspect pool.
He knows it’s been a success when Prince Geord is walked into the research lab with an armed guard, and immediately bows in apology to him for his earlier attack.
“Sirius Dieke, please forgive my earlier actions. Regardless of any outside influence, they were completely out of order,” Geord says from his prostrated position.
“Please, raise your head Prince Geord,” Sirius says. “Help us with the rune, and we can consider it water under the bridge.”
He desperately needs to get this fake-Prince out of this world. With the Ministry involved, there’s no telling if they’ll be able to track his actions. He’s good, but he’s never had someone actively investigating him before. Better get the evidence as far away from his as physically possible – worlds away, in fact.
As the Prince rises, relief on his face, Sirius spots others heading towards them, and nods.
“However, I may not be the only one you need to apologise to,” he says, and quickly walks away.
Geord only has a few moments to question his words, when his brother’s voice rings out.
“So, you’re not Gerald, you played us all for fools, and you left Katarina bleeding.”
Geord winces, and turns to face Alan, who is glaring at him with his arms crossed.
“Part of me really wants to punch you,” Alan says. “But for the sake of keeping peace, I’ll let it go. No doubt Keith and Katarina and my actual brother will already be gloved up.”
He gives him a sharp smile, and pats his shoulder a few times, before returning to the table. Geord has enough time to sigh in relief, before he feels someone tapping his side. He turns-
-Just in time for Mary to slap him straight across the cheek. He squawks, hands reaching up to feel the damage, as the girl smiles.
“I have no such compunction,” she says. “Never thought I’d say these words, but I want Prince Gerald back.”
She brushes past him, and Geord winces. Thankfully, Mary doesn’t have much upper arm strength, so the hit didn’t cause much damage. But to think his brother’s wallflower of a fiancee would be so forward. He’s lucky to have such a devoted woman.
In the distance, Maria is openly frowning, and the Ascart siblings look displeased, but thankfully, don’t seem ready to get physical about his actions. Also, the room is abandoned with the exception of them, mostly likely to keep the knowledge of the switch as quiet as possible. When he asks, Alan also explains that many of them have taken to the library and ministry to look for additional information, allowing the council to focus on the rune directly.
Then the door opens, and Geord pastes a smile on his face when he takes in Katarina, escorted by both her parents and a guard. The Claes stay at the doorway, speaking something Geord can’t make out, but Katarina barely appears to register the words, and enters the room as if she owns it, looking displeased and ired.
That, in Geord’s personal experience, is a dangerous combination.
The door closes, and the guard remains at the door while Katarina scans the room, eyes instantly locking on him and lighting up – though he notices her body is more tense than usual.
“Prince Geord,” she says, walking over and giving him a curtsy. “Are you okay? I heard you were...unwell.”
That’s certainly one way to put it. “Miss Katarina, good day. I apologise that you’ve been caught up in this.”
“I’m sure you are,” Katarina says, eyes sharp. “Though considering you were willing to murder my other self, perhaps it’s more true than usual.”
Geord maintains his smile, but his eyebrow twitches. But before he can answer, Mary has joined them, and is hanging off her arm.
“Are you okay, Katarina?” she asks. “I mean, I know you’re not our Katarina but still, that must have been quite a shock.”
A moment later, and Maria has clutched her other arm. “Yes, but don’t worry, we’ll make you feel welcome until you go home. Do you like-”
“Let go of me!”
Geord winces as Katarina screeches, yanking her arms back and glaring at the two. To the side, he can see Alan stiffening, the Ascart's frozen where they stand, and both Mary and Maria looking at her in shock.
“What have the standards fallen to in this world if someone like you can touch me so casually?” Katarina says, making a show off brushing invisible dust from the arm Maria had just been holding. “That other Keith mentioned my other self had some odd habits, but this is ridiculous.”
Geord has never seen someone’s face fall as quickly as Maria’s does. Mary in turn, looks like someone knocked her over the head.
“Kata-um...Miss Katarina…” Maria says, hand slightly reaching out, only to flinch back when Katarina swings round.
“It is Lady Claes to you!” Katarina says, pointing at Maria in disgust, before pulling her hair back behind her shoulder and giving her one of her best glares.
“I don’t care what your Katarina allows, but I will not sink so low as to befriend commoners,” she spits out. “You have no business even being in the same room as me.”
“Katarina!” Geord yells, more agitated than he’d normally allow. But he’s already treading on thin ice, and given how well known Maria’s affections are in this reality, Katarina’s friends will not react to this well at all. Alan is already staring daggers into her skull, and Sophia looks five steps away from a panic attack.
To his immense relief, she cuts off, looking at him with some surprise – no doubt startled that he was willing to raise his voice so much. But it’s Mary, stepping halfway in front of Maria and gathering her skirts as she stands guard, that takes control of the conversation.
“You cannot be Katarina,” she says. “Any version of her. I refuse to believe it.”
Katarina brings a hand to her mouth, though it does nothing to hide the smile on her face.
“And the Mary I know would certainly not stand here and defend the promiscuous slut that makes dew eyes at her fiance,” Katarina says, clearly taking joy in the way Mary’s face alters in wake of that declaration. Behind her, Maria has gone sheet white – and he doesn’t dare see how Alan has taken it, given that this Maria has clearly planted her interests elsewhere.
“Oh wow, this explains so much,” someone, Geord thinks Sirius, mutters under their breath. Geord ignores it.
“Perhaps you should spend less time assuming how things should be and pay attention to how things are,” Mary counters. “Maria is my friend, and if she did develop feelings for Prince Alan that were returned, I would give blessings to them both!”
Maria hiccups, though Geord suspects it started as a giggle, and risks looking over at Alan. He is standing stone still, his eyes focused on Katarina, and face unreadable.
Geord hopes his face looks similar, because that’s quite the exclamation for a woman engaged to royalty to make. This Mary truly is devoted to Alan, and he hopes the Prince appreciates it.
Katarina on the other hand, seems quite taken aback at the abruptness of Mary’s reply. “Blessings? Do you have no pride at all? You are the fiancee of a Prince!”
“I’d rather a broken engagement and the chance to be with the one I love over hurting two good people for a legal document,” Mary sniffs back. “Surely you interacted enough with Prince Gerald and Keith to know happiness is preferable to propriety.”
Katarina’s smile turns malicious.
“Really? Then why did they wish themselves away to my world the first chance they got! They might have been willing to play the roles in this little fantasy land, but I have too much pride to lower myself for your appeasement. I am not your equal, Marquess . And I am certainly not Miss Campbell’s.”
Mary smiles back. “Of course not. One such as you could never stand equal with one such as Maria.”
Katarina takes the barb with some irritation, thinning her lips as she nods.
“That sounds more like the Mary I know. Good to see that beneath the smiles the same woman still lives.”
Mary is now openly scowling, and Nicol has gone straight into protective brother mode, stepping directly in front of his sister to ensure she doesn’t get any closer.
This is a minefield Geord needs to disarm, and now. He’s dearly wishing Keith was here – he’s spent more time around the group as a whole and has a far better understanding of the dynamics than him, but Katarina almost seems to be openly prodding the wasps nest.
“Maybe it would be best if Miss Katarina was given some privacy?” he asks, and is relieved when Alan – who has been almost worryingly quiet throughout this – immediately steps forward, beckoning the guard over. To his immense relief, Katarina doesn’t even try to argue.
“I hardly need an escort,” Katarina huffs. “I’ll return to my room.”
“It’s not your room,” Mary says with some spite, and Katarina bristles.
“Well, unless someone intends to treat me as a prisoner, where else do you suggest I go?” she says, and smirks when nobody answers. She walks out of the room with the same gravitas she walked in, the guard walking a few steps behind.
“Hmph, good riddance,” Mary says, crossing her arms, only to panic when Maria drops to her knees, only just holding back the tears. “Maria!”
She drops to attend her, and Geord quickly finds himself on his knees too, making sure the girl isn’t hurt. A few seconds later, and the rest of the council have circled her too.
“I’m sorry,” Maria whimpers, trying to wipe wet eyes with her sleeve before Mary offers her a handkerchief. “I know it wasn’t her, but – the things she said. It was just-”
“I know,” Mary says sympathetically. “It was like a nightmare come to life. Any one of us would be right where you are in the same situation.”
Sophia is suddenly crouched down on Geord’s other side, pulling the girl into a hug, while Mary rubs soothing circles on her back, and Geord pulls himself back, utterly unnecessary to the event. The three are clearly far closer in this reality than he’d realised.
“Was that really Katarina?” Nicol asks, when Maria has become more stable. “She seemed so...different.”
“I did not spend much time with your Katarina, so I cannot offer an opinion on that,” Geord says. “But I’ll admit I was surprised to find yours was so friendly with everyone, especially Maria. Mine has never been pleased with her presence.”
“If that was the Katarina Prince Gerald was faced with, I imagine they must have been working quite furiously to get home,” Mary says, helping Maria to her feet. “We should do what we can on this side.”
Maria is nodding back before she’s even fully upright.
“Yes, we need to get our Katarina back, right now.”
Geord nods in compliance, looking towards a table filled with documents. “Indeed.”
But as they all force themselves back to studying, Alan continues to stare at the door, eyes dark in thought.
Game World – Isekai Characters
“How have I gone fifteen years of life without knowing of this masterpiece?” Sophia half sobs, clutching the book tight to her chest. Considering she’d only made it through the first few chapters, Katarina counts it as a success. Just watching the emotions flood onto Sophia’s face had been a delight.
‘ It almost makes getting thrown to another world worth it ,’ she thinks to herself. Thankfully, the library in this world had been as identical as every other building, and hunting down the fictional fantasy romance series had been a cinch.
“I can see why you were so interested in introducing Sophia to this series,” Maria says, flicking through her own copy. “The main character is very similar to Nicol.”
“Right?” Katarina exclaims. “When we were little, we used to dress him up in an old cape and top hat and act out the scenes. Sophia always had to play the lead though, because I’d pass out whenever he gave me his devilish smile.”
“I need to get Nicol a cape,” Sophia says, fire in her eyes. “Do you think Geord will let me borrow his? And I’m sure father has an old top hat somewhere.”
Maria actually blushes a little at Sophia’s words, and Katarina finds herself giggling at the two, before falling into her own thoughts.
As much as she loves watching Sophia’s reactions to reading the Devilish Count for the very first time (and she really, truly is), coming to the library gives her time to freak out and think about what she’s learned. Someone, at some point, had been transmigrated to this world.
Katarina suspects it was Marty. The whole ‘dying’ part on the page suggests it would have been him, and as the assistant to the Royal Magician, he would have had access and the status to create something like the rune, and have it immortalised in text.
The sigil will be the key. If she remembers her otome game correctly (and it’s one skill she’s perfected over the years), Marty was wearing that sigil as a medallion in his very first scene, and then showed up in one of his flag events if you run his secret route. Now how does that version go again?
She wishes she had some paper, but she can’t risk writing anything in front of Sophia and Maria, so she’ll have to do it in her head.
So in the final route, the MC is finally given the option to stop the murder – but only if they knock down every other interest’s flags in the first meeting. If she picks the right conversation options, she learns he knows about every loop, because he has dreams about future versions of himself, and knows he dies today. If you foil the murder, Marty gets accused of illegal magic. You can either help him hide, or give him up and get the bad ending. If you help him…
Wait...If you help him, he gives her the medallion, which is a family heirloom, as a thank you. That night, because she interferes, she has a dream in which she speaks to a future version of herself who helps her figure out the culprit and stop the loops.
The future version of the MC said she could speak to her because she saved Marty, but what if the MC had it wrong? What if it was the medallion? If ‘Marty’ could see the future, maybe that could explain how he managed to build the rune?
No, wait, Katarina is getting ahead of herself. She still doesn’t even know that Marty is responsible. But how does Katarina explain how she knows that? How does she even prove it?
Her face suddenly lights up. Sophia! Sophia is great at history. She’ll bet anything that Sophia might know.
“Hey, Sophia,” she says. “Do you think that the rune could have been made by a Royal Magician?”
The girl looks up from her book, looking thoughtful.
“Well, it’s possible,” she admits. “Sigils were very popular when that position was still around, but the palace keeps a record of them, and didn’t find a match.”
Katarina slumps. “Oh, right.”
“We could still double check?” Maria says. “There are reference books in the history section detailing all the magical vassals of Sorcier for the last 500 years. Maybe we missed someone?”
“Really? Where in the library?” Katarina asks, and Sophia taps her lip.
“Um, in the section regarding the Royal family, I think,” she says. “It’s maybe 3 sections over?”
“The book should list the name, title, employment dates, retirement, and even date and cause of death if they died on the job,” Maria says. “The Royal Family kept a thorough record of all it’s employees. And according to our history professor, deaths were common with magicians back then. Experiments weren’t as safe or regulated as they are now.”
She turns to Sophia. “Do you mind if I take Katarina? If it takes more than a few minutes, we can bring the book back here.”
Sophia’s smile falters, but when she looks down at the book in her hands, quickly recovers.
“Sure, I’ll be okay. I think I could get lost in a few more chapters of The Devilish Count quite easily.”
Katarina grins. “Told you you’d love it.”
By the time she’s stepped up and moved from the table, Sophia is engrossed again, and she’s led by Maria deeper into the library – before Katarina suddenly realises this means she’s alone with Maria . That’s not an issue back home, but this is the game world!
Maria immediately clams up when Katarina flinches, and she finds herself panicking.
“No, no, no! Please, just call me Katarina,” she says. “I know we don’t know each other well, but it just sounds too weird to see sweet Maria calling me that.”
Maria’s cheeks redden slightly, and she gives a soft laugh.
“Okay, Katarina,” she says, sounding very hesitant – but her eyes brighten when Katarina grins back. “To be honest, I offered to come with you to the library because I was hoping to talk to you.”
“Really?” Katarina asks, and Maria nods.
“We’re friends in your world, right? My relationship with Miss Katarina is...not the best. I was hoping you might be able to tell me why? Is there something my other self did to win you over?”
Katarina nearly keels over. Oh, Maria really is too pure for this world, to think she can still win over the villainess. And to refer to it as ‘not the best’ rather than the blatant bullying it is? Such a sweetheart!
“I’m not sure there’s anything I can offer,” Katarina eventually says. “I admit I was a little intimidated by Maria to start with, but the more time I spent with her, the easier it became to be friends.”
“Intimidated?” Maria says in shock. “Why would you have been intimidated?”
Katarina blushes red. Ah, how does she explain that?
“Oh well, you know, you were so pretty, and you just seemed to be an unstoppable genius at first,” she rambles. “But when I got to know you, I learned how much you work to achieve that. It wasn’t just talent, but hard work, and that’s amazing. I’m so happy we became such good friends.”
Maria doesn’t answer, and when Katarina looks over, the girl looks stunned, her cheeks slightly flushed.
“I...you really mean that?” she says, and Katarina grins.
“Of course I do! I mean, I’ve known Mary and Sophia and Nicol and Gerald and Alan since we were children, but Maria fits in with all of us so easily! You’re really incredible Maria. And don’t let my other self tell you otherwise.”
She finishes her rant with a finger pointing straight at Maria and a grin, only faltering when she realises Maria looks about ready to cry.
“Um, sorry, I-”
Maria starts shaking her head.
“No- it’s...don’t worry about it. I’m just...I guess I’m just really happy to hear that at least one version of me got to have that.”
That dims Katarina right down. Because unless Maria goes for the friendship ending, she won’t get that here. In the bad endings she gets left alone, and in the good endings, she doesn’t have female friends and the other capture targets back away. Unless she goes for the harem ending…
“Oh, this is the section we need-”
They walk into the section, passing a few researchers and students digging through books, and Maria quickly locates the necessary shelf, and the several heavy books with the records.
“If we assume the rune was made not that long before the grimoire it was copied from, the possible royal magicians who could have made it will be listed...here!”
She pulls out a large volume, and quickly hands it over to Katarina. It’s a little heavier than she expected, but she’s not willing to wait to get to a table. Instead, she balances it against a shelf, and starts flicking through.
Granted, she doesn’t remember exactly when Time Tales All happened, but she’s pretty sure the promo material for Fortune Lover said it was set around 200 years after, so that’s a good start.
“It’s strange though,” Maria says, watching her flick through the book. “I wonder why the worlds are so different. Did something happen during childhood? Or maybe even earlier. I think the changes to Prince Gerald and Keith are because of you, but there must be an unknown factor, for Miss Claes to be so different.”
There is, but Katarina can’t really explain exactly what , so she just hums non-committally, wondering if she can change the subject.
Then an idea gives her pause. Wait. Maybe she can finally have real ‘girl talk’ with this Maria?
“So, Maria, is there anyone you like?” She asks, while she flits through the book - no familiar names so far. Maria immediately goes red.
“L-like? I mean, um...that is-”
Katarina giggles. “From what happened in my world, I know Prince Geord and Keith both like you, but maybe you like Alan or Nicol?”
Maria just goes even redder, and Katarina’s smile deepens.
“Or do you like all of them? And can’t choose?”
“It’s not like that!” Maria says, looking utterly horrified. “I mean...I do like all of them, but absolutely nothing’s happened! I wouldn’t do that.”
Katarina looks up from the book long enough to give her a sympathetic smile.
“Don’t worry! I know love can be complicated. And I can’t really blame you for liking all of them at least a little bit – they’re all so handsome and charming after all.”
Apparently realising that Katarina is more teasing than judging, Maria relaxes slightly.
“They all do have their good and bad points,” she admits. “Part of me feels sorry for Miss Claes, since Prince Geord doesn’t treat her like he should a fiancee, especially when it was his idea. I’m pretty sure it’s why Miss Claes dislikes me so much.”
“Maybe, but that’s still no reason to be a bully,” Katarina says. “How could Geord and Keith not come to your rescue if you were in trouble. It just makes her look worse.”
Maria frowns slightly.
“You really don’t mind?” she asks. “Someone catching your fiance’s eye?”
“Of course not,” Katarina explains. “Prince Gerald only proposed to me because he felt guilty. I’m fully expecting him to break that engagement once he falls for you or someone else and no longer needs a shield to protect him from other women. We’re just friends, and I want him to be happy.”
Maria stares at Katarina for a few moments, looking torn, before seemingly coming to a decision.
“You do realise he came here because he wished you had feelings for him, don’t you?” Maria asks, and Katarina smiles.
“Yeah, he told me, and did kind of confuse me for a bit,” she explains. “But then he said Keith made a joke wish, so Prince Gerald probably did the same.”
Maria gives a sheepish laugh. “You don’t think for a moment that it might have been genuine?”
“No, no, that’s not possible,” Katarina insists, then hesitates. A hesitation Maria quickly latches onto.
“But?” she presses.
“Well...I guess he could have wished it honestly, if he didn’t have anyone he liked yet,” Katarina says. “I’ve always been very honest about how I’m happy to break the engagement, so maybe I’ve not been the best shield lately. If I had feelings for him, then I’d stop telling people that.”
She huffs in annoyance. “Honestly, you’d think a Prince as smart as him wouldn’t be so foolish. What would happen if I did develop feelings for him before he falls in love with his future wife? I wouldn’t let him break the engagement and he’d be trapped in a marriage with someone he doesn’t love! He deserves to be with the person he truly loves, and I’m sure this whole thing has just proven that to him.”
Maria’s eyes widened, and she lifts a hand to her mouth, trying to hide her smile.
“Oh, I see now. That must be frustrating.”
Katarina looks up in confusion. “Huh, frustrating?”
“Oh, just something Prince Gerald and Keith said suddenly having a lot more context,” Maria replies, waving it off. “But I guess I can be honest with you about my feelings then.”
Katarina grins. Yes! Romantic girl talk for the win!
Maria’s face goes slightly red. “Don’t get me wrong, I can understand why Miss Claes is upset, and I don’t mean to cause trouble, but Prince Geord comes to me, not the other way around. And he can really be quite charming – it’s hard not to fall for him.”
Katarina nods in agreement, though she’s more distracted by the list in front of her. “Right, I definitely don’t blame you. After he chased off those bullies and ate all the muffins that fell on the ground, anyone would fall for him.”
Maria’s eyes widened. “Oh, he did that in your world too?”
“Oh well, technically I did,” Katarina laughs. “But well, he would have if he’d been there earlier, I’m sure. What about Keith? He saved you with one of his dirt dolls right? Made you see the gentleman behind the playboy?”
Maria slowly nods. “He told you about that? Your Keith didn’t really seem the playboy type.”
Still focused on the book, Katarina doesn’t even hear the question.
“Don’t let Katarina get in your way with him, okay?” she says. “If you do fall for him, I promise he’ll absolutely never betray you. He’s more loyal than he thinks – my brother has that in common with him.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Maria says. “And it would be better to get closer to Keith, since Prince Geord is engaged. Prince Alan is the same, and what’s worse is Mary is a good person. I don’t want to hurt her, but Prince Alan keeps hunting me down.”
“After you got better scores than him, right?” she says. Maria blinks.
“Yes. We’re better, but he’s still a little sore on that. Same with you?”
“Oh no, we solved that problem years ago. Our Prince Alan knows he doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone any more. Just hang in there, you’ll get to him, and if you do truly fall in love, Mary will give you her blessing,” Katarina cheers. “Oh, but since she’s also my friend, I’m rooting for Mary, so I can’t approve of you as a couple.”
“So what about Nicol?” Katarina continues. “That devilish smile of his is quite-”
She stills, her finger paused midway down a page as a name is printed clear as day.
There he is.
“Maria, I might have found something!” she squeals, pulling the girl closer to read the entry.
Martin (Marty, her brain corrects) Cress, Royal Magician, Assistant. No sigil though, of course it couldn’t be that easy. Date of Employ, date of retir-
Her face falls.
There’s no date of retirement – because he’s listed as deceased. About a year after starting employment.
Which is right on track for the Time Tales All plot line.
The book drops from her hands, and she covers her mouth to keep from screaming.
‘ He died?’ she wails internally. ‘ Even though he knew it was coming and went to all that effort to avoid it? Are avoiding doom endings impossible?’
“Katarina!” Maria says, reaching over and hesitating at the last second. “Are you okay?”
The two of them look up in shock, to see both Gerald and Keith walking towards them, looking concerned. Nicol and Sophia are behind them, with Sophia clutching The Devilish Count tightly in her arms.
“We wanted to see how you were doing,” Keith says, quickly making it to Katarina’s side and grabbing her shoulders, looking panicked when he sees red eyes. “What’s wrong?”
Katarina splutters. “I-um, I just got upset because I thought I found a lead, but it looks like I didn’t.”
Maria is already leaning down, picking up the book, and pointing to Martin Cress’s name as Gerald leans in.
“Hm...Martin Cress?” he says. “I don’t know the name, but he would have been in service around the time that rune was created.”
Katarina frowns. “But he died, and look, there’s no sigil.”
Gerald frowns, and looks at the book, flicking through several other pages before coming back to it.
“Actually...that’s more suspicious than you might think,” Gerald offers. “After a year of service, even an assistant would have had one. There’s very few vassals in this book who don’t have one detailed. The absence is odd.”
“But, he’s still listed as deceased,” Katarina said.
“Ah, but look underneath – under cause of death, it’s been left empty,” Gerald explains. “Which means while he was declared dead, they never found a body.”
Katarina stops sniffling, hope starting to brim.
“You think this Martin Cress created this array?” Keith asks. “And used it to jump to another world?”
“And his death would no doubt have been written off as a magical experiment gone wrong and swept under the rug,” Gerald sums up. “It did happen around the correct dates. Granted, it’s all conjecture, but I’ll request the more detailed records of the incident. I’m certain the palace archives will still have copies. It won’t hurt to check.”
He’s grinning, and looking at the entry as if it holds every answer he seeks, and offers his arm to Katarina.
“Since we’ve found this, and you’ve introduced Sophia to her new ‘favourite,’ shall we return to the lab?” he asks. “I would rather not have you out of sight. It’s been too long as is.”
“It’s not even been an hour,” Katarina tells him, but accepts the arm, with Keith shadowing her other side. “I don’t remember you being this clingy.”
“Well I wasn’t aware of how lucky I was before,” Gerald replies, escorting Katarina past the other members, and allowing Maria to reach the Ascart siblings as they walk back towards the exit.
“That was a good find, good work” Sophia says. Nicol nods in agreement, as the three of them trail after their three guests.
“I’m impressed she knew to look here,” Nicol says. “Researchers had gone through the books, but nobody thought to look for magicians with no sigil. How long did it take you to go through the book to find that name?”
He frowns when, rather than looking pleased, Maria looks torn.
“Actually, not that long,” she says. “Katarina nearly skipped half the book before she started reading.”
Nicol frowns. “Really?”
Maria nods. “I know we sort of knew when the rune was created, but she went looking away midway through our timeline guess, and she reacted really badly to that one name – it was like she knew what to look for but didn’t expect him to be listed as deceased. Plus, we were looking for a sigil she’d seen before, but Martin Cress doesn’t have one.”
“That is a little odd,” Sophia says. “Why would she have thought that was a lead without the sigil?”
Maria nods. “Also, some of the things she said earlier...”
She bites her lip, clearly wrestling with something, and with a glance over at his sister (who rolls her eyes at his hesitance), Nicol places a hand on her shoulder.
She jolts to life, forcing on a smile and waving her hands in the air.
“Oh, nothing, it’s nothing,” she says. Nicol just keeps frowning.
“She wasn’t cruel to you, was she?”
“Oh no! Nothing like that!” Maria insists. “She couldn’t have been kinder.”
She pulls away from his hand and smiles. “Don’t worry, I’m probably just reading too much into it.”
Isekai World – Game Characters
When she reaches the door to her room, Katarina is quick to dismiss her guard and storm in. She dearly needs some time alone to calm down and process current events. What she really wants is tea, and perhaps some refreshments. If only-
“Good day, Miss.”
Katarina pauses, looking at the maid standing at attention to the side of the room. “Anne?”
The maid nods, a placid expression on his face. “I have been informed of the incident, but regardless of the world, I will continue to serve Miss Katarina.”
Katarina will never admit it, but something inside her lightens at Anne’s reaction. It’s exactly the same as her own Anne – and given how much people seem happier in this world, she half expected the maid to not be here at all.
“Good,” she says instead. “I do not have the time to get used to a different maid. Your attendance is accepted.”
Anne neither flinches or smiles, merely bows the way an experienced maid would.
“Shall I prepare the Miss, tea and snacks?” she asks. “I imagine it has been a difficult morning.”
Katarina nods, and waves her away. “That would be excellent. Please do.”
The maid quickly leaves, and relieved that her relationship with the maid seems fairly similar in this world, looks for any other differences.
On the surface, the room looks identical to her own. It’s only when you get to the details that it becomes off. Her bookshelf has study books and etiquette volumes, with the top shelf dedicated to her jewellery boxes, finding the vanity lacking. Here, it’s packed to the brim, and while she can see the same study books, they’re squeezed next to books on agriculture, books on nearby countries, a book on reptiles (what?) and a significant number of romance books – the kind Katarina wouldn’t be caught dead reading in public, and a few sheets of piano music. On the top shelf, there’s odd trinkets too, none of which she recognises. A pair of beautifully elaborate scissors, a cheap looking cloth – the kind she’s seen Maria wrap her ridiculous sweets in before, a surprisingly realistic toy snake (again, why?), and a pot of dirt, a tiny stem of green just starting to poke out. There’s also a training sword leaning against the shelf, and Katarina rolls her eyes. That had better have been left here by other-Keith or Prince Gerald – surely her alternate cannot be so savage as to study a blade on top of all her other faults?
When she checks the wardrobe and dresser, her lips curl up when she takes in the meagre takings. Granted, it’s still well within the expectations of a Duke’s daughter, but there’s less than half what resides in her own. Most of what’s missing is her more intricate and expensive gowns. A quick glance at the vanity shows the jewellery collection is in even worse shape. There’s next to nothing, and the few rings, necklaces and bracelets she finds are unfamiliar to her. She can’t even see the handful of pieces Prince Geord gifted her over the years – or for that matter, anything of an equal quality, which is odd considering a version that is in love with her would surely gift even more expensive items.
She wonders if her other self has a secret box or safe to hide her truly special pieces, and that finds her digging under the bed, which is a lot cleaner than her own, and grins when she comes across a locked box. She drags it out, placing it on her lap and looking at the quality of the very heavy duty padlock on the front. Jackpot.
But before she can go looking for the key, she hears Anne knock on the door, and quickly shoves it back under the bed before getting to her feet.
Anne opens the door, carrying a tray. However, when she enters, she’s not alone – a guest follows, carrying a book in her arms, and Katarina knows that white hair and red eyes anywhere.
“What are you doing here, you freak?” Katarina hisses, standing up straight and glaring daggers. Anne immediately flinches, which is enraging if not unexpected, but frustratingly, unlike the pathetic little wallflower she’s seen hiding behind her handsome brother, this Sophia matches her glare with a political smile that could give her father pause.
“I’m here to talk to you,” Sophia says. “You’re clearly upset, and I know if it was the real Katarina, I’d hope my other self would make her welcome.”
“Yes, yes, I’ve heard all about your great and glorious Saint Katarina,” Katarina says with a hiss. Sophie doesn’t even flinch.
“She’s not a saint. Katarina is just a person, and that’s why we love her,” she says. “Unlike most of high society, she figured out from a young age that being yourself is more important than being proper. Society was drowning all of us, and she reached out and gave us a lifeline.”
Katarina laughs. “You mean you were all weak. The life of a noble is not supposed to be easy.”
Sophia shakes her head. “That doesn’t mean you can’t be happy. And it’s pretty clear you aren’t.”
“ Excuse me ? How dare you-”
“Alan saw it,” Sophia explains, cutting her off. “During your outburst in the lab, he saw everything...”
The council, shaking off the arrival of such a different Katarina, quickly try to get back to work. However, when they reach the table, it’s clear Alan hasn’t followed them. Instead, he’s staring at the door, his eyebrows furrowed.
“What is it, Alan?”
Slowly, the other Prince turns to face them.
“Didn’t you see it?”
“See what? Our literal worst nightmare dressed up in a Katarina suit?” Mary asks, and then flushes red and looks away when the group turns to stare at her.
Apparently frustrated that his friends have missed something, Alan huffs slightly.
“Angry, agitated, looking for a fight and desperate for any reason to put herself above everyone else,” he says.
“I’m not sure anyone understands the point you’re making,” Sirius says congenially. Alan sighs.
“She reminds me of me ,” he says. “Before I met Katarina.”
Mary frowns, glancing between him and the door, and Alan shrugs.
“You never saw me at my worst,” he explains. “I tried to hide it from you, but I’m sure this version of my brother can tell you, I was a mess of issues when I was a kid.”
“Was is a bit misleading,” Geord replies. “Mine still very much is.”
Alan nods, clearly not surprised.
“It never felt like my efforts were good enough. Even when I succeeded, Gerald was always better. I took it out on everyone around me, frustrated that I couldn’t get the acceptance I wanted. There was always something in the way.”
He turns back to the door.
“That Katarina, I saw it in her eyes. She’s angry, and upset, and nursing a serious inferiority complex. Our Katarina is a trigger point, clearly, but from what I gleaned from that outburst, she’s been raised far more traditionally. Appearance and etiquette are everything, but all she’s got to show for it is an engagement to a man who clearly wants nothing to do with her-”
He side-eyes Geord for a moment, and Geord looks away. “And like most nobility, allies that like what she can offer them, rather than liking her as a person. What else is she going to do but lash out? What do you do when your best isn’t good enough and it feels like one wrong move will cost you everything?”
“She’s hardly blameless in all of this!” Geord desperately tries to defend. “She doesn’t have to be so cruel, or so egotistical. Do you know what she put her brother through growing up?”
“Given that Keith apparently didn’t want to go home, I suspect their parents all but supported whatever she did,” Alan counters, and Geord falls silent. “Look, I’m not saying that she’s not at fault, but very few people at this table can say that they would have been the same person they are now without Katarina’s influence. That girl never had a Katarina to reach out to her.”
Geord is now openly frowning.
“I don’t understand. Is your Katarina truly all that different?”
“Yes,” Alan simply replies. “And maybe now it’s our turn to reach out.”
“She didn’t seem all that interested in our help,” Mary says, and Alan smiles.
“Neither was I, once upon a time.”
They all pause, mulling over the options. Sophia however, is the first to stand.
“What did you have in mind?”
“I don’t understand,” Katarina says, genuinely confused and not liking the feeling. “Is that story meant to be uplifting?”
“Alan reminded us that when we needed someone, Katarina was there,” she says. “You never had that. So maybe now we can return that favour. Perhaps give you some hope, because if you continue as you are, you might end up miserable.”
She walks into the room and places the book on the table, next to the tea set. “This is ‘Sophia and the Emerald Princess.’ It’s the first book Katarina and I bonded over. You don’t have to read it, but I thought you might like something to do while you wait for a way home.”
“I am not her,” Katarina says with a growl. “Her hobbies are not mine. I’d never read lowbrow trash like this.”
Sophia – unlike her counterpart – doesn’t shy away. Merely shrugs the words away like a duck with water.
“At your core, you’re the same person. You love your family, you’re passionate about the things you care about, and your talents lie in things other than magic. I have to believe that deep down, the things we love about Katarina are in you too. Who's to say you don’t enjoy the same things, if you never consider trying them?”
“I’d be a laughing stock,” Katarina quickly counters. “Women of my standing don’t indulge in such fantasy.”
“Nobody ever needs to know,” Sophia says. “Everyone in this world already knows Katarina enjoys reading them, and you’ll never see anyone here again when you go home. There is nothing you can do here that will affect your reputation.”
Katarina’s scowl fades as the ramifications of Sophia’s words sink in, settling into something more dumstruct. Sophia then smiles, and curtsies as a farewell.
“Read it, don’t read it. But we’re here if you ever want to talk, one of us will always be willing to listen. Prince Geord and Keith saw this as a place to live out a fantasy, perhaps you can temporarily do the same.”
Katarina scoffs as Sophia leaves, walking over to the table and shoving the book to the far side before taking a seat. Anne is instantly next to her, pouring a cup from the pot, and Katarina glances at the sweets provided. All of them are her favourites, if provided in a much higher volume than she’d ever allow someone to see her eat in one sitting.
Clearly, other Katarina had never cared about that.
“Anne, you know your Mistress well, yes?”
The maid doesn’t look up from her job.
“As well as a maid can know their Mistress,” is Anne’s reply, and Katarina picks up the cup.
“Good. Tell me everything you know about her.”
She is going to figure out why this other Katarina is so different. Because they are not the same.
They can’t be.
Conversations and questions arise.
Looks like this is going to start being updated fortnightly from now on...
Ending sooner than I planned, but figure it's still solid enough to be a chapter.
Isekai World – Game Characters
Given that he hasn’t actively tried to kill anyone, Keith is escorted from his room to the lab with only one guard, and a warning to fix whatever he had earlier damaged as quickly as possible. He happily agrees with the king's demands, knowing full well that even if his willingness to help was genuine, it would take time. As he walks down the hall, he takes in as much as possible, looking for any exits or windows he’s not used to, hoping to find any possible escape that could help him.
The doors to the lab are opened for him, and when he walks in, he’s surprised to find the room is fairly quiet, with only the student council wrapped around a table, and a few researchers kneeling around the rune.
To his relief, Katarina doesn’t appear to be in the room. However, Geord is, and seems utterly engrossed in a discussion he’s having with Alan. His eyes are almost unnaturally wide.
“-owing snakes at your brother on a regular basis?”
“Yup. They keep getting more and more realistic too. I’m just waiting for the day she throws a live one at him.”
“And nobody stops her?”
“Why would we? It’s hilarious .”
“Does your brother think that?”
“Are you kidding? He loves it. It’s the one thing Katarina only does to him. It’s their ‘special thing.’”
“I...did someone drop him when he was-”
He cuts off when he sees Keith walking towards him, standing up and drawing the table’s attention.
“Keith,” he greets. “Are you okay? I know you took quite the hit.”
Keith frowns, but nods appropriately. “I’m fine. I see your madness appears to have calmed down as well.”
It’s a genuine surprise when he sees the Prince flinch. Normally he’d never dare let someone see him so raw. “Yes. It appears I fell afoul of some dark magic. I am free of it now, but I do apologise for my actions.”
Perhaps this world isn’t as rosy as he first thought.
Keith eyebrows raise, looking over at the other members, watching him with some suspicion. Sirius is the first to stand, his usual placid smile pasted on his face.
“We’ve been informed that when the rune activated this morning, you sabotaged it,” he says. “I don’t suppose you can tell us what you did?”
Keith quickly offers his most disarming smile with a dose of puppy dogs eyes.
“I’m afraid I panicked somewhat at the time, so I’m not entirely sure what I erased,” he says, with the same silky honesty he offers ladies on his hook. “But I’m sure with some research, I can figure it out.”
The reaction is very telling. The girl’s all double take, gawking in his direction, while Nicol’s eyes widen further than he’s ever seen them – granted, that’s not a significant amount, but still strange to see. Alan and Sirius both glance between each other – and Geord…
Well, he’s looking over at Keith with an expression that doesn’t bode well for him. But it’s hardly the first time, and Geord will keep his thoughts to himself until he can use them to his best advantage.
“Well, if I had any doubts before, they’re gone now,” Mary says, shaking her head and looking back at the table. “You really are nothing like our Keith.”
“Really?” Keith asks, walking up to the table and taking a seat. Ideally, he’d prefer next to Maria, but she’s currently penned in by Mary and Alan, so instead he goes to Sirius, who is the only one looking at him with the same expression as his own. Given that the president hasn’t joined them for the handful of group meetings, their relationship is probably fairly similar – distant and polite, and nothing more.
The second he’s seated, copies of the rune and the tome’s description is shoved under his nose by Geord, who is still watching him with a smile and sharp eyes. Keith matches it with a grin of equal validity.
“So, dark magic?”
“Dark magic,” Geord confirms. Keith shakes his head.
“What a day...so, have you learned anything new?”
“Well, Sophia seems to be having some luck figuring out the strange code,” Sirius tells him.
“That’s being generous,” Sophia is quick to add. “I think I’m understanding some of it, but just enough not to get the context.”
“You still don’t remember how you know it?” Nicol asks, and she shakes her head.
“No...but I think this word means ‘transmigration?’ And there’s something about escaping...but if this rune is about transporting between worlds, that’s hardly something new. I could just be imagining that I understand it.”
“Still, you should keep at it Sophia,” Maria says. “We believe in you.”
Sophia smiles back, only for it to falter when she sees Alan staring at the sigil with a frown.
“Alan, what is it?”
The Prince sighs, leaning back and crossing his arms.
“I don’t know,” he admits. “There’s something about this sigil. The more I look at it, the more I’m positive I’ve seen it before, but I don’t know where. I thought I must have seen it at the castle or in the records, but there’s no trace of it. Geord, look familiar to you?”
Geord glances over – and immediately shakes his head.
“No,” he answers honestly. “If you do recognise it, it’s not from somewhere I would have seen it.”
Alan huffs and pushes the paper aside. “So much for that then”
“Maybe you’ve just been staring at the pages too long?” Sirius says, and Alan shrugs.
“ Tree climbing ?”
“As in, climbing up actual trees? Like a squirrel?”
“Miss Katarina refers to it like a monkey, but yes.”
“And mother...just allows that?”
“Given that words and grounding don’t seem to have much of an effect, she doesn’t have much choice,” Anne says, her lips twitching upwards the tiniest increment. Katarina can only shake her head, leaning back in disbelief.
It’s utterly ridiculous. No manners, only the bare minimum of etiquette, blatant disregard for acceptable hobbies, instead choosing to dig around in the dirt and clamber in the trees like an animal. Forcing royalty to clamber up there with her?
And farming? Flowers Katarina could just about understand, but growing vegetables? While wearing overalls of the servant class? On school grounds no less?
“It’s ludicrous,” Katarina says, plucking up a delicate looking cake and nibbling it slightly. She’s already had four, but Anne’s stories have suggested it’s nowhere close to her others limit. “It wouldn’t have even been acceptable as a child, but to continue to do it after entering high society? The scandal would have sent any other child to a nunnery.”
Anne doesn’t even argue it, merely dipping her head slightly. “Miss Katarina’s antics are quite widely known, but with Prince Gerald, Prince Alan and the Ascart siblings supporting her, there are few who would risk the social backlash of attacking her for it. It also helps that none of her actions do in fact damage the family on an influential level.”
“Prince Geord’s...I mean, Prince Gerald’s standing has to have taken some hits!” Katarina argues.
“Admittedly yes, but given that Katarina has made it very clear that she is not enthused at the idea of becoming a Princess, I believe Prince Gerald is happy to renounce any claim to the throne if it means he can keep her, so doesn’t see it as a bad thing.”
And doesn’t that just upend every single thing Katarina has ever learned about high society. The idea that Prince Geord – or any version of him – wouldn’t desire the most powerful position that life can afford him doesn’t equate. He should have been biting and fighting for the position amongst his brothers, especially considering the ‘perfect’ Prince has always been a strong favourite for the title.
Still, if Geord doesn’t actually want the title, no wonder he doesn’t care about the shame Katarina has to shoulder whenever he goes gallivanting off with that accursed Campbell. All of her attempts to be worthy of the title of Princess, or even Queen, would have meant nothing to him.
She brushes off the irritation that comes from that thought, and instead stares over at Anne, who barely even reacts at her unintentional glare. It’s one of the things she loves about her maid.
“Yes?” Anna asks, after Katarina stays quiet a little too long.
“Just contemplating a few things,” she says. “I must say, considering how much else has changed, that you’re still by my side.”
Anne cocks her head slightly. “Where else would I be, Miss Katarina?”
“You didn’t marry,” Katarina says, watching as the mirth bleeds out of the maids face. “It was clear you didn’t want to in my world, so I refused to allow father to take you away. Your Katarina didn’t try to help you find true love?”
Anne blinks. “You refused?”
Katarina’s eyes narrowed.
“You were mine,” she says. “One of the few people I can trust wholeheartedly. To be frank, I probably would have refused to let you go even if you wanted to.”
That actually gets an honest smile from the maid.
“I’m sure the Anne of your world is happy to have a mistress who guards them so fiercely,” she says. “Miss Katarina protested to my father’s face, refusing to let me go unless it was of my own will. Her parents happily supported her decision, and I’ve remained in her employ since.”
She then breaks eye contact to refill Katarina’s cup, and Katarina allows it. It is something of a relief to find at least one thing she and her other self have in common – Anne has been such an important part of her life for so long, it’s good to know that even this warped version of Katarina understands her value too.
“So, is there anything else I need to know?” Katarina asks, lifting up the cup to sip. “Exactly how did she manage to capture Prince Gerald’s attention? Never mind keeping it.”
Anne chuckles. “I believe he was quite fascinated when he came to propose, and she was digging in the ground, dressed in a pair of overalls. That certainly caught his attention.”
Katarina scoffs. “Something tells me my window for that has passed. Anything else that seems to work?”
She takes a sip while Anne looks thoughtful.
“In my personal experience? Katarina has had great success by throwing toy snakes at him.”
Katarina spits out her tea.
“...I’m sorry...she WHAT?”
After almost an hour of incomprehensible words falling from her maid’s mouth, Katarina dismisses her and falls back on the bed, covering her face with her hands.
If she’d had any doubts before, they’re gone now. This Katarina and her absolutely cannot be the same person. The Katarina of this world runs on a completely different plane of reality – as if incapable of understanding high society and the expectations placed upon her as the daughter of a Duke. And even more ironically, unable to understand that the reason she can get away with even half of what she does is due to having – from how Anne explains it – the most influential heirs of her generation literally wrapped around her finger. If Prince Gerald disapproved of her choices, Katarina would be facing a far more dangerous future.
...Which in turn, says a lot about how much Prince Geord has cared for the work Katarina has done to maintain her own reputation and status over the years. But that is still a line of thought Katarina is not prepared to go down just yet.
She sighs, and forces herself back up, and then under the bed, digging out the box.
“Now, let's check out your secrets, Saint Katarina,” she says. What would she choose to keep locked away? Necklaces? Rings? Gemstones? Perhaps even a royal heirloom? After all this, she might even be able to steal one away back home – it’s not as if her other self seems to appreciate her good fortune.
The lock is fairly solid, but after a few minutes, she digs the key out from a desk drawer, and grins as she unlocks the box, excited for the first time since she fell through that accursed rune.
But when she lifts open the lid, it is not precious jewellery or priceless stones that greet her, but a very worn book – with ‘Katarina’s Secrets’ crudely scribbled on the front in a childish scrawl.
She scoffs, not even trying to hide the disappointment. Really? All this to hide a diary? Typical, the one acceptable hobby of a noble daughter the woman chooses to follow is the one she goes out of the way to hide. Did her mother drop her on her head as a child?
And where are all the fancy jewels then? Was she wearing them when she jumped through? Or is there another hiding place?
Still...Saint Katarina’s precious diary. What secrets might lurk in here? It must be juicy, if she went to such lengths to hide it. With a grin – she settles onto the bed, and opens to the book to the first page…
...Only for the smile to fall, while she frantically flicks through the pages, looking for something, anything, that she can read.
But she can’t. The entire thing is written in a language she doesn’t know. Some kind of code, too complex to be Katarina’s own invention, but unlike any tongue spoken or taught by Sorcier tutors. About the only thing she can decipher is names – which are worthless without context – and dates, but that makes things even stranger – because the diary has clearly been in use since it’s owner was around 8 years old. Katarina hadn’t even begun learning a second language until she was ten, so when had her other self found the opportunity?
Regardless, Katarina won’t find anything useful here. She tosses the book back in the box and slams the lock shut with more force than necessary. The worst part of it all is knowing that Saint Katarina probably has some gloriously juicy secrets in there – possibly the secret to having amassed so much power and devotion, given the lengths she’s gone to keep it secret – and not being able to touch them at all. It’s enough to make a woman scream.
With that outlet gone, she glances round the room again, looking for something to do. There’s no point in touching her homework, since someone else will get the credit. None of the dresses or jewellery superior to hers, so not worth trying on, and she’s already eaten far more sweets than she would normally allow herself.
Perhaps insisting on hiding away in this room was a mistake. She hadn’t expected her other self to be so lacking in acceptable distractions.
Almost against her will, her eyes glance back to the table, where the book Sophia had brought still lies. She scoffs, getting to her feet.
No. She is Lady Katarina Claes, and she will not lower herself to following the suggestions of Miss Ascart. There has to be something else she can entertain herself with.
Instead, she starts digging through the drawers, hoping to find another jewellery box or perhaps some correspondence. Her hands eventually come across a collection of letters, clearly from her parents, and she grabs one to read.
A few minutes later, she’s shoving the letters back in a drawer and making a beeline for the table, grabbing the book as she returns to the bed. Reading letters from her mother begging her ‘to not be an embarrassment’ actually cuts too close to home. Even a low brow romance novel would be better than that.
“Sophia and the Emerald Princess,” she says, lying back on the blankets, and opening to the first page. “What a pretentious title...”
Well, if nothing else, it’ll give her something to mock her own Miss Ascart should ‘Saint Katarina’ have encouraged her to approach when she gets home.
Game World – Isekai Characters
“I can’t believe you garden, Miss Katarina.”
“Oh please, Miss Mary, please just call me Katarina! It just doesn’t sound right being so formal. And it’s not really gardening – not like you do. I just have a farm.”
While Katarina and the group had been brought back to the lab after their discovery in the library, and Gerald goes to request access to anything regarding Martin Cress, it becomes clear within an hour that Katarina isn’t going to be of much help. Her attention seems to be diverted to the strangers wearing her friends faces far too much to concentrate, and eventually, even Keith has to admit defeat. Instead, the topic keeps returning to their world, now that they have the beacon of change to interrogate.
Mary chuckles. “I’ve never tried to grow vegetables, but if they’re anything like flowers, you shouldn’t put yourself down. It takes a lot of effort to grow anything.”
“What made you choose to start?” Maria asks, equally curious. “Vegetables aren’t a typical choice for Nobles to try their hand at.”
“Oh, it’s kind of a funny story. See, I was trying to figure out a way to increase my earth magic-”
Keith lets Katarina’s words wash over him, still just so relieved to have his sister here and happy to see him. And watching the looks on the faces of people as she talks about her farm is honestly the most entertainment he’s had since arriving here.
Katarina however, cuts off mid-way through a conversation and starts waving when a familiar blond figure enters the room and makes a beeline towards them.
“Ah, Prince Gerald! Did you get the records?”
She sounds so desperately eager, and Keith quickly shuffles closer, so that Gerald can’t monopolise her. The Prince doesn’t even give him a passing glance – his eyes are focused completely on Katarina as he tries to circle to her other side.
“Yes. My...well, the King has servants going through the records,” he says. “They’ll be couriered over as soon as they’re located. I’ve requested they notify me the second they arrive, even if it’s the middle of the night.”
Katarina’s eyes light up.
“Great! Can you wake me up too?” she asks. “I really want to see what they find.”
Gerald eyes light up.
“Ah, a valid excuse to see my fiancee after dark?” he says, gently lifting her hand and kissing it lightly. “However can I resist?”
Keith quickly leans over and plucks her hand back. “I do hope you’ll wake me too.”
“Oh don’t worry Keith, we can wake you too,” Katarina says, and winks over at Maria and Mary, who are watching the whole scenario with bemusement.
“Keith doesn’t like being left out of things.”
Both Gerald and Keith glance at each other, and then over at the rest of the group. They’re all wearing looks of dawning comprehension – except for Maria, who just looks amused.
“So, what is the current battle plan?” Gerald asks, glancing at the rest of the group. Katarina immediately claps her hands, drawing their attention.
“Well, since I was having trouble concentrating, so I thought I’d maybe go to my room, rather than keep bothering anyone from researching.”
“You weren’t bothering anyone!”
“It’s not an issue.”
“We can still keep you company if you want.”
Keith sighs as the group starts talking at once. While he loathes letting Katarina out of his sight, the last hour or so does prove that she has a point. Studying has never been her strong suit, and she really isn’t able to help much.
Besides, he suspects her reasons are a little more emotional than that.
Gerald looks as elated about the idea as he is, but Katarina is already getting to her feet.
“Thank you everyone, but I’ll really only be in the way. Maybe I can come help in the morning if you have a breakthrough?”
“Allow me to escort you, Katarina,” Gerald says, immediately getting up and offering his arm, and Keith quickly stands.
“We’re staying in the rooms of our other selves, but we can arrange a spare room if-”
“No, no, no, that’ll be fine,” Katarina insists. “I don’t want to be a bother.”
She does, however, accept Gerald’s arm, and Keith makes a point to shadow her other side as they escort her out. He can feel their eyes on his back, and suspects they’ll be having a pretty lively gossiping session while they’re gone.
“You really do seem to have made an impression, Katarina,” Gerald says jovially, as they walk down the hall. “Not that I’m surprised.”
“Well, everyone here is just so nice,” Katarina defends. “I’m actually rather surprised that they’ve been so friendly since their Katarina...isn’t.”
“For what it’s worth, I’ve spoken about my adorable big sister so much, your arrival wasn’t that much of a shock,” Keith says with a smile. Katarina giggles, and then frowns.
“I hope things are okay back home,” she says. “And that this world’s Katarina isn’t upsetting Maria and the others too much.”
Gerald immediately shifts closer, leaving barely any room between their linked arms and bodies.
“Think of her presence as an additional incentive to get us all home. After all, much like them, I’m far happier with our Katarina.”
On her other side, Keith smiles. “”Agreed. Mary is going to be having a stroke the second that Katarina opens her mouth. Wouldn’t be surprised if she somehow finds a way to get transported here herself.”
“Why?” she says. “I’m sure she’ll be upset that I’m displaced, but-”
“Don’t worry about it,” Gerald quickly says, smiling down at their intimate grasp. Keith however, notices – and his arm is immediately slung around her shoulders, forcing her to slip out of Gerald’s grasp.
“Wait, Katarina wasn’t cruel to you here, was she?” Katarina asks, eyes wide. “You know I’d never do anything to hurt you!”
“No, no, not...really,” Keith offers, with a strained smile. “It was clear she didn’t see me as a brother, so we didn’t spend much time together. She was more interested in spending time with Prince Gerald.”
Katarina nods, tapping her fist in her palm. “Ah, that makes sense,” she says, and Gerald frowns.
“Of course. This Katarina is head over heels for Prince Geord, right?”
“Right. She was very much the polar opposite of you, and not just in that aspect,” Keith agrees with a grin.
“Although I wish it was a little less opposite in that regard…” Gerald mumbles under his breath.
As soon as the door to her room closes, Katarina sags against it and sighs in relief. It had been very clear that both of them hadn’t wanted to leave her alone, but she’d somehow convinced them to keep looking in the library and that she wouldn’t leave the room. Should she need to leave? She’ll send a message for one of them to come escort her.
(Keith did not look convinced at her words, but had complied and dragged Gerald after him. When did her darling brother become so suspicious?)
“Good day, Miss.”
Katarina jumps back to her feet – only to see Anne standing there impassively.
“Oh, right, Anne. Other Anne,” Katarina says. “Sorry, I’m a little on edge.”
Anne nods. “I’ve been informed of the circumstances. Would the Miss like me to prepare tea and refreshments?”
Katarina lights up.
“Ah, you’re still the same old Anne!” she says. “Yes please! Thank you so much.”
Anne blinks one too many times, but nods and leaves, leaving Katarina to glance around the room.
“Huh, really doesn’t look much different from mine,” she muses. “Maybe a little less cluttered?”
The bookcase only has student textbooks, and a few books she vaguely remembers seeing her mother trying to convince her to read instead, and given from the lack of cracked spines were mostly on the shelf for appearances. Otherwise, it’s clear of any trinkets or items of importance – save a large jewellery box sitting pride of place. Katarina can’t help but sneak a peek, and nearly gets blinded when light hits the multitude of giant, shiny rocks.
“Wha-how does she even wear these without breaking her neck?” Katarina says to herself, picking up one of the necklaces, adorned with a blue gemstone as big as her palm. “Even mother wouldn’t be caught dead with something this large.”
She idly wonders if this is one of the necklaces Prince Geord gifted her. If so, good thing she shut that down early...although if she got exiled, they’d certainly give her a substantial cash injection.
Huffing slightly, she closes the box, and heads for her desk, looking through the drawers. Now that she’s alone, she can focus and try to dig up anything she can. Thankfully, it appears her other self keeps additional notebooks here as well, and she digs out one that is mostly empty, clearly having only just started being used for notes.
‘ I’m sure she won’t mind too much if I start using it ,’ she thinks. ‘ It is a bit of an emergency.’
Pen in hand, she starts jotting down everything she can remember about Time Tales All. The capture targets (the visiting Prince, the Captain of the Knights, the illegitimate Prince, and the son of the King’s advisor), the main character, the setting, and most importantly, the time loops and the secret target. Most of it is probably pointless, but she’s not stupid enough to leave anything out.
She starts chewing on the tip of the pen. Rationally, the trick to all of this must be the dreams Marty had regarding his future self. If Marty was in fact a transmigrator in this world, the person he saw from the future might not be the same person game-Marty saw, but a version of him that escaped. The biggest question is how Marty could have made the rune on both sides, and found a way to activate it. Given that Time Tales All created multiple timelines, it’s possible that he merely spoke to another version of himself, and the two of them conspired to create the rune – and thus Marty forced himself into another timeline without worrying about the loops.
“Ah, if he could pull that off, he wouldn’t have to worry about his death flag at all!” Katarina says to herself.
“Death flag, Miss?”
Katarina squeaks as Anne returns. “Shall I set this at the table? Or would you prefer it at the desk?”
“Oh, um, desk please,” Katarina says, nervously smiling as Anne complies. “So, um...how do you like serving your Katarina?”
Because Anne doesn’t exist in the game. Or if she did, she was a faceless maid in the background that Katarina didn’t remember. She’s actually a little surprised to find her here. Wouldn’t Katarina have let her go once her father came with the arranged marriage?
Anne hums, setting out a few cakes – far less than Katarina normally gets – and pouring the tea. “I do. Miss Katarina is a perfectly adequate Mistress. I have no complaints.”
“Really?” Katarina presses. “You’re really happy serving her?”
Anne sets the teapot down, but hesitates before stepping back.
“I am,” she says, with a tone that suggests she’s never stopped to think about it before. “There are far worse nobles one could serve, and far worse fates for women. Right now, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”
A knot Katarina hadn’t realised was in her stomach suddenly unties, and she grins.
“That’s so good to hear,” she says. “I hope mine feels the same way.”
Anne smiles, and excuses herself, leaving Katarina with tea, notes and her own thoughts.
‘ So Anne is here too, ’ she thinks to herself. ‘I wonder what will happen to her if Katarina is killed or exiled?’
Then she stills. If Katarina meets a bad fate, will Anne be forced to marry? Surely mother would take her back into her employ...but the Claes family isn’t exactly happy here…
‘ Okay, note to self, maybe see if we can’t fix that before we leave,’ she thinks. While there’s not much she can do to change Katarina’s actions considering she’s had to spend years preparing for her own fate, she can maybe help her mother and father connect properly, and make sure Anne is taken care of, no matter what happens.
She needs to get her hands on the reports that Gerald is digging up, to see if there was anything about a time loop incident back then. If Marty found a way to escape before the loop started, he might have stopped it from happening at all, since killing Marty is how the real villain – the King’s mistress and mother of the illegitimate Prince and only male heir – started the loops. Without that death, the game might not have started, but if there are records, then he must have jumped, or been stopped from jumping, once the game plot was over.
But until then, she has to get as much information onto paper as she can. It’ll be a sequel to her book back home on Fortune Lover! A survival guide to getting out of Time Tales All!
Then she hesitates, and scribbles out what she’s written. If Anne sees it, Katarina might have to answer some awkward questions, and she can’t hide it the way she can her own secret book. And that one has two part security anyway.
She nods in realisation, and starts rewriting it in Japanese. Best to keep it secret until she sees the information Gerald has.
“No, your Highness.”
The aggravated sigh is not unexpected. “Don’t act like you’re any more happy about letting her out of your sight. It would not have been impossible to come up with an excuse to stay with her. We’re certainly not going to make any headway until we get the records here.”
“We still don’t know for sure if Martin Cress has anything to do with this,” Keith reminds him. “And let’s be honest here, if Katarina of all people is wanting some alone time, we probably need to give it to her.”
Gerald frowns, but before he can reply, Keith quickly continues.
“Think about it, your Highness,” he says. “She was transported here after being attacked, and learned we’d been replaced without her knowing. Now she’s here, surrounded by people who aren’t her friends, with no guarantee we can get back.”
To his relief, Gerald seems to get the point he’s trying to make.
“You think she’s five minutes from a full on Katarina meltdown and trying to hide it?”
“Sis hates being alone,” Keith reminds him. “If she’s asking for space, then us crowding her is the last thing she probably needs.”
Gerald glances back down the hall, face torn, but Keith quickly grabs his shoulder and coaxes him along.
“Trust me on this, she always bounces back, but we need to let her hit a few walls first.”
“...I cannot wait for this whole incident to be over .”
And that, is a comment Keith wholeheartedly agrees with.
However, they might be the only ones, as when they make it back to the lab, everyone is out in the courtyard rather than working, and the topic is clearly Katarina.
“-eally is the friendliest person I’ve ever met,” they catch Mary finishing.
“She’s very thoughtful too. And supportive,” Maria adds.
“I have to wonder what caused the difference,” Sirius replies. “There must be something substantial.”
“Huh, think we can replicate it?” Alan jokes, and Sophia says, clutching her book tightly with a smile.
“Other Sophia is so lucky . I would have given anything for a reading buddy when I was little. If our Katarina was half as nice as theirs, I’d have tried to set her up with my brother.”
Mary starts to say something, but as the two of them approach, Nicol turns his head, and their attention is drawn as he walks over.
“I see it’s our favourite topic of conversation,” Gerald quips as they reach him. Nicol nods.
“Apologies, but we all wanted some fresh air, and the conversation inevitably led here.”
Keith smiles back. “No need for that. You’d be surprised how often we end up discussing my sister back home.”
“She does make quite the impression,” Nicol says. “I’ve never seen Sophia so animated – she’s never come out of her shell this much.”
“And that was just with one meeting,” Keith jokes. “You should see what she can do with a few years.”
Nicol’s lip twitches upwards, and looks back at Sophia, who is now showing ‘The Devilish Count’ to a curious Mary.
“If we get the rune functioning, I don’t suppose you would consider sharing custody…?”
Gerald huffs slightly. “Do not take this personally, Nicol. But I think I speak for both Keith and Katarina when I say we dearly hope never to see any of you again once that rune is up and running.”
“We may very well take this whole incident to our graves,” Keith adds. “When we get home, I’m hoping to forget it ever happened.”
Nicol, similar to their own, doesn’t take it personally. Merely nods, and accompanies them back to the group. Their heads turn to greet them, and Sirius smiles.
“So, Prince Gerald, Keith,” he begins. “Do you have any idea why Katarina is so different between our worlds?”
“I admit, I’ve been pondering it myself,” Gerald says. “But I’m at something of a loss.”
“She was already every ounce my sister the second we met, so I’m no help either,” Keith adds.
“My best guess is when she hit her head as a child,” Gerald continues. “Her personality did seem to shift after that, but given that I used that incident to get engaged to Katarina, I think it’s safe to say it also happened in this world.”
He glances over at Alan, who nods in agreement.
“Yeah. Scarred her forehead, and since you were getting pressured to find a fiancee anyway, figured a Duke’s daughter would be as good as any.”
“Maybe she fell differently in your world?” Mary asks, and looks curious. “So...if Katarina fell down the stairs or something-”
“So anyway!” Maria says, no doubt hoping to avoid being involved in a legitimate scandal regarding Katarina. “Your Katarina, has she always been so dense to your feelings? I tried to help you out, and told her what you said in order to get transported here-”
“...And?” Gerald asks, already knowing the answer.
“To be honest, I didn’t know it was even possible to miss the point that badly,” Maria chuckles, looking nervous. “It’s almost as if she’s incapable of thinking anyone has feelings for her.”
Gerald gives a long suffering sigh. “Yes. When it comes to that particular topic, her blinders are pretty much glued on. Fortunately, it means nobody else can gain any ground with her either, and I have the engagement as my trump card.”
“That is not the end all conclusion you think it is,” Keith warns. “Don’t forget, I have mother on my side.”
Gerald smirks. “Yes, and we all know how much Katarina just hates disobeying her mother...”
Keith starts to glare, but gets distracted when Maria starts talking again.
“Although, that reminds me, the conversation afterwards was a little odd. She asked me about my romantic interests, and she seemed...really informed.”
Out of the corner of their eyes, both Keith and Gerald see Mary and Sophia’s smiles becoming stiff, but they keep their focus on Maria.
“What do you mean?” Keith asks.
“Well, to start with, when she was asking me about who I liked, and Prince Geord was mentioned, she mentioned him defending me from bullies, and eating all my sweets, even though they fell on the ground. It was a really special moment for me.”
“I remember that,” he says, thinking back to the day. He’d been a little apprehensive, given his fiancee’s frustrating talent to attract suitors – and stumbling upon her clasping Maria’s hands with flushed cheeks behind the bushes of all things had been a giant red flag. “But Katarina was the one who defended you and ate them. Maria was quite taken with the whole situation.”
Maria nods. “It surprised me. If it didn’t happen that way with you, how did she know Prince Geord ate them?”
Gerald understands the confusion, it is a little odd. He’s fairly certain he wouldn’t have done the same, given how much he’s chided Katarina for eating off the floor. Defended her, certainly, but he’d have drawn the line there.
“It could just have been a guess,” he says, and Maria nods.
“That’s what I thought, but then she kept doing it,” she says. “She also knew about when Keith saved me with one of his earth dolls, and how he reacted afterwards.”
She turns to him. “Did you ever do anything like that?”
Now it’s Keith’s turn to frown.
“No...in fact, I’m not sure I’ve even used an earth doll around our Maria,” he says.
“And you don’t act anything like our Keith,” Maria agrees, apparently encouraged. “I thought perhaps she was thinking of something that happened in your world, but if you’ve never saved your Maria, then how did she know?”
Both Keith and Gerald share a glance. The muffin incident isn’t too far a reach, but Keith has notoriously avoided being alone with Maria whenever possible ever since Katarina’s reaction to his first meeting with her. In fact, when it comes to being Maria’s white knight, Katarina has always filled the role.
“Then, she even mentioned how Prince Alan started to pester me regarding our grades, and how upset he was that I got higher marks than him, but that her Alan didn’t have that problem, because he ‘solved that problem years ago.’”
Alan immediately goes red and shuffles slightly to the side, while Mary’s stiff smile becomes even more strained. Maria however, taps a finger on her chin and continues to look quite confused.
“It’s as if your Katarina knows exactly what happened in this world, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t think how she could . From what she’s told us, Prince Geord and Keith were trying to be you, so wouldn’t bring up stories like that, and she was transported here immediately after they were discovered, where she’s not been unaccompanied for any length of time. At least, not with anyone who could, or would, tell her these stories.”
Gerald shakes his head, trying to make sense of the information and failing miserably. “That doesn’t make any sense. This world might be similar, but when it comes to the majority of our relationships, it’s very different. Even if she guessed, how would she be so accurate?”
“Why don’t you just ask her?”
Everyone pauses, and turns to look at Sophia, who immediately blushes and hides her face behind her book.
“I mean, you’re her brother and fiancee, and she obviously cares for you. Why discuss it when you can ask her how she knew? There’s probably a simple explanation, right?”
Both Keith and Gerald stare at her for a few moments, and then find themselves laughing.
Lord, it’s so obvious.
“Our apologies,” Gerald offers. “I think we’ve gotten so caught up in the mystery of the rune we’re overthinking everything.”
“Yes, we’ll ask Katarina this evening,” Keith agrees. “There’s probably a perfectly normal explanation, and we’ll feel like idiots for even worrying about it.”
Sorry guys, I was just not feeling this fic the last couple of weeks and this chapter got cut very short just to get it out. Is ending on a bit of a cliffhanger so apologies!
Isekai World – Game Characters
Katarina has just hit chapter eight of Sophia and the Emerald Princess, when she hears a knock at the door. She jerks upwards and frantically shoves the book under her pillow, before quickly smoothing out her dress and facing the door.
Anne walks in, bowing slightly.
“Sorry to disturb you Miss Katarina, but you have visitors.”
She sighs. “I don’t suppose I can hope it’s Miss Sienna or anyone outside of the council?”
Anne merely blinks. “No Miss. As far as I’m aware, Katarina doesn’t associate with any noble by that name.”
Katarina sighs, but won’t deny she quite likes the thrill that comes from knowing she has at least one good friend that her ‘other’ had failed to seduce. She rolls her eyes and gestures for Anne to let them in. Given Sophia’s earlier statement, there are only so many people it can be, and she’s not surprised to see Mary Hunt enter – even if she’s followed by that accursed Maria Campbell as well. She is surprised to see Mary Hunt carrying a plant.
“Greetings, Lady Claes,” Mary greets, dumping the pot on the table with some flourish. “I hope your stay has been tolerable.”
“It would be, if not for the constant interruptions,” Katarina is quick to reply, glancing over the plant. As far as gifts go, it’s fairly underwhelming – it’s nothing but leaves, without a single flower bud. “What exactly is that?”
“A tomato plant,” Mary explains. “One of Katarina’s seedlings that she hasn’t planted. It needs someone to take care of it.”
Katarina’s eyebrows raise. “Then give it to a servant. Don’t you forget, I am an unwilling guest, not your entertainment.”
“I’m aware,” Mary answers. “But after some conversation with Prince Geord and Keith, we realised your preferred entertainment isn’t acceptable here, so we thought we’d introduce you to one of Katarina’s hobbies.”
The barb is barely hidden, but Katarina doesn’t rise to the challenge. “I see Keith has been putting that silver tongue to good use. Regardless, take it away with you.”
Mary smiles. “Come now, I’m sure you can’t be too busy to consider the idea. You can’t have much to entertain yourself with at the moment.”
“Enough to not lower myself to the duties of a servant,” Katarina replies, and Maria gives a nervous smile.
“Maybe we can discuss it?” she says. “You must be bored-”
“Do not finish that sentence Miss Campbell,” Katarina warns. “If it wasn’t for the rules of society, which you are blatantly abusing, I would not have you in this room at all.”
“Right, better to be alone and above it all, rather than stepping off your high horse to have a conversation,” Mary interjects. “Very well, but the offer will stand, from all of us, until you return. Come Maria, let’s not stay where we’re not wanted.”
Mary starts to move from the door, and Katarina scowls.
“Don’t forget the plant,” she says, and Mary pauses, before turning round with a pleasant expression.
“No. From what I’ve heard from Prince Geord and Keith, I think being responsible for the well being of something other than yourself would do you the world of good,” Mary explains. “After all, if our Katarina can do it, I’m sure the well educated ‘Lady Claes’ will have no trouble.”
She quickly moves for the door, but Maria doesn’t follow her, instead choosing to stare at Katarina with a sad expression.
“...What?” she asks, after enduring the gaze for an uncomfortable length of time.
“I’m just confused,” Maria says. “How can the happiest, most confident person I know have ever become you? I kind of feel sorry for you.”
Katarina gawks, shoulders arching like a distressed cat.
“Sorry for me?” she hisses. “How dare you! I am the daughter of a Duke! There is nothing I have ever wanted that was not within my grasp! I was born better than you, and no amount of luck or magical ability will ever make up for that, Miss Campbell!”
Her Maria would have teared up and bowed her head at her harsh and biting words. This Maria however, stands firm and smiles back.
“You’re right. By the rules of our country, I will always be less than you. But tell me, Lady Claes,” she asks. “Has being superior to me ever made you happy?”
Katarina bristles, but Maria continues.
“To be honest, I don’t care if it has,” she says. “Because the one person that matters has never cared about it. She loves her friends and their accomplishments, and never sees them as threats to her own.”
She then pulls out a small, cutely decorated bag, and presents it to Katarina.
“Here, some sweets I made this morning. I was going to give them to Katarina after the annulment went through, but, well-”
Katarina scoffs, and Maria gently places the bag on the table by the plant.
“I think you’ll you like them,” Maria says. “They were for my Katarina. She says my sweets are the best, because I fill them with my feelings. These are filled with my feelings for her.”
“Then why give them to me? She’ll be back soon enough?” Katarina snaps back. Maria shrugs.
“So you can understand why we love her.”
And then she leaves, clearly uninterested in how befuddled Katarina feels right now. She stays silent, until the door closes behind them, and then pulls out a seat by the table and sags into it as Anne walks back in.
“I don’t understand. What are they doing?”
“If I may offer an explanation, Miss?” Anne asks, approaching her Mistress. “You wished to know why Miss Katarina’s friends love her so much. This is why. What they’re trying to do for you now, is what she did for them. Reaching out, even when you didn’t ask for it, sharing their lives, and offering a hand, should you be willing to take it.”
Katarina frowns, glaring up at the Maid, before turning away.
“Prepare me some more tea.”
“Right away, Miss.”
Anne nods and moves away, while Katarina stands, grabbing the tomato plant and dumping it on the bookcase, before returning to the table, grabbing the bag of cookies, intending to toss it. Her rough handling loosens the ribbon, and pauses when the cookie’s scent hits her nostrils.
Her stomach immediately starts growling, and with a quick glance to make sure Anne is no longer in the room, picks one up and quickly bites into it. Her body instantly sags from the taste.
“Dammit…” she says. “Of course they’re perfectly delicious.”
“That is a very unhappy Katarina,” Mary announces when she returns to the lab. “And sorry, but I didn’t see your book, Sophia.”
The girl’s shoulders drop, but her face doesn’t. “Well, baby steps.”
“I think your cause is hopeless,” Keith mutters, scribbling into his notes. “Katarina isn’t going to magically become a decent human being with a few smiles, a book and some cookies.”
“As much as I’d like to go home with a less ‘Katarina’ Katarina, I have to agree with Keith,” Geord says. “She has never had any desire to reconsider her actions.”
“Well why would she?” Alan asks. “If people have told her those actions are perfectly acceptable her whole life. Have you ever even tried to challenge her regarding them?”
The two of them frown, and avert their eyes.
“I was the unwanted child brought in out of necessity,” Keith mutters into his papers. “Even as the heir apparent, speaking out against Katarina wasn’t an option for me. Mother makes her look like a rank amateur at punishment, and Father certainly never raised a hand to help me.”
“I made it clear from the start that my proposal was made out of duty rather than emotions,” Geord adds. “She kept other candidates away, and stopped my family from pressing me regarding my future. Why would I try to corral someone I preferred to avoid?”
“Then you can stay quiet regarding our plans, Prince Geord,” Mary says. “Keith at least has a valid excuse, but you could have stepped in at any time.”
“That was hardly my place,” Geord argues, looking offended. “A noblewoman’s training is the responsibility of their parents.”
“And yet, you would have married her should you not have found Maria,” Keith says. Mary nods.
“Right. You were perfectly happy with how Katarina acted until it directly affected someone you cared about. Perhaps you even encouraged it, hoping that her antics could convince your father to break the engagement? Your opinion at least matters quite a bit to her.”
Geord’s eyes darken, and he stands up, walking up to obtain more materials. Keith watches him leave with a smile. Acceptably cowed, the Prince has managed to keep most of the ill attention on him.
Which is exactly what he needs.
“So Keith, have you found anything familiar to fix what was broken?”
He turns and gives a shameful smile to Sophia. “I’m sorry Sophia, but I’m still not certain. Maybe it’s because I’m looking at the small patterns, but I’m still not sure what’s different.”
She sighs. “It is an intricate rune. I just wish I could figure out why this language looks familiar.”
“I wish I knew why this sigil looks familiar,” Alan sympathises. “I swear I’ve seen it before, but I can’t figure out where.”
“Perhaps in the Royal Archives?” Keith asks, quick to push the subject off what he’s supposed to be translating. Alan merely shakes his head.
“We’ve gone through it twice, and there’s nothing. Plus, if I knew it, you’d assume Geord would recognise it as well.”
“The worlds could be different, but given that the sigil exists in both worlds, I have to agree,” Nicol says. “Wherever you’ve seen it has to be somewhere your brother would not. Prince Geord has no recollection of it, and while he could be faking his regret, I don’t believe he is.”
Alan nods. “Unfortunately, that doesn’t really help me.”
Keith just pastes on the most enthusiastic smile he can.
“I’m sure you’ll figure it out, Prince Alan.”
That night, when everyone is forced to retire, with Keith being as apologetic as he can be at his ‘inability’ to remember what he’d altered. He’d thrown a few false herrings in there, as well as a few genuine parts – it helps that he doesn’t actually remember exactly what he ripped apart, but it’s bought him some time.
Also, with Geord acting genuinely contrite but still the one who attacked their precious Katarina, people really aren’t paying much attention to him. Which is why once the lights go out, and he cracks the door open, he smiles to find not even one guard waiting outside, having spread out to watch the floor, rather than specific doorways.
He doesn’t dare go near the stairwell, which will no doubt be watched, but if his observations of the area were accurate, there’s a small window at the other end of the hallway. If he’s clever about it, he can slip through, and use his magic to get to the roof – after which he can jump across to another building, and then possibly get off the grounds before anyone realises he’s gone.
Another glance down the hall, to ensure there’s no gung-ho guard coming his way, and he slips out the door, watching his steps as he walks away from the main stairwell and around the corner-
-Where he stops dead in his tracks, as Prince Geord looks up from where he’s leaning against Keith’s escape route. He smiles.
“I’m impressed. I’ve been waiting nearly 40 minutes. You were a lot more apprehensive than I expected.”
“Prince Geord,” he says with gritted teeth. “Out to stretch your legs?”
“Out to flee the country?” Geord counters, and Keith flushes red. How had he-
Geord sighs at his blush. “I’ve known you since we were children Keith, you think I don’t know how your mind works? My guard was up the second you started cooperating. You never had any intention of going back through that rune.”
“Well why would I?” Keith snaps back. “Unlike you, I have nothing waiting for me back there.”
“Giving up on Maria so easily?” Geord asks, and Keith runs a hand through his hair.
“She now knows we left our world, and probably knows one of us sabotaged the rune to stay here. Even if I did go back, she knows I was willing to leave her behind. My chances with her are gone.”
“While I do enjoy this newfound defeatist nature of yours regarding Maria, you know I can’t go home without you,” Geord replies. “We’ve caused too much damage here.”
“Don’t start, this is all your fault!” Keith says. “You’re the one who went crazy and made it so they couldn’t trust us! If I’d had enough time, I-”
“We were made within a few hours,” Geord interrupts. “The only reason we got away with it as long as we did, was because the only one willing to call us on it was Nicol. And regardless, look at how they’re reacting compared to how we acted. They want their versions back.”
“Their versions made the same decision we did,” Keith counters. “Even though this world is so much better than ours, they had the audacity to wish for more? What would either of us have done, to have their version of Katarina in our lives?”
Geord nods. “I won’t disagree, I hate the fact that this world is so much brighter, because they got their Katarina, but our mere presence here immediately made this world worse. Even before I fell under the influence, my intentions towards Katarina and Maria were not pure, and I doubt your plans were much better. If we have any honour at all, we need to undo this.”
Keith however, crosses his arms, and his eyes narrow. It doesn’t take much to realise that he’s contemplating whether or not he can take Geord quickly enough to flee – and while Geord is fairly certain he can take him, Keith’s cooperation with the rune is far more essential than putting him in his place.
Thankfully, he’s fairly certain he knows exactly what to say.
“Look, Claes. Cooperate, and once we’re back, I’ll use my influence to free you from the Claes, if that’s what you truly want.”
It’s clear it’s not what Keith expects to hear, considering how his eyes widen to an impossible size.
“What? You don’t have that authority!”
Geord shakes his head and smiles. “Ah, but even if I don’t get the title of Crown Prince, I will still be in a position of power, and in need of reliable men beneath me. That can easily trump the influence of the Claes name, and allow them to give it back to Katarina. It can all be put behind you.”
Keith starts glaring again.
“Why offer the helping hand now? You could easily go back on it once we’re home.”
Geord nods. “I could, yes. But if nothing else, the Council here do have a point. I could have reeled Katarina in a lot sooner. But I saw no merit in bothering, and now it both directly affects me as well as you. If I’d stepped up, perhaps we could have had this world.”
“So you’re expecting me to believe you’re going on a ‘better late than never’ approach?” Keith asks, and Geord shrugs.
“Believe what you want, but I swear on my honour and title as the Third Prince that what I offer is genuine. So, what will it be?”
Keith takes one more glance at the window at the end of the hall. Directly in front, he can feel Geord tense, and he weighs his options.
Finally, he sighs, sagging and turning to glare at Geord.
“I’ll hold you to that,” Keith says. Geord nods.
“As you should.”
Keith turns and heads back, but isn’t surprised that Geord stays put. While he has Keith’s assurance, the Prince probably isn’t willing to risk him changing his mind later.
But to go home, knowing he doesn’t have to go back to warped, broken relationship with his parents, and Prince Geord actively interfering with Katarina? Well, that’s not a perfect world, but it’s a damn step up.
Game World – Isekai Characters
While both Gerald and Keith are always eager for any excuse to see Katarina, they both decide to wait until the files Gerald has requested arrive in his room. She had requested that they wake her once they arrived, so they have a valid reason to visit.
However, the records don’t appear until the sun has set and they’ve both retired to their rooms – hiding out in Gerald’s since neither trusts the other not to slip out without them – and Gerald eagerly starts digging through, looking to see if he can find anything useful.
“Should we go get Katarina?” Keith asks, kneeling down and looking through another.
“Eventually,” Gerald agrees. “But first, I want to see if there was anything to her theory. It would be nice to go with good news if we’re waking her up.”
Keith chuckles. “True, she is a deep sleeper.”
He pulls into the box, frowning at the papers. There’s nothing really jumping out at him – generic magical research, some odd doodles, incident reports…wait.
There’s a wooden box shoved in here, small and basic. Slowly, he pulls it out, opening the latch – and freezes at the small, bronze trinket inside. It’s a medallion, embossed with the sigil they’d been looking for.
His hand snaps the box shut at Gerald’s triumphant cry. The prince is looking at a small, leather bound book, and looks unbearably smug.
Gerald looks up, and twists the book in his hand, revealing a very familiar code.
“It’s Martin Cress’s journal,” he says. “This language is identical to the one found written in the book.”
Keith smiles, and shows his own prize. “And this bears that mystery symbol.”
Gerald drops the journal back down and walks over, examining the box.
“It’s an old family crest,” he says. “I don’t recognise the family, but it’s probably a family heirloom. Given that Cress disappeared and there’s no record, he was probably low nobility and his disappearance spelled the end of their line.”
“Family crest, not a royal sigil,” Keith surmises. “That might explain why it wasn’t recorded in the book.”
“Some low nobility did use the same brand for both,” Gerald agrees. “But with this, I think it’s safe to say that we have a strong lead. Let’s go tell Katarina the good news.”
It sounded like a good idea at the time, but when they knock on the door and find a very sour faced Anne woken from sleep, both suddenly start to wonder if they should have waited until dawn.
“Prince Geord, Mr Claes,” she greets. “While I have been informed of the situation, I do not think it appropriate for the two of you to be here at this hour.”
‘ It’s hardly the first time ,’ is on the tip of Keith’s tongue, but given the relationship between the other Claes siblings, Anne probably never interacts with him or Prince Geord.”
“It’s Prince Gerald, Miss Anne,” Gerald soothes. “And I assure you, Katarina requested that we wake her if we made any significant breakthroughs.”
Anne stares at him suspiciously, but both he and Keith maintain eye contact until she relents, widening the door.
“Very well, but should she react badly, I will expect both of you to take responsibility,”
Keith is nodding before he’s even through the door, quickly brushing past Gerald to get into the room before him, slipping into the main room.
Even in the dark, he can see the differences within the rooms is minimal, and Katarina is nothing but a shadow hidden under blankets. Slowly, he walks over, brushing her hair away from her face, smiling at the peaceful face.
“At least you’re taking all this in stride,” he whispers. Considering how his sister had made it to this world, he’s glad her natural denseness allows her to shake off just about anything.
A moment later, Gerald is at his side, making a tutting noise.
“Sneaking into a girls room and touching her in such a manner? How bold of you Claes.”
“I’m her brother, I’m allowed,” Keith defends, before sending a dark grin Gerald’s way. “What about you? Visiting a maidens room after dark, even if it is your fiance, is very not done.”
Gerald smiles, and looks away – frowning when he makes out the documents that are littered over the desk.
“What is all this?” he says, moving over to lift up some of the papers. “Was Katarina researching on her own?”
Keith frowns and joins him. “That doesn’t make much sense. If she was still doing this, she could have joined us in the lab.”
He moves the papers and lifts up a small notebook. It’s some kind of journal, and the scribbles are desperate...had the light been off instead of just dim, he might have missed the significance entirely, but his eyes make out familiar symbols, and his hands freeze.
Much like Keith, the Prince stills as he glances over. Written on several pages, with a messy but coherent scrawl, is the same language hand written on the rune. Granted, most of it is alien, but after hours of memorisation, he recognises some of these symbols – it can’t be anything but.
Keith swallows heavily, and glances back at his sister, her head leaning to the side as she sleeps in peace.
His precious, beloved sister. Who had stared at the same pages he had and said nothing .
“Keith,” Gerald whispers. “What is this?”
“I don’t know,” he says, genuinely shaken. “Maybe...maybe she’s just memorising what she saw?”
“This is more than memorisation,” Gerald argues. “This looks...fluent.”
He takes the book from Keith’s hands and flicks through, looking at the constant stream of text. “Be honest, Claes. Do you truly not know this language?”
Keith shakes his head, trying to swallow the lump in his throat. “No. I’ve never seen it before. I have no idea how Katarina could know it. Or why she’d keep quiet.”
Gerald’s face grows impassive, and his hands drop to the side.
“We need to wake her up,” he says. “Sophia was right, guessing gets us nowhere. As much as a hate to admit it, Katarina is keeping something from us, and we’re not in a position to let her keep her secrets.”
“But why would she keep something like this secret?” Keith asks, a significant chunk of his world view utterly shaken. Katarina doesn’t keep secrets – he didn’t even think she knew how to keep secrets.
“Only one way to find out,” Gerald replies, and walks over to the bed. His hand reaches out for Katarina’s shoulder, and hesitates for a brief moment, before shaking the girl lightly.
“Katarina,” he utters. “Katarina, wake up...”
I wasn't entirely sure if I was going to go full reveal, but in the end I let the chapter decide for me, and I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. Though it took so long it's literally a 6k conversation with no appearance from the Game!Crew.
Katarina is very stressed and tired throughout all of this, and Gerald hasn't exactly slept properly since getting out of the medical bay and is running on far less than a full tank, forcing Keith to be our best boy for this. It's a heavy one...
For once in her life, she’d gotten up early for school, and caught up with A-chan on the route, happily chatting with her friend, who is giving her a knowing smile.
“ So, did you finish Time Tales All last night?”
She grins. “Yup. That secret ending was so good!”
A-chan grins back. “Yeah, I love that the main character actually runs away from the palace with Marty. Neither of them really fit the whole ‘noble’ lifestyle.”
“ I don’t know, I kind of thought she was best with the Knight character,” she says. “But I do like that Marty got to flee his family’s ideals and become a musician with his new partner. To throw away everyone’s expectations and live only as you want, that’s so freeing!”
A-chan laughs. “Wake up, Katarina.”
She blinks in confusion.
“ A-chan, are you okay? Your voice sounds deeper.”
“ Wake up Katarina…”
Katarina groans and presses deeper into her pillow as she slowly comes back to reality, feeling the gentle touch on her shoulder and hoping she can ignore it.
“It can’t be morning yet Anne…” she says into her pillow. “Five more minutes.”
The hand halts a little, and she hears a soft sigh.
“I wish I could, dear Katarina, but this can’t wait.”
Reality hits like cold water, Katarina sitting upright with a screech, Gerald quickly jerking back to avoid a headbutt.
“Ah! Prince Gerald! Keith!” she splutters. “In my room, why- oh! Did the records come?”
She stifles the yawn, and misses the look exchanged between the two men.
“They did, but...Katarina, we have something to ask you.”
She rubs at her eyes and smiles...only for it to falter when Keith moves closer, holding a book in his hands.
“Katarina, what is this?”
Her skin goes pale, eyes flitting towards the desk and then back towards their curious faces.
She left it out. Why had she left it out? She always locks away her secret book!
But then, she didn’t really have a place to store it here, and she’d been so tired from the day and then the stress of figuring out what Time Tales All had to do with it – she’d just thought she’d close her eyes for a few minutes!
And now, both Gerald and Keith are looking at her with questioning eyes, a damning document in their hands. She’s fairly certain she’s had nightmares that start like this – her own personal tailor made doom flag.
“Katarina, why didn’t you-”
Keith doesn’t manage to finish, his words dying in his throat as Katarina bursts into tears again – this time, clearly more of a panicked nature than her stressed ones from before. He pushes past a frozen Gerald to wrap her in his arms, desperately trying to soothe her.
“Sis, Sis, please, it’s okay,” he says. “I promise, everything’s all right.”
“Yes, Katarina, we just want to understand,” Gerald says, finding his voice. “We’re not accusing you of anything.”
Together, they coax her out of bed and towards the sitting area. Anne is not elated when she returns to find her alternate Mistress a wreck, nor particularly agreeable to Gerald’s requests for some chamomile tea to be prepared, but eventually she complies.
Unfortunately, even with a hot mug pressed into her hands, Katarina still looks like she’s being dragged to her own execution. It’s not doing anything for Gerald’s peace of mind. What exactly is the truth to this puzzle to have his fiance in such a state?
He wants to be by her side, but he’s fairly certain that if he does, he’ll get sidetracked by soothing her, and he needs answers. A glance over at Keith gets him to reluctantly make some distance and sit at his side, leaving them facing the pale faced girl – who in turn is staring at her mug and sniffling slightly.
“Sis?” Keith coaxes, and the girl swallows before lifting her head and giving a shaky smile.
“J-just, can I at least say goodbye to everyone when we get home before you exile me?” she whimpers, and being distant becomes an impossibility.
They’re both on their feet, looking horrified, and Katarina sinks even deeper, looking horrified.
“I-I know that’s a lot to ask, but-”
“Katarina, what are you talking about?” Gerald interrupts. “Nobody is going to exile you for keeping secrets. In fact, I highly doubt there is anything you could do that would result in you being exiled.”
Quite frankly, even if this language led to the revelation that Katarina was conspiring against the crown, Gerald would be jumping through hoops to make sure it never came to light and destroying whoever was pulling her strings. But that was unlikely, if only for the fact that Katarina has so many influential nobles in her pocket means she could probably rule the country without ever holding a position of legitimate power if she had the mindset at this point.
His words however, just seem to confuse her, and the two restrain themselves, sitting back down and staring at the girl again.
“Katarina, please, just...tell us what this is all about,” Keith begs. “What is this language? How do you know it? What are you so afraid of that you were keeping it secret? I promise, no matter what you say, we won’t judge you for it.”
“Is someone threatening you?” Gerald asks. “Are you trying to protect us by keeping quiet?”
She squeaks, sitting a little straighter. “What? Why would you think that?”
“You’re hiding information, you’re scared of us knowing about it, and you seem to think telling us about whatever is written here will get you exiled,” Gerald says. “It doesn’t seem that far a reach.”
Keith’s own eyes have gone equally wide, as if the idea had never occurred to him. “Is that is, Sis? Are you hiding this beca-”
“No!” Katarina yelps, waving her hands in front of her. “No, nothing like that, I swear. I didn’t, I mean, I never...”
“Well, if it’s not that, it can’t possibly be worse,” Gerald says, face easing into a smile. “So please, whatever it is, I promise it won’t be as bad as you’re thinking it will be.”
Katarina bites her lip, but eventually meets their eyes.
“I...it might sound crazy,” she says, and Keith offers a soft laugh.
“Sis, with you, that’s inevitable,” he replies. “But that doesn’t mean we won’t understand.”
That finally gets a small smile on her face.
“Well...I guess I need to start at the beginning. Do you remember when we first met and I hit my head, Prince Gerald?”
Gerald frowns, but nods. “What of it?”
“When I hit my head, something happened,” Katarina explains. “I don’t really know how to explain it, but...well, I started to get memories that weren’t mine. When I woke up, I realised I had remembered a past life.”
Their eyes widened, and they glanced between each other. Truly?
“I’ve never heard of such a thing,” Keith admits. “Are you sure you didn’t just manufacture memories from the head trauma?”
“Actually, there may be some truth to it,” Gerald says. “There have been unconfirmed cases of people insisting that they remember their past life. Granted, most of them end up being charlatans looking to find a way into a noble family, but there have been some very compelling cases mixed within.”
That has Katarina jumping off her chair, spilling hot tea on the carpet as she stares at Gerald in shock.
“There were others?”
She then blushes red, and sits down, setting the cup back down on the table. “I mean, this has happened before?”
Gerald gives a non committal shrug. “Like I said, it’s never truly been confirmed. Are your memories from a different country? Is that where you learned the language?”
Katarina starts to nod – then immediately shakes her head.
“Yes, but...you don’t understand. I lived another life...but it was also in another world .”
Gerald’s smile falters.
“That is harder to believe-”
“No, see the world I was from is completely different,” Katarina insists. “It had no magic, and a bunch of completely different languages, and it was hundreds of years ahead in technology. Ballgowns and nobility and carriages were all completely out of date and there were so many things you’ve never seen, things I don’t even know how to describe to you in words you’d understand. I couldn’t have made them all up.”
“It’s okay Sis, we believe you,” Keith quickly says, before Gerald can offer any other opinion.
Gerald sighs, but also nods. “Indeed. You would come up with a more believable lie if you were looking to dodge suspicion. So as strange as it sounds, we can’t really do anything but believe you.”
Katarina’s shoulders relax the slightest amount, and Gerald is hesitant to continue, but has little choice.
“However, if this language is from your ‘former’ world,” he begins. “Then why would Martin Cress also be writing in it?”
To his surprise, Katarina doesn’t look nervous, but almost excited.
“Because he came from the same world I did,” Katarina explains, and grabs the copy of the rune and it’s coded instructions from the table between them. “I think the person who created this rune was just like me.”
She points to the piece that had caught her off guard earlier, and starts translating – deciding last minute that it might be better to use more traditional language rather than a direct translation. “It says here, ‘I don’t want to die in an otome game. I’m getting out of this world if it’s the last thing I do.’ Martin Cress must have regained the same memories I did.”
Silence greets her words, and when she looks up, both Keith and Gerald are staring at her, frozen in shock.
“Um...are you okay?”
Gerald is the first to find his voice. “Katarina, are you certain? You believe that this world also had someone regain the memories of your world?”
Katarina pouts. “Well, I don’t know for sure, but this is definitely Japanese, and there’s nobody in this world that would know what an ‘otome game’ is, so if it wasn’t mine then it would have to be one just like it.”
“Then...what’s an otome game?” Keith asks, curious of the phrase, and feels – not for the first time this evening – his stomach sink as Katarina freezes, looking panicked and surprised at the same time.
“Oh, um, nothing important,” she says, laughing a little too forcefully. Neither of them buy it for a moment.
“If it’s not important, then why does this Cress fellow believe he’s at risk of dying in one?” Gerald counters, and Keith nods.
“Please Katarina, no more secrets. If it can help us figure out what’s going on, I’m sure you can find the words, even if we don’t fully understand it.”
Katarina looks like she’d rather be literally anywhere else, but Keith and Gerald just continue looking at her with sympathetic gazes, silently cheering when the brunette finally buckles to their question.
“I...otome games were a specific kind of entertainment,” Katarina explains, hands clenched on her skirt. “I don’t have the words here to explain it properly, but think of it like a romance story, where the plot changes depending on your decisions. There are multiple romantic targets that the main character can pursue, and during each chapter, you’re given several options, and the next chapter you read will change to reflect the choices you make.”
“I can see why you would be entertained by that,” Gerald says. “A book you can read repeatedly and not get the same ending would be quite interesting, but I’m not sure what the point of this is, or the importance. What does that have to do with Martin Cress?”
“I’m getting to that,” Katarina says. “A lot of these games take place in fantasy worlds, with magic and nobility and unique settings. One series...took place in a land called Sorcier.”
Both of them sit up straighter, while Katarina sinks deeper into her sofa. “There were two of them, and the first was called ‘Time Tales All,’ and followed the main character when she got caught in a time loop spell at the royal palace. If you managed to play each loop, you got to pursue the secret romantic target, Marty Cress, who up until that point had died at the start of each loop.”
“What kind of romance starts with a murder?” Gerald splutters.
“You really should listen in on Sophia and Katarina’s book club some time, you’d be surprised,” Keith mutters. “But Sis, are you telling me that in your other world, the past events of this world, or at least some version of them, were written down in a story?”
Katarina nods. “That’s why Marty must have created this rune. He needed to get out of this world before he was killed. Since he only gets saved in one of the endings, he had no way of knowing if the heroine would choose him.”
She smiles and clenches her hands in front of her. “Ah, I kind of admire him! Didn’t wait for anyone to rescue him, but figured out how to survive all on his own. I hope he made it, it would prove that doom flags really can be avoided.”
“Doom flags?” Keith questions. That odd phrase again…
“Sis…” he starts, an awkward thought crawling into his skull. “You said that this, ‘Time Tales All’ was the first of two, right?”
Katarina blinks and nods.
“What was the second one?”
Her eyes widen, and Gerald frowns.
“I doubt that really matters at the moment, Keith,” he says. “If Katarina has even partial knowledge of what Martin Cress was thinking when he created-”
“Your Highness, bear with me,” Keith begs. “Katarina, what was the second one about?”
Her mouth opens slightly, and then shuts. Keith watches it with some dread, and starts talking.
“Earlier today, Miss Campbell was telling us how you seemed to have knowledge of past events in this world, that you should have had no way of knowing. Different first meetings, different interactions...you couldn’t have known about any of it...unless you’d seen it somewhere before….”
Gerald has clearly caught on to what he’s suggesting, and gone pale himself. Katarina swallows heavily.
“Sis...is the second game about us?” Keith asks, begging, pleading, that his sister will burst into laughter and tell him how ridiculous he’s being.
Instead, she all but curls into herself, the absolute dismay on her face as much as admittance as words.
“Katarina...” Gerald whispers, and Katarina nods.
The second game is called ‘Fortune Lover,’ and follows the main character, a commoner gifted with light magic...by the name of Maria Campbell.”
Gerald leans back in his seat, dropping his head into his hands, while Keith runs a hand through his hair and leans forward, feeling utterly exhausted.
“So, eight years ago, you essentially saw a prophecy of your future?” he asks.
“I guess you could call it that,” she says. “When I first got the memories, I wasn’t certain, and I tried to check, and everything seemed to add up. Things that were supposed to happen in the game kept happening, like the engagement because of the scar, and you being adopted into the family.”
“That’s not necessarily proof,” Gerald offers, forcing his head back up and pasting on a placid smile to join the conversation. “Given your injury, those things happening aren’t all that unlikely-”
“I knew Maria Campbell was going to be attending this school seven years before we met!” Katarina exclaims, almost sounding relieved that she can speak about it. “I could have picked Keith out as my little brother on sight before we’d ever been introduced! Things from the game keep happening. I keep meeting people who were characters in the game, and I don’t know how or why, but it’s true.”
“It’s okay Katarina, we believe you,” Gerald soothes, though his face looks torn. “If we believe the rest of it, this probably explains more than it doesn’t. If this...game, was supposed to take place during our time at school, what exactly did you foretell?”
Katarina takes a deep breath. “Well, like I said, an otome is a romance game, and the story follows Maria Campbell as she goes through school, and depending on her choices...can enter a romance with one of the four capture targets, who are all members of the Student Council with her.”
Gerald’s eyes go wide, a dozen conversations about Maria and her ‘charm’ suddenly making far more sense, while Keith tenses.
“Wait, is that why you reacted the way you did the first time I met Maria?” he says. “I was supposed to fall in love with her or something.”
Katarina blushes and looks away. “Not right then...but, well-”
Keith sags and rubs at his eyes with one hand, while Gerald slowly shakes his head.
“This does not make any sense,” he says. “You are my fiancee. Even if I didn’t feel the way I do, how would Maria even turn my head?”
“Because Maria is sweet, and charming, and she fascinated you from the moment you met her!” Katarina explains, her face taking on a more embarrassed hue as she clearly thinks back to some unknown event. “In the game, you’d never seen a girl climb a tree, so when you first met her, you were captivated.”
“But I’ve seen you-”
Gerald cuts himself off, and takes a deep breath to calm down. “I still find this aspect the most unbelievable of your tale. You are my fiancee, and I have no intention of breaking that. Given how close you are to everyone, shouldn’t you have been the heroine rather than Maria?”
Keith suddenly sits up, his hand grabbing at Gerald’s arm.
“You’ve been running under the assumption that everything would happen the way it did in the game,” Keith breathes in sudden realisation. “Regardless of anything that may have changed. Of course you missed the differences, because your ‘otome game’ described events in this world. Not ours.”
Katarina blinks, and Gerald frowns.
“What are you gett-”
He stops, remembering the Katarina of this world. The world of the game.
“In this world, Prince Geord doesn’t want the engagement,” Gerald realises. “He wants to break up with his Katarina.”
Katarina nods. “But Katarina won’t let him. In Fortune Lover, Katarina Claes is the Villainess, who constantly gets in the way of Maria’s happiness.”
She drops her head. “Katarina Claes has no happy endings, In the good endings, she gets exiled. In the bad, murdered by either Prince Geord or her brother.”
“What?” Keith gasps. Gerald however, stays silent, eyes boring into Katarina, his smile nowhere to be seen. “Katarina, have you been afraid of being killed or exiled this whole time?”
He’s not elated by her nod.
“I was terrified of suffering Katarina’s fate, so I did everything I could to make sure I’d be okay,” she explains. “I always made sure to tell Prince Gerald that I’d break the engagement once he found someone he liked and didn’t need a shield anymore, and I made sure to treat you like you should treat a little brother, rather than what she did. And just in case the game couldn’t be averted, I learned how to farm and how to use a sword.”
“...So you could have a trade or a way to defend yourself if the worst came to pass,” Keith finishes, voice hollow. Katarina shrugs.
“In the game, she’s the villainess that everyone wants to see punished,” she says. “It only made sense to prepare for it.”
“Even years later?” Keith presses. “Katarina, you have to know none of us, least of myself, would even dream of hurting you. You are not the Katarina of this ‘game.’”
Katarina hunches in on herself. “Love can change people. And I had no way of knowing what would happen. It seemed best to be prepared.”
"Love...can change people?" Gerald repeats, face unreadable. When Katarina nods in reply, he suddenly gets up and starts heading for the door.
"Prince Gerald?" Keith calls, only to get no reply, and Katarina frowns.
“Prince Gerald, are you okay?” she asks, and Gerald halts. "Did I say something wrong?"
“Wrong, dear Katarina? Not all all. In fact, I’m just peachy ,” Gerald replies, with more bite than he normally lets show around Katarina, and she flinches at the sound.
Keith quickly gets to his feet - but stops when Gerald turns back to face them, and gets caught off guard by the sheer hurt on the Prince’s face.
“Apologies, but I’m just absorbing the knowledge that my fiancee, a woman I have known for eight years, who has spent many days in my presence, grown up with me, laughed with me, and called me friend if nothing else, has spent that entire time thinking I was going to ruthlessly destroy her whenever I fell in love with someone that was not her!”
Keith winces, and Katarina squeaks.
Her spluttering seems to urge the Prince on, turning round for a brief moment to continue.
“I know that despite my best efforts, you don’t feel the way I do, but lord, Katarina, how could you think that?” he yells. “What have I done, what was so abhorrent, that you chose to believe a fantastical memory in your head over the actions of the flesh and blood Prince in front of you? Did you ever even see us as people? Or just pawns in some game you had to play?”
Keith can’t help but look over at his sister, who looks ready to faint in horror.
Gerald is the first to look away, heading for the door.
“If you excuse me. I think I need some air.”
Keith stays where he stands until the door slams shut, and then rushes to Katarina’s side just in time to catch the girl before she collapses to the floor, a new wave of tears quickly emerging.
“It wasn’t like that!” she begs, clutching at Keith’s jacket and looking desperate. “It wasn’t, I swear! I just, it was-”
“Shhh, shhh,” Keith soothes, rubbing circles on her back. “I know. I know you love us.”
“How did this get so messed up!” she wails, her face dropping into the crook of his neck. “Now Prince Gerald hates me. And when we go home he’ll tell everyone, and then they’ll all hate me, and they’ll exile me for things I’ve done rather than the original Katarina’s crimes. Even when I try, I can’t help but be a villainess.”
Keith sighs, looking to the roof for patience, before hugging her close.
“Katarina...that’s not…why are you so desperate to be seen as the bad guy? It’s like we’re speaking a different language, no matter what we say you almost seem to intentionally misunderstand.”
“I’ve been by your side almost every day since we met,” Keith interrupts. “I’ve watched every little thing you’ve done, and not even the greatest actress could play a role that long. You love us, and our parents, and our world. Maybe it was a fictional place to whoever you were once, but you’re Katarina Claes now, and you’re happy there.”
“...I am,” Katarina sniffles. “It’s home. And I’m so scared that I’ll get exiled and lose everyone, because I don’t want to say goodbye.”
“I know,” Keith soothes. “And deep down, Prince Gerald knows that too. He’s just having trouble understanding it. Just like you seem to struggle with the idea that your exile is never going to happen .”
To his frustration, she starts to pull away, giving him a sad smile.
“You can’t promise that,” she says. “You never know what the future holds.”
“In that case, why are you so certain it will happen?” Keith argues, and stands up, pulling his sister up with him, and guiding her back to her seat.
“I’m going to get Prince Gerald back, and we’re going to finish this conversation,” he tells her.
“I should come with-”
“Stay. Here,” Keith orders. “He’s vulnerable right now, and he’ll strike where you can’t fight back, and then both of you will be an utter wreck. I can handle it.”
To his relief, Gerald hasn’t gone far – merely a few feet from the entrance of the female dorms, staring up at the night sky. His head turns slightly when he hears Keith coming, but otherwise doesn’t move.
“The toy snakes,” he says, once Keith is practically at his side. “She keeps a toy snake on her person at all times, in case that’s the day I try to kill her.”
Keith sighs and scratches at his neck. “I was rather hoping you hadn’t put that together just yet.”
Gerald gives out a bitter laugh and turns to face him.
“None of us had a chance, did we?” he says. “The second she gained those fantastical memories of this world, we ceased to even be living people to her. She’s been so caught up in the fantasy in her own head that she’s never once lived in reality.”
Keith shakes his head. “I think you’re overthinking this. Katarina is still the same person she always was. You know what she’s like when she gets an idea into her head.”
“Claes, she believed that the two of us would intentionally try to kill her,” Gerald says. "Has believed it for years."
“But her ‘fantastical memories’ as you put it, were technically right,” Keith tells him. “Prince Geord did try to kill her.”
Gerald stills, and Keith joins his side. “If she hadn’t had precautions in place, he might very well have succeeded, and despite all of her preparations and training? She already told us she couldn’t bring herself to hurt the other you, even when he was trying to hurt her, because you were her friend .”
He’s relieved when Gerald’s shoulders relax slightly, and looks up at the stars himself.
“I think she just got so caught up in what might happen, that she couldn’t bring herself to see what really was. In her mind, Maria is still angelically charming and sweet, so even if we aren’t the people from her game, or certain events don’t happen, why wouldn’t we fall for her? Everyone in her life was meant to be Maria’s, and she’s afraid that one day she’ll wake up and be left behind.”
“How can she think that?” Gerald snaps. “Isn’t it clear how much we love her?”
Keith stares at him like he’s said something intrinsically stupid. A moment later, Gerald realises he did.
“Your Highness. My sister’s mind is possibly the densest material on this planet. She sees how much she’s loved and thinks we’re all just ‘good friends.’ The truth is something she’s utterly blind to – is it really that surprising that she would get stuck on her own ideas and never drop the blinders? Especially if she’s had this in her head since she was a kid?”
Gerald huffs, crossing his arms. “Then how do we make her stop? I refuse to let this go on any longer.”
“Oh I agree,” Keith says. “But I think it’s going to be easier to reach her if it comes from both of us. Ideally, it would be everyone, but I’m not ready to wait.”
“Indeed,” Gerald says, and then looks over in curiosity.
“How could you see it?” he asks. “How could you not doubt your relationship with her after hearing that?”
Keith offers a small, rueful smile. “Because I know my sister, additional memories or no additional memories. Plus...I know a little bit about not feeling like I belong,”
He shrugs and starts walking back towards the doorway. “Don’t get me wrong, I intend to have a long talk with Katarina about facing what’s really happening over what she clearly thinks is happening, but maybe coming to this world is the wake up call she needed.”
Gerald frowns. “How so?”
“Well...if this world is how things were supposed to go, even she can’t deny that ours is very different. We just need to make her realise that.”
When they return, Katarina is still sitting on the sofa, an even more irate Anne by her side, trying to convince her to drink from a new cup. The second they appear, Katarina is on her feet, and Anne sighs as the liquid goes flying.
“Keith! Prince Gerald! You’re back!”
Keith smiles, and Gerald can’t help but join in.
“Yes, but I think we need to have a very important discussion, Katarina,” Gerald says. “Please sit down. Anne, may we please have some privacy?”
“Given what keeps happening when I do, I’m not sure I should follow that request,” Anne says, looking none too pleased with either of them.
“It’s okay Anne,” Katarina assures her. “I’ll be fine.”
The maid clearly isn’t happy about it, but can’t disobey her Mistress. When she leaves, Gerald and Keith both take a seat back on the sofa they’d used earlier.
“Prince Gerald,” Katarina immediately starts. “I’m sorry, I swear I never-”
Gerald immediately raises a hand, halting the words. “I know, Katarina. But it’s clear from what you’ve told us that some misconceptions need to be cleared up.”
The girl frowns, and Keith begins with a simple question.
“Katarina, is Prince Gerald your friend?”
As expected, Katarina’s eyes widened.
“Of course he is!” she says. “He’s one of my oldest and dearest friends.”
Keith nods. “What about Maria?”
That has her frowning, but she does nod in agreement. “Y-yes? You know Maria and I are quite close.”
“And Mary, and Prince Alan and the Ascart siblings?” Keith continues.
“Keith, what are you getting at?” she asks, clearly confused. “Of course they are.”
Keith smiles. “Then Katarina, can you explain to me how, even if Gerald did fall in love with Maria, why he would exile or hurt you? Do you really think Maria, kind, sweet, innocent Maria, would willingly be with him after doing that to you?”
Gerald uses a hand to hide the grin as the point suddenly starts to hit Katarina’s overworked and paranoid brain cells.
“And what of the others?” he adds. “Do you think my brother, and Mary, and Sophia and Nicol, wouldn’t jump to your defence? Are they such awful people that they would believe the worst of you? Even if one of us fell in love with Maria, why would the others cast you aside? We would want you there for all of it, regardless of romantic partners.”
It’s quite impressive, the array of emotions that flood over Katarina’s face, as she applies his words to her own world view.
“N-no, Maria isn’t-I mean, Katarina is supposed – Mary would never…Sophia...”
Her voice trails off.
Her face buckles yet again under the emotional wait, before she drops to the ground -though this time, thankfully without tears – in an awkward bow.
“I’m sorry!” she shouts. “I’ve been so stupid!”
‘ Oh thank the lords, she got the point on the first try ,’ Keith thinks to himself, and stands to once again help her up – only to find Gerald has already started moving, and has knelt by her side before Keith has taken a step. He slowly coaxes her head up with a hand, and gives her one of her rare, genuine smiles.
“Do you finally understand, Katarina?” he asks. “You are anything but the Villainess to us.”
Katarina hiccups, and goes slightly red.
“It’s just-I didn’t, it was-”
“Shhh, shhh, we know, Sis,” Keith soothes, kneeling opposite Gerald. “You Kataristophied yourself into a corner. Couldn’t see your field for the weeds.”
Katarina gives a hysterical laugh, and her eyes slowly glance up, to face Gerald’s own eyes.
“I’m sorry,” she whimpers. “You’re right, I don’t believe you’d ever hurt me. I was so focused on avoiding a bad ending, but even when it was happening, I didn’t believe it was happening. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone.”
Keith moves in to hug her, and Gerald’s smile softens even further, reaching over to run a hand in her hair.
“You’ll be making it up to me when we get home,” he warns her. “I’m sure I’ll figure out a suitable penance. And perhaps no more snakes, yes?”
She giggles slightly, and Gerald smiles.
"At least if nothing else, maybe this will get you to realise a few other things you’ve been actively ignoring.”
For a moment, Gerald contemplates pressing – but sees Keith move his head in order to glare at him, and backs off. This probably isn’t the best time to bring up Katarina’s other misunderstandings anyway.
“Don’t worry about it. For now, while I’d rather stay on this topic, until your assumptions are thoroughly squashed, we do have more pressing concerns.”
“Right, you know, I’d almost forgotten about that,” Keith says, as he pulls away from Katarina. “Sis, we originally came because of the files, remember?”
Katarina gasps. “Oh, right. We should see if there’s anything in them written in Japanese. That’ll be where he kept the really big secrets.”
“Yes, well, there are certain documents all written in that language of yours,” Gerald explains. “If you can translate, we’ll certainly be able to save some time.”
Katarina claps her hands and quickly gets to her feet, Keith and Gerald quickly following her.
“Of course! There wasn’t really anything useful in the tome, but if Marty had a diary or something, I know I can figure it out.”
Gerald laughs, and offers her his arm.
“Then allow me to escort you to my dorm room.”
She smiles, looking somewhat relieved, and accepts the arm. A moment later, Keith is quickly on her other side, his own arm happily wrapped around the other limb.
“Lead the way, Prince Gerald,” he offers with a sharp smile, quickly falling into routine, and Gerald looks away to hide his eye roll.
“Very well, Keith.”
Isekai World – Game Characters
“ Can’t sleep?”
Alan flinches, head jerking up – only to relax when he recognises the figure walking up the dorm entrance, where he’s leaning against the wall.
“ Sirius, still working at this hour?”
The council president smiles as Alan pushes himself off the wall. “Well, since everyone else is a little occupied right now, I’m just trying to keep everything functioning. A lot of paperwork isn’t getting done right now.”
Alan’s grimaces. “Right...sorry about that.”
Sirius merely waves it off with a hand. “Don’t worry about it, this is an extreme situation.”
“ That’s one way to put it,” Alan agrees, and scratches the back of his head. “Still, are you sure you’re okay, between that fakes attack and getting whammied by dark magic, you should maybe be taking it easier.”
The redhead gives a short chuckle. “Oh trust me, I’ve felt far worse. I can relax when things have calmed down. But what’s got you out here? Still stuck on that sigil?”
Alan nods and taps his skull on the brick wall.
“ It’s driving me crazy. It looks so familiar, but no matter what I do, I can’t place it. Between that and the music notes that keep showing up in that rune, my brain won’t shut off. It’s like I have everything I need in my head to figure it out, but it’s locked out of reach.”
“ I’m sure if the answer is in there, you’ll figure it out, Prince Alan,” Sirius assures him. “But even if you figured it out right this minute, there’s nothing you could do with that information until the morning. So you might as well take the time to rest, and tackle the problem in the morning.”
Alan sighs, but does feel himself relax at the president’s words.
“ Yeah, you’re right. Maybe it’ll come to me if I stop focusing on it anyway. But you need to do the same.”
Sirius is nothing but smiles as they enter the building.
“ I assure you, after today, all I want to do and throw a blanket over my head and stay there until this entire fiasco is over with, and then forget it all ever happened.”
Game World – Isekai Character s
As the trio slowly walk out the exit and towards the men’s dorms, they stay quiet. While Gerald and Keith both try to coax Katarina into speaking, she looks distant and a little bit in shock, and when they share a look, decide to give her time, until they make it to closed doors again. She’s been hit with a revelation, which her denseness probably won’t recover from quickly, so she could probably use the time. In any other situation, they’d save this till the morning, but needs must.
“ Attention! Attention! Emergency meeting now declared!”
Judgerina slams her hammer down on the table, looking slightly frantic as she tries to adjust her lopsided moustache. Around the table, her fellow councilwoman are equally frazzled – Glasserina is furiously wiping her accessories, Timidarina is rocking in her chair, Happyrina is quite literally dancing on the table, while Sillyrina is flopped back as if the soul has left her body.
“ What just happened?” Timidarina whimpers. “I don’t understand at all!”
“ I’ll tell you what happened! No more death flags!” Happyrina exclaims, moving from a badly performed moonwalk into an equally awkward floss. “We’re saved!”
“ It is rather humiliating that we got so worked up over nothing,” Glasserina says, popping her glasses back on. “If we managed to misunderstand so badly on this, what else have we misunderstood?”
Judgerina slams her hammer down again. “Don’t get overconfident. Just because the death flags we were expecting have disappeared doesn’t mean we’re completely safe. We’re still currently trapped in the world of the game.”
That at least, gets Happyrina off the table, settling in her seat with a pout.
“ But now that we have the journals, we can maybe find a way home,” she says. “And then we can enjoy things without fear of murder or exile, right?”
She glances around, and pokes the side of Sillyrina. “Right?”
Sillyrina leans forward – and drops her head on the table with a thud.
“ Is she still alive?” Judgerina asks, and Timidarina shuffles over to prod her.
“ Um, I think so?” she says. “I think she’s still processing?”
“ Aren’t we all,” Glasserina offers. “How is this going to affect things when we get back?”
“ Will it affect anything?” Happyrina asks. “I mean, even if we were never at risk of being exiled or murdered, are we really doing anything we don’t want to?”
“ I really do like farming, even if we’re never going to be a farmer,” Timidarina adds, and Judgerina nods.
“ True. But perhaps we don’t need to spend so much time throwing snakes.”
“ Yes, we can tell Tom to stop designing new ones,” Judgerina says, only for squeak when Sillyrina suddenly jerks up with a gasp.
“ No! Don’t take our emotional support toy!” she whines. “We’ve always carried a snake in our pocket!”
“ Poor Snakeyson Mark 2 did save our lives against the real black hearted Prince,” Timidarina agrees, and Glasserina’s jaw drops.
“ That’s right...wait, if Prince Geord was the real black hearted Prince, does that mean Prince Gerald...isn’t?”
Judgerina starts nodding. “It would make sense...I mean, Keith isn’t a playboy, so maybe Gerald isn’t as dark hearted as we thought.”
“ Come to think of it, I can’t think of any time he actually did anything that bad to us,” Sillyrina agrees, and Happyrina claps her hands.
“ This is wonderful! I know they work well in the game, but it felt kind of wrong to support the real Maria in a relationship with a dark hearted Prince. Now we can let them get together with no worries!”
They all smile, and punch the air.
“ Here’s to a happy ending for the Villainess!”
The girl blinks, coming back to reality when she realises the three of them have stopped moving. “Huh, we’re here already?”
Keith squeezes her shoulder slightly. “Yes, sister. Are you sure you’re up for this right now?”
She quickly pastes on a smile and nods. “Uh huh, just got stuck in my head for a bit. I’m good.”
The room is a lot less well kept than she’s used to, but that’s likely because there are several boxes half opened littered around the room rather than any world-related difference. They make a beeline for the seats, and Katarina glances down at what had caught Gerald and Keith’s eye in the first place.
“ Oh! This is-”
She picks up the gold medallion, rubbing a finger against the grooves of the sigil. “Was this in the box too?”
“ Yes, we suspect it’s the emblem of the Cress family, that they also used as a sigil,” Gerald explains. “Given that the family doesn’t exist now, they must have died out.”
He then picks up the journal and hands it over.
“ If there are any answers, it’s likely he wrote them in this. Can you decipher it.”
Keith sits at her side as she thumbs the cover.
“Normally, I’d say it’s wrong to read someone else’s diary, but I guess they wouldn’t mind, given the circumstances,” Katarina says. She opens it up almost at a random page – and immediately blushes bright red, causing both of them to tense up.
“ Katarina, is it...explicit or-”
“ Nononono!” Katarina squeaks. “Marty was just...expressive with his words.”
That’s putting it mildly. She’s not sure she can see a single sentence that doesn’t have profanity in it. Absolutely no way is she doing an accurate translation in front of her sweet little brother and Prince Gerald. She definitely has to clean this up, no question.
Quickly, she starts rifling through the pages, checking the dates and trying to figure out a good place to start. The last quarter is filled with blank pages, so this is likely the last journal – but the first few pages still have him at the Magic Academy and seem fairly mediocre. Then her eyes catch on some large, heavily scored in words in a journal entry – judging from the date, just before he graduated.
‘ HOLY CRAP THIS IS TIME TALES ALL!!! ’
“ Huh, I guess he didn’t realise it was the game world until much later,” she says, and Keith leans in.
“ What does it say?”
“ Oh um, let’s see,” Katarina says, glancing through the entry. “It looks like he came here a few years ago, but even with the name and the setting, I guess he didn’t realise-oh! That’s why, it looks like he never played the games, but his little sister did. He’d only know the basics then, no wonder he didn’t realise. Given that Time Tales All happens in the palace, he probably didn’t realise until he arrived and heard all the similar names.”
“ Really? Wouldn’t his name have rung a bell?” Gerald asks, and Katarina shrugs.
“ You never know. I completely forgot that Mary and Sophia were in the game until Keith told me about Mary’s engagement and I saw Nicol,” she says. “Someone who had even less information would have probably struggled.”
Still, she flips back a few pages, and confirms that idea. Most of this is Marty just going through his life. Every now and then, he mentions how things seem familiar to him, but his revelation of exactly where he is doesn’t appear until he’s been forced to take a position at the palace.
It feels weird, actually translating Japanese after so long. Part of her almost wants to speak Japanese, and has to remind herself not to. But her audience stays quiet, listening to her faltering voice as she translates part of the journal before the revelation.
‘ Dammit, I wanted to be a musician. Given how my father was having all those money issues I was certain I’d be able to get out of this stupid ‘noblesse oblige’ stuff and do what I want, but no, he made a deal with an old friend and now I’m being offered up to the palace like a frigging dowry. I don’t care that my rune grades were top of the class, I just wanted to perform! I didn’t die two days before my music scholarship started to waste my chance in my second life! ’
“ A musician?” Keith repeats. “I guess that explains why the rune uses a song.”
“ A musical scholarship suggests he was also quite talented,” Gerald agrees.
Katarina nods. “The next entry seems to be after he realised where he was.”
And it starts with a mental breakdown that she’ll skip...
‘ Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap. I wasn’t going crazy, all those idiots at school did look familiar – this isn’t just some random world, it’s that Time Tales All dating game world. I’ve ran into at least three guys I know my sister had posters of in her room, and now that I think about it, if I changed my glasses and maybe mussed up my hair I look a lot like that guy who always dies at the start .’
“ Posters?” Keith repeats. “There were posters of characters?”
Katarina nods and laughs. “Oh yeah, there was always lots of merchandise for those kinds of games, especially when the characters were so handsome.”
Gerald starts grinning. “Really now? Did our dear Katarina have any?”
To his delight, Katarina immediately goes bright red, and quickly ducks back into the journal to avoid the question.
“ The next entry looks like it was early morning the day after…”
‘ I hate that any random thing can happen here just because ‘magic.’ Before I left home, my parents gave me a replica of the family crest. Apparently it’s been in the family since we became nobility. Created by our ancestor who was a master magician and got a title by helping the king or something. I vaguely remember my sister saying something about it being important, and tonight I learned why. When I was sleeping, I ended up meeting another version of me – from a year in the future or something. Apparently the medallion allows you to communicate with another version of yourself – I guess I wanted proof of what was happening, and he offered it. Told me all about how I’m going to die, but if I’m lucky, I’ll get saved by an amazing woman and live happily ever after if she chooses me.
...OH FOR FU -’
Katarina bites her tongue and readjusts.
“ He um, didn’t take that well.”
‘ Excuse me, if? IF? I’m not staking my future on an if! I’m getting out of here before the plot starts. I’ve got a year, and maybe new magicians aren’t allowed to leave the grounds without an escort...and I’ll be hunted down as a traitor if I try to leave and my family will suffer the burden...but I’ll figure it out! ’
She stops and nods in understanding. “I guess it would be terrifying to know you’d die in a year unless someone you never met fell in love with you.”
“ And he could hardly explain this to someone without sounding mad either,” Gerald says.
“ But what’s this about his family and being declared a traitor?” Katarina asks.
“ Rules regarding nobility, especially in service of the King, were a lot stricter back then,” Gerald explains. “If his family had maintained their status with the expectation that their son would work in the palace for a certain number of years, an unexplained disappearance, or evidence that he’d fled the country, would result in those privileges being revoked. The only way he could escape without that happening is by faking his death...or jumping to another world.”
“ But that can’t possibly have been his first thought,” Keith says. “That’s an extreme solution. How did he come up with it, let alone pull it off.”
“ Well, maybe it explains it in the journal, hmmm...okay, so the next one is theorising about how he might be able to speak to a version of himself that already escaped, and then...”
‘ So this might end up becoming a dream journal, given that everything useful happens when I’m asleep.
It looks like my suspicions were right on the mark. Tonight, I met a completely different version of me. Oddly enough, he’s from the exact same, guess the future part isn’t necessary. In his world, it looks like the old man didn’t manage to maintain his status, and we all got thrown out on our asses. So other Marty can go be a musician all he wants – except he doesn’t have any money for proper training, or anything to make him stand out with a tarnished reputation.
Enter an Isekaied millennial with a whole world of music to share. Now if I can just figure out a way to get to that world. Time to whip out the rune books. ’
Katarina stops and frowns. “Wait, in the game, Marty and the main character could only talk to their future selves.”
“ Given that everything regarding this rune seems to involve two worlds, it may be that it allows contact with the version of yourself that can provide what you want,” Gerald offers, and Keith nods – then stills.
“ So...anyone who slept with this medallion on their person would be able to contact a future or alternate version of themselves who could give them advice on how to obtain what they want.”
Gerald’s eyes immediately flit to the medallion on the table.
“ A way to talk to someone who had achieved the ultimate victory…”
Almost without thinking, he reaches forward, but before his hand touches the metal, he finds himself brushing against Keith’s fingertips, and they both look up with strained smiles.
“ I don’t think the Prince should risk touching something with such mysterious magic,” Keith says.
“ As your future Brother-in-law, it would be wrong of me to let you be the guinea pig either,” Gerald quips.
“ Oi, oi, nobody should be using it,” Katarina says, and to their dismay, quickly grabs the medallion from their soft grip. “Although, this would really have come in handy eight years ago.”
Both of them look put out at the loss, but don’t argue or reach for it again.
“ Anyway, getting back to the point,” Keith says. “If that lets you contact another version of yourself...most people would want future knowledge, but Cress already knows the future, so that’s no good for him. He wants a foolproof way to escape...and the other Marty is looking for help to become a successful musician – and has his own copy of the medallion…”
“ It’s certainly an option. Please continue, Katarina.”
“ I would but…”
She turns the page to show them, and they both frown as they take in the multitude of rune sketches and awkward scribbles. “None of this really makes sense to me.”
Keith takes it from her hands and flicks through the pages. Every now and then there’s a short entry, but it’s hastily scribbled in, no doubt just a basic update. “We’ll probably be better off skipping these months until we get to the end of the plans.”
He stops when he finally sees a page with limited scribbles and hands it back. Katarina gives it a quick glance, and smiles.
“ Ah, good call Keith, this looks good. Okay-”
‘ After some pretty awkward false starts, we think we have a functioning array. We will need something to hook to the rune to activate it, and we figure since we’re already connected by the sigil, we’ll use them. The plan is to make the rune, then walk inside, and wish to be transported to the other world while holding the medallion. Provided I’m holding it, so long as other Marty incorporates it on his end, it should work. ’
“ Wait, they need the sigils?” Keith asks.
“ That doesn’t make any senses!” Gerald argues. “It’s been locked away in storage, and we certainly didn’t have access to them.”
Katarina is already chewing on her lip in confusion, but her eyes light up as she continues reading.
‘ ...Okay so minor issue. Other me and I were discussing the plans, and I realised...we can’t test that this will work. Sure, maybe it’ll send me through, but maybe it won't and I’ll die horribly. The sigils are a no go. Need a plan B. ’
The sound is collective among the three, and Katarina skims through a few additional entries, all sounding frustrated, and her eyes widen as she turns the page. The next few pages are filled with maniacal scribbles – it looks like something out of a horror movie.
‘ Ah...if I found this through casual researching, I’d think it was cursed ,’ Katarina thinks to herself, sagging in relief when the normal writing appears after several pages – if a little more erratic than it had been.
‘ Okay, might have gone a little The Shining for a bit, but I think we finally have a working rune. Rather than a teleport style rune, we decided to go for a gate. By writing a song into the structure, we can use that as an activation. We’ll both have to play it at the same time, so we’ll have to coordinate that, but if it works, then we’ll actually be able to see it succeed. Given the circumstances, I figured we could use the theme song to Time Tales All. It’s kind of fitting, and I always did like the sound of it.’
“ Oh, I remember that!” Katarina says. “It was called something like ‘Bad End’ or something.”
And to Gerald and Keith’s surprise, Katarina starts humming the song Alan had been playing earlier.
If they’d had even the slightest doubt about her story, it was certainly crumbling to dust at this point.
However, when Katarina looks up and sees their faces, the sound cuts off, and she goes back to the book – reading before they can utter any request for her to continue.
‘ Victory! We didn’t even need to play the song in tandem to get the thing open, just get it in harmony once we had the gate active. We tested it with a mouse, and the mouse made it through in one piece. Going to get things settled over here, and then jump through.’
Katarina turned the page, and her eyes widened.
‘ MAIN CHARACTER JUST SHOWED UP! SCREW THE PLANS, GOING THROUGH TONIGHT! SEE YA OTOME MURDER GAME! WILL NOT MISS YOU! ’
The last line is underlined twice, and she raises her eyebrows before she closes it.
“ That seems to be the last entry,” she says. “Given that he didn’t reply, he must have successfully jumped through.”
“ Or he died in the process,” Keith says. “We don’t actually know it worked.”
He then leans back on the sofa, running a hand through his hair. “And unfortunately, while it does explain a few things, it hasn’t really given us anything we can use.”
“ Not necessarily.”
Keith and Katarina look up to see Gerald standing up, having reached across to grab the medallion.
“ If the rune works, then it’s likely this route works as well,” he says. “If one of us uses this device in the rune, we can get through without the song.”
“ But that route was never tested,” Keith says. “We have no way of proving that it’ll work.”
Gerald gives a soft laugh. “The very fact that we got through here using the phrase ‘I wish’ while using our alternatives as a focus means it will. The ‘wish’ requirement is all the proof we need. The problem is it’ll likely only work on one.”
“ So one of us steps into the rune, goes home and explains what’s missing,” Keith says. “We don’t know how the rune was sabotaged, but if nothing else, we can take the song through. That might be enough to figure it out.”
Keith nods. “It makes senses, but who do we send?”
“ Maybe I should-” Katarina starts.
“ That will not be happening.”
She squeaks and leans back as the other two spin round on her, looking frantic.
“I mean, I don’t want to,” she defends. “There's something I planned to do tomorrow. But since I can read the notes, I can probably help them on the other-”
“ You will not be going anywhere, Sis,” Keith says. “I’m not letting you out of my sight.”
“ While I wish I could say the same, I do believe it should be me,” Gerald says, looking down at the item in his hand. “While you can translate, I don’t want you anywhere near that other Prince given what he did. Ignoring that skill, of the three of us, I’m the one most capable of figuring out what went wrong on their end.”
To their surprise, Katarina – looking unusually serious – starts to nod. “Well, if you don’t want to send me, I guess I agree with Prince Gerald. He probably is the best choice.”
“ Really, Sis?”
“ That much faith in me, dear fiancee?”
“ Ah, I’m sure it’s safe,” Katarina insists. “But, if we’re going to be bringing the originals back soon, then there’s something I think me and Keith have to do first.”
Keith frowns. “There is?”
Katarina nods. “It might be kind of awkward, but I don’t think it’s right to leave things as they are. I’ll tell you about it tomorrow, and I won’t make you help if you don’t want to, but it would be best if we did it together.”
He can’t help but be suspicious, but Keith nods in compliance, then glances over at Gerald, who seems rather relaxed considering the risk.
“ Are you sure?” Keith said, sounding unusually reluctant. “We can’t guarantee anything with that.”
“ That alternative is waiting for the others to figure it out,” Gerald replies, eyes flitting over to Katarina for a brief moment. “And besides, waiting for ‘others to figure things out’ hasn’t had much success for me.”
“ Huh, what do you mean, Prince Gerald?”
Gerald just shakes his head, and smiles. “Besides, if nothing else, I very much want to have words with my other self.”
“ We should still wait till the morning though!” Katarina says, looking at the sigil with some worry, and the Prince nods.
“ I agree. We should probably leave the rest of these documents for the morning too – all of us could use more than a few hours of uninterrupted sleep at this point.
Keith frowns, before walking over and grabbing the medallion from Gerald’s hands.
“ In which case, I believe it’s best if this is not with you when you go to sleep, your Highness,” he says. “Don’t want you spending the night in conversation after all.”
Gerald quickly grabs it back. “I’m sure I can handle it.”
Keith quickly reaches over, and Gerald leans back. Katarina can only watch their antics with amusement.
‘ Honestly, you’d think they weren’t smart, attractive guys, ’ she thinks to herself. ‘ Why on earth would you need support from another you to succeed? In romance or life, there’s nothing you can’t have. ’
Honestly, sometimes she really does worry about the intelligence of her friends.
Isekai World – Game Characters
The next morning, as the dawn breaks, Prince Alan snaps awake, his eyes wide in shock.
He knows where he’s seen that sigil before.
Thanks for waiting all - had some frustration finding a way to convey information without making it an info dump. And as I mentioned it on Discord once, the song in the rune is the anime's end song 'Bad End' - appropriated as the theme song for Time Tales All.
Next chapter will have us back to our regularly scheduled POV switches. We're starting to reach the final stretch!
Also, keep forgetting to mention is, but Through the Looking Glass now has a TV tropes page! You can find it at: tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Fanfic/ThroughTheLookingGlassMyNextLifeAsAVillainess