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My Next Life as a Heroine: Why Have the Villainess Death Flags Gone?

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Maria Campbell stands outside the gate of the Magic Academy, and squees, practically dancing in the courtyard.

“Aaaaahhhhh!!! I’m finally here!!!”

It’s been a long seven years. Seven years since she fell out of a tree, hit her head, and remembered another life. She’d lived in another world, in a country called Japan, and been something of a shut in, devoted to her video games. Her favourites had been otome romance ones – especially when you could obtain a reverse harem. Normal people were annoying and thought she was weird, but why waste any time with them when you could spend hours and hours making unnaturally beautiful men fall in love with you on screen?

She’d been sixteen when she died in an accident – falling down the stairs of family’s apartment, and found herself waking up at eight years old in a tiny Western style village.

It had taken a few days, but when she’d finally gotten a good look at her face (so much prettier than her past life, jackpot!), recognition had come to her in a flash. She was Maria Campbell, the heroine of Fortune Lover, one of her favourite otome video games. Which meant she was destined for greatness in all the right ways.

Living in the village had been frustrating for the last few years. Even though people praised her because she had magic, none of the children her age would interact with her, and even her mother was distant. But Maria had ignored all of it, merely studying and training her magic as much as possible. She hadn’t even bothered trying to make friends with her sweets, nobody here was worth the effort. Normal mobs hadn’t been worth the effort in her former life and they certainly weren’t now. She had no plans on coming back once she went to the Academy after all – she’s going to become friends with nobles and lover of royalty, and everyone who treated her badly will regret it.

Oh, everything is finally going to go right for her now. It’s been a lonely few years, but she didn’t dare change the plot. If she wasn’t smart and studious and lonely, she might not be able to interact with her future harem properly.

She giggles as the gate opens and she skips towards the building, basking in the crowds watching her approach with curious eyes. It might have been years since she played the game, but she made a point to write everything down so she wouldn’t forget. Thankfully, she’d completed every route in Fortune Lover, so she knew how to win the hearts of all the gorgeous boys and obtain her happy harem life. She had on occasion considered just targeting one since it would be far less effort, but Prince Gerald needed her to enjoy life, and Prince Alan needed someone to make him more confident, and oh, poor Keith needs to know true kindness, and the Nicol needs an intervention before he hits ultimate siscon. And then there’s Raphael. It would be a crime not to romance all of them. Really, it’s her civic duty!

True, she could just go for the friendship route, but honestly, if she’s going to put in all that effort, she should get some reward, right? These games are the best when everyone falls in love with the main character – that’s the whole point of them!

Her giggling gets even more higher pitched as she fantasises about Gerald spinning her around a ballroom, Alan composing songs in her honour, Nicol sweeping her hair back and smiling at only her, and Keith kneeling and swearing he’d never look at another woman again. A life filled with riches, power and utter devotion. Oh, she’s going to have a very happy future indeed.


Once orientation is over, she starts to wonder the grounds, looking for the right tree. In the game, Maria gets lost, and decides to climb a tree to find her way. Gerald sees her mid-action, and his interest is piqued. Once she’s far enough away from the main campus that being lost should be reasonable, she finds a suitable candidate, with a low hanging branch that should be strong enough to hold her weight.

“Alley-oop,” she says, grabbing the branch and climbing upwards. Once she’s a few branches up, she hesitates – if she goes too high, Prince Gerald won’t be able to see her.

Instead, she shuffles a little outwards, to make sure she’s not hidden by the branches, and starts looking round for the Prince. About a minute later, her face lights up when she sees a white suit and blonde hair.

Ahh! Prince Gerald!’

He’s even more handsome in person! Granted his personality needs some work, but Maria knows exactly how to destroy his wicked nature and make him her perfect Prince Charming.

Just as he’s nearly under the tree, Maria jumps down a branch, and when Gerald looks up, Maria quickly makes her entrance, dropping to the ground with her hands on her cheeks. She’s seen this scene so many times in the game she knows it by heart!



Oh no! I showed you such an embarrassing side of myself!”

Were you climbing a tree in those clothes? You’re a very peculiar person.”

I’m very sorry! It was an emergency!”

Oh, are you lost?”

Oh um, yes.”

Then let me accompany you on the way back.”



“Oh no! I showed you such an embarrassing side of myself!” Maria says, trying for ashamed but finding it very hard with such a handsome teen in front of her.

Prince Gerald looked up at the tree, and smiles indulgently.

“Were you climbing a tree in those clothes?”

Maria falters. It’s right, but it’s not complete.

What?’

Suddenly, comprehension flashes on Gerald's face.

“Oh, are you lost?”

“Oh um, yes,” Maria says, getting back on track. Gerald nods.

“Then let me accompany you on the way back.”

Maria lights up. “Thank you!”

Gerald smiles, and the two of them start heading back towards the building. Unfortunately, there was no cut scene that described what they spoke about, and after they’ve introduced themselves, Maria starts to panic – this silence seems so awkward!

“Ah, I’m so embarrassed!” she says. After all, girls shouldn’t climb trees in skirts. Perhaps Gerald was only thinking the peculiar line in reality. “I’m so sorry about this. It’s my first day and I got lost.”

Prince Gerald however, just laughs it off.

“Don’t worry about it,” he says. “Not the first time I’ve seen a girl climbing a tree.”

Maria’s smile freezes on her face.

Eh?’

Oblivious to her shock, Gerald stops as the reach the first building and starts pointing.

“You want to head to the second building for the first year dormitories,” he tells her. “It’s just around the corner. You probably saw the sign when you were up the tree.”

He gives another killer smile. “I hope you have a pleasant time at the Magic Academy. Good day.”

And with that, he walks off, leaving an astonished Maria in his wake.

“...Wait, what?” she splutters. “Not the first time?”

Her face falls, and she starts walking – only to stop. She’d been so focused on meeting the Prince, she hadn’t actually looked at her surroundings, and his reaction had been so off, she hadn’t paid attention.

“Where was I supposed to go again?”


She’s late to the afternoon orientation to figure out her schedule, but makes it through the tour without too much issue. The meeting with Prince Gerald however, keeps running through her head.

You know, it’s probably fine,’ she thinks. ‘I mean, that was a game, and this is real life. Of course the lines would be different. Maybe I came across too embarrassed and he just wanted to give me a hand. That’s what it was.’

After a few days, she discards her worries so she can get her head in the game. Keith’s first interaction is coming up. He’ll start flirting with her, and it’s imperative that she not fall for it. His interest comes in her rejection...



Ah, you must be Maria Campbell. The commoner student everyone’s talking about.”

Yes. And who are you?”

Keith Claes. How about the two of us get to know each other a little better? I know an excellent tea shop just outside campus.”

...I’m sorry, but I don’t date men I’ve just met.”

She runs off, and Keith picks up the handkerchief she drops by mistake.

Rejection on my first day? Well now, let the dance begin, my pretty maiden.”



Her face lights up when she leaves the building and sees Keith talking to some students in sight of her. He’s just as handsome as Prince Gerald! Perfect!

Now compose yourself Maria,’ she says to herself. ‘Can’t make any mistakes this time. Be kind, and then be offended. He’ll be attracted to the chase.’

Maria doesn’t like playboys, but there’s definitely something satisfying about being the woman a playboy is willing to change for. She’ll be the first person to ever show Keith true affection, and he’ll be hers in no time at all.

She walks past, making sure Keith has a good view of her. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees him catch sight of her – and then go back to his conversation without a care.

It takes immense effort not to stumble on the brickwork, stopping where she stands. She frantically looks round, and darts over to look at the flower beds, pretending that’s what caused the distraction.

I don’t understand, he’s a total flirt! He should be all over me by now!’ her mind wails. She looks exactly like Maria in the game, so it’s certainly no fault on her end.

Then again, Gerald hadn’t reacted how she’d expected...maybe she needs to poke the plot along a bit. Out of sight, she quickly pulls her handkerchief out of her pocket, so that it’ll easily fall out, and starts walking away. After all, the second encounter isn’t much different with Keith.



Here Miss, I believe you dropped your handkerchief,”

Oh, thank you, Keith”

Now, now, if you want me to return it to you,” he starts, and leans over Maria. “Why don’t you go on a date with me.”

But, that doesn’t seem fair.”

One date, dear Maria. What’s the harm?”

O-okay, one date...”



“Excuse me, Miss? I think you dropped your handkerchief.”

Maria turns, and her face lights up.

It worked! Oh he really is attractive...No, focus Maria!’

“Oh, thank you,” she says, holding out her hand, and waiting for Keith to smirk and begin flirting.

Keith however, merely places the handkerchief into her hand and smiles.

“Glad I could help. Have a good day.”

He then turns and starts running back towards the building he’d come from, not noticing Maria’s jaw drop.

“Hah?” she squawks. ‘No flirting? No teasing? What kind of playboy are you???

First Prince Gerald, and now Keith? What’s going on?


A few days later, and her frustration’s aren’t any better. Despite her best attempts, she’s only seen Gerald and Keith from a distance, and fleeting glances of Alan and Nicol. Keith in fact, seems to be actively avoiding her – any time she spots him and smile, he just looks depressed.

Most frustratingly, she can’t seem to trigger Nicol’s first event. In the game, Maria bumps into him coming out of the library looking for a book for his sister. Maria realises it’s the book she’s reading and gives it to him. Nicol is charmed by her helpfulness, and becomes fascinated. But no matter how many times she goes to the library, Nicol never appears! She’s seen his sister Sophia come in and out all the time, which is weird because Sophia is supposed to be shy and too afraid to go anywhere with Nicol, but no Nicol himself.

Well that’s stops as of today! They had their first exam this morning, and the results will be posted this afternoon. The top ranking students will automatically be part of the student council – which means she’ll have constant access to all her future boyfriends. Alan’s first event will happen this afternoon too, and then she can see about triggering Nicol’s. Maybe if they have a conversation in the Student Council, she can get him the book he needs.

As she turns the corner, she sees the results up on the wall, clear as day. And standing in front of them is Alan. Perfect!



Oi, you’re the new transfer student?”

Y-yes. You’re Prince Alan?”

Don’t get a big head just because you got a better score than me! You’re still just a commoner!”



Maria snickers to herself. Alan is such a tsundure, but it won’t take much to break him out of it. By the third event, she’ll have that wall cracked down.

She heads straight for him, but stills when she realises he’s not alone. That hair and dress...Katarina Claes!

To be honest, she’s a little surprised she hasn’t run into the main villainess of Fortune Lover until now. She’s certain there was at least one cut scene where she interacts with the spoiled and arrogant fiancée of Prince Gerald after their first event, but while she’s seen her in the hallways and sometimes in class, Katarina has never once said a word to her.

Though, perhaps in this world, Katarina doesn’t actually know what the ‘commoner’ student looks like. That could explain it – maybe she’ll have both events back to back.

Nodding to herself, she steps forward, only to hesitate yet again when she picks up their conversation.

“Are you unhappy with your rank?” Katarina is asking, and Alan makes a nonchalant shrug.

“No, I don’t really care about winning or losing,” Alan replies. “People have things they’re good at, and things they’re bad at.”

Maria’s jaw drops.

What?

“There’s no point in worrying about every little thing,” Alan continues, and starts staring at Katarina. “Anyway, one of the teachers suggested I play a recital here at school. What do you think?”

Katarina claps her hands, and looks over at Alan in glee.

“That sounds great! A lot of people look forward to hearing you play!”

Maria doesn’t even hear the rest of the conversation, turning on her heel and walking down the corridor with a pale face.

What’s going on? Doesn’t care about winning or losing? Playing a recital? Alan shouldn’t even be considering playing at school yet. He’s supposed to still be withdrawn and suffering from an inferiority complex regarding his skills! Instead, this Alan is remarkably well adjusted, Maria’s presence means nothing to him!

And then there was Katarina! She’s not supposed to care about Prince Alan at all! Let alone be encouraging him.

“This is supposed to be my world,” Maria hisses under her breath. “Why isn’t anyone on script?”

How can she win the hearts of anyone if they’re refusing to play their roles?


“Welcome to the Student Council. I’m Sirius Deek. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

Finally,’ Maria thinks to herself, smiling as she bows. ‘Somebody reacting as they should.’

With so many misfires, she’d come into the Student Council expecting yet another problem, but whatever is affecting the main capture targets hasn’t corrupted the hidden one yet. Sirius has reacted exactly as he did in the game this entire meeting.

To be honest, Nicol has been pretty similar as well. Despite the lack of library event, Nicol greeted Maria word for word when she entered the room, so he at least, should be easy enough to seduce.

Since this is the first meeting, Sirius had taken Maria to the side to explain the intricacies of the Student Council’s role, while Nicol, familiar with the other members, was inducting them. As they finish up, and everyone selects their own desk, Maria is giddy to try and begin conversation, when Prince Gerald suddenly looks up and smiles over at Sirius.

“Now that everyone is up to date, what about the request we made earlier?” he asks, and Maria frowns as everyone looks over at the president eagerly. Sirius looks a little awkward, and rubs the back of his head.

“Well, it’s a little unprecedented, but if everyone in the Council agrees to it, there shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Um, what request?” Maria asks, rather thrown. She doesn’t remember this happening at all.

To her surprise, Sophia is the one who answers, clapping her hands in glee. Maria only just hides her shock, considering she’s supposed to be an utter wallflower.

“While the Student Council room is only supposed to be for the members, we wanted to invite someone else to come in regularly,” she explains. “We’re all friends, and we didn’t want to leave her out.”

“Not to mention certain people won’t show up unless they can keep an eye on her,” Mary mutters under her breath, and Keith scowls.

“Pot calling Kettle, Miss Hunt.”

Maria has barely enough time to process that little interaction, when there’s a knock at the door, and she’s privy to the sight of both Keith and Gerald both bolting from their seats to grab it, only to freeze and sit back down when they realise Nicol is already at the door. Maria leans slightly over her own desk to see-

“Good afternoon!” Katarina Claes greets, and Maria’s jaw drops.

Katarina doesn’t appear to notice, going straight to Sirius with a smile.

“Thank you for letting me attend the Student Council,” she says. “I promise to try and stay out of the way.”

“It’s no problem at all,” Sirius assures her. “From what I’ve heard, you’re necessary to keep everything running smoothly.”

Katarina frowns and cocks her head, but Maria watches everyone at their desks hide affectionate smiles.


That evening, Maria locks the door to her room, and heads straight for her desk. In it, is a locked box, and inside that, is a notebook, several years old.

This notebook is her most priceless possession. In it holds every secret in Fortune Lover, and is her bible for this school. Or at least it should be. Nobody is on script any more.

The entire Student Council meeting had been the final proof she needed that something major has changed. In the game, most of the characters had been somewhat friendly with each other, but all wrapped in their own problems and issues. There had been no signs of any of that this afternoon. Everyone had worked diligently on their work, with one taking a break at a time to drink tea and talk to Katarina. Even Mary, who is supposed to dislike Katarina! Even Sophia and Nicol! Who have no reason to even interact with her at all! Sophia was even pushing Nicol to talk longer – Sophia is supposed to be incredibly protective of anyone taking time away from her sibling!

And then there’s Katarina herself. There’s nothing of the arrogant, haughty noble Maria knows. She’s incredibly free with her expressions, goes giddy for the sweets in the room, and its clear within a few minutes, that everyone in that room is at least a little bit besotted with her.

Maria grits her teeth, and opens up the notebook, looking at her character bios, summing them up in her head.



Prince Gerald. The wicked Prince who excels at everything he does. Bored with life and finds everything dull. Engaged to the villainous Katarina Claes mostly out of duty for an injury that no longer exists, and to keep other woman away. Can be won over by introducing him to new ideas and Maria’s charm.



Prince Alan. The arrogant Tsundure Prince who was ill as a child and finds himself constantly compared to his brother. Engaged to Mary Hunt, who loves him dearly but who he himself sees as a little sister. Won by encouraging him to be himself and guiding him towards music.



Keith Claes. The adopted brother of Katarina Claes, who was treated badly by his family, resulting in him becoming a playboy for affection. Won with honesty, compliments about his magic, and defending him against Katarina.



Nicol Ascart. The son of the Prime Minister and brother to Sophia. Is fiercely protective of Sophia and does not have much life outside of protecting her. In order to gain his affection, you must help him with Sophia, and become her friend first, so she will be willing to help her brother obtain happiness at the cost of her own.



There’s also Raphael to consider, but unless she can win over these four, there’s nothing she can do about him. He’s the only one that’s genuinely dangerous to her, and without the plot to work as a shield, she doesn’t dare approach him. But these profiles aren’t right! Gerald seems to find plenty of things interesting, and is genuinely in love with Katarina. Alan is already passionate about music and doesn’t have nearly as much of a brother complex as the game depicted. Keith is a complete gentleman, and if anything a bigger siscon than Nicol is supposed to be. Nicol hasn’t asked for helped with Sophia once, because Sophia already has friends, and she seems to support a different crush for her brother entirely!

She looks at all the problems, and then writes down the one key difference. The one thing that can explain all these changes.

Katarina Claes.

She underscores the name, and scowls. There’s only one rational explanation for the story to be off script this badly. Maria Campbell is not the only one who has memories of another life. A certain Villainess has been sabotaging Maria before they ever even met.

If Maria wants to get things back on track, she and Katarina need to have a little chat...


The problem with that plan, is regardless of memories, Maria is a commoner and Katarina is very high nobility. She cannot just walk up to the other girl and demand answers. A tutor had been sent a few months before she arrived at the school and quite literally beaten in the proper etiquette for the school, and even if the game was on script, nobody will help her at this point in the plot. The only time the two interact is in the Council Room, and they are never left alone. So she keeps her answers crisp and bland.

Then, this Katarina talks about her sweets, and Maria has her proof. She’s never mentioned her sweets to anyone yet, or asked to use the kitchen yet, too unsure of her place in the plot. Katarina could only know due to the game.

Regardless, Maria takes the opportunity and requests permission to use the kitchen. Prince Gerald’s next event is coming up, and while she has no clue if it’s even going to happen, sweets are important for improving relations.

As she heads towards the Council Room, she’s in a poor mood, and even the sweet smell from her basket can’t improve it. So it’s genuinely quite a surprise to find her way blocked by several random girls, who insist on dragging her off the path and behind the bushes.

She has to bite her lip to stop from smiling, even as the girls start looming over her. They’re trying to be threatening, but to Maria it’s nothing but a relief. Even if Katarina isn’t playing her role, the game is still staying on course! It was never just her, and now, she just has to wait for Prince Gerald to come to her aid.

She barely pays any attention to the spiteful words heading her way, merely making sure she looks properly cowed and frightened, and has to fight the grin that wants to form when the ringleader knocks her basket to the ground, spilling her muffins on the grass.

Her heart is beating in excitement when the bully raises her foot to smash one – and her saviour comes rushing through the bushes.

“Stop it!”

The women all gasp as someone leaps to her defence, and Maria’s jaw drops to the floor, because that is not Prince Gerald in front of her.

“Miss Katarina Claes?” the bullies gasp.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Katarina yells, and while Maria can’t see the expression on her face, it sends the group fleeing into the bushes in fear. Katarina then turns to look at Maria with a satisfied grin, and Maria can only look in shock.

“What are doing?” she says, but Katarina doesn’t appear to hear her, sitting down and picking up the fallen muffins. To Maria’s horror, she starts eating them.

“Stop!” she yells, but the girl seems oblivious, so Maria drops to her knees and physically yanks Katarina’s hands away from her mouth.

“Prince Gerald is supposed to eat these!” she snaps, glaring at the other girl. “Not you!”

That apparently, is enough to shake Katarina back to reality, and she blinks several times at Maria’s angry expression.

“Prince Gerald is-”

“He was supposed to come save me!” Maria hisses. “You just ruined everything.”

The muffin in Katarina’s hand drops to the floor, and she takes a staggered breath.

“You...you have memories too,” she says, and to Maria’s surprise, grins and grabs her hands tight.

“Oh, this is perfect!” Katarina says. “If you know Fortune Lover, then that solves everything! I can avoid the bad endings this way!”

Maria frowns, and opens her mouth-

“So this is where you’ve been?”

The words she wants to say die in her throat as Prince Gerald arrives, and stares at the two on the ground, then at the fallen sweets.

“Huh, what’s happening here?”

Before Maria can formulate a plan, Katarina has let go of her hands, and is frantically picking up the sweets she hadn’t eaten.

“Some awful girls were picking on Maria,” she says. “They even knocked her sweets to the ground, it’s outrageous!”

Her eyes then flit to the muffin in her hand, and Maria gapes as her hand starts heading towards her mouth again. Suddenly, Prince Gerald is kneeling on the grass next to them, quickly plucking the sweet from her hand and putting it back into the basket. The look on his face is both somewhat exasperated, and rather doting.

“I’m sure they’re perfectly delicious Katarina, but you really shouldn’t eat food on the ground.”

“But they’re so good,” Katarina whines, and after a quick glance over at Maria, lights up. “Here!-”

She grabs another muffin and shoves it at Gerald’s face, and Maria squeaks as the Prince’s eyes go wide, but obediently swallows. His mouth twitches upwards, and then turns into a genuine smile when Katarina bites down on the remainder of it.

“You’re right, they really are delicious,” he says, and brushes some crumbs off Katarina’s cheek. Maria kind of feels like screaming. “But for now, let’s get the two of you back to the Council room. I’m sure Maria wont mind making these again, right Maria?”

“Um, of course,” Maria stutters. “If you like them Prince Gerald, I’ll happily make more.”

Gerald smiles, and lifts Katarina up, and then offers his hand to Maria, and they start walking towards the school. When Gerald steps through the bushes, Katarina pulls on Maria’s arm and whispers in her ear.

“Please, come to my room tonight,” she says. “We can talk more then.”


Several hours later, Maria finds herself standing outside Katarina’s room. She’s had some time to think about the situation, and when Katarina opens the door, she ignores all etiquette, storming straight in. Katarina however, doesn’t seem to mind.

“I can’t believe I’m not the only one,” she says, pulling out a chair at a table, and Maria scowls as she sits. She’d loved her rooms when she arrived, but it’s clear she’d been given a dorm for ‘lower’ nobility – it’s practically shabby compared to Katarina’s room.

“How long have you remembered?” she asks, even before Katarina has finished sitting herself.

“Seven years,” Katarina answers, and points to her forehead. “I remembered after I received my scar. You?”

Maria is still glaring. “Seven as well. I feel out of a tree.”

Katarina laughs. “Wow, that’s a little ironic. How has it been for you?”

She eagerly leans over the table. “I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed being able to talk about things from my other life. It’s so great that somebody else understands.”

“I have no interest in talking about my other life,” Maria snaps, taking some satisfaction when Katarina’s smile freezes. “From the minute I remembered, I decided I was Maria Campbell and no one else.”

That’s kind of a lie, but she has no interest in talking about it with this person. She has missed technology and entertainment and even her family, but Katarina at least got to be nobility. She’s gotten seven years of luxury, compared to Maria’s commoner lifestyle.

“O-oh,” Katarina says, sagging where she sits. It only takes a few moments for her to perk up though.

“Well, that’s okay,” she says. “We can talk about Fortune Lover. Do you know who you’re going to capture? I’ve put plans in place so I can avoid the bad endings, but if I know I can help make sure you succeed.”

“...Is this a joke?” Maria asks, and Katarina looks shocked.

“Huh, of course not. Why-”

“If you wanted to help, why have you sabotaged all the targets?” Maria snaps. “And today, you destroyed Prince Gerald’s flag! He was supposed to save me, not you!”

“I-sabotaged? I didn’t-”

Katarina is looking at her as if she just accused her of kicking puppies, but Maria doesn’t relent.

“Of course you did!” she says. “I climbed the tree just like the game, but Prince Gerald acted like he saw girls climbing all the time, and he’s clearly smitten with you. What did you do? Act like Maria to win him over?”

The brunette’s jaw drops.

“Smitten? What?”

She frantically shakes her head and gives a short laugh. “You must be confused. Prince Gerald just acts that way as part of his Prince act. He just uses me as a shield.”

Maria grimaces as the girl looms into her personal space.

“I’ve told him a dozen times I’ll break the engagement, but he refuses,” Katarina continues. “If you win him over, I promise I won’t stand in your way.”

She actually sounds genuine, and Maria can only look at her in astonishment. Is she really that oblivious? Gerald literally gave her an indirect kiss this afternoon!

“Well what about Keith?” Maria continues. “He didn’t flirt with me at all, and now he almost looks afraid of me. Did you threaten him away?”

“Of course not!” Katarina defends. “I even asked him about when he met you, and I’m pretty sure he’s already fallen for you. He went really red and was stuttering about it.”

She then looks a little guilty. “Although...he’s not a playboy any more. I did kind of change that.”

Maria’s eyes narrow. “Oh?”

“He was just so adorable!” Katarina whines, giving her puppy dog eyes. “I always wanted a little brother, and I always thought what happened to him in the story was so cruel. There was no way I was going to bully him! And things...kind of happened with my parents, so now Keith is their favourite, so he never needed to become a playboy to get affection. He’s drowning in it.”

She clenches her fists and pumps them in against her chest. “He’s a much better capture target now,” she assures Maria. “There’s no way he’d cheat on you, and he’s such a doting brother I know he’d make an amazing boyfriend.”

Yes, but I only know how to seduce a playboy!’ Maria screams in her head.

“What about Alan?” she continues. “I got better results than him, but I heard him talking to you – he didn’t care at all! He’s even performing music now.”

Katarina nods, and scratches her head. “Actually, that’s kind of a funny story, and it starts with me trying to avoid the bad endings.”

“...But Katarina isn’t involved in Alan’s route,” Maria asks.

“Well no, but I figured that if there was a good chance I’d get exiled, that I needed to have a trade I could use, and since I had earth magic, I decided to go with farming. Then, at a party, I met Mary-”

Maria just listens in utter disbelief as Katarina rambles out a ridiculous story about befriending Mary Hunt, inadvertently stealing Alan’s infamous line and throwing a wrench in that romance. How Alan’s inferiority complex had targeted her, and she’d challenged him to tree climbing, only for everything to accumulate in a music competition and a toy snake.

“Snakes?”

Katarina nods, and to Maria’s utter astonishment, pulls out a handmade toy snake that looks surprisingly realistic.

“I always carry one, just in case Gerald feels he has to kill me,” she says, without an ounce of humour. “But ever since that day, Alan and Gerald got along better, and Alan’s gotten a lot more confident. Still a complete tsundure though.”

Then her eyes narrow, and looks like the Villainess Maria has been expecting. “But he’s still Mary’s fiancée, so if you want him, I won’t help. She’s my friend first.”

“Fine. What about Nicol?” Maria says, and Katarina frowns.

“I didn’t really do anything there,” she admits. “I died before I played his route, but since Katarina didn’t have anything to do with his story, I can’t have changed it too much.”

Maria leans back. “You didn’t finish the game?”

“Nope. I’d done the first three, but I’d only just finished Gerald’s route when I died,” Katarina explains. “All I knew about his route is what my friend told me, which wasn’t much.”

Maria nods, filing that information away for later use. “But you still approached him.”

“Not really, that was more a happy accident?” Katarina explains. “I love reading romance novels, but most nobility think it’s lowbrow. Then I met Sophia at a garden party, and learned she liked reading too. To be honest, I didn’t even realise who she was until she came to visit and brought her brother.”

“Really?” she says in disbelief.

“Like I said, I never played his route! You barely see Sophia in the game unless you play it. I mean, sure, I thought she looked familiar, but she was a little girl. I didn’t recognise Mary until Keith told me she was getting engaged to Alan either.”

And that is all the confirmation Maria needs regarding the woman in front of her. She’s clearly a complete idiot. Nearly everything she has done has messed up the plot, and she doesn’t even seem to realise it!

“Anyway, I’ve spent the last seven years making sure I was prepared for the Magic Academy, no matter what happens,” Katarina continues. “So who is your favourite? What target do you want to get to know better?”

Under the table, Maria clenches her fists, and stares at Katarina’s hopeful face.

“All of them,” she says with a confident smile. “I’m going for the reverse harem.”

The speed Katarina’s face pales is wonderfully cathartic.

“What? You can’t!” she pleads. “That’s the worst possible outcome for everyone. It’s one thing to happen in the game, but a reverse harem would be dangerous in the real world. They’re all some of the highest ranking nobility in the country!”

“Exactly. So they have the power to do whatever they want,” Maria explains. “I’ve been dreaming of my harem for seven years, and I’m not giving it up just because you’ve thrown the plot off script.”

She crosses her arms and smirks. “Don’t forget, I’m the heroine of this world. Everyone was destined to be mine.”

Katarina finally stops looking defenceless, and starts glaring.

“They’re also my friends,” she warns. “And they all deserve to have a special someone. Not just a girl who thinks she deserves them.”

“So you’re not going to help me?” Maria asks, throwing the words back in her face. “Good. I can’t really succeed without a villainess trying to stop me.”

Katarina stands, hands slamming on the table. “That’s not what I-”

“But you are though!” Maria yells, standing up and slamming her own hands down. “Katarina Claes role in my story is to get in the way of my romance, and you’ve done that perfectly. You’ve turned Gerald’s head and made Keith uninterested in women and made Alan confident and befriended Sophia before I could do any of it. I knew exactly how to win them over, and you ruined it!”

“Then don’t follow a script,” Katarina offers, sounding desperate. “Spend time with them, let them spend time with you, and win them over another way. You’re beautiful and charming and talented – you don’t need a script, just be yourself.”

Maria laughs. It’s a sweet, sickly sound.

“Don’t be stupid, Katarina,” she says. “This is the world of an otome game. It doesn’t work if there’s no script.”

She points a finger in Katarina’s direction.

“You were smart to learn how to farm,” she says. “Because by the end of the year, I’ll have you exiled, and everyone you love fawning over me, not you. No matter what you do, Katarina Claes will be a Villainess.”

Katarina flinches, looking sick, and Maria takes the opportunity to leave. She closes the door as silently as she can, and starts heading back to her own room.

While she talks a good game, she’s extremely annoyed. Katarina being a dumb idiot rather than an arrogant brat means she actually has to work for her happy ending. All her memorised scripts are useless – the capture targets no longer have problems they need a heroine to save them from. So she’ll have to manufacture them, starting with destroying the reputation of their current ‘heroine.’

And after that little standoff, she’s certain Katarina will take the bait...