Akuyaku Reijou ni Koi Wo Shite:
“Event: The Denunciation of the Villainess”
The entire school seemed to be wrapped in an uneasy atmosphere.
Rumors that the Crown Prince secretly used royal family’s influence to force a dismissal of Rion swiftly spread among the students.
The students of minor noble rank, who built a rapport with Rion before, disagreed with Arnold’s methods and started to develop a mistrust towards him and the three marquess rank lordlings close to him.
From the start of his Academy life there was dissatisfaction with how he treated his finacée, Ariel, but until now that was actively mollified by Rion. But now, with Rion’s disappearance and Ariel’s depression caused by it, that discontent could be contained no longer.
Of course, since the people causing the unrest belong to royalty and high aristocracy, the dissidents could not voice their opinions in the open. They kept their views low key, only exchanging them with other sympathetic individuals.
But the thing with unrest is, that once enough of it accumulates, it seeks for an outlet. And the easiest target to vent on was Maria, whose social station carried little weight.
「Doing things like this… Do you think you can get away with it?」
Maria, with her desk turn upside down in front of her and her belongings strewn on the floor around it, muttered in annoyance.
「Hmm? I’ll be quite alright, after all, I have no fiancée you can steal」
Unyielding before Maria’s harsh aura the female student fired back a reply full of sarcasm.
「You did this, didn’t you!?」
「I know nothing about all this. I just spoke from the perpetrator’s likely point of view.」
「Don’t play dumb!」
Maria had a different atmosphere around her compared to when she was being chastised by the noble students. Her opponent this time was a student of an even lower pedigree than her and, on top of that, these chastisements would result in no future gains for her.
In the game, the commoner students would cheer up the protagonist as she was receiving the harassment from students from nobility and were generally supportive allies. However, in this world, Maria has splendidly earned their animosity.
Although the improved relationship between them and the Windhill siblings was partly to blame, Maria was also at fault for ignoring all the events that would improve her relationship with female students as she focused on capturing the males.
「Do you have any proof to accuse me?」
「Pointing fingers at other people without evidence is a horrible thing to do. But I guess I should expect no better from someone that got another House’s servant dismissed for no reason.」
More sarcasm, but this time it wasn’t aimed solely at Maria.
「You! Do you think you’ll be forgiven for saying things like that?」
「What did I say?」
「What did you say? Did you just not criticize the Crown Prince!?」
「Eh? Are you serious right now? How foolish. The Crown Prince is a gentleman who would never resort to such cheap tactics.」
To those who overheard this, these words clearly hid even more sarcasm pointed at Arnold, who had to resort to cheap tactics to get rid of Rion.
「How dare you…」
For Maria, getting chastised by the students of lower birth was considerably irritating. The harassment from the noble students could be called cute in comparison. Although both were similar and involved things like hiding her belongings or getting her dirty, the nobles admitted their culpability in one way or another.
They would even sneer at the seemingly troubled Maria. Although that also was to make fun of her, being able to see who the perpetrators were somehow put her mind at ease.
She understood that when the chastisements by the commoner students started.
The commoners would never reveal the perpetrators. The female student who looked and acted like the culprit might indeed not be playing dumb. There was a good chance that she actually didn’t know anything about who had done it.
Now she neither knew who her enemy was nor how many enemies did she have in total. She found that uncertainty unnerving.
Furthermore, these chastisements had no connection to the game whatsoever. No matter how much she tried to put up with them, they would never be connected to the events of her capture targets.
If there was anything they could lead to, that would be…
「Stop this immediately! If you continue this behavior you’ll find House Aquasmea as your enemy.」
…More instances of Lancelot, whose route was already concluded, protecting her. Usually, his appearance caused, the female students to withdraw. However, it was hard not to notice that those girls looked at him with scorn.
Suddenly the number of female students remaining in the classroom fell greatly. Even the ones bearing no ill-will towards Maria felt displeased about the current situation.
It was because the ambiance made it harder for them to concentrate on their studies.
Maria knew that in time, this would turn into another animosity.
「…Lancelot. I don’t believe that aggravating them further is helpful.」
「Really, Charlotte? What would be your solution?」
「Mine? … Talk to them, reach an understanding.」
「You want us to kneel before them!?」
「I said no such thing! I am just advising dialog!」
「That’s the same as admitting defeat.」
「Oh, and how did you reach that conclusion!?」
The moderate Charlotte and the hard-line Lancelot. Their opinions failed to find common ground.
「I think we should eliminate the source of all this instead.」
And there was another hardliner, even more extreme than Lancelot. It was Erwin. If there was someone taking delight from the whole ordeal it would be him.
Although this was a conflict between aristocrats and the commoners, if one was to trace it to the source, it would inevitably lead them back towards the Crown Prince and the Windhill siblings.
And Erwin was someone that would never miss a chance to knock those two off their perch.
「How? That requires accusing a member of a Marquess House of a crime. It can’t be done without a good justification.」
「Justification? Don’t we have enough reasons? Disrespect of the Crown Prince, disrespect of Maria… Pretty much an affront to the whole royal family..」
「You think to use rumors surrounding Maria… These still require evidence, though.」
Ten years ago, when the Crown Prince had just turned a year old, the country was shaken by an unbelievable crime, the kidnapping of a newly-born princess.
A relentless manhunt that followed turned up no leads about the child’s whereabouts and no clues about perpetrators of the crime giving the incident an aura of mystery.
These days the kingdom was full of rumors naming Maria as the true missing princess. It was said that the Queen, catching a glance of Maria, inadvertently called her the princess. But that left the question of why nobody had confirmed or disproved this yet.
「Is there no way around this?」
The person Erwin asked was Arnold. However, the only reply given was a taciturn shake of the head.
「Is that so…」
「Really… Why doesn’t his majesty try to resolve this question? This could be the return of the missing princess, I can’t think of a more important matter.」
「…There’s no way to conclusively prove it’s her.」
Lancelot’s question was answered by Arnold himself.
「No way…? But I heard that Maria’s features are strikingly similar to the missing princess’.」
「It’s comparing a grown lady to a newborn child. All that’s unquestionable is the hair and eye color. It is not possible to acknowledge Maria just with that.」
「Isn’t black hair very rare, though?」
Black hair was a proof of excellent affinity for magic. Leaving aside the reasons for that belief, it was such a rare hair color that thinking this way was not unreasonable.
「Don’t misunderstand, I do feel bad for Maria. However, this is not the first time. Others claimed to be the princess in the past. All of them were frauds, obviously. But that caused Mother great pain every time it happened. And now that the wounds were almost healed, Maria appears… I can’t fault Father for being cautious.」
「Quite understandable. No wonder the matter looks impossible.」
「We are drifting far from the subject. Weren’t we talking about dissolutions of his highness’ betrothal?」
Again, the moderate Charlotte interfered with the conversation. Her views aside, dissolving the engagement had been her objective from the very beginning. This intervention was just made in order to guarantee that happens.
「We were. But justifying this is as hard as accusing Ariel of a crime.」
The proposed marriage was political, to break it off they would need reasons good enough to satisfy Lord Windhill. Cancelling without a good enough reason would instantly raise great mistrust in House Windhill towards the crown.
「That… I honestly never wanted to be the one saying this, but…」
Erwin spoke as if struggling with something.
「Do you know something that might help?」
「I do… However… I have no proof… But…」
Erwin continued to speak even though it looked as if it was a hard thing for him to say.
「What is it? We can’t be sure unless we hear it.」
「The relationship between sister and that valet… There were rather ugly rumors about them…」
Although Arnold stayed silent, Erwin didn’t miss the twitch of his eyebrows in response to this.
「This is not news」
Lancelot’s face openly questioned what was he about. After all the suspicions about the intimacy of Ariel’s and Rion’s relationship were the main reason the cancellation of the engagement was on the agenda.
「It is not what you think. This rumor says that back when the two of them resided in the mansion, they have already…」
「What are you trying to say?」
「…They were rumored to be in a mature relationship.」
「…Wh-What was this?」
Lancelot’s eyes opened wide in surprise. Unsurprisingly, this was way beyond his expectations.
Arnold, in turn, went stiff hearing this, his rigid body not moving a muscle.
「That… Is hard to believe. How old were those two back then?」
「Ten, perhaps eleven?」
「Impossible. They were just kids.」
It wasn’t, in fact, unseen for ten-year-old children to marry. But charlotte herself was like a child when it came to matters of love and this statement showed that.
「Nevertheless, there were multiple times when sister visited Rion’s room after dark.」
「…If that was to be true.」
「Lancelot? This cannot possibly be true, you know.」
「So what? We can have it investigated anyway. There are people for those kinds of tasks.」
「Tell me you are kidding?」
Although Lancelot said this jovially, it would be an unfathomable humiliation for any girl forced to undergo such a thing. That was a method that Charlotte, a lady herself, would never agree with.
「If these allegations are confirmed we will add them to our complaint about her conduct. We have to file the complaint anyway, and soon. Arnold needs to hasten the matter too or we won’t make it before preparations for the marriage begin.」
The preparation for a royal family’s wedding took a considerable amount of time. Coordinating with the invitees from the neighboring kingdoms and even just sending letters of invitation to them would take months. Arnold’s desire to hold the marriage right after graduation had already been made public. It wouldn’t be strange for the preparations to start immediately.
「In that case, let’s just proceed with the complaint we prepared already, without the part about an affair.」
「No, we will put it in. So that an examination would be arranged. There are also grave doubts about the nature of the relationship between the lady and the valet – that should be enough.」
「Stop this! Arnold-sama, are you going to just let this happen!?」
Charlotte and Lancelot, when the two of them couldn’t come to an agreement, they would defer to Arnold.
But the response that Charlotte wished for, didn’t come this time. The doubts that Arnold’s heart was harboring were too big. His will lost to the urge to know the truth.
And that was how things developed just as Maria wished without her having to say a single word. With Rion gone, there was no one to obstruct the World’s plots any longer.
Ariel would never agree to have her chastity examined. The mere fact of it being doubted was already a huge slap to her face given her social standing and life of exemplary conduct expected of a fiancée of the Crown Prince.
Erwin knew that and it was exactly why he brought up a baseless rumor about her and Rion.
The results were as he expected. Ariel flat out refused to be examined and the official report of that matter could only state that fact. The way it was written made this refusal look like an implied admission of guilt.
There was a story making rounds in the royal castle, that as a retaliation for the examination attempt Ariel was scheming with the support of her brother, Vincent. They were said to incite the commoners and agitate against the crown.
That came from a complaint note filed by Lancelot, which he formulated with Erwin and their witness, Maria.
The extreme language of that report was to be expected given Erwin’s desire to depose his half-siblings. However, neither Lancelot nor Maria was invested so much.
Lancelot certainly did wish for the fall of Vincent. He definitely didn’t want Vincent to stand next to him as someone of equal rank. But his aims were limited to stripping Vincent of his birthright and breaking off Ariel’s engagement.
Maria, on the other hand, didn’t aim for anything in particular. She already knew the ending. The betrothal would be dissolved and Ariel would end up married off to a lord of a certain distant land. Vincent would lose his titles, his fate after that was not discussed in the game.
So with two of them only expecting so much from the complaint, they never thought that it would blow up to such a big thing., Even Erwin, despite actively plotting the downfall of his siblings, was surprised.
「Ariel Woodville. Heed us. Is what was written in this report the truth?」
The people that suddenly showed up at the Academy to cross-examine Ariel belonged to the Royal Guard’s investigation branch, they were a rare sight not only in the capital but even at the royal castle.
The branch was tasked with exposing the irregularities within chivalric orders, as well as crushing those who would plot to oppose the crown.
They would not shy from any means, even the cruelest ones, in pursuit of their duty. No person alive, regardless of guilt, dared to wish to get acquainted with them.
Their presence meant that the kingdom officials accepted Lancelot’s complaint at face value.
「I believe them to be a mixture of fact and untruths.」
Ariel, facing the investigators was, as usual, showing no signs of being perturbed.
「In that case, which parts are true?」
「…Before I answer, I have a question of my own.」
「Regardless of your background, you are under suspicion now. Your usual rights no longer apply, you would do well to keep that in mind.」
It would be more accurate to say that she had none. The investigation branch was feared so much exactly because they could investigate anyone without limits, with exception of the King himself.
「My question is crucial to establishing the truth.」
Ariel showed no signs of faltering. This made Lancelot’s group, that gathered immediately after hearing of the interrogation, very relieved.
If it was this Ariel, she would be able to properly de-escalate this situation. They looked for solace in those self-centered thoughts.
「Ask. We promise no answer.」
「If I was to deny all the allegations, would you withdraw?」
「We cannot answer that question」
There was almost no one who found that answer strange. If the investigators were just going to back down after hearing a denial, there would’ve been no need for them to come in the first place. But they also should have said exactly that to Ariel’s question.
「I see… Would it be correct to assume that your investigation is limited to me and my brother only?」
「That… Is not a question we can answer either.」
The investigator, who until now had consistently kept an expressionless face, wavered slightly.
The meaning of this was clear. The investigation was not limited to the siblings. Ariel began to deeply ponder who else could the investigators be after.
「If you’re done asking, we’d have you provide some answers now. Are the contents of this complaint accurate?」
Investigator suddenly demanded an answer as if to derail her train of thoughts. His face was visibly flustered.
「Ah, yes… You wanted to know whether that was truth or not…」
Ariel was clearly stalling for time. What was the investigator flustered about? She really wanted to learn that.
「Give us an answer, if you please. Our time is not unlimited.」
The gaze of the investigator moved slightly, an opening born from impatience. Ariel didn’t miss that. She was able to roughly grasp the aim of the investigation now. However, that left her troubled struggling for a good solution.
She was considering who should she protect.
「Lady Ariel, we demand a prompt answer. Be honest and open with us, isn’t aiding justice also a noble’s duty?」
「A noble’s duty…」
That actually gave another hint to Ariel. The worst possible hint in this situation. But anyone that knew the truth about this World would conclude that this was also its intervention.
「Why hesitate? All we require is honest answers. You wouldn’t want to lose your status as my fiancee now, would you?」
Even the Crown Prince lost patience and intervened in the hearing. All to make Ariel voice the desired thing, not the one Arnold looked for, the one the World did.
This was something that Ariel was ill at ease with for some time now. She not only came to desire the cancellation of her betrothal to Arnold but she even wanted to throw away her social position.
「Enough of this, answer me!」
Again the voice of the investigator that sought an answer. And facing that demand, Ariel slowly opened her mouth.
「…Yes. Everything was my doing.」
The investigator that was pressuring Ariel for an answer opened his eyes in surprise.
「I was the instigator. The harassment of Maria, the disaffection towards the Crown Prince, all that happened on my orders.」
「…Is this a serious answer?」
「Why do you think it is not?」
Ariel answered with a smile on her face. She had resolved herself, no, it might’ve been the smile of someone who had discarded all burdens.
「Do you, perhaps, misunderstand our purpose here?」
「Who do you take me for? I am familiar with all the institutions of the country.」
There was no one else could boast that kind of knowledge at such age. The reason why Ariel was able to do this was due to her sense of duty as a Queen Candidate.
As the investigator realized this his face turned cloudy. It was the first human-like expression he had shown in a long time.
「As a result of these crimes you are facing heavy charges.」
「Oh? Just for a bit of chastisement? I would never expect that.」
「Things are more serious than this. Disrespecting the crown, upsetting social order. That is high treason.」
「Oh… Did the country really change so much? To call petty chastisements treason?」
「We offer you a chance. If your statement before was a joke, say so.」
「I am guilty of all those things. That is the truth.」
Even this opportunity offered by the investigators was ignored by Ariel. But they decided to give her one more chance to change her mind.
「I hope you are aware that with this admission your brother, Vincent Woodville, will be punished as well.」
「…Brother had no involvement with this.」
Hearing the name of her brother come up made the composure on Ariel’s face momentarily vanish.
「Proper investigation will answer this question.」
「My brother is unrelated to this matter! I carried all this on my own!」
「If you want to protect your brother, cease jesting and speak the truth. You know this is all it takes.」
「…I …Am speaking the truth. I am faithful to my aristocratic pride.」
Although she looked cornered giving the answer, she said the last part clearly. What she should be protecting… Ariel was unable to betray the person who taught her that.
「I see… Guards, arrest Ariel Woodville.」
「Is this really alright?」
「Do it. That is our duty.」
With investigators flanking her, Ariel was taken out of the Academy. At roughly the same moment Vincent was arrested at a separate venue. He made the same decision Ariel did.
That concluded the last event of the Academy arc. The plot has now safely reached the conclusion that the World desired.