‘Just how the hell did I get stuck in this situation?’
My eyes wandered to the person sitting across from me, the flamboyant Duke that often threw me under the bus randomly with tiring theatrics. It hadn’t even been a week since the last one, where I had been volunteered to participate in the tournament, and already, another strange request was handed to me.
Certainly, my popularity with the general public increased as a result, but that was hardly the point. Cornelius always had ulterior motives. And this situation was no different.
I eyed the table set out before us, fancy china and silverware placed upon an embroidered tablecloth. Normally, it wouldn’t be odd for the two of us to be sharing a meal together. After all, the Chancellor and Duke having a casual lunch meeting in a nice restaurant in Reichenstein was pretty standard of high society.
If only it were a business meeting of sorts…
“Don’t you think this new overcoat looks just dandy on me?” Cornelius puffed out a sweet tone, making sure that it all was directed straight at me.
I just stared at her blankly and played along, leaning back in my chair before taking a sip of tea. “Shouldn’t you ask one of your adoring fans instead of me? I’m the last person to come asking for aesthetics and fashion.”
“Buuuut… I wanted to make sure to look as radiant as possible! After all, I was the one that requested for a date!”
I choked on my tea, nearly dropping the cup gently held in my right hand. If I had not propped it with the saucer in my other hand, it would’ve likely crashed to the ground. Instead, the sound of porcelain clinking covered my unsightly gag.
A date – that was what Cornelius had requested out of the blue.
Finding me a few days before, she had cleared my schedule for the next weekend ahead of time, ensuring that my normal responsibilities were taken care of. That set off numerous alarm bells, since she likely had done so on purpose to ask for a favor in return.
“Please, you have to help me. It’s time to finally nip things in the bud. The horde of female admirers has become a bit too much to handle. What better way to get them to back off gently than to present a suitable reason for my disguise?”
Even now, Cornelius had not revealed to everyone that she was actually female. Suddenly dropping that tidbit of information would surely rile up all the admirers that she had built up over the years.
However, if she happened to have an excuse for ignoring the flirtations from these girls, the blow would come more softly to them. Apparently, secretly admiring me was the ‘arranged reason’. Hence, the request for a date in public.
“Agh! Alright, already! I get it! I just have to hang out with you and do couple stuff, and then reject your confession at the end, right?”
The intent had been to portray Cornelius as a pining maiden with a secret so heavy that she had no choice but to reveal it and confess her feelings. After being left heartbroken, the surprise of her secret would hopefully be overshadowed by compassion among maidens in love.
‘But seriously, this was not what I had in mind!’
The Cornelius in front of me was not the hopeful maiden waiting to confess her feelings, but rather, the debonair flirtatious guy that she normally disguised herself as. And in that form and dressed nicely for the occasion, ‘he’ dragged me into the nearby café that was the start to our date.
“Why, in God’s name, did you show up like that?!” an obvious venom laced in my whispers. The last thing that I needed was to cause a scene.
“Did you think it would go smoothly if I had shown up as a girl beforehand? The eyes watching us would simply dismiss me as just another random girl, rather than the Duke. It is better to draw them in with us being affectionate, before the climactic reveal!”
Leave it to Corny to take out the ‘key’ details in her explanation. Internally, I slapped myself for falling into such a ploy. She knew that I wouldn’t go for it if that part hadn’t been left out. I could hear my other self howling with laughter in the dark corner of my mind.
“Now, now, my dear. You’re dribbling all over. A Chancellor must keep up his appearance.”
Cornelius reached over and dabbed my chin with a handkerchief. Meanwhile, I held in the urge to do an uppercut, not that it would do anything unless I hit a sweet spot.
“Well, sorry for being such a slob!” I turned away, feigning embarrassment.
Already, several young ladies at the surrounding tables had caught sight of this exchange and were whispering curiously to each other. Cornelius had picked this café knowing that many of the usual customers were from her fan club.
When our orders arrived, Cornelius did exactly what I expected ‘him’ to do – cut a forkful of cake and dangle it in front of me.
“Heeeere, have a bite of mine. Don’t be shy. I want you to understand my tastes.” That smile of ‘his’ added to the affectionate scene.
‘If only this wasn’t such an awkward exchange between two guys…’
“Really now, what makes you think that I’ll do something so embarrassing?” I pulled back from the bite of cake, pretending to be unnerved by it.
‘Of course, the proper thing to do was to act tsundere, right?’
The night before, we had mutually agreed on how I would play my role – that of being the shy guy, unused to such interactions. Essentially, my job was to ‘play hard to get’ and reject Cornelius’s flirtatious attempts, all the while slowly melting away that façade. If all went well, the ladies would feel for the Duke who seemingly had good chemistry with me, only to be rejected because of her secret.
‘Making me the villain in all of this, huh?’
Not that it made much of a difference. I already had two girls to figure out my own feelings toward. Any more would just complicate things.
After continuing to be egged on, I finally reached in to accept the bite. Cornelius gave a bright smile in response.
Our obvious ‘closeness’ seemed to work its magic; the girls at the other tables hurriedly paid their tabs and raced out of the door. Good gossip was the lifeblood of a noble lady’s daily life. They likely couldn’t wait to spread the word.
With the seed planted, we finished the rest of our meal in leisure before moving on to the next place.
Walking through town, the two of us acted like best buddies while we gazed at the artwork displayed on the streets, a distinct sight for those residing in Reichenstein. Currying the favor of the lord that quickly rose in prominence, this was a place abound with artisans displaying their full extent of craft and imagination.
Among the works, the image of a blue bird shrouded in a pale mist was a common model for decorative design.
“That’s… your familiar, Hal, was it?” I said, making small talk.
“But of course. However, I have yet to meet an artist that can invoke the grandeur of such a beauty.”
Cornelius summoned Hal, who appeared from the sky. Reaching over, ‘he’ grabbed my arm and hoisted it up to make a perch for Hal to land on.
I reached up and petted the gentle bird, taking note of the cool sensation it gave off. Apparently, it was one of the creatures that usually resided to the north, where other monsters with an affinity to cold existed. Given how little familiars were used on a day-to-day basis, it was sometimes easy to forget that normal summons were mainly creatures that existed in this world. Constantly surrounded by the other Electi, one would take that for granted.
Cornelius’s hand slid from my arm down to my waist. I felt him pull me closer until ‘his’ chest thumped against mine. Instantly, I knew what was up.
“The admirers are back, with more I take it?” I whispered in response to our faces moving closer.
Cornelius nodded in confirmation. We could feel the mana signatures of several people lurking behind the corners, spying on the two of us. That was our cue to amp up the mood.
However, as this ‘play’ went on, I started feeling a tinge of dread in the back of my mind. The aura I could feel from the girls hiding in the distance was a bit… peculiar.
“Hey, uh, Corny. Maybe you should move on to the confession scene…”
“Nonsense. We have yet to attract even a quarter of my admirers. A larger crowd is needed to maximize the impact!”
I sighed at the brushoff. Hopefully, I was just imagining things. Moving on, we next walked to the park where various statues of the Reinchenstein family were in place. With the lineage dating back many generations, there was, at the very least, one for every previous lord.
However, there were quite a few more for Cornelius, likely because she had advanced the family by several titles. In fact, there seemed to be a statue for each position that was held – Earl, Marquis, and now, Duke – each with a separate attire and lined side-by-side to show the progression in nobility.
Aside from those, there were statues of Cornelius wielding Ice magic against demonic beasts and those praising her artistry.
“You know, won’t it be awkward to reveal your gender now? Won’t they have to redo all of the statues in your true likeness?” I chuckled at the thought. No artist would enjoy making corrections to their artwork after they had completed a piece.
“Possibly….” Cornelius batted ‘his’ eyes at me. “But maybe, I should just have them create new statues in better poses…”
Before I could ask what she meant, my body was swept off my feet and cradled in an awkward position.
“Care to show me what poses would suit me best?” Cornelius exclaimed in a voice loud enough for others to hear.
I didn’t have to look around to know that I had been placed in a suggestive position. Cornelius had done this purposefully to make a scene. And in response to that, the weird aura I felt before grew a bit stronger.
And furthermore, one of them was actually approaching us…
“Um, excuse me… my lord…”
We both turned toward the feminine voice, which sounded just a tad panicked. She looked like a sweet girl, but a bit reserved. The one thing that caught my attention though was that she had glasses on… which were fogged up.
A chill went down my spine. Somehow, I knew where this was leading, but it was too late to stop it.
“Oh hello, my dear. What brings you here?” Cornelius nonchalantly answered.
I tried to kick myself out from the awkward position, which made it hard to talk, but ended up failing to catch a foothold. Unfortunately, I was not in time.
“A-Are the two of you an item?!” the girl suddenly shouted with jitters in her words.
Cornelius looked surprised for a moment. She hadn’t expected for them to conclude that before the confession was made.
“Well, actually I-“
“That is the case, isn’t it?! That is why you haven’t taken a wife! Because you secretly like guys!”
Put on the spot, Cornelius could only manage a simple mumble in response.
“Um… yes… I suppose that… would make the most sense…”
Even though ‘that’ seemed to be the most logical way to get the girls off her back, Cornelius failed to notice the look of utter horror that appeared on my face.
‘That was not the right timing for it!’ my mind screamed.
Suddenly, a swarm of girls popped out from hiding behind the hedges all around the park. Their expressions were slack. Their faces flushed like they had stumbled upon a naughty scene. A few even had a spot of drool running down the corner of their mouths.
“To think that our handsome Duke was into other men…”
“And to choose another highly sought-after bachelor…”
“I feel disappointed, but yet, I feel a different emotion brewing…”
I stared at Cornelius, who had no idea what to think of their reactions. Quickly, I pinched ‘his’ side.
“Let go now! We have to get away!” I hissed lightly at ‘him’.
Unfortunately, Cornelius realized too late the trap that she had placed herself in. Likely, with her warped sense of relationships, she had failed to realize the result of what I had secretly dreaded would happen – the existence of ‘fujoshis’ here.
“Guy on guy is fine, too! Please show us more!” one girl finally screamed out, hammering the reality of the situation into Cornelius.
“Our Duke would obviously be on top, which would make the Chancellor on the bottom, right? I can totally see him submitting!”
Finally, I was fed up with this situation. Knocking Cornelius in the side to force her to release me, I stumbled to the ground but landed in a crouch. With haste, I grabbed Cornelius’s hand and pulled her away from the crowd of overly excited girls, who had awakened to something that they had no sense of previously.
Literally dragging Cornelius, who was still in shock, we bolted from the park to look for a hiding place.