Hiding behind a random building, we stared as the parade of crazed fans ran by, their switches having been flipped.
A lady of nobility was typically married away under various arrangements, for political or financial gain. Stripped of this prospect of finding a romance of their own, there was no doubt that they held pent up desires for it.
The flirtations of Duke Reichenstein had strung them on, giving hope to that desire. After all, who‘s father wouldn’t be thrilled to set up his daughter with a Duke?
And that extended to other men of promising standing – including the new Chancellor of more humble origin. There were quite a few admirers for the casual, down-to-earth person that generously aided others and brought pleasure to one’s tongue. The food craft of Chancellor Evers had reached the entire female population, particularly those who had a sweet tooth.
To see the two men of their fancy get together for a tender meeting, that was a bigger event than any party or festivity that could be thrown.
As they watched us feign closeness, something in their hearts stirred. Their minds pondered the what-ifs of this forbidden romance, two men of high position engaging in something potentially scandalous. And the result was a strange attraction to the scene even stronger than their initial crushes.
Unlike in my world, this one had likely not been exposed to the poisonous addiction of ‘Boys Love’. I mostly ignored the cringy utterings of passion from fujoshis, encountering a few of them at anime conventions and whatnot. They were never a concern as their heads were often stuck around the booths selling doujinshi and yaoi paddles. The 2-D drawings of hot guys engaging in spicy acts were more interesting than any male around them.
However, things were different when the aura of an intense hunger had been directed toward us. From the hiding spot behind the corner, I felt like socking Cornelius in the stomach.
“I knew something was flawed about this!” I hissed at ‘him’.
“Then, why didn’t you say so?!” ‘he’ spat back.
“Oh sure, how am I supposed to mention something as weird as ‘Hey, there’s a chance they’ll actually enjoy guys cozying up to each other’!?”
“That was outside of my expectation.”
“Then, fix it! You’re their lord! Just come clean already!”
Cornelius was about to reply when a shout came from behind us. “HEY! There they are! I know that chill of mana anywhere!”
Apparently, Cornelius’s fans could pinpoint her mana signature, which did have a distinct coolness to it. Once again, the two of us broke into a run, hoping to create some distance from them.
Given that the two of us were much higher level than the average town girl or lady of nobility, that itself wasn’t hard to do. The bigger problem was the sheer number of eyes scoping around to track us. Without realizing it, there were nearly a hundred girls stricken with the ‘BL bug’.
Around every corner, next to every path, some girl was stationed, ready to call out to the others of our current position.
“Yo! We can’t just keep running from them! What about hiding out in your mansion?” I called out behind me, where Cornelius was trailing behind.
“Would love to, but it’s on the other side of town. And knowing them, they have already formed a perimeter. Not to mention, I suspect that quite a few of the staff also hold similar affections. Of course, there is the option of subduing them, but who would wish to harm such delicate flowers?”
It was not Cornelius’s preference to bring any harm to the ladies with her Ice magic. Rather, she was hoping that a bit of time would allow them to cool down enough to be confronted with the truth. She didn’t wish to bring that trouble to her family’s estate in the meantime.
‘And with our luck, subduing them forcefully might awaken other strange fetishes….’ That thought flashed into my mind, but I clamped my mouth shut, not wanting to jinx ourselves.
“It’s better to lead them into the proper setting for the final act rather than forcefully keep them away.”
I stared blankly at her excuse. “You’re just buying time, aren’t you?” I finally asked.
“Hmph, I must be losing my touch for you to guess that. But even I have trouble dealing with such an odd situation,” Cornelius replied, scratching ‘his’ cheek.
“Then, why don’t we just put on a disguise?”
“Oh, good point!” Cornelius’s face lit up with that statement, and immediately, she dispelled her illusion.
The handsome face of the bishi knight slowly turned to that of one with girlish features. The shape of her body also shifted a bit, receding in certain places and filling out in others. This was, of course, a visual effect of ice layered upon her body to create a more masculine outline.
Now, Cornelius looked quite weird, her outfit looking baggy compared to before. She would need different clothes. Luckily, we spotted some laundry hanging above us in an alley, a casual green dress among one of the articles.
Crafting some steps out of ice, Cornelius created the height needed to ‘borrow’ it from the clothesline. My gaze shifted elsewhere as she quickly changed out of her current clothing. After a minute, I felt a bundle of cloth smack me in the back of the head.
“Hey, you change too!”
I reached up and grabbed the shirt and slacks that were thrown down at me. With a sigh, I did as she asked.
After shoving our previous clothing into my Item Box, the two of us looked very much like the typical townsfolk wandering about. Even with Cornelius’s vivid blue hair, one would be hard-pressed to associate her with the Duke of Reichenstein, especially since the dress clearly displayed her feminine features.
On the other hand, I had merely changed out of my conspicuous chef uniform, not that it was much of a disguise to begin with. Realizing this, Cornelius brought her hands up to my face, adding her illusion Ice magic to it.
“Please, don’t make me a fatso this time,” I joked.
After her handiwork finished, she created a mirror out of ice so that I could see the result. The face that reflected back startled me at first.
“Gah! Could you have made me any more into a typical thug?” I complained, poking at the scraggly, brutish face that held various blemishes. Certainly, it was a mug that a girl wouldn’t wish to stare at for long.
Cornelius chuckled at the annoyance evident in my voice. But my drooping head told her that I had resigned myself to it.
“Well, shall we bide our time while we wait for them to cool down… umm, Laudy?”
I shot her a strange look at that poor attempt at a fake name.
“Okay then… Nealy.” Of course, I wasn’t much better, using the name that Eryn called her as a child.
With that, the two of us stepped back into the streets, continuing our so-called ‘date’, mainly because there was nothing else to do until the girls calmed down.
Interestingly, with the gender change, Cornelius acted a bit different, more unsure of herself. That was understandable given that she spent most of the time posing as a guy. However, I didn’t even mind the fact that she had started clinging onto my arm as we walked around enjoying the scenery.
It was a nice change… aside from the occasional girl or two charging down the street in search of us. Every time that happened, I could feel the grip on my arm tighten a bit.
Though, I was just as guilty of getting nervous, as they sometimes turned our way for a moment in scrutiny before stampeding away again.
“They just don’t seem to be calming down, huh… Did they really think that we’d get hot and heavy in the middle of town or something? Not that I would mind giving it a go….” Cornelius sighed. Her voice was the same as ever, reminding me that the sweet-talking girl holding my arm was the same old Corny, full of teasing.
“Well, maybe if you didn’t act like that all the time, then I’d see you as something else than Corny.”
Suddenly, I felt a hand brush my face. Turning toward her, I was surprised to see Cornelius shove her face right up to me.
“Hmm? You really mean that? I mean… I wouldn’t mind changing your opinion of me.”
Her eyes narrowed as she looked seductively my way. Her finger traced circles on my cheek as she followed the movements of my eyes, which were darting all around to avoid her gaze.
Finally, Cornelius burst out laughing.
“Hahaha, you are just too easy to tease! Of course, I don’t have any intentions such as that!” she said, wiping away a tear that had swelled in her eye from her amusing stunt.
“It was pretty obvious that you were teasing me. I knew that.” I sighed, responding flatly to her.
Cornelius continued to chuckle at my words. “Obvious? How so? Your face was the epitome of discomfort!”
“And what’s wrong with that?! Something uncomfortable is uncomfortable! I’m not gonna hide that fact under some guise! Would you rather I act like a jerk and brush it off like I didn’t care at all?!”
I turned away in embarrassment as Cornelius’s laughing slowed to a halt. After a pause, her tone felt a bit colder.
“But you don’t care, do you? You only have eyes for Eri and the Queen, right? Why pretend you do? Especially for someone like me.”
I could feel an echo of loneliness and of regret in her statement. Immediately, I rebuked her.
“Who said that I didn’t care?” I turned to her. “I wouldn’t be so bothered if that was the case.”
Cornelius’s expression froze for a moment as if to digest my words.
“I just told you that I don’t hide what I feel. I’m too blunt for that. And for all the trouble that you’ve been, here I am sticking my neck out for you. Why? Because there’s a part of me that thinks that you’re alright.”
Cornelius looked slightly stunned at my statement. With her forehead unguarded, I reached forward and flicked her there, adding a smidgen of mana to create a dramatic spark. Whether the system didn’t process it as an attack or Cornelius was too self-absorbed to trigger her guard, the forehead flick snapped her head back, breaking the melancholy that she was stuck in..
“Hey! That hurt! What was that for?!” She rubbed the spot on her forehead that stung from the impact.
“For trying to push me away. Don’t think I didn’t notice you purposefully dragging me into random requests in a shallow attempt to make me dislike you.”
Certainly, every time Cornelius gave me work to do, it would seem like she would frame it in a way to get me annoyed at her. And that happened ever since we had returned to Sistina. It was almost like she wanted me to take my frustrations out on her. Likely, she was still feeling guilty about betraying me to save Eryn when we met up in Sanshiro.
“You don’t have to force yourself to be anything around me. I already know how much of a pain you are, and I could hardly care about that. I’ll act like however you want me to act, but in the end, I’ll still care!”
Cornelius looked down and fidgeted with her hands. “You know… how can you be so perceptive like this and be so ignorant to the advances of all the other girls?”
“What do you mean? Are you talking about Ludmila and Saki? And all the other girls around town?”
Cornelius froze as I said that, assuming that I had been dumb to their affections. “You knew? But then, why have you been acting-?”
“Dumb? That’s exactly it. I’m acting dumb. Ever since Katalina confessed to me, I took a hard look at those around me. I know full well of Ludmila’s clinginess and her random drop-ins to check on me. I know that Saki’s been warming up to me, despite being wary of guys. And the towngirls that I help? Yeah, that would be pretty blind of me to not notice.”
“Th-Then why? Why do you dilly dally on choosing someone?”
I held my hand up to put a pause on that thought.
“Would it matter, even if I did choose? It’s not like I’ll stop getting close to you or Ludmila or Saki or anyone else if I did. I’m not going to ignore the others just because I have someone I like. I’m not going to stop helping out to avoid some amorous gazes. I can care about others without wanting anything more. And if I mislead some people along the way… well, guess I’ll just have to make myself clear like what I’m doing now, right?”
Cornelius sighed after all of that. Smacking herself in the face, she realized that she had failed in her original purpose of the date – to inform me of the trouble I was getting myself into by being oblivious.
But that had all been a misunderstanding. I was just being myself despite knowing what others thought of me.
“Oh, by the way, it seems like there’s been people staring at us for quite some time….” I pointed behind Cornelius, who whipped around in surprise.
Cornelius’s fans from before marched toward us, a wide smile on their faces. Cornelius backed away discreetly and tugged on my sleeve to escape, but I stood firmly there.
“Well, the jig is up, I guess.” I shrugged, giving a sign of defeat.
“Wait, what? What do you mean?” Cornelius turned to me in panic.
The girls walked right up to us. This time, the almost-feral aura of hunger was absent from them.
“So, this is Duke, I mean, Duchess Reichenstein’s real form. How cute,” the one in front commented. They all had amused smiles on their faces.
“Yep. That’s how it is. Thanks for participating. You all were so convincing that even I was starting to feel terrified by it.” I chuckled as I felt a strong tug on my sleeve. Looking to the side, Cornelius stared at me with a stunned expression.
“What farce is this?!” Cornelius seemed to scowl.
“Ah, it’s as you suspect. The girls and I tricked you. They already knew ahead of time about your real gender and decided to play along with this whole play date of yours.”
“Y-You tricked me?”
“Well, yeah. But it wasn’t just me. There was no way that I’d be able to gather your fan club and pull off something like this. Ludmila was the one that spied on you and then told the Queen, who then told me about what you were scheming, so we all decided to play a trick on you, since you were being rude to your admirers for so long. Queen Katalina had already informed the girls here about your true gender. All that was left was to create a strange situation to leave you vulnerable to spit out your real intentions.”
Cornelius was speechless from all this. To think that giving the stoic girl a hint of troubling her Master would lead to everything being upended.
Or course, the entire thing involving BL and fujoshis going on a rampage was a personal touch by me. I had completely expected that Cornelius was going to show up in her male form, so I had told her fans to pretend that the aspect of two guys getting affectionate was hot.
Aside from that, I simply told them to ‘go nuts’ with their passion, leading to the wild chase. Certainly, they made my heart race more than I had expected.
“So wait, you girls aren’t angry at me for keeping such a secret and leading you on for quite some time?” Cornelius meekly asked.
“Surprised and confused, yes. But when the Queen explained the circumstances as to why you had kept it secret, we couldn’t really hold it against you.” The girls looked back and forth between each other, nodding. “Our respect and affection goes beyond that of plainly chasing after a nice guy.”
“Besides, this was their way of getting back at you for it. So I think all is forgiven.” I clapped Cornelius on the back. “At least, you don’t have to worry about keeping up your disguise anymore.”
“Still… it is a bit of a disappointment,” one girl further back in the crowd exclaimed.
Suddenly, I felt a flag being triggered.
“The thought of our Lord, as a man, and the Chancellor getting it on is a rather tasty image. That is something I simply must write about.”
“Ooh, I can draw. Shall I make some sketches?”
“That gives me some ideas of other spicy scenarios!”
My blood ran cold. ‘There were real fujoshis in the crowd?!’ I could feel a shiver also from Cornelius, since she was holding onto me.
‘Maybe this was a bad idea after all!’
Not long after, a series of books caught on like wildfire, purchased by a sizable portion of the female population and spread to other regions.
‘Lord Chancellor and the Dashing Duke’s Naughty Playtime’ was but the first of a series of BL fiction that attracted a niche audience.
And from that, books spawned involving other characters, too.
I nearly had a heart attack when I was eating lunch at ‘A Certain Slice’ when Alice commented on a new book one of the older waitresses had lent her. The name of the title was all it took to have me running out the door in terror.
‘Lord Chancellor Passionately Strokes His Raven-Haired Secretary’
I prayed to God that Dengel would never hear about it, nor that Alice would connect fantasy with reality.