Chapter 13:

Warmth and Bitterness

Painted Tale

It's been a couple of weeks since the duel.

My wounds have recovered since then, and my work as an attendant has resumed.

Today was another day filled with paperwork and banter.

"Elisabeth, why does the workload seem to keep increasing?"

"Is it not because you talk more than you work?"

"I consider talking with you a part of my job."

"How lucky of you. You get to do something so fun as your job."

"How can a mortal man not feel blessed spending his time with one and only, The Great Princess Elisabeth? It is truly an honor." I reply, my voice permeated with sarcasm.

"Glad you're enjoying yourself..." She says as her voice grows more and more silent towards the end.

For a few moments, it becomes unnaturally quiet.

Wondering what's wrong, I take a glance at her.

She is deep in thought, her gaze focused on the paper in her hands.

"Elisabeth? Is something wrong?"

"...Nothing, I was just recalling something. Don't worry about it." She reassures me, trying to sound as cheerful as possible.

"...What is that paper?"

She stays silent for a few seconds.

Finally, she makes an unexpected proposal out of the blue.

"...Hey, William, want to take a break from work?"

"Where did that come from?"

"There is... there is a place I want to go to."


We boarded a carriage and traveled outside the city.

It's been two hours. Finally, I can see our destination — a field of sunflowers.

We get off and walk towards the meadow. A beautiful sight appears before me.

Myriads of golden blossoms fill up my sight. They flutter on the wind, blinding me as if thousands of little suns descended onto the plains, gracing this world with warmth and gentleness. A reddish sunset occupies the horizon, slightly tinging the flowers in orange.

For a while, I couldn't utter a single word. I just stared at the sight before my eyes, basking in its warmness.

"A wonderful sight, isn't it?" asks Elisabeth as she peers into my face.

"...It is."

I bask in the view a little longer. Then, words I did not expect come out of my mouth.

"Someday... someday, I want to draw this field on a canvas."

I want to paint this landscape.

I want to capture its warmth and beauty.

I want to create a painting that would make people feel what I do right now.

Tranquility. Hope. Bliss.

At first, Elisabeth seems a bit surprised by my words, but soon, she replies.

"...Yes, someday... someday when you're ready, we will come back."

I had a feeling that it wouldn't be so easy. As if this promise is not destined to come true.

I take one last glance at the field of sunflowers, praying that my foreboding is wrong...



On the next day, I found myself on the training grounds.

I did not plan to come. I didn't, and yet I still ended up here.

As I stand in silence, puzzled by my own actions, a voice resounds from behind me.

"Oh... if it isn't Sir William of the Arklight House. Came here to practice ?"

Ever since the duel, my name has spread throughout the palace. That's why I'm not surprised at being recognized.

I turn around to see a young man in his early twenties, maybe even late teens. He has handsome features and shoulder-length blond hair. His reddish eyes seem to glitter as he starts talking.

"If you're here to train, then would you become my sparring partner? I was very impressed by the strength you showed in the duel." He says in his clear, ringing voice.

"...And you are?"

"Oh, pardon my rudeness. I'm delighted to make your acquaintance— my name is Kyle Rembrandt. I am one of Lord Darius's personal guards."

Lord Darius, aka The Chancellor.

If this guy is the chancellor's personal guard at such a young age, he must be incredibly talented.

I'm about to decline his offer, when—

Elisabeth's face from yesterday flashes through my mind.

"—Your sparring partner, huh? Very well, I'll accompany you in your training."

"Thank you, Sir William. Since many strong knights died in the last war, there aren't many people that can be worthy opponents for me. Well then, let's begin."


We put on the equipment and took swords in our hands. There are about 10 meters between us. Prime Minister's guard is not someone I can hold back against, so I start with the magic from the get-go.

Dark blue.

He calmly dodges the spell and goes for a slash.


I meet his blade with mine, and our swords clash.

After struggling for some time, we draw our weapons back.

We keep exchanging blows again and again.

This guy is good. A thought runs through my mind.

His sword skills are almost on the same level as Edward's were. At this rate, I'm going to lose.

Dark purple.

*Swish*            *Clang*

Dark blue.

*Splash*            *Whiff*


*Zoom*               *Clash*


"...Hah... I guess we should stop for today..." Sir Kyle says, his breathing ragged.

"Hah... Yeah... let's stop..."

I'm in no better state than he is. We're both totally winded, and our bodies are battered.


We both land on our backs, unable to endure the fatigue.

After some time, I hear his voice from the side.

"...For someone who hasn't trained in years, Sir William is pretty strong." He grumbles, his eyes betraying his annoyance.

Somehow, I managed to not lose the fight.

As I'm worse at swordsmanship, I had to overcome that weakness through repeated use of spells. Sir Kyle turned out to also be pretty good at wind magic but was unable to combine it with close-range fighting like Edward and I can.

"What's wrong, pretty boy. Mad that you couldn't beat an attendant in combat?" I ask, feeling smug.

"As if Sir William is the one to say that, you're also a sore loser. I could see during the fight how unwilling you were to give up. There is nothing wrong with losing a sparring match to an active knight, you know? You don't seem to be interested in fighting, so is this how you got that strong? By being a sore loser?"

"Shut up, pretty boy. That doesn't change the fact that I won."

"It was a draw. Besides, don't call me a boy. I'm probably older than you."

"Don't sweat small details. For me, it was my win."

"Say that when you're actually able to beat me, instead of just dodging until both of us fall down from exhaustion."

"What? I can only hear the whining of the loser here."

"As I said, it was a draw... Who would have thought that the second son of Arklights is just a sore loser..."

"At least I'm not just a loser..."


In the end, our bickering continued until we got interrupted by Elisabeth. She didn't know I was at the training ground, so she spent over an hour searching for me... Oops.

"...So you were training with Sir Kyle and forgot about your attendant duties...?" She sounds slightly irritated.


She stares at me for some time. After a while, she sighs and lets that topic go.

"...Whatever— so how did you fare?"

"...I didn't lose."

"Meaning you didn't win either."

"I count that as a win for myself."

"So petty!"

"That's just a part of my nature," I say with a satisfied grin on my face.

"Don't be proud of that!"

Our usual antics continue for a while longer until Elisabeth switches to a more serious topic.

"...So you resumed your sword training."

"Yeah, the duel was way harder than I expected, so I thought that some practice wouldn't hurt."

My reply makes her fall deep in thought. After some time, she makes a suggestion.

"I see... If that's the case, then you should also visit the court mages."

"Court mages?"

"Yes. You also stopped learning new spells when you stopped training, right? That's why you should study some magic."

I don't see any reason to refuse her offer, so I agree.

"...Ok, I'll go to the mages tomorrow."


"So you're the famous William Arklight? I'm Vanessa, a genius mage."

"Who introduces herself like that?!"

"A true genius."

Contrary to her words, her face was deadpan, unnaturally so.

She has long hair of a reddish-orange hue. Her green eyes, shining like emeralds, and her fair features betrayed no emotion.

Frankly, I find her a bit creepy.

"Anyway, you want to learn some magic? I've heard your elements are darkness, water, shadow, and fire. That means I will be the one most fit to teach you."

"Huh, so that means you know exactly the same elements?"

"That, and 4 more."

That means 8 elements. I was frankly quite shocked at that number. I know that 4 is already a considerable number, even for a mage. To know double that amount... Maybe her calling herself a genius wasn't just bragging.

"So, how much do you want to learn? Maybe mid-level spells for all of those elements?"

"Everything I can. Including advanced-level spells, if possible."

"Greedy, aren't you? A lot of the mages don't even know advanced-level spells for their main element."

"Still, I want to become as strong as I can."

She stares at me for a while before replying.

"Fine. I'll try to teach you the advanced-level magic, but there's no guarantee you will be able to."

"Fine by me. As long as I at least get a chance."

That's how I started learning magic under Vanessa.




Elisabeth Renoa.

I'm surrounded by the darkness.

Cold, indifferent blackness, threatening to drive me insane.

Suddenly, a light cuts the darkness in front of me.

I see a little girl illuminated by the light.

Dazzling golden hair. Porcelain white skin. Fair features...

I'm staring at myself— or, more specifically, at a younger version of myself.

She — no, I am smiling. It is a smile so perfect, so pretty, so unnatural.

And, also, she doesn't have eyes.


Suddenly, more light appears behind me. It illuminates dozens of people.

Soldiers. Government officials. Nobles. Attendants. Servants.

They have only one thing in common — They are all people I've met in the palace.

               "Your Highness"                                                               "Princess Elisabeth"

                                              "Lady Elisabeth"

                           "Your Highness"                                                                "Your Highness"

                                                             "Lady Elisabeth"

They all keep calling my name. I shudder in fear. The world starts spinning. I feel tears rolling down my eyes.

"...No, please, stop — stop! I beg you..."

As for my younger self—

She's smiling. Smiling and waving her hand at the crowd.

"Aah!" I scream.

The little girl's smile—my smile. It scares me.

It's so empty, so devoid of any emotion...

Like a smile of a broken doll.

Suddenly, the light disappears. After some time, it reappears.


In front of me now stands my twelve-year-old self.

Her smile has disappeared as if worn out by the tides of time, and yet she still does not have eyes.

A bit ahead of her stands a group of people. All of them are teens in the uniform of the Freiden's Great Academy.

My twelve-year-old self runs towards them. However, no matter how much time passes, the distance doesn't shorten. It only increases, more and more, and in the end...

She's left alone in the darkness.

As I stare at that twelve-year-old girl, my vision becomes blurry. Tear start flowing down my cheeks.

Once again, darkness swallows me.

I cry.





Suddenly, A voice enters my ears.




I turn around and see him.

My lips call his name.


He stretches his hand to me, kindness filling his eyes.

I reach out to him—


—and wake up.

"Man... I only left for a few minutes, and you already fell asleep..." William complains as he scratches his head.

"Come on, no more work for today. I'll walk you to your room."

"...William," I call out to him, my voice shaking.


"Thank you... Thank you for being by my side."

"...What's this all about? I wasn't really given another choice, you know? It's not like I can deny royalty's orders." He says jokingly, struggling to hide his embarrassment.

"No, really. Thank you for being here for me."

Unable to say anything in return, he averts his face away.

"...A—anyway, I wanted to ask you for a day off tomorrow."

"Hm? A day off? Why?"

"Mo— my mother is coming to the capital. She wants to see if her son is doing well."

While I find it cute how he stopped himself from saying Mom, I refrain from bringing that up, as there's something more important I have to ask.

"Hmmm... Your mother, huh? Is she coming to the palace?"

He hesitates before reluctantly answering as if sensing my intent.

"...Yeah, she is. She said she is worried about her son's new work environment or something."

"I see, I see..." I say with a mischievous smile on my face."

I can tell just by looking at his face that he doesn't like where this is going.


It's been 3 months since William's duel. All this time, our lives have been rather turbulent.

William suddenly started training with Sir Kyle and Lady Vanessa. His sword skills are now almost on par with Sir Kyle's. His magic also improved. He can now cast up to advanced-level shadow spells. Although, he only reached mid-level in other elements, which he was pretty unhappy about...

Our plan to spread art is also progressing smoothly. Well... if you can call that smooth.

I've placed William's paintings all around the palace so that people can look at them from time to time... But I don't think they get them. I've tried to hold an entire lecture about art, with William helping me. The results... They weren't too good.

Most of them once again didn't get it. Appreciating paintings for their purely technical aspects is one thing, but when it comes to the themes and more abstract things... Well, you get the point.

Although some of the people attending the lecture did say that they like William'spaintings. They even tried to understand the meaning behind them and all that... Well, I guess that's some progress.

Right now, I'm in my office and sitting across—

— is lovely Lady Eleonora.

As soon as I heard that Eleonora Arklight arrived at the castle, I asked to meet her. When she was brought here, she immediately kneeled, following the etiquette. However, when I told her that she can drop formalities, she immediately started going off about her "little boy." Eleonora Arklight has no fear... or maybe she is just a good judge of people's characters.

"—To think that my little boy would become the princess's attendant... I hope he doesn't cause you any problems..."

"No, he is doing a fine job. His competence in some areas is enough to match some of the graduates from Freiden's Great Academy, or Endron's Imperial Academy..."

"He was always a clever child, helping his dad with paperwork... But he also has always been fragile, so I've been so worried about him..."

"You don't have to. After all, I'm with William every day, looking after him."

"Isn't it supposed to be the opposite?"

"It's fine — we both look after each other."

"I see... So I have nothing to worry about.

She smiles gently, relieved at the fact that her son is not alone. However, a few seconds later, she sighs as if saddened by something.

"...While I'm happy that my boy isn't lonely, it devastates me that I won't be able to celebrate his birthday with him..."


"Yes, it's coming in 2 months. Sadly, I'm going to be too busy to come over."

"Hmmm... Birthday, huh?"

That means he needs a present, right? I wonder... what am I going to gift him...?

We talk for quite a while. Finally, Lady Eleonora stands up, preparing to leave.

She opens the door and says some last words as a goodbye.

"Bye, Elisabeth. I'm happy I got to talk with you—Oh, by the way. I hope to see you as my daughter-in-law as soon as possible!"


I sit in silence, trying to process the meaning of her words.

Finally, a few seconds later, I realize—

"I-it's n-not like that! L-lady Eleonora, this is a misunderstanding— please come back!"

I stand up to chase after her, my cheeks and ears burning red from embarrassment...

William Arklight


The spell hits Kyle's right hand, knocking his sword away.

"Heh, with this, the score becomes 21 to 20 in my favor. Anything you want to say, Mr. Loser?" I ask him that as my sword touches his neck.

"It's just a single match. Not enough to call me a loser."

"That's why I added Mr."

"It's not much better... Whatever, bask in your glory while you still can, William."

"How scary. Who would have thought that the famous Sir Kyle is such a sore loser..."

"I can't believe you're the one telling me that..."


As I finish my training with Mr. Loser, I begin to reflect on the last three months.

Training with Kyle and Vanessa, holding art lectures, doing my duties as the princess's attendant— Stuck between all of these, my life has become so busy.

And yet, I feel so much warmth.

Spending every day watching Elisabeth as she tries to do her best...

I became incredibly attached to her — No... I became addicted to her.

I wake up and find myself looking forward to meeting her, looking forward to seeing her smile...

I still don't know if there's anything I want to dedicate my life to — but recently, I've started to think that it's not so bad if I can just be alongside her.

That's right, I fe—

"Will, my cute little boy! There you are!"

"M-Mom?! You're already at the palace?"

"Yes, son. I just had a pleasant conversation with Lady Elisabeth. She's such a nice girl!"

While I do feel slightly shocked at my mother calling the princess a "nice girl," there is something I'm more curious about...

"What did you tell her? Or rather, what did she tell you? Actually, please answer both of those questions."

"Hmm, I don't even know. Your mother's memory is so poor~."


In the end, she didn't tell me anything. She said that girls have their secrets or something like that.

Right now, I'm standing before the door to Elisabeth's office.

"Elisabeth, are you there? I'm coming in—"

"...! W-wait!"

Her words reach me too late, and I open the door.

"Hmm, what's wrong, Elisabeth? Are you not feeling well?"

"N-nothing," she says, stuttering all the while.

Obviously, something is wrong.

"...Does that have to do something with my mother? Did she say something to you—"

"N-no! I-it's nothing!"

Her cheeks and ears are burning red as she struggles to keep her composure.

I stare at her.


"W-what is it?"

I stare at her for some time. Finally, I say it.

"Breaking news! She has regressed?! Elisabeth's devolution into a tsundere! —Damn, that just sound like a light novel title..."

"...I don't know neither what "tsundere" nor "light novel" mean, but I do know that that was an insult..."

"That wasn't an insult— maybe you can even call it a praise?"

"You did say "regressed," you know?"

"I did, huh? Then I guess it was an insult..."

"Don't just settle on that!"


The time I've spent with Elisabeth is so warm—

Yet those dreams never stop making me feel bitter.



Post your art on the internet.

That was the solution one of the judges offered to me.

After a few more failed art contests, I decided to try it out.

And so, I posted my work on the net for the first time.

In the beginning, there was no feedback.

I felt like I was sending my works into the void.

However, with time, that changed.

I woke up one day, and a surprise was waiting for me.

A famous influencer made a post about one of my works on social media.

Immediately, I was flooded with new fans.

All of my works started getting attention.

"This resonates with me so much!"

"His works remind me that I still have feelings!"

"A genius in the making, putting all of our emotions into paintings!"

I was happy.

I felt understood.

I was elated.

Finally, I found a goal.

Even after that post, not many people knew about me.

If only more of them were aware of my existence, then...

And so, I decided.

I will achieve worldwide fame.



Why do I keep seeing those dreams?

What do they mean?

Why do they never leave me?

Did I not find a goal?

Am I not satisfied?

Suddenly, a random idea flashes through my mind.

I thought that I keep seeing those dreams because I'm somehow dissatisfied.

I thought that they could be a representation of my inner desires.

I thought they are just dreams.


But what if...

What if it's actually the opposite?


I sit on my bed in silence.

After a few minutes, I force my body to get up.

I put on my clothes and get myself ready.

Suddenly, I hear the sounds of someone running.

Those sounds are coming from the hallway.


The door to my room opens. Behind it, I see Elisabeth.

She seems panicked, and her breathing is unsteady.

"Elisabeth? What's wro—"

"William, bad news!"

She takes a deep breath as if she's preparing herself for the worst.

"On the western border of The Kingdom — a Monster Horde has been detected!"


My mind refuses to process her words.

"The Monster Horde... The Monster Horde has gathered near our border. They...They are heading towards the capital. It's an invasion!"

Finally, my mind recovers from the shock, and I realize the meaning of what she just said.

There is only one thing I know...

The Renoa Kingdom is about to face an unprecedented crisis.

The war is about to begin.