Alicia returned home in low-spirits, full of self-recriminations and regret, though she refused to let that show on her face as she stomped into the small mansion that was her home. After taking off her shoes at the front door, she padded along the wooden hallway until it opened into the living room.
The mansion she called home was small. She didn’t think it could be truly called a mansion. At two-stories, it contained four bedrooms, four bathrooms, a study, and a garage used for storage. Compared to her old home in the Underworld, which had over two hundred-fifty rooms, this was minuscule.
Alicia loved it. She loved how it felt much more like a home. Her abode in the Underworld had been a vast castle, lonely and empty. Even the 100+ servants—maids, butlers, chefs, and gardeners—hadn’t been able to change that.
In direct contradiction, this house only had three people: her, Matilda, and Jacob. Even with only three people, it felt more like a well-loved and lived-in home.
Matilda was in the living room when Alicia entered, wearing a traditional black and white maid outfit. The frills of her dress rustled as she moved. Creases appeared along her long sleeves as she dusted off the coffee table sitting in front of the long couch. She wore a bonnet, a pair of horns jutting out from either side. Her horns were pure white. They presented a stark contrast to her dark hair, skin, and eyes.
“Lady Alicia, welcome home,” Matilda greeted as she stopped dusting. Lady. Not Princess. Matilda had stopped calling her Princess since they were supposed to be incognito. “I hope you had a fun day at school.”
“I… yes, my day was fine,” Alicia said, swallowing the lump in her throat.
“That is good to hear.” Matilda tilted her head. “I do not see Lord Jacob with you. Is he staying after school?”
“I don’t care what that idiot is doing!”
As she huffed, Matilda gazed upon her with eyes that saw far too much. “You two had a fight.”
It was not a question.
“Of course not,” Alicia said. “What makes you think we had a fight?”
“Would you call him an idiot if you didn’t?”
Hiding her blush as best she could, Alicia crossed her arms and turned her head as though indignant. “It’s just a little spat. Nothing to be concerned about.”
Matilda said nothing. She stared at Alicia, who tried to put up a strong front but withered like a wilted flower the longer her maid stared at her. Heat sprang to her cheeks. It was not embarrassment. It was shame.
Alicia’s shoulders slumped. “I… may have said some things I’m not proud of.”
“Well, then, why don’t you set your school supplies in your room, and then come out here and talk to me about it?”
It sounded like a suggestion. Alicia understood that it was really an order. Not that she was going to disobey. She needed someone to talk to.
“Okay. Give me a moment, please.”
Alicia’s bedroom looked a lot like her old bedroom back in the Underworld. It was less exquisite. There weren’t any decorations like her previous bedroom. However, all of the stuff she needed was there. Her band posters covered the walls, her bookshelf filled with manga sat nestled in a corner, and her desk was situated directly in front of a window.
She stopped in front of her desk, having walked past her queen-sized canopy bed, and set down her book bag. Hesitating for a moment, she soon changed out of her clothes. She put on a pair of black pajama bottoms and a large red T-shirt. The shirt had once been Jacob’s.
‘It no longer smells like him…’
Walking back into the living room, Alicia moved over to the large couch, which curved in the shape of an L across two walls directly in front of a large, 215.9 centimeter flat screen television.
Matilda was still cleaning. Alicia thought about turning the TV on and playing the Legend of Zelda: Call of the Wild, but she decided not to. Matilda would get upset if she made any noise. So she sat there, patiently waiting for her maid to finish cleaning.
“Okay,” Matilda said, nodding in satisfaction as she lowered her duster. “I am very glad this abode isn’t that large. It doesn’t take anywhere near as long to clean this house as it does to clean even one wing of our old mansion in the Underworld.”
Since Alicia knew Matilda wasn’t really talking to her, she didn’t say anything. She waited until the maid turned to her, walked over, and, smoothing the back of her maid outfit, sat down.
For a moment, no one spoke. Matilda observed Alicia with a gaze that seemed both knowing and curious. For her part, Alicia was trying to get her thoughts in order.
“Why don’t you start by telling me what initiated this fight between you and Lord Jacob,” Matilda suggested.
With a weary sigh, Alicia did just that, not having the strength to argue. She told Matilda everything, about how Jacob had been late coming to the bathroom, how she’d found him being abused by three of their peers, and how, afterward, she had gotten upset because he defended the people who’d hurt him.
“… I’ve known for awhile now that Jacob isn’t the type to hold grudges or get angry,” she finished. “But seeing him just take their abuse, and then defend them for it afterward, I don’t know, I just got so… so angry. He’s allowing people to hurt him. That’s… it’s just wrong!”
By the end of her rant, Alicia was huffing and puffing. Matilda said nothing for a time. She sat there, hands neatly folded in her lap, posture straight. When she did speak, it was with great care, as though each word had been carefully considered before she spoke them.
“I understand where you are coming from. Indeed, I agree with you that Lord Jacob should not let himself act as these people’s doormat. However, have you ever considered that perhaps the reason he is like this is due to the sort of life he’s had?”
“Pardon?” Alicia frowned.
“Lord Jacob is a Nephalem,” Matilda explained. “I know that you have been taught a little about them, but you have never been told the full story. Throughout history, Nephalem have been universally hated by everyone. Angels despise them because they have the blood of devils. Devils hate them because they have the blood of angels. Both sides fear the Nephalem because of their vast powers. Likewise, humans can sense this power, this mixing of energies both angelic and demonic, and so they, too, fear the Nephalem, even if they don’t know why.”
This much, Alicia already knew. While Nephalem themselves were rare enough that there were no recorded documents of someone having met one, everyone knew at least this much in the Underworld.
Nephalem were to devils what the Boogieman was to humans. Parents told their children that the Nephalem would come to steal them away if they were bad. They were every devils’ nightmare.
“Of course,” Matilda continued, “you have to understand how fear works. Humans are an interesting species. They fear what they don’t know. In an effort to dispel that fear, they seek to unravel the world’s mysteries, creating scientific theories and laws that explain how everything works. But what happens when they find something that can’t be explained with science? That fear increases, intensifies. Humans are stubborn creatures, however, and so they won’t admit to being afraid. Instead, they will lash out at whatever they fear, as if seeking to prove that they aren’t afraid of it.”
Alicia stayed silent for a long moment before speaking. “I fail to see how this justifies what those people did.”
“It doesn’t,” Matilda said. “Nothing can justify what they have done. I’m trying to explain how Nephalem are perceived by everyone, a fact which Lord Jacob well knows. Knowing this, how many years do you think Lord Jacob has been putting up with this sort of treatment since being born?”
Even though it was a question, it was also not a question. The answer was so obvious. Alicia and Matilda both knew.
“I should apologize to him,” Alicia said at last.
Matilda nodded. “That you should.”
“Right.” Alicia stood up. “I’ll apologize to him the moment he gets home.”
Also standing up, Matilda said, “if it would please you, Lady Alicia, I would endeavor to help you come up with a proper apology.”
The curious turn of phrase made Alicia tilt her head. “A proper apology?”
“Yes.” With a more serious expression than Alicia had seen since they started living here, Matilda said, “if you want to make Lord Jacob forgive you, then you have to give him a true, proper apology, and there is only one way you can do that.”
Alicia didn’t know what constituted a proper apology, but she would do anything to earn Jacob’s forgiveness.
“What is it?” she asked.
Matilda smiled and told her.