Chapter 26:

if you give an Eilah simp a knife…

A Study on the Stand-In Love Interest

“Aaaaand we’ve got another Eilah simp,” Halie said, sounding weirdly happy about that. “Only this one has a knife.”

“Why are you so excited?!”

“That’s ‘cause it means everything going wrong isn’t my fault!” She pointed directly at Gideon, with way too much certainty and courage that—if she was mistaken—everything was about to go even more wrong. “So! Have you ever played the original otome game?”

Her priorities, man.

“Tell me,” Gideon said, his voice strangely desperate for the first time. “Are you Eilah?”

“From Villainess’s Love Interest?” Orion couldn’t help but blurt out.

He spoke coldly again, barely glancing over at him. “Naturally. Where else?”

Orion was starting to realize that the isekai body count had been three all along. No wonder everything had rapidly fallen apart—there were three times as many variables to drag the story off its precarious rails.

“No, but I’m not from this world either,” Halie was saying. “So why did you plan all this? Why are you trying to kill her—I mean, me?”

“Regrettable,” said Gideon, ice creeping into his tone. The selective hearing of this guy was ridiculous. “But your greatest misfortune was being sent here as Halie.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It’s nothing personal,” he said. “But if you’re not Eilah, it means you still have to die.”

Even now, Halie still didn’t seem scared. She just sighed and rolled her eyes. “Why is Actaeus just sitting around and letting you run loose?”

“I’m merely a glitch in the system. Gideon’s masterminding is news to me too. He hid it well.”

“Then can’t you do something about it?”

“I’m thinking.”

“What’s this about Actaeus?” Gideon asked. He couldn’t hear the voice of the Entity, and Orion could tell he was feeling left out. “We were talking about Eilah.”

(Was this what Orion sounded like to Halie at first?)

“Hey, hey, Orion.” Halie prodded him in the back with her elbow. “Why do you think he turned out like this? Did you want to kill me when we first met?”

He stared. “Hell no, I think this guy is just insane.”

“I think so too.”

Once in a while, Orion still thought about Eilah Veramillion. Like a fond memory of an actress he used to have a crush on, he thought about her as if she was from an unreachable planet on the other side of the galaxy.

If he had been sent to the world of Villainess’s Love Interest, things might have turned out very differently. But he was here, and maybe he had resented Halie at first for breaking the news about his favourite character the way she did, but never to this point. Gideon was terrifying, but he hoped he wasn’t too far gone to listen to reason.

“Hey,” Orion said, stepping in front of Halie like they were taking turns blocking the other from Gideon’s view. “I’m an Eilah fan too. So I get you, a little bit. I think.”

The knife did not waver, and neither did Gideon.

“Then you must understand why I planned all this.”

“Uh, no. But I think I get why you don’t like the heroine, and you’re definitely entitled to your opinions, but—” He gestured wildly behind him to Halie, “—none of us are from this world, right? I’m not saying it’s okay to hurt her if she was the fictional version because this world is kind of our reality now. But she’s not her. So can’t you, you know…call it a truce and put down your knife?”

“I don’t want to dirty my hands either,” Gideon spat. “But if this is what it takes to bring back Eilah…I’d do anything.”

Orion and Halie exchanged confused glances.

“Yo, Actaeus,” she said in a low voice. “What’s up with this guy?”

“An outsider without a voice of guidance is dangerous. I wonder if I—ah. Curious indeed. It seems I am blocked from speaking with him.”

“Wow, you’re really useless as a game system.”

“Must I remind you, I am trapped within the game system. My power is incredibly limited.”

“So, basically useless.”

While Halie figured that out with her not-brother, Orion turned his attention back to the gleam of the knife in Gideon’s grasp.

“What do you mean by bringing Eilah back?” he asked. “I’m not sure if you were aware, but A Study on the Villainess’s Love Interest is actually a spin-off webcomic. We’re located inside the otome game version right now.”

“So?” Gideon’s expression did not change at all, which was terrifying.

“So, I don’t want to be the one to break it to you as a fellow fan,” he said sheepishly. “But uh, Eilah is just a fictional character.”

“That matters not. I will drag her here from her world by force, if necessary.”

Okay, this guy was kind of too far gone.

“Ask him who told her he could do that,” Actaeus said sharply.

“Who told you that you could do that?”

Orion was actually pretty curious about that himself, even though this guy seemed to be talking out of his ass. With his gaze trained on the knife and his attention wholly focused on Gideon’s response, he failed to notice that the sibling duo were plotting silently behind his back.

“Mayor Mahogainy—”

Halie suddenly leapt out of nowhere and tackled Gideon to the ground.

“Quick!” she yelled urgently, trying to wrestle the knife out of his grip as Orion watched in shock and horror. “There’s a pool of contaminated water out back! Grab the ropes and bring them here!”

Orion took off running, bursting out of the building and looking around wildly for the pool Halie was talking about. He wasn’t sure how long she’d be able to hold him down for, and if Gideon so much as gave her a scratch, he would never forgive himself. He spotted orange, glittering—Orion grabbed a fistful of rope and yanked it free, then sprinted back inside as quickly as his legs could carry him just in time to see—

“Oh, you’re back. That was quick.”

Gideon was lying face-down, his head propped up against the pieces of the broken door sprawled along the ground. Halie was sitting on his back with one leg crossed over the other, looking immensely pleased with herself.

“You...didn’t even need rope…if you were going to knock him out,” Orion panted, out of breath.

“I wasn’t trying to,” she pouted. “It just sort of happened. Or something. Help me tie him up.”

The rope was dripping water all over the floor and along Orion’s waterproof pant leg. He bent down and began looping the rope around Gideon’s limbs.

“Here, give me that.”

She took the section of rope from him and tied a knot expertly around Gideon’s wrists, then fastened his arms together behind his back. She was good at everything, Orion thought proudly. She was cute, strong enough to break down a door, resourceful, and good at split-second decisions.

“I like the way you break down doors,” he said, instead of all that.

“I’ll break down your door for you next time,” she said brightly, and he had no idea if she meant it as a joke or if she was actually going to destroy Magnaolia’s house next time they were in Arkose.

Steward McOy
Dhamas Tri (dmz)
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